Mar 06 2013

Kahlil Gibran – Pain

Published by at 10:18 am under Poetry

by Kahlil Gibran

And a woman spoke, saying, Tell us of Pain.
And he said:
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.
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.
And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.

Much of your pain is self-chosen,
It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self.
Therefore trust the physician, and drink his remedy in silence and tranquility:
For his hand, though heavy and hard, is guided by the tender hand of the Unseen,
And the cup he brings, though it burn your lips, has been fashioned of the clay which the Potter has moistened with His own sacred tears.

— from The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran

/ Photo by techn04life /

Monday’s poem sparked some fascinating discussions. Many of the notes and comments I received were responses to Rumi’s emphasis on suffering in that poem. Several people argued that suffering is not required for spiritual growth. Others found a certain comfort in the idea that suffering is part of the spiritual process, giving meaning to their own sometimes terrible struggles. So many wise, compassionate viewpoints.

I don’t want to suggest that I believe pain is necessary. I do believe, however, that suffering can be used. Difficult experiences can serve a profound purpose — when we approach them with awareness and with heart.

I would like to look at this question of suffering and spirituality from a slightly different angle today. What if the suffering is the suffering of the ego?

Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.

When we believe that we are that ego, then we experience the ego’s suffering as pain. We take it personally, and fear it could lead to death and, worse, nonexistence.

But– when we carefully, elegantly free ourselves from the notion that we are the ego, not merely as a philosophical idea but as a directly experienced reality, then what does the suffering of the ego mean to us? What is the ego exactly? When we come to see the ego as nothing more than a phantom, a mental construction, then the suffering itself becomes phantom-like. It is more like the unfolding drama of a movie being watched. It can be intense, heart-breaking, occasionally beautiful, but we no longer experience it as personal. It is no longer seen as an attack on our being.

Suffering, from that perspective, is not about pain or loss of being; instead it is seen as a form of alchemical pressure. When we keep our awareness engaged, we can use suffering as a form of transformational intensity, turning the crushed grape into wine…

Let’s also keep in mind that mystics often use the language of pain to describe spiritual opening, often in a shockingly positive light. They may refer to a “sweet pain” or a “healing pain.” This “pain” has a few levels of meaning and types of experience.

On one level, the pain can be quite literal and even physical. But it might be more accurate to refer to this as “intensity” rather than “pain.” It can be as if the senses and the perceptual mind’s ability to process it all gets overloaded. The mystic then experiences a searing, cleansing sort of intensity, that might be called pain.

Through profound opening, one feels everything more completely, a sort of universal empathy. There is a lot of hidden suffering in the world and, at a certain point, we feel it as our own. (Actually, we always feel it anyway, but the walls of denial fall away, and we become aware of it for the first time.) In a directly sentient way, we become aware of the interconnectedness of life. Initially, that flood of feeling is intense, even painful, but that is the pain of the heart breaking open. It becomes a sort of wound one carries, but it resolves itself to a beauty and sense of unity that manages to integrate even the most terrible suffering.

Other mystics speak of a wounding in a more metaphorical sense. The pain experienced is the perception of one’s separation from God. But that pain itself is the doorway to reunion. By allowing oneself to become completely vulnerable to that pain, to surrender to it, the mystic finds the pain transformed into the blissful touch of the Beloved.

In the past, I’ve written–

Your most secret wound
is the doorway.

Ultimately, all of these forms of pain are the pain of the pierced ego. For one with inner balance, where the protective but limiting shell of the ego is no longer necessary, that pain points the way to freedom.

For this reason, mystics and saints describe the pain as being sweet or joyful or beautiful. It is, in fact, the beginning of bliss.

Sending much love to everyone!

Kahlil Gibran, Kahlil Gibran poetry, Christian poetry Kahlil Gibran

Lebanon/US (1883 – 1931) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

Kahlil Gibran was born to a Maronite Christian family in Besharri, Lebanon (then part of Syria and the Ottoman Empire).

His father, also named Kahlil Gibran, had drinking problems and accumulated many gambling debts. This led Gibran’s father to leave his job as assistant to his uncle who was a pharmacist, taking work as an ‘enforcer’ for the local Ottoman administrator. He eventually ended up in jail.

Because of the family’s poverty, Gibran did not receive a formal education as a young boy, but a local priest taught him Arabic and Syriac, as well as the stories of the Bible and infused in him an awareness of the mystical dimensions of Maronite Christianity.

When Gibran was eight, his mother took him, his older half-brother, and his two younger sisters to Boston. Although shy, Gibran quickly learned English and, thanks to a scholarship, started to receive more of a formal education.

The boy became fascinated by Boston’s world of art and music, visiting galleries and performances. At age 13, his artistic gifts came to the attention of cultural circles in Boston, where he was further introduced to artistic trends.

Despite this early success, Gibran was sent back to Lebanon to complete his education, where he excelled in poetry.

He returned to the United States in 1902 in the midst of a family crisis. His mother had cancer, and his older brother and his fourteen-year-old sister had tuberculosis. His sister soon died. The brother, who had been supporting the family with a small hardware store, moved to Cuba to try to recover his health, leaving the young Gibran in the frustrating position of having to take over the hardware business. A year later, his brother returned from Cuba, but later died. The same year, his mother also died.

In the aftermath of so much death, Gibran sold the family business and threw all of his energy into art and writing and perfecting his English. He also reconnected with the Boston cultural benefactors he had known before.

He began to write columns for an Arabic-language newspaper and later collected these writings into his first published books.

In 1909, Gibran went to Paris for two years to broaden his artistic training, and he was particularly influenced by the mystical artistic Symbolist movement.

Returning to America, he began to publish some of his first Arabic prose-poetry collections through a publisher in Egypt. He became active with Arab intellectual and artistic organizations, promoting the rich culture of the Arab-speaking world, while attempting to address its many problems under Western imperial rule.

In 1911, Gibran moved to New York. There he met and was influenced Abdul Baha, the leader of the Bahai Faith movement. He also met Carl Jung and was asked to paint the famous psychologist’s portrait, at which time Gibran became intrigued by Jungian philosophy.

Gibran began to write in his adopted language of English, writing The Madman, though it would be rejected by several publishing houses until a small publisher named Alfred Knopf would take a chance on the work.

When World War I broke out, he worked to free Syria from Ottoman rule, but was frustrated by the messy realities of war and international politics.

In the years following publication of his best know work, The Prophet, Gibran would gain international notoriety.

He died in 1931.

More poetry by Kahlil Gibran

13 responses so far

13 Responses to “Kahlil Gibran – Pain”

  1. Mike Smithon 06 Mar 2013 at 11:34 am

    If suffering did not exist, it would be necessary to create it, because without it one cannot come to correct self-awareness.
    – P.D. Ouspensky

  2. jim carlin m don 06 Mar 2013 at 1:56 pm

    in this life many of us had to hit an emotional spiritual or physical bottom and suffer enough till we were sick of being sick
    “pain is the touchstone of all spiritual growth”
    we are a perverse group
    “we have met the enemy and he is us”-pogo- funny papers

    have a great day-unless you have made other plans

  3. Joon 06 Mar 2013 at 2:22 pm

    Working in the medical field, pain is necessary to point to the problem or disease. Something hidden, not visible or physically apparent that cannot be diagnosed wtihout acknowleging the pain and seeking the source.

    Should pain only be suffered through or tolerated or should we seek its pathway and its source. Only then can we fully deal with and understand how it relates to ourself. Pain deferred is pain ignored?

  4. Pegon 06 Mar 2013 at 4:05 pm

    Thank you Ivan. Gibran’s poem and your words are beautiful–defining and nurturing the layers and depth of the meaning of pain and that of suffering–how similar and yet how far apart these two words are. A simple definition is not possible, linguistically this demands our attention to dig deeper and ask more of ourselves.

    I “seek its pathway and its source” so even if pain continues I do not suffer because I can rest within wisdom. It was a shock for me to learn that all my suffering led back to me. Thank you Jo for your beautiful words. It took me a very long time to be able to admit this without the guilt and shame but that is what all this “time” is about.

    Much love and light to all, Peg

  5. Sobhana Bardhanon 06 Mar 2013 at 6:01 pm

    Hi Ivan,

    How are you?

    Thank you very much for the most wondeful pieces: The Gibran poem “Pain” & your equally beautiful & beyond my words exceptional explanations

    Yes, pain, suffering & such are that many are unable to explain They are necessary component to our life & living; therefore, they are part of us Some of us must suffer to understand the reality –physical, psychological & the like –we live within At the same instance they somehow heal us too because there is nothing we can do about

    Once again thank you

  6. Sandra W.on 06 Mar 2013 at 7:44 pm

    Love these last two poems and your insightful commentary!! Great perspective, great translation, and great understanding! Thank you, and I hope you keep them coming! Namaste!

  7. Franceson 07 Mar 2013 at 1:49 am

    We here in affluent society can afford to ascribe deep meaning to our sufferings. The third world poor, the people being caught in the cross fire of wars, they do not sit around looking for the lesson in their familys massacre.

    I myself was tortured at the hand of doctors and had PTSD thereafter. Your comments and the poem are for great psychic pain perhaps.

    I too was looking for Carl Jung but instead found doctors with horrible drugs that take away spirituality completely and utterly.

  8. Vijayakumari.P.Ion 07 Mar 2013 at 5:24 am



    I would like to differ with your opinion about suffering, similar or same views i have read many times in life; o.k what you said is true, if you don’t have to live the life of a human being, if you have to live the life of a saint o.k it will be true; But i am a human being and living the life of a human being, and i have encountered many real problem sin life, though i have overcome most of them , i am not that much spiritual to tell that suffering is simply ego.

    Till the time we don’t have to face real issues we can keep saying that suffering is ego.

  9. Sharon C.on 07 Mar 2013 at 6:17 am

    Ivan, your commentary on Gibran’s poem felt like a gift this morning. After 24 hrs. of agonizing self-hate over my recent unkindness to people i care about and not understanding why I continue to repeat my same actions, I found your comments on ego especiallye meaningful . I’m well aware that my pain is caused by ego and i actually watch myself co-operate with that ego without being able to shut up. It’s my words that hurt others so badly, and as horrifying as it is, I have to admit that while i’m hurting them, the ego is enjoying it. If I were able to take a knife to that ego, I’d do it in a second. If I can speak (selfishly) of my own pain,(to say nothing of theirs) it’s worse than anything physical I’ve experienced. Words spoken cannot be retracted and apologies get worn out.
    From my own experience it definitely does not promote spiritual growth- in fact it shuts out the Divine and all the world around me. My how the ego loves to suffer and feel sorry for itself. I’m so full of it this morning, I just needed to let it out.
    Thanks for providing the opportunity. Your work is beautiful Ivan as is all the poetry.
    It’s amazing to me that this heart that loves poetry so much can live in the same body as an inflated ego. Amen. my friend and thanks again.

  10. Meena Modion 07 Mar 2013 at 6:41 pm

    Another perspective distinguishes between pain and suffering. Pain is a physical sensation, or a feeling over which we do not necessarily have control–like experiencing heat, cold, heaviness, lightness. Suffering is self-inflicted by the thoughts of the mind, the conditioned mind. So a person who is very aware spiritually can experience pain without suffering as there is no chain of thoughts added to the pain such as “I hate pain. Why do I have to suffer? Now I cannot go out and do what I wanted to do. If only this had not happened… “(which causes suffering). The spiritual awareness no longer identifies with the body that feels the pain–it is a body, not MY body–so it is a pain, not MY pain. Of course Me, Mine, is ego expressing itself. So ego suffers, not the spirit.

  11. Carolon 08 Mar 2013 at 7:06 am

    Good morning Ivan,

    Thank you for the Gibran poem. I have loved and referred to the Prophet nearly
    50 years now. Your wonderful commentary brought new understanding to the
    the need for the ego to fall away, allowing a broadening of our perspective and
    opening of our heart. Have opened to these thoughts before, but this poem and
    your commentary brought light – Thank You.

  12. Therese Monaghan O.P.on 08 Mar 2013 at 8:21 am

    Thank you, Ivan, for your beautiful
    meditation on pain.

  13. Raveeson 03 Feb 2016 at 11:53 am

    Thanks for ur analysis love Khalil’s prophet. But I think more eloberate analysis of pain is reqd. Wow he says that soft hand has moistened clay with his tears to make a cup. I think one is amazed only till last breath.

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply