The end-of-a-calendar year seems to trigger the same effect as end of life–a time of reflection, sometimes postmortem of life lived or “premortem”, depending on the point of view. Suitably, the book recommended here is also an end–the ship has arrived after 12 years to carry away Almustafa, “the chosen and the beloved”, from the fictitious land of Orphalese back to the place of his birth. He watches the ship sail in with joy. But it soon turns to sadness as “who can depart from his pain and aloneness without regret?” Time and again, I have seen in teaching over all these years our inability to let go of our pain, of what tortures and torments us. In fact, there is a strong attachment, clinging, to the pain.
There are those who see within us more than we are able to see. With borrowed sight, we travel to spaces within and begin to develop our own vision. And we have traveled a bit with some on this blog–the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn (Walking Meditation), universal thinker of Indian origin Krishnamurti (Book of Life), and now we flow with Kahlil Gibran and The Prophet. Gibran was an American from Lebanon. He wrote 17 books, nine in Arabic and eight in English. Of all these, The Prophet, written in English is the most popular with people and panned by critics. In fact, the popularity of the book, over nine million copies sold, has vaulted Gibran to being the third most popular poet.
Just like the rhythms of music, the lyrical cadence of prose poetry has certain rhythms that deeply affects us. This book contains 26 prose poems on major themes that punctuate the sentence of life from birth to death–love, marriage, children, giving, eating and drinking, work, joy and sorrow, houses, clothes, buying and selling, crime and punishment, laws, freedom, reason and passion, pain, self-knowledge, teaching, friendship, talking, time, good and evil, prayer, pleasure, beauty, pain, religion, and death. The words take on biblical as well as sufi tones. They clearly guided Gibran’s thinking in a strong way and he was a Maronite Christian who also absorbed the Sufi philosophy.
I am glad that when stumbling upon this book many years ago, I had not read any of the critics. There was little curiosity at that time of the author. So the book was read without any prejudice, solely focused on the content and its ripples on the mind pond. The imaginary prophet Almustafa descends the hill, after sighting the ship, to return to the town of Orphalese–and the people beseech him him to stay. The day of parting is the day of gathering. Almitra, a “seeress”, asks him to “give us of your truth” and begins with love. One of the most popular passages is Children. But enough said about the book to minimize the influence of this review.
For me, the book is best read privately, like the other recommended books. How does the mind receive the words? How does it ripple with the thoughts gently thrown in?
After reading the review of the book in the New Yorker, “Prophet Motive: The Kahlil Gibran Phenomenon “by Joan Acocella (gives a good biography of Gibran), several waves went through the mind.
Does the review suddenly change the meaning of the book?
How much does the author’s life affect our subsequent reactions? Many great authors (painters, musicians, mathematicians) had troubled lives.
To what extent is our thinking shepherded by critics and pundits? Do we passively allow our minds and lives to be molded by a few–what we read, view, eat, our political thoughts, our social behavior, our reactions, our judgments?
When we instinctively put labels, there are immediate mental programs associated with those labels that kick in. So how free and independent is our thinking process?
Are any of our thoughts free and our own? Or are we passive recipients, spoon-fed from birth, with no active independent thinking that is free of prejudice, bias, judgement–all highly limiting?
How do we read, see, hear, taste, smell, feel, think, act, live?
This is the year-end postmortem or premortem–a meditation on the mind.