Born in 1883, Kahlil Gibran was a Lebanese-American poet and visual artist, often considered one of the most influential literary thinkers in the modern Arabic world.
His most widely-acclaimed and enduring work of prose poetry, The Prophet, is a sweeping exploration of timeless themes from love and sorrow to freedom and work. Employing evocative visual metaphors, he encourages us to take a radically new perspective on values and ideals often encrusted in layers of cliche and stereotype.
What follows is a collection of my favorite quotes and passages from the book along with my own brief thoughts and reflections.
On Joy and Sorrow
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with tears. And how else can it be? The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain… When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
To find peace of mind and lightness of heart, learn to see all your emotions as an artist sees their subject: as something beautiful and terrible and endlessly fascinating, never right or wrong, but always miraculous.
On Little Things
For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.
I’ve often thought that much of mental health and wellbeing comes from the capacity to revel in the joy of tiny things:
- To sit and listen to your favorite song, doing nothing else but closing your eyes and watching the stream of memories and feelings it evokes.
- To pause your hike, sit down, and wonder at the mountain for a few minutes.
- To hold on for an extra second or two when your daughter gives you a hug before walking into school.
And what is it to work with love? It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart, even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth. It is to build a house with affection, even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house… It is to charge all things you fashion with a breadth of your own spirit. And to know that all the blessed dead are standing about you watching… Work is love made visible.
Can we learn to see love’s subtle form in all our work, big and small? From the presentation to the board of directors all the way down to taking out the trash on Tuesday evenings?
All forms of work become meaningful when we learn to see them as acts of love.
The teacher who walks in the shadow of the temple, among his followers, gives not of his wisdom but rather of his faith and his lovingness. If he is indeed wise he does not bid you enter the house of his wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind.
The best teachers don’t download information — they inspire us to learn.
Yet the timeless in you is aware of life’s timelessness, and knows that yesterday is but today’s memory and tomorrow is today’s dream.
It’s easy to get caught up in the timeliness of everyday life: schedules, appointments, deadlines, timelines, alarms, reminders, calendar events, and all the rest. And of course, we need these.
But isn’t it concerning how easily we become consumed by them? And isn’t a little terrifying how little time we dedicate to the most important things, the things that are timeless: love, wonder, curiosity, learning, growth, play, community?
How can we make time for the timeless in our lives?
You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
Some parents see themselves as carpenters: they have a blueprint for their children, a box full of tools, and end endless supply of neurotic energy compelling them to construct their children into something beautiful or successful or strong.
Other parents see themselves as gardeners: Calm stewards of tiny seeds that have within them unimaginable potential, their only job being to tend the soil, water occasionally, and allow for lots of sunshine.
When you part from your friend, you give not; For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.
Relish all life’s vistas.
At the city gate and by your fireside, I have seen you prostrate yourself and worship your own freedom… in the grove of the temple and in the shadow of the citadel, I have seen the freest among you wear their freedom as a yoke and a handcuff.
Freedom is a means not an end.
To what end do you desire freedom? What will you do with it if it comes? Are you sure you’re prepared for it?
Love one another, but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, even as the strings of a lute are alone though they vibrate together.
So many unhappy relationships come from having the wrong metaphors for love.
Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
I worry a lot that I haven’t had enough pain in my life.
How true is my understanding if it hasn’t been clarified by pain? How good of a therapist can I be if my privilege has shielded me from the pain my clients suffer?
On Reason and Passion
Your reason and your passion are the rudder and the sails of your seafaring soul. If either your sails or your rudder be broken, you can but toss and drift, or else be held at a standstill in mid-seas. For reason, ruling alone, is a force confining; and passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction. Therefore let your should exalt your reason to the height of passion, that it may sing; And let it direct your passion with reason, that your passion may live through its own daily resurrection, and like the phoenix rise above its own ashes.
“Reason versus passion” bores me. But the dance between the two is endlessly fascinating and beautiful.
Why do we insist on ranking and prioritizing? Can’t we marvel at both?
On the Self
The way we approach the sea is probably a good way to approach ourselves: play in it, respect it, but above all else, wonder at it.
For the self is a sea boundless and measureless.