Herewith, five great notions, quotes, thoughts, passages, and a poem, from poet-philosopher, and Puget Sound resident, David Whyte. What’s unusual is that this poet works in the corporate world. Whyte also seems to have helped inspire the formation of Dark Angels, the UK-based writing collective. (Of which I am a proud member.) I thought this was perfect. “And so the ability to ask beautiful questions, often in very unbeautiful moments, is one of the great disciplines of a human life. And a beautiful question starts to shape your identity as much by asking it as it does by having it answered.” (Thanks to Tim and Neil, friends and 5CT subscribers for the tip.)
Everything is Waiting for You
Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.
Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.
It’s probably fair to say that David Whyte burst onto the scene with the publication of his book The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America. It’s a beautiful, thoughtful book.
Excerpts below are from a podcast, On Being, with Krista Tippett.
“Well, I’ve written poetry since I was very small. I had very powerful experiences with poetry where I felt literally abducted, taken away by poetry, and — just like a hawk had come down and taken me in its claws and carried me off. And I remember reading Ted Hughes when I was young — and he must’ve been young then, too — and having that feeling, a very powerful feeling, that this was language that adults had written who had not forgotten the primary visions and insights of childhood.”
“And in Galapagos, I began to realize that, because I was in deeply attentive states, hour after hour watching animals and birds and landscapes — and that’s all I did for almost two years — I began to realize that my identity depended not upon any beliefs I had, inherited beliefs or manufactured beliefs, but my identity actually depended on how much attention I was paying to things that were other than myself. And that as you deepen this intentionality and this attention, you started to broaden and deepen your own sense of presence. And I began to realize that the only place where things were actually real was at this frontier between what you think is you and what you think is not you. That whatever you desire of the world will not come to pass exactly as you will like it.”
“If you want to kill yourself, the non-profit is the place to go.” – David Whyte
“But the other mercy is that whatever the world desires of you will also not come to pass. And what actually occurs is this meeting, this frontier. But it’s astonishing how much time human beings spend away from that frontier, abstracting themselves out of their bodies, out of their direct experience, and out of a deeper, broader, and wider possible future that’s waiting for them if they hold the conversation at that frontier level.”
“And it’s one of the basic reasons we find it difficult even just to turn the radio off, or the television, or not look at our gadget — is that giving over to something that’s going to actually seem as if it’s undermining you to begin with, and lead to your demise. And the intuition, unfortunately, is correct. You are heading toward your demise, but it’s leading towards this richer, deeper place that doesn’t get corroborated very much in our everyday outer world.”
“This is another delusion we have that we can get — take a sincere path in life without having our heart broken. And you think about the path of parenting, there’s never been a mother or father since the beginning of time who hasn’t had their heart broken by their children. And nothing traumatic has to happen. All they have to do is grow up.”
“…if you have a really fierce loss, the loss of someone who’s close to you, the loss of a mother, a father, a brother, a sister, a friend, God forbid a child — then human beings have every right to say, “Listen, God. If this is how you play the game, I’m not playing the game. I’m not playing by your rules. I’m going to manufacture my own little game, and I’m not going to come out of it. I’m going to make my own little bubble. And I’m going to draw up the rules. And I’m not coming out to this frontier again. I don’t want to. I want to create insulation. I want to create distance.”
“And many human beings do that for the rest of their lives. Many do it for just a short period and then reemerge again. But all of us are struggling to be here. One of the great theological questions is around incarnation, which simply means being here in your body. Not anywhere else, just here with life’s fierce need to change you. And the fact that the more you’re here and the more you’re alive, the more you realize you’re a mortal human being. And that you’ll pass from this place. And will you actually turn up? Will you actually have the conversation given that it’s so — will you become a full citizen of vulnerability, loss, and disappearance, which you have no choice about?”
“Human genius lies in the geography of the body and its conversation with the world. Well, in the ancient world, the word “genius” was not so much used about individual people, it was used about places, and almost always with the world loci. Genius loci meant “the spirit of a place.” And we all know what that intuitively means. We all have favorite places in the world, and it may be a seashore where you’ve got this ancient conversation between the ocean and the land and a particular geography of the way the cliffs or the beaches are formed.”
“But it could’ve been the same in the ancient world. A little bridge crossing a stream with a pool at the back of it and a willow hanging over the pool — that place would be said to have a genius loci. But a more sophisticated understanding would understand it’s this weatherfront of all of these qualities that meet in that place. So I think it’s a very merciful thing to think of human beings in the same way as — that is, your genius is just the way everything has met in you.”
FROM THE HEART AROUSED:
To quote a Shakespearean cliché, repeated to death because it is so stubbornly true: “All the world’s a stage.” Work is theater. The place where life unfolds to our tragic or comic satisfaction.
Have a great week at work. 🙂