This past weekend I attended a symposium featuring the internationally renowned poet, David Whyte. As the subtle beauty of his words and images—and even more, the silence behind them—washed through me, an intense inner resonance asked to be heard. “This is a fellow traveler,” it said. “Pay attention,” it said. “You can learn from this one,” it said.
He told stories, he recited poems, and over and over the same three threads ran through. One was “the conversational nature of reality.” This reminded me of an observation from the American Buddhist, Jack Kornfield,
“All of spiritual practice is a matter of relationship: to ourselves, to others, to life’s situations…Whether we like it or not, we are always in relationship, always interconnected.” ~Jack Kornfield
David Whyte would no doubt add, “…always having a conversation.” Everything we see, hear, touch, taste, smell, think or feel initiates a relationship, a conversation with otherness. Otherness that sparks our imagination. Otherness that provides clues, if we’re observant, to who we really are. Our ongoing conversations—sometimes between ourself and another, sometimes between Inner Ego and Inner Other—motivate us to reflect, form questions, discover new insights, and ultimately, act on what we know to be true.
Which brings me to a second thread that colors his poems: the importance of asking “beautiful questions.” Again, not just of other people, but of all hidden otherness everywhere. For example, while sharing a story about the thoughts and feelings that an ancient stone carving of a woman’s face evoked, he said, “We stand on the threshold of what has not yet occurred…a possible future. What is the invitation?” What is the invitation of this joy? These tears? That yearning?
A question like this invites us to take a new step, in a new direction, to a newer, truer reality. Toward my growth. My truth. My reality. Toward the life I was born to live.
A third thread binds the others into the artful fabric of a life: “Beauty is the harvest of presence.” It’s true. The seeds of our beauty are sown with our presence. The bud of our beauty opens petal by petal as we practice presence moment by moment, day by day, year by year.
“Start close in. Don’t take a second or third step. Start with the first thing close in, the step you don’t want to take. Take a small step you can call your own. Start with your own question.” ~David Whyte
If we’re not listening to the Other right now there will be no conversations worth having. If we’re unaware of standing on the threshold of what has not yet occurred, of a possible future, we will never ask the beautiful question, “What would it mean for me to be the ancestor of my future self?” If we don’t stay present long enough to see and take the step we don’t want to take, the fabric of our lives will never flower into a work of art.
Inspired by the beautiful poem that is David Whyte, I have a beautiful question for you: “What threads run through your life?” Or as my friend Rachelle Mayers, a gifted videographer and media consultant, asked me three months ago: “What principles do you live by?”
Here was my response:
This is lovely Jeannie thank you. I’m familiar with David Whyte and am grateful for his being so able to express so beautifully what the heart and soul yearns for. You do this too … and it’s always an affirmation and a further inspiration to keep on being as conscious as possible, true to one’s self as possible, being authentic at all times if possible, even though the inner work be hard and difficult .. and to keep on trying in some small way in making a positive difference in the world.
“What the heart and soul yearns for.” And trying to make a positive difference. Yes, that’s it. You express that in your work too. Many thanks.
What great and timely messages you wrote about today and presented on the video. As synchronicity would have it, these are many of the same issues that my wife, Rae, and I were discussing this morning. As we were doing this, we were reviewing some Jung quotes related to these topics. The three that I liked the best are:
“If you wait for the ideal, you will never start. Always you must take what is nearest at hand, no matter how unpromising, and accept it as the only, and therefore the best, thing you can do and, by sheer hard work, transform it into the thing you need”
“A complete orientation toward the inner world becomes necessary until such time as inner adaptation is attained, then progression to the outer can begin, when both opposing functions can team up in a state of mutual interaction and mutual influence, the integration of inner and outer. Man can meet the demands of the outer world, only if he is adapted to the inner world.”
“The creative person has to create and make visible, in spite of the fact that he cannot do it properly, but he must do it nevertheless in his own incompetent way. Never mind the imperfections of technique, the contents waiting to come to light are all that matters.”
You have added such color and aliveness to these ideas, that we want to say “thank you” for all the valuable work that you are doing!
P.S. On the subject of having conversations, I recall reading that Jung would have extended conversations with his pots and pans at Bollingen. That must have been interesting indeed…
Thank you for this quote, Richard: “The creative person has to create and make visible, in spite of the fact that he cannot do it properly, but he must do it nevertheless in his own incompetent way. Never mind the imperfections of technique, the contents waiting to come to light are all that matters.”
These are wonderful quotes! I must have come across them at some point but don’t remember seeing them. I’ve added them to my collection and will no doubt use them some time in the future. They’d have been perfect for this post. Thanks so much for sharing them, and for your kind comments about my work. You honor me.
My favorite line is “Man can meet the demands of the outer world, only if he is adapted to the inner world.” That has certainly been true for this introvert who has always found the outer world to be a challenge. Yes, I can meet its demands, but adapting to the inner world was my only hope for thriving and finding fulfillment.
I’m also very fond of, “Never mind the imperfections of technique, the contents waiting to come to light are all that matters.”
Wouldn’t that have been something to eavesdrop on Jung’s conversations with his pots and pans? So that’s one way he passed his time. His playfulness and curiosity about and respect for all forms of otherness really were extraordinary. I must try that with my dishwasher….
Exquisite post and video, thank you! You have a way of articulating so beautifully what would take me pages and pages to say. This post is also marvelous for today, which is Imbolc — an ancient day of honoring what is “in the belly” and awaiting birth. And with your post, you tapped right into an important part of the seed in my own belly which is “conversation” here and now, with family & ancestors, with a culture I left and have now returned to. Everything you wrote and said reaffirms that I am on a good path, that being present and authentic is healing for me and for others.
As it happens, last night’s pre-sleep reading was from “Falling into Grace” by Adyashanti and it was: “All of the great spiritual teachings direct us to look within, to “know thyself.” Unless we know ourselves, we can never find our way beyond suffering. In fact, it’s because we don’t know ourselves that we’re so prone to suffering, that we’re so prone to misunderstanding the nature of who we are and reality itself.” How’s that for synchronicity? 🙂
And in last night’s dream, I was surrounded by wild horses and rescuing this precious palomino-pinto colt…
Lastly, I have several of David Whyte’s audios (from Sounds True) and his latest book “Consolations” is on my wish list. He’s marvelous, isn’t he? I’m a bit envious that you were able to listen to him in person. 😉
Really loved this post…it has helped me see the connections, the conversation, between the above… Blessings to you!
Oh, Darla! I love these wonderful synchronicities. See how the world speaks to us when we take the time to listen? This has been one of my most favorite lessons on the way.
I love the image of you rescuing the palomino-pinto colt amidst the wild horses. Your ego is actively involved in rescuing your instinctual self….(which, to my mind, suggests a growing ability to “harness” the extraordinary power of my libido, or life energy, in cooperative, life-enhancing ways.) A perfect example of the interaction between ego and Self, what Jung called creating the Ego-Self axis. This is what he was referring to in the quote above that Richard sent: “progression to the outer can begin, when both opposing functions can team up in a state of mutual interaction and mutual influence, the integration of inner and outer.” You go, girl!
Her’s another synchronicity for you: I bought “Consolations” at the symposium and he signed it for me.
So glad to hear this post helped you see more connections. Blessings back to you!
Dear Jeanie, how truly inspiring your lyrical weekend must have been. What, ‘poetry heaven’ and bliss for you! I have always found the expression ‘beautiful questions’ to be utterly irresistible and enjoy its invitation for us to journey in new, and other soul-evolving ways. Oh I love the very idea of it, how very wonderful and uplifting!
I have yet to read David’s verses and savour them how you and others, Susan in particular, describe his soulful work. I’m intrigued so will look forward to exploring his poetry more. Hmm, I can tell you’ve been divinely inspired as you’ve penned this post all the way through with beautiful, inspiring, poetic prose. Your words, the very nature of poetry themselves.
One of the things I enjoy is reading all the wonderful replies, especially Darla’s today, sharing her knowledge about the ancient day of Imbolc. Superb video, even more treasure for the world! I really appreciate your question: ‘What threads run through your life?’ And love your answers, so inspiring! Blessings, Deborah.
It truly was inspiring. Poetry heaven for sure. I loved the way he brought new words and images to the same concepts I struggle to express. And yes, he inspired me to think and write in new ways for this post. 🙂 I tend to focus so much on expressing my thoughts with clarity and precision that sometimes I forget about artistry! That’s the difference between me and a true poet like you.
I love all the wonderful comments too. I never fail to learn something new from them. I didn’t know today was Imbolc either. “Honoring what is in the belly.” What a beautiful way to say “thank you” to life for its never-ending birth/death/rebirth cycle.
Thank you for this inspiring post and for giving me a taste of the symposium you attended. David Whyte is a favorite of mine.
I’m so aware of the quality of conversation now that I live alone and don’t hear well–inner conversation with various aspects of myself, conversation through writing, conversation with nature, conversation with Great Mother and with my animus, and precious live conversations with friends. The nature of interdependence is one of the ideas I cherish in Buddhism.
And now I see why you were so focused on questions in our Skype planning conversation yesterday. Asking the right question connects us to ourselves and each other. That’s what we all long to feel.
I’m happy to share this with the excellent embedded video.
“I’m so aware of the quality of conversation now that I live alone and don’t hear well…” A powerful statement. We can be deaf and still hear our ongoing conversations; blind and still see the meaning beneath.
I didn’t realize I was asking so many questions in our conversations. It wasn’t a conscious choice. I guess questions are just becoming a way of thinking and perceiving these days. Maybe that’s why I was so struck by David Whyte’s presentation: it resonated at a level far deeper than my normal awareness. Yes, asking the right question does connect us…to everything.
So here’s the question: Am I questioning more because I’m making more connections, or connecting more because I’m asking more questions. 🙂
Thank you for your thoughtful comment and kind word about my video.