Sanity and spiritual sanity 4 The Madman by Kahlil Gibran

Over one hundred years ago the Lebanese Kahlil Gibran published a book called The Madman, His Parables and Poems. Gibran is famous for his work The Prophet which has sold well over ten million copies – it was particularly popular in the 1960s when many people turned away from the establishment of the Church to Gibran. It is said that he offers a dogma-free universal spiritualism as opposed to orthodox religion, and his vision of the spiritual was not moralistic. In fact, he urged people to be non-judgmental.

He was brought up as a Maronite Christian – an ethno-religious group from the Levant region of the Middle East, but lived for many years in the US. As an Arab, he was also influenced by Islam, and especially by the mysticism of the Sufis.

This is an extract from the first section of The Madman that fits with the theme of sanity and spiritual sanity.

You ask me how I became a madman. It happened thus: One day, long before many gods were born, I woke from a deep sleep and found all my masks were stolen —the seven masks I have fashioned and worn in seven lives—I ran maskless through the crowded streets shouting, “Thieves, thieves, the cursed thieves.”

Men and women laughed at me and some ran to their houses in fear of me.

And when I reached the market place, a youth standing on a house-top cried, “He is a madman.” I looked up to behold him; the sun kissed my own naked face for the first time. For the first time the sun kissed my own naked face and my soul was inflamed with love for the sun, and I wanted my masks no more. And as if in a trance I cried, “Blessed, blessed are the thieves who stole my masks.”

Thus, I became a madman.

And I have found both freedom and safety in my madness; the freedom of loneliness and the safety from being understood, for those who understand us enslave something in us.

But let me not be too proud of my safety. Even a Thief in a jail is safe from another thief.

This second extract from the same book is from a piece called The Grave-Digger

Once, as I was burying one of my dead selves, the grave-digger came by and said to me, “Of all those who come here to bury, you alone I like.”

Said I, “You please me exceedingly, but why do you like me?”

“Because,” said he, “They come weeping and go weeping—you only come laughing and go laughing.”

These strange parables describe the idea of the parts we play and the masks we wear, and the sense of relief and authenticity that may come from letting go of parts of ourselves that betray the underlying spiritual sanity of the person we are meant to be.

Gibran in 1911