Signposts to the soul

Signposts to Elsewhere (Jane Street Press, 2009) by Egyptian-Lebanese writer Yahia Lababidi, is a journey into the soul, life, and wisdom. 

A poet, aphorist and essayist, Lababidi was born and raised in Cairo, continued his education at George Washington University (Washington, DC), and currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland.

The book’s 88 pages are a series of aphorisms immersed in poetry and philosophy, touching on love, wisdom, deceit, art, philosophy, faith, religion, spirituality, sex and even tattoos.  

Readers of Signposts to Elsewhere will think, laugh and cry. It’s the kind of book that can be read more than once, and new discoveries made each time. Its pages offer the kind of wisdom that can only be acquired with time, experience, and many sleepless nights of thought and reasoning.

The language might be a little sophisticated for the average reader but consulting your dictionary once or twice during the short read won’t hurt. With oozing imagery and color, the book is one to return to for insight and creativity. An easy, complicated, short and long read all at the same time, Signposts to Elsewhere also engages readers in reflecting on the novel of their own lives. 

Al-Masry Al-Youm spoke with the book’s author about life, pain, and relationships.

Al-Masry Al-Youm: Opposites attract; similarities last…Does this apply to people and relationships?

Yahia Lababidi: Yes. I think we may be drawn to people who seem different to us, but as regards as long-term relationships–friendships or romantic–it seems to be essential that we are with someone who shares our core values as well as faces the same general direction.

Al-Masry: Why “God, save us from ourselves”?

Lababidi: Because, just as we can find deep within us all the tools necessary for our salvation, I do believe we also carry within us the seed of our own destruction.  It is, of course, the age-old [inner] struggle between good and evil. That is why I feel that an evolved or truly enlightened human being is someone who has mastered the chaos within, examined their negative emotions and, through attention and discipline, created techniques to overcome this in-built temptation to self-destruct.

Al-Masry: Is your book mocking life, or explaining it?

Lababidi: I do not dare to mock life as I respect it far too much, and realize that to mock it would be to mock myself.  What I try in this book is to share my insights into the self, human nature and my life philosophy/spirituality.

Al-Masry: Everything must pass …Do you think pain can last forever?

Lababidi: I say in one of my aphorisms: To hurry pain is to leave a classroom still in session. To prolong pain is to remain seated in a vacated classroom and miss the next lesson.  What I mean by this, is we must give everything it’s due, and no more.  Also, saying that all must pass is a reminder to cultivate detachment, and realize that the bad, as well as the good, cannot last forever, since we ourselves are passing through here.

Al-Masry: Where is “elsewhere”?

Lababidi: Elsewhere is a sort of liberated mental and spiritual space like the one Rumi refers to when he says: Beyond good and evil. There is a field. I’ll meet you there. In this book, I try to communicate to my reader Illuminations that have taken me there, to that open space…

I certainly don’t live there, and I’m frequently trying to find my way back there. As I say in another of the aphorisms: Art is a trail of breadcrumbs left by artists, for themselves and others, to remember the Way.

Al-Masry: Why did you translate the book into Arabic?

Lababidi: As an Egyptian and Lebanese, it was important for me that my words return to my countrymen in my native tongue, Arabic. I grew up admiring Egyptian proverbs and think that wit and a love for language are almost the birthright of Egyptians. Perhaps, to an extent, my aphorisms are my contribution to the wise and playful sayings that I grew up hearing. Also, I am especially grateful that a writer of Ahmed Ragab’s stature has written my book’s introduction, essentially introducing me to an Arabic-speaking audience, since I am aware of the respect with which he is deservedly regarded, as well as his wide readership in Egypt and beyond.

Signposts to Elsewhere is available at Diwan bookshop in paperback.

The Arabic translation Washwashet Leil (Night Whispers) can be found at el-Sharouq Bookshop and is highly recommended.

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