The Prophet, written by Lebanese-American poet, Kahlil Gibran, is one of the most translated books in history and has never been out of print, almost one hundred years after its initial publication in 1923. It has sold over nine million copies in North America alone.
And it is with good reason. The compact book — which took me all of one hour to read whilst sitting by the beach — is full of easily digestible but profound life lessons that run the gamut of love, work, friendship, reason and emotion, giving, and more.
Interestingly, while the book is short, it took Gibran many years to write it because he chose to wait for particular moments of inspiration, rather than forcing the words. He would later say that “the book wrote me”. This is in contrast with much of the narrative we hear from writing aficionados urging us to sit and write every day, rather than wait around for moments of inspiration. In Gibran’s case, patiently waiting around for inspiration clearly paid off.
Below I’ve listed what I found to be ten of the most profound ideas in the book, and my interpretations of them.
Love knows not its own depths until the hour of separation. That which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence as the mountains to the climber is clear up from the plain.
We might take someone for granted until the moment of separation — whether that be a temporary separation or a permanent break-up. While this might in part be attributable to the fear of loss response — one of the strongest we have — it is also attributable to the value and joy that this person brings to our lives.
As love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth, so is he for your pruning.
Relationships are often fragile when both people think that love is nothing other than sunshine and rainbows. The reality is though, that love tests us, and relationships are hard. While relationships should bring us joy, they also bring us sorrow, and accepting and leaning into this fact — and putting in the work — is more likely to generate positive outcomes than cowering at the first sign of difficulty.
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. Sing and dance together and be joyous but let each one of you be alone. Stand together yet not too near together. For the pillars of the temple stand apart.
Many decades later, relationship guru, Esther Perel would write that psychological distance fuels desire, and that our need for togetherness cannot exist without our need for separateness.
Gibran is essentially proposing the same idea here. We should strive to walk our own separate paths, but together. And while social media was a long way off at the time he wrote the book, I’m sure this extends to shying away from those God awful joint Facebook profiles!
Let these be your desires; to know the pain of too much tenderness, to be wounded by your own understanding of love, and to bleed willingly and joyfully.
Again, and perhaps echoing many Buddhist and Hindu teachings, accepting pain and sorrow as a natural part of life rather than one we need to constantly fight against disarms our anxiety and helps us the beauty in the struggle.
To love life through labor is to be intimate with life’s innermost secret
When we love what we do — and where we spend about half of our waking hours in most western economies — it can have a tremendous effect on our dispositions. Today, 85% of people globally are either disengaged or not engaged at work, which suggests that only 1 in 7 people are truly living this maxim.
When you love what you do, and when you spend time in the flow state, work essentially becomes play, and there are few better ways to live.
If you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bit of bread that feeds but half of one’s hunger.
If you choose to pursue a path that doesn’t truly align with your purpose or passions, a mediocre result will usually be a foregone conclusion.
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. The deeper the sorrow, the more joy you can contain. It is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. Joy and sorrow are inseparable.
As Nietzsche put it, you can not enjoy incredible highs without also enduring incredible lows. Gibran’s idea echoes the Stoics of two millennia ago who encouraged practicing poverty — so that we would build resilience, but also become more appreciative in times of abundance.
Metaphorically speaking, when we endure nothing but cold showers for two weeks on end, we suddenly become much more appreciative of hot water.
The lust for comfort murders the passion of the soul.
It has often been said that the comfort zone is a beautiful place but nothing grows there, or that life begins at the edge of your comfort zone. While humans need to retire to our comfort zones to rest and rejuvenate, it is only when we push ourselves beyond the familiar that we develop character. It is the moments we have gone beyond in life that we look back on most fondly.
The weakest and the wicked cannot fall lower than the lowest which is also in you. The most holy and righteous cannot rise beyond the highest which is in each of you. You cannot separate the just from the unjust in the good from the wicked.
Whilst it is easy to judge someone, we are all human and can all fall or rise depending on the quality of our personal circumstances. Knowing this creates a sense of tolerance and empathy that we might otherwise lack.
You can only be free when even the desire of seeking freedom becomes a harness to you. When you cease to see freedom as a goal and a fulfillment you shall be free.
Again, echoing Buddhist teachings which tell us that desire is the root of all suffering, Gibran also urges us to let go of desire, stating that even the desire for freedom is suffering. When we stop desiring and become more accepting of what is, suffering ends.
Reason and judgement wage war against your passion and your appetite. You should rest in reason and moving passion. Let your soul exalt your reason to the height of passion that it may sing.
Something many learned people struggle with is reconciling emotion with reason. Do you go with your head or your heart? There is, arguably, value to both. Intuition and gut feelings can both lead us to heaven and hell, whilst overreliance on logic can do the same. We should lean on both to help guide our path.
Your pain is the breaking of the shell that includes is your understanding.
We often feel pain when our understanding of how things ‘should be’ in the world are not in alignment with what actually is. Again, when we reset our expectations and accept what is, pain subsides.
When your friend speaks his mind, don’t withhold the nay nor the ay. There be no purpose in friendship other than the deepening of the spirit.
Essentially, Gibran is suggesting that a good friend should not blindly be a yes-man, but challenge their friends when it makes sense to do so. Indeed, a good friend guides one to greener pastures.
You are good when you are at one with yourself. You are good when you strive to give of yourself.
Being a good person extends to being true to yourself, and helping others.
May your pleasures be like the flowers and the bees.
Whilst the pursuits of pleasure is frowned upon by many ancient texts, it is a natural part of human life. However, Gibran urges us to seek out mutually beneficial pleasures. “It is the pleasure of the bee to gather honey of the flower, but it is also the pleasure of the flower to yield its honey to the bee”.
Is not religion all days and all reflection? Your daily life and actions is your temple and your religion.
Every action we take is religion.
Life and death are one, even as the river and sea are one.
One cannot have life without death. Life cannot exist without death.
Steve Glaveski is on a mission to unlock your potential to do your best work and live your best life. He is the founder of innovation accelerator, Collective Campus, author of several books, including Employee to Entrepreneur and Time Rich, and productivity contributor for Harvard Business Review. He’s a chronic autodidact and is into everything from 80s metal and high-intensity workouts to attempting to surf and hold a warrior three pose.