“On Self-Knowledge” by Kahlil Gibran

A Truth from a Certain Point of View

The following poem is from Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet:

And a man said, Speak to us of Self-
And he answered, saying:
Your hearts know in silence the secrets of the
    days and the nights.
But your ears thirst for the sound of your
    heart's knowledge.
You would know in words that which you
    have always known in thought.
You would touch with your fingers the naked
  body of your dreams.

And it is well you should.
The hidden well-spring of your soul must
    needs rise and run murmuring to the sea;
And the treasure of your infinite depths
    would be revealed to your eyes.
But let there be no scales to weigh your
    unknown treasure;
And seek not the depths of your knowledge
    with staff or sounding line.
For self is a sea boundless and measureless.

Say not, ‘I have found the truth,’ but rather, ‘I
    have found a truth.’
Say not, ‘I have found the path of the soul.’
    Say rather, ‘I have met the soul walking
    upon my path.’
For the soul walks upon all paths.

The soul walks not upon a line, neither does
    it grow like a reed.
The soul unfolds itself, like a lotus of
    countless petals.


I mark the above to highlight something I must continue to remember.

I have distinct memories of sitting in a theater in Illinois in . My parents took me and my brother to see The Return of the Jedi. The scene with Obi-Wan’s ghost talking with Luke in Degoba is the first time I can recall “adults” talking about multiple truths.

Obi-Wan Kenobi
So what I told you was true, from a certain point of view.
Luke Skywalker
A certain point of view?
Obi-Wan Kenobi
Luke, you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.
The Return of the Jedi

It sounds obvious and quaint, but here I am prone to forgetting that simple thing; there are an unknowable number of truths. A mystery.

As a child, I’m certain I held more space for mystery; after all I hadn’t filled my head with all the rules, regulations, historical “facts”, and other trivia. Then as the gears of formal education ground, I began looking for absolute truth. I doubled down on it, and pursued a degree in Mathematics.

There’s a truth in mathematics; but I later learned that whole fields of mathematics open up if you choose your axioms.

A friend of mine continues to remind me to sit with the mystery; accept that there is almost certainly an unseen or unseeable truth. Try hard not to name something you are only now encountering.

I once wanted to be smart, but realized intelligence to be hollow. So I instead I sought to be wise, but seeking wisdom is like chasing the wind. You can feel it, but when you run after it, there’s less of it.

Maybe contentedness is what I should seek. But more likely it’s just seeking to live here and now. After all, isn’t that Master Yoda’s admonishment?

So I look to The Prophet, and read it’s parables. I listen to the words and that which is between; to chip and crack away at my attachments and assumptions. Not all mysteries need unraveling; not all spaces need filling. To live is to know that these mysteries will continue long after you draw your last breath.