“My house says to me, ‘Do not leave me, for here dwells your past.’
And the road says to me, ’Come and follow me, for I am your future.’
And I say to both my house and the road, ‘I have no past, nor have I a future.
If I stay here, there is a going in my staying; and if I go, there is a staying in my going.
Only love and death change all things.’”
Old words of comfort
When I was leaving home for the first time, before I left, I had a copy of these words up on my bedroom wall. Looking back they were comforting and held a lot of meaning for me during a difficult time in my life. My understanding of these words has only deepened over time as I have become exposed to positive psychology and gone through my own journey of change.
Every time I read those words, and in particular when writing them out above, I find I have a lump to my throat and a tear in my eye. I also feel a strange sharpening of my gaze and a calming of my spirit. I couldn’t really explain why but I know that a lot of what Gibran wrote leaves me feeling this way, connected, uplifted but somehow more aware of the paradox of life: there is no joy without sadness and there is no meaning without suffering.
Gibran words clearly resonated with me as a teenager, embarking on my first solo adventure and leaving the security of my family home for the first time. Today it feels that they represent every choice I have ever made since.
Discovering new meanings
Last month, I found an old volume of his, ‘Sand and Foam’ belonging to my mum, hidden towards the back of my bookcase. As I read it cover to cover one evening, I was astounded at how much of what I was reading crystallised positive psychology (second wave) for me. If someone was to ask me why I had returned to studying after half a lifetime away, I would now point them to the words in this book.
“It is only when you are pursued, that you become swift.”
I was introduced to Gibran by my parents from a fairly early age as one of Lebanon’s cultural icons whose appeal bridges race, religion and even the ages. Those of you know have read and enjoyed ‘The Prophet’ will appreciate his style – direct, vivid and rich in it’s visual and metaphorical exploration of spirituality. His work is influenced by both pre-Islamic traditions as well as European Romanticism and he was the bestselling poet in the US by a clear margin for a time.
Learning a bit more about Gibran, I am not surprised that part of his appeal to me may be because, like me, he was raised with both western and Middle Eastern influences. Although he was born in Lebanon, he was educated and lived in both the US and Lebanon and created the majority of his work including poetry, prose and paintings during the early part of the 20th century.
Seeing a positive psychology
Like Gibran, I am also a product of my environment. I find that now I have been exposed to positive psychology, I see it in words and pictures and accounts of experiences, regardless of the authors’ intention. But something has drawn me back to Gibran time and time again perhaps because he balances compassion and criticism of humankind as he experienced it so well.
“Perhaps the sea’s definition of a shell is the pearl. Perhaps time’s definition of coal is the diamond.”
A timely reminder
Sand and Foam is a lesser known work, written as a series of aphorisms, or truths, and as such is easy to dip into and find aspects that apply to your own life context. It was written and published after ‘The Prophet’ at a time when Gibran had developed a kind of celebrity status with admirers including the great Carl Jung.
The Jungian influence on his work is clear to me now in his use of storytelling, choice of words, sense of mysticism and connectedness he evokes as I read. I believe therein lies an important aspect of Gibran’s enduring appeal.
Sand and Foam has its critics, but I find it full of imagery, insight and a universality about the world and our place in it as connected beings, for the good and the bad. I have no experience analysing poetic devices in great detail but the contrasting pictures he paints with so few words are sometimes astonishing in their conciseness and simplicity.
“The pearl is a temple built by pain around a grain of sand. What longing build out bodies and around what grains?”
I think this may be the next quote I pin to my wall, words to live by. Perhaps a reminder that a search for meaning must involve some striving and that striving itself is what creates meaning?
About the Author: Lena Britnell