A story by Kahlil Gibran

By Paulo Coelho

I was strolling in the gardens of an insane asylum when I met a young man who was reading a philosophy book.

His behavior and his evident good health made him stand out from the other inmates.

I sat down beside him and asked:

‘What are you doing here?’

He looked at me, surprised. But seeing that I was not one of the doctors, he replied:

‘It’s very simple. My father, a brilliant lawyer, wanted me to be like him. My uncle, who owns a large emporium, hoped I would follow his example. My mother wanted me to be the image of her beloved father. My sister always set her husband before me as an example of the successful man. My brother tried to train me up to be a fine athlete like himself.

And the same thing happened at school, with the piano teacher and the English teacher – they were all convinced and determined that they were the best possible example to follow. None of them looked at me as one should look at a man, but as if they were looking in a mirror.

So I decided to enter this asylum. At least here I can be myself.’

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Comments

  1. THELMA says:

    We have come to Earth to gain .. experience and the individuality.. To be different from .. Angels. To be humans who will … eventually, by reaching Ithaca, to be the Son of Man who has gained .. Paradise again.. The Path, the Way is different for each one of us.. We are in the Worlds of .. separation, of loneliness, in Plato’s caves. None has had the same character, talents, gifts, experiences, senses, with somebody else.. None can look or sense or feel something with the same way as somebody else. Each one looks and feels and .. dreams, building his future, with his own way and from his own perspective.. We are different.. We are the flowers in God’s Garden.. Each one carries its own beauty and individuality.. ‘his Madness’. This Madness is the fire that drives us to .. climb mountains, to dream, to see and create new Worlds.
    May we all continue to dream and use our creative power for new beautiful worlds full of Light and Love and transcend ..separateness and loneliness and see in the eyes of another Soul, Paradise.
    LOVE,
    Thelma.

  2. marie-christine says:

    it all boils down to the respect of the individual.

  3. eternalhwan says:

    Schopenhauer said “The world is my representation”. How this phrase could be interpreted? The world is my representation and someone else might judge my activity and my whole things. A man is unique object and he doesn’t chage at all. A man might admit someone else’s opinions and expectations but the decisions just cling to wholly himself. The problem is a gap between others’ expectation and my intention. And a man want to obtain others’ respect and this desire might interfere with someone’s original ego. However, people cannot be separated from society and human being cannot live in absolute solitude as if flowers cannot live any longer without gardener’s effort. I think that compromise with other’s opinion could bring average or majority happiness but to maintain or distinguish someone’s identity in terms of values of life, it is necessary to keep his own mind and own perspective. Communicate each other and its procedures could be a life…

  4. Ilana says:

    On Sadness

    (Re)Bonjour Monsieur Coelho,

    that girl again? You might be asking yourself. Or in all likelyhood, not. You probably don't have time to be reading all these comments on your blog. But no matter. I write you anyway again today. Yes, again.

    I wish you to know that your latest post relating Khalil Gibran's own words of his visit to an “insane asylum” as he referred to it then (nowadays that would be deemed terribly politically incorrect of him, wouldn't it?)… that story has somehow prompted several small miracles to occur in my life.

    The first is that I received a comment on my blog from a girl who is a friend of mine. She sent it under cover of anonymity and used a very rare name which I had only heard once before. She emerged from the shadows to speak to me of her sadness, and to tell me that my words had somehow given her comfort. That it made her feel less lonely to know that there are others who feel as she does. That was in and of itself a beautiful gift she gave me.

    Because I often wonder why this compulsion to write so much. Often feel badly about sitting here and typing away the way a piano player does his scales. And sharing parts of my life that many others deem… indelicate of me to share. Why does she write so much? Why does she talk to much? I sometimes imagine them to be thinking to themselves. All too often, in fact. And then… her correspondence with me… put me in touch with my own sadness. I worried that in my haste to respond to her (for I felt she was in need of words of comfort from me, and how presumptuous of me to think so!) there is the possibility that I could have commited a blunder. But I brushed that thought aside.

    And then I went out to dinner with a very old and dear friend whom I hadn't seen in some time and we had one of those conversations you know… where you speak from the heart and are not afraid to reveal yourself, with all your strenghts AND your weaknesses…

    And then I came home, and I cried. I “should” have felt happy, because we had a lovely evening, a lovely dinner, a wonderful conversation and I enjoyed her company tremendously. But instead I came home and I cried. I worried that I'd talked too much. Hadn't given my friend the time to express herself as she perhaps needed to as well. I worried (again!) that my anonymous friend who'd written to me earlier had perhaps taken offense at something I might have said or that perhaps I had put her ill at ease by mentioning her (albeit anonymously still) in a subsequent post. I started berating myself for not having been more present for all the friends I've had the good fortune to have in this life. So many people I've let down or left behind as I seek my own happiness and understanding…

    I decided to seek comfort in Kahlil Gibran's words “On Giving”. And I transcribed them into my blog. I like to transcibe words of wisdom. It is an exercise which I find very calming. And then I worried that perhaps I was commiting another graver error by this very act. Because copyright, intellectual property, etc etc… was that likely to get me in trouble with Mr. Gibran's estate? Was I commiting some sort of moral breach?

    I decided to let myself sleep nonetheless. Too much sleep lost over such matters. And when I awoke very early (too early) this morning, I started by editing my post of Khalil Gibran's words. And then I started to worry that… “who do you think you are, to be editing the words of such a great thinker”. And then, that in turn prompted me to write my own words about the sadness that all that worrying makes me feel. Infinite sadness. So much worrying over matters which do not mean anything at all to the common observer.

    I wanted to send this to you as a message on your blog today monsieur Gibran. And now I worry… do I send it? Should I send it? Will he read it? And if he reads it, is he likely to respond, ever? And if he does and if he doesn't, does it really matter? And do I have hidden intentions? Are my motives honourable? Are they really?Are they really… REALLY?? And all these thoughts… they torture me.

    And so this very moment, I will allow myself to enter the insane asylum which is inside my own mind. It gives me refuge. It allows me to grow stronger every day. “At least here I can be myself.” Indeed Monsieur Coelho. Indeed Monsieur Gibran. Indeed young man reading a philosophy book in an insane asylum. What was his name I wonder? Will we ever know? No matter. To me, he will be “Habib”. Because it's a good name. A loving name.

    Thank you for taking the time to stroll through my refuge. I enjoy sharing this conversation with you. All of you. We are not alone. Are you reading this “Asa”? Are you reading this “Habib”? And you “Jason”? We are not alone. Truly, we are not alone.

    Peace, Love, Namaste,
    From Smiler, with Love.

  5. francesca says:

    “At least here I can be myself”

  6. Marie-Christine says:

    I have heard that it feels “safe” in there before.

  7. kuttipisasu says:

    Dear sir,

    Advice is the thing which is available freely in this world. thanks for the story.

  8. Marta says:

    Olá Paulo! :)

    I can also can see myself in the mirror of this Gibran text.
    Thanks for sharing that with us. Thanks for sharing yourself in a so deep and wise way with us, your readers! Someone said once something like this: “I don’t complain about my crazyness. I enjoy it every single moment.” And I totally agree with that sentence. And I promise that I will do a search for the name of the authour because the sentence is simply GREAT. :)

    It’s wonderful when I’m able to be myself. But unfortunately it’s not always like that. Well, it’s not like that STILL. But someday, and I hope pretty soon, I will discover my own identity and I will be able to be ME.

    Love & Light to you!

    Marta :)

  9. Juneli says:

    “None of them looked at me as one should look at a man, but as if they were looking in a mirror.”

    This is the reality of the our society or say the world. It reminded me one of my post : click on my name.

    Very inspirational story indeed.

  10. Karen says:

    I read the story and it aches my heart as I think, “What a brave man”. I ache not because I feel sorry for him, but because he has the kind of bravery that I need…I don’t want to envy him… but at least when he saw the light, he followed it…

    I always pray to see that light.
    It’s while i’m praying i feel as if im invincible… as if i’m courageous enough…
    & when I see the light.. I just stand clueless, I await helplessly, and confusion stir my thoughts… people always tell me:”wake up, stop dreaming, you’ll hurt yourself” or “thx, but we don’t want to live in the dream world”… I don’t understand why is it such a taboo, such a crime…

    I search for my very own bravery, “where is it?”, “I thought u were there”… I want to reach to myself. Why didn’t I follow it? What is stopping me? and I ache…

    and pray again…

  11. Glorita says:

    Thank you for the story Paulo, for showing us once more to be ourselves!!. Davide, continue working hard and you will reach your goal, just ask God for His blessings and guidance and go for it!!!

    best wishes,

    Glorita

  12. Davide B. says:

    this is a situation that i live in this period because i think about university for the next year….i’m so confused but i choose: i want to became a doctor…i think that is more difficult but, with your book, i think that is possible….it’s a dream

    an italian warrior of light

    Davide

  13. Artemis says:

    I like that story. Sometimes we can forget who we are. Thank you so much for your beautiful books. The Alchemist taught me to appreciate my sensitivity to the world. I understand I am lucky to know and do what I love.
    Peace.

  14. Paulo…
    “The easiest thing is to be ourselves, the hardest thing is to be as others wish us to be”. I beg to differ with that comment since it tends to go well with the asylum story.
    Most people spend their entier lives trying to live up to what others expect them to be in a confused state thinking what they are doing is being themselves. Then one day some of those people wake up and realize they are living a lie, and they realize that lie isn’t who they are, but who others expect them to be.
    Easy to be you…. wow… Some how I do not think the person who wrote that has ever really taken a stroll amongst any of us who has tried to be just that… ourself.
    We havr created a woprld where the hardest thing one can do is to find oneself and be ones self with out being persecuted in one fashon or another. The hardest thing to do is to refuse to follow the footsteps we are expected to follow in. We are the square pegs that never fit into that nice neat little circle that every one is hell bent on trying to force us to submit too.
    The individuals who strive to be themselves are the ones who have had the hardest roads to travel. We live in a world where individuals are hunted down, belittled, persecuted for being individuals because that is not how society wants us to be. We rock their boat and they do not like that. In fact they choose to believe there is something wrong with us because we choose to be different.
    The problem with society is they believe everyone should want to “BE LIKE MIKE” instead of who we are.
    To find one’s self one needs to find seclusion from the daily grind, and the velvet handcuffs most of us wear.
    Society has made it almost imposible to do. We forget who we are and become lost, and confused as to who we are. Then when we find ourself on a road that we didn’t want to be on, we scratch our head in wondering how we got there in the first place. We are expected as a whole not to think, to just do as we are expected. When we don’t do that we have commited the most heinous of crimes we could ever commit against society in societies eyes. Because we used our brains to think instead of following in the footsteps of others. One does not need to be physicly tortured to be persecuted for being you.
    Society singles those out who want to be individuals. They have learned that individuals rock the boat to their prescribed way of doing things. They can not accept anyone who is different. They have to put you under a microscope, and disect us to try and figure out why we are different. They want to group us in mass form, when in fact an individual is to be one, with one’s self. That is why we have a brain. The greatest minds were those who did not conform, to the like mind way of thinking.
    “Different eyes see different things when looking at the same” I think that phrase says alot. Unfortunately,
    most people can not comprehend that. We walk amongst the cities of the dead because we have forgotten that. It has become the norm that it is better to be one of the dead zombies, dazed and confused with ones own self. The mjority are not happy with who they are because they have no conception of who they are. The human mind is designed to think seperate that is what sets us apart from the animal kingdom. The human mind reasons and we have traded that in for a newer and better toy, that we can put on the shelf, when we find another one that amuses us more.
    It’s better to be amused then confused I suppose, especially for those who have lost all concept of what it means to be an individual. Give the monkey a big yellow banana to amuse him, he will do tricks, and that will keep him happy with his oblivion, and perhaps that will prevent him from realizing how confused he actually is. Stupidity is abundant when the blind lead the blind. As a society we have become inhuman, and indifferent, to the world around us. What was once whole has been sliced and diced into so many tiny little fragments, we have lost all concept of what it was, before we sliced and diced it away.
    Rain drops fall from an open sky. Where did they come from? Does any one know? Better yet… Who gives a damn?
    We have become so dismembered with our me me me attitudes, that we can no longer find time to focus on the world that surrounds us. What have we become? Wandering, babbling, idiots, stumbling around, amongst the rubble… We created.
    Life is the treasure we left behind. How could we be so blind? Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. And all the kings horses and all of his men couldn’t put Humpty together again…

  15. Paulo, man of The Way,
    I live among a people who mostly live to fulfill others dreams. Whether is Parents or Grandparents, they live in prison. I share with many The Alchemist for it serves as a guide to a path for freedom.
    Thank you for your openness and transparency,
    Wolfgang Fernández
    a Venezuelan living in China

  16. Dinsan says:

    “The easiest thing in the world is to be you. The most difficult thing to be is what other people want you to be. Don’t let them put you in that position.”

    Dr. Leo Buscaglia

  17. Rita says:

    If I were creating an insane asylum I would build it around a garden. Just the ability to wander the paths and sit under trees, read a book, would be beneficial. Mirror therapy would be required. Several hours spent really looking at oneself and most of us would see the whole world much clearer.

  18. La Louise em Ithaca says:

    Like a good short “story” it paints an allegorical picture in few words; creates a mood instantly; and in this case, a critique of society. Today we heard on the radio about a real life artist from Mexico who was imprisoned for 30 years in a mental institution in the U.S.A. and who was supposedly not mentally ill. Of course these stories parallel Msr. Coelho’s own life, as he was treated by his parents. If we differ too much, we are acted against by even those closest to us. And, there were many musicians and artists of the past (and present) who we now say were likely at least bi-polar, if not more… What is mental illness? It is an illness when you are judged like to do harm to yourself or others. Can these be judged objectively? In some cases, though I would claim to not believe fully in the objective/subjective divide, YES. As for the rest, there would be a more beautiful world if more of us could behave as we would rather behave – so many drawn to the bohemian, the artful, but without a way to survive in this world, become trammeled by the needs of income and shelter.
    Com amor, avec pleins de baisers, Sua amiga que vc ainda nao conhece, siempre,
    La Louise S. em Ithaca

  19. Miller George says:

    Mr. Coelho,
    To tell you I love your writing would be boring, redundant, predictable yet still nice to hear I suppose.
    I am not sure if you posted this blog because you see similarities between this story and your own life since your family wanted you to be something or other which you disagreed with.
    Maybe, I am thinking too much into things as usual. Thank you for this blog site. Thank you for your books.

  20. Ilana says:

    On Sadness

    (Re)Bonjour Monsieur Coelho,

    that girl again? You might be asking yourself. Or in all likelyhood, not. You probably don’t have time to be reading all these comments on your blog. But no matter. I write you anyway again today. Yes, again.

    I wish you to know that your latest post relating Khalil Gibran’s own words of his visit to an “insane asylum” as he referred to it then (nowadays that would be deemed terribly politically incorrect of him, wouldn’t it?)… that story has somehow prompted several small miracles to occur in my life.

    The first is that I received a comment on my blog from a girl who is a friend of mine. She sent it under cover of anonymity and used a very rare name which I had only heard once before. She emerged from the shadows to speak to me of her sadness, and to tell me that my words had somehow given her comfort. That it made her feel less lonely to know that there are others who feel as she does. That was in and of itself a beautiful gift she gave me.

    Because I often wonder why this compulsion to write so much. Often feel badly about sitting here and typing away the way a piano player does his scales. And sharing parts of my life that many others deem… indelicate of me to share. Why does she write so much? Why does she talk to much? I sometimes imagine them to be thinking to themselves. All too often, in fact. And then… her correspondence with me… put me in touch with my own sadness. I worried that in my haste to respond to her (for I felt she was in need of words of comfort from me, and how presumptuous of me to think so!) there is the possibility that I could have commited a blunder. But I brushed that thought aside.

    And then I went out to dinner with a very old and dear friend whom I hadn’t seen in some time and we had one of those conversations you know… where you speak from the heart and are not afraid to reveal yourself, with all your strenghts AND your weaknesses…

    And then I came home, and I cried. I “should” have felt happy, because we had a lovely evening, a lovely dinner, a wonderful conversation and I enjoyed her company tremendously. But instead I came home and I cried. I worried that I’d talked too much. Hadn’t given my friend the time to express herself as she perhaps needed to as well. I worried (again!) that my anonymous friend who’d written to me earlier had perhaps taken offense at something I might have said or that perhaps I had put her ill at ease by mentioning her (albeit anonymously still) in a subsequent post. I started berating myself for not having been more present for all the friends I’ve had the good fortune to have in this life. So many people I’ve let down or left behind as I seek my own happiness and understanding…

    I decided to seek comfort in Kahlil Gibran’s words “On Giving”. And I transcribed them into my blog. I like to transcibe words of wisdom. It is an exercise which I find very calming. And then I worried that perhaps I was commiting another graver error by this very act. Because copyright, intellectual property, etc etc… was that likely to get me in trouble with Mr. Gibran’s estate? Was I commiting some sort of moral breach?

    I decided to let myself sleep nonetheless. Too much sleep lost over such matters. And when I awoke very early (too early) this morning, I started by editing my post of Khalil Gibran’s words. And then I started to worry that… “who do you think you are, to be editing the words of such a great thinker”. And then, that in turn prompted me to write my own words about the sadness that all that worrying makes me feel. Infinite sadness. So much worrying over matters which do not mean anything at all to the common observer.

    I wanted to send this to you as a message on your blog today monsieur Gibran. And now I worry… do I send it? Should I send it? Will he read it? And if he reads it, is he likely to respond, ever? And if he does and if he doesn’t, does it really matter? And do I have hidden intentions? Are my motives honourable? Are they really?Are they really… REALLY?? And all these thoughts… they torture me.

    And so this very moment, I will allow myself to enter the insane asylum which is inside my own mind. It gives me refuge. It allows me to grow stronger every day. “At least here I can be myself.” Indeed Monsieur Coelho. Indeed Monsieur Gibran. Indeed young man reading a philosophy book in an insane asylum. What was his name I wonder? Will we ever know? No matter. To me, he will be “Habib”. Because it’s a good name. A loving name.

    Thank you for taking the time to stroll through my refuge. I enjoy sharing this conversation with you. All of you. We are not alone. Are you reading this “Asa”? Are you reading this “Habib”? And you “Jason”? We are not alone. Truly, we are not alone.

    Peace, Love, Namaste,
    From Smiler, with Love.

  21. Bendiciones Y Namaste Paulo,
    Very romantic Paulo but as you know most people who are in an asylum are there because they are not willing to be like everyone expects them to be. Being yourself is the craziest thing one can do, and yes it can land you in a mental hospital, drugged and striving to create a mini-revolution in a setting built to subdue The Mind.
    Con respeto y amor,
    Tania Guerrera-Moise
    Art, Peace, Revolution…

  22. pia fraus says:

    It is as Lacan said… But, the best mirror still is “itself exactly”

  23. Ilana says:

    Décidément monsieur Gibran… A very dear lebanese friend of mine by the name of Habib gave me a copy of Gibran Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet when I was visiting with his lovely family in Beyrouth some years ago now. It has become a constant source of wisdom and comfort to me ever since.

    I often quote passages of his work in my various writen conversations. Just last week, as a matter of fact, I was transcribing an excerpt “On Reason and Passion” in a letter to someone very close to me. I’ve often read his thoughts “On Love” and “On Marriage” and I am quite certain that anyone with a true desire to seek understanding from his words—which were clearly sent from a higher power—is bound to have a good and fruitful life (if not, as we all very well know, completely exempt from difficulty).

    Thank you monsieur Coelho for sharing yet another story which once again, touches my very heart and soul… “At least here I can be myself”. Indeed.

    Best regards, and much luck, health,
    love and prosperity to you and your loved ones.

    ilana aka “smiler”

    Peace, love & namaste!