Tag Archives: David Whyte

Year of Self Compassion #13 #Easter 2018

I went on retreat with a universal question: What is right for me at this time? Rilke’s direction has served me well before – live your questions now – and I discover that I am breathing into my question before I arrive at the destination, even though that phenomena was hidden from me until I was actually there. Stephanie reminded us how so often we are actors in each others story and what appears as moments of synchronicity have actually been prophesied. A truth right there … even the stones will shout out. Over recent months I have been touched by such kindness, generosity and compassion. As we sing in choir – my little cup runneth over!

So for retreat, I go to a foreign land, amongst strangers, and everything is preordained. Everything is waiting for me. The opening myth, one I am a novice studying, a poem recited that hangs on my wall, a story of a broken pot I have written about more than once and even on the same liturgical calendar day, a reading given to me by the teacher to read which I have read time and time again and the last line written on a torn from a paper towel placed centrally in the sight each time I sit at my desk.I am so astonished at the alignment, I laugh heartily and am warmed by the love that has obviously been holding me to get me to this place, at this time. It is, as the title of John O’Donohue’s book is named, “Eternal Echoes“.

“Embodied self compassion” is the theme of the retreat and the teachings are practical and potent for everyday application. Given my question and the experiences offered and met, I find living my question binds me to this sacred season – I am re-membering and in doing so I am re-membered.

What is right for me at this time? I am right to trust this. I am right to hear the eternal echo. I am right to come home to my-self and to call out to those parts of me in exile, wandering about in a forty year wilderness, waiting for the invitation to come home. Some parts in exile are finding their way stumbling in the dark, others racing towards ths light, one way or another, they are coming home, creatively, intuitively, by design and by accident, intentionally and unintentionally, in surprising and unsurprising ways.

On the in-between day of Easter Saturday, I took the track Pilgrims Path to the Sanctuary and came back the Goddess Way. Where the trek was slippery and indistinct on the way up, it was marked with female witnesses on the way down to the Centre – another homecoming.

This. is what is right for me at this time.

To reconnect.

To re-member.

To call home what has been exiled.

And then I bump into my Friend on the road to Emmaus, with my companions, and we are asked: “What’s been going on these past few days?” and I don’t recognise him straight away, but I do notice familiarity in my heart and gut. Then, I know who we met on the road.

We are all surrounded by signs and signals, confirming our decisions and pointing us in the direction that is right for us at this time. Opening our eyes is one step, going to your heart and gut for instruction might turn a different result to the one in your head. There is more than one way of knowing … and being known.

We have more than enough signs to know with our heads, hearts and souls, about what is right for us at this. If only we could, go on retreat as a species and embody self compassion? Until that days dawns though, it remains for us gifted with these times to follow O’Donohue’s instruction that: “The duty of privilege is absolute integrity.”

For after all is said, and after all is done: “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” – CS Lewis

This poem of David Whyte’s is a favourite and certainly sums up so much for me this Easter and I was grateful to be able to share it with others at Mana.

Everything is waiting for you – David Whyte

Your great mistake is to act the drama as if you were alone.
As if life were a progressive and cunning crime with no witnesses
to the tiny 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 your 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 utterably themselves.
Everything is waiting for you.

Special thanks to the Mana Retreat Centre, Retreat Directors Stephanie Dowrick and Joyce Kornblatt and my fellow retreat family, especially Wendy, Shasta and Marlene.

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Mana Retreat Centre

Year of Self Compassion #8 #Footprints

No longer just an imaginative tool in a science fiction story, your finger print is unique and the way to open many a door or transaction.  Yet I am more captured by my footprint. How I live on this earth and how lightly I tread. We have plenty of guides to help us with our ecological footprint, but how about our emotional footprint? How we tread on each other’s hearts, how gently we inhabit our thoughts and steer unwelcome ones away; how we make a mark with hobnail boots or light as a feather plimsolls.

I was pulled up this week and rightly so. While I had been moving through grief and loss, other sojourners were at a different place and on a different tangent, and I had a case of foot in mouth disease …. my footprint not very elegant or helpful. And while a sad emoji face with a suitable coy look of embarrassment might be appropriate too – I know my own journey needs to respect those on the same path. Keeping your own counsel has its place in self compassion and treading lightly on the emotional environment we share with others.

The first place of belonging is to ourselves and finding ourselves dwelling in our own house and creating the garden for all kinds of ordinary and extraordinary beings for us to cohabit doesn’t actually mean we are on our own.  The threads and beads of life weave around us and intersect in places visible and invisible, with the power to be gentle or the power to throttle with a strangulation that silences and suspends life itself.  The space between the two may be gossamer thin.  In these moments catching yourself to ask, is the next sentence, or phrase, an act of self-compassion or perhaps it is a unceremonious fall into a chasm that is going to take a while to get out of, is time well spent in discernment. And I failed to take that moment more than once these past few weeks and there have been consequences all round.

Putting on the right shoes for the walk we are in, helps with the footprint making that follows. I have had a week of stilettos and blundstones, when more slippers and flats would have been a better plan for the maintenance of relationships and my own health and well being. It is a lonely place to be, knowing the footprint is bigger than it needs to be and deeper than it was expected to be, and making more of a memorable mark on others.

Re-purposing the spaces I inhabit and helping my ideas, hopes and dreams to find their way home in me so I can belong to them again, and indeed have new ones find their way to me.  This is the way of the pilgrim to have a footprint that is worthy of the path and a path worthy of the footprint. Somewhere inside the house we belong to is also the one that belongs to us, and in that belonging there are clues to self-compassion. It starts with being merciful to oneself and letting every part of yourself be in sympatico, and in that place of tenderness, perhaps your footprint can be just the right shape, size and weight it needs to be for you and for others.  Sadly that won’t always be so, and unintentional harm will be done because the shoes are a few sizes too big, or maybe the heel is a little sharper than it needs to be, or a sole that is heavier than the ground on which you walk requires. It is not with self-flagellation I come to this awareness, but with gratitude for the reminder, gentle footprints of self-compassion are gifts to others too.

THE HOUSE OF BELONGING

I awoke
this morning
in the gold light
turning this way
and that

thinking for
a moment
it was one
day
like any other.

But
the veil had gone
from my
darkened heart
and
I thought

it must have been the quiet
candlelight
that filled my room,

it must have been
the first
easy rhythm
with which I breathed
myself to sleep,

it must have been
the prayer I said
speaking to the otherness
of the night.

And
I thought
this is the good day
you could
meet your love,

this is the black day
someone close
to you could die.

This is the day
you realize
how easily the thread
is broken
between this world
and the next

and I found myself
sitting up
in the quiet pathway
of light,

the tawny
close-grained cedar
burning round
me like fire
and all the angels of this housely
heaven ascending
through the first
roof of light
the sun has made.

This is the bright home
in which I live,
this is where
I ask
my friends
to come,
this is where I want
to love all the things
it has taken me so long
to learn to love.

This is the temple
of my adult aloneness
and I belong
to that aloneness
as I belong to my life.

There is no house
like the house of belonging.

– David Whyte
©1996

Promises to tomorrow #48 #unplanned

What to Remember when Waking – David Whyte

In that first hardly noticed moment in which you wake,
coming back to this life from the other
more secret, moveable and frighteningly honest world
where everything began,
there is a small opening into the new day
which closes the moment you begin your plans.

What you can plan is too small for you to live.
What you can live wholeheartedly will make plans enough
for the vitality hidden in your sleep.

To be human is to become visible
while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others.
To remember the other world in this world
is to live in your true inheritance.

You are not a troubled guest on this earth,
you are not an accident amidst other accidents
you were invited from another and greater night
than the one from which you have just emerged.

Now, looking through the slanting light of the morning window
toward the mountain presence of everything that can be
what urgency calls you to your one love?
What shape waits in the seed of you
to grow and spread its branches
against a future sky?

Is it waiting in the fertile sea?
In the trees beyond the house?
In the life you can imagine for yourself?
In the open and lovely white page on the writing desk?

I have often taken the line What you can plan is too small for you to live from this poem to open into the sheer wild landscape life offers. What is really waiting for you when you wipe the sleepy dust from your eyes? Waking from a deep sleep seems a luxury in real time, but in liminal time, the awakening continues of epic proportions.

Multiple times a day I am reminded of my new status, from sincere condolence motions made on the street through to a public statement in the parliament, from correspondence marked to estate executor and invitations to sell the house, purchase a gravestone, donate to a charity … the societal wrap around laying down the foundations to a role unrequited and unrequested. There are no messages of congratulations on a job well done or of welcome to a new plane, or a bon voyage of beginning travel to a new land. The grief and loss of others, is in the mantel being forced on my shoulders, which I flick off as quickly as it arrives. This is a time of waiting too and of expectation, just as real as any other advent has been, there is a coming not just a leaving.

The shape of what is to arrive is forming in the dark womb of yesterday, today and tomorrow. It can’t be planned for, and will take all the time it needs to be unveiled. It is not for me to induce a premature arrival and anticipating the coming is all part of a process unplanned. It is not black and blue though, even though this is the real time measure and expectation. It is all the colours in the spectrum and some colours I have never felt before.

There is an urgency to complete a process of allowing others to find their voice and show themselves in grief, and I am often the catalyst for the completion. I want the offerings of sympathies and empathies to be done and dusted. So I am turning up in spaces and on planes where people can express their sadness and offer their support – but it is not for me – it is for them. I want it to end and if I can midwife their need to say something by turning up then that will help me get past it as well. I don’t want to move quickly and there are times when I want to wallow that is for sure, but as well as the grief, there is wallowing in satisfaction, relief and release. There are new stories to be laid down and wholehearted living to be done, creating new pathways in my synapses, and being open will take care of how the world on this new shore I have inherited and am yet to be imagined into.

I am not making plans and I am hurtling into planning and I am working with the dynamic tension this both/and time is creating. I appreciate the compassion coming my way in the warmth of words and actions and my promise to tomorrow is to receive these as the simple acts of kindness with which they are intended, while not letting them layer into my being as they don’t belong to me.

For so long, I have planned every moment, double checked and consulted every decision, with at least one other, and often with many more. From the trivial to the monumental, I have been inclusive in my planning to bring to the shore from the horizon, what would best meet the moment forecasted by the trajectory of a disease, and the desires of the body and soul co-habitating with that disease. But now, I accept the invitation to unplan.

The future sky is forming and the horizon will come into view as my little boat sails with open anticipation to find out what is waiting for me, unplanned.

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Promises to tomorrow #35 #detach

 I am finding it hard to write, words don’t seem to cut it. This is a little reflection.

Detachment is a big ask after forty years and one at which I am a novice. There are rituals to support the practice. Drugs to administer and breaths to be taken to bring stillness and steadiness to the process of disappearing.

As David Whyte has written we are all apprentices to our disappearance and here I am doing my apprenticeship with a master craftsman, who is slowing dissolving from one plane to another. While he sleeps a few more cells transcend. Transfiguration at the speed of breath concentrated, distilled. The nails are translucent as very little blood is flowing. The skin starting to shed. As the climber reaches the summit there is less oxygen in the air, his arterial oxygen about the same as someone more than half way up Mt Everest, an ascent which doesn’t abate and one from which you can never return. Stars are on this last runway, twinkling to guide the way and beckoning gently to come forward. Fresh eyes, weary heart.

What you can plan
is too small
for you to live.

What you can live
wholeheartedly
will make plans enough
for the vitality
hidden in your sleep.

David Whyte

Each breath is a call and response – an inhale and exhale – contracting and expanding. Breathing in the oxygen and expelling the carbon dioxide – a waste product. Wasting is what happens on the inside when we don’t pay attention to breathing in and breathing out.

My promise to tomorrow is to try and detach more from my thoughts of wasted time and energy. The present is here, is now and is inspirational even though it forecasts expiration. There are mountains to climb, views to be seen, a transfiguration to witness.

Promises to tomorrow #23 Winter Solstice

Winter has arrived, stripped bare trees remind me of nakedness, adornments have been shed and the elements have their way. The dark and light dance to make shadows as fairy floss fog descends on the village under the gaze of a Sagittarian strawberry moon. I have never had much interest in astrology, however the sun, the stars and the moon are my constant companions and I can usually find Venus in the night sky. The Seven Sisters are my favourite constellation and in the winter, and with the solstice approaching they take their place centre-stage.

Once the solstice arrives, the shortest day of the year, and in the southern hemisphere we are furthest from the sun, and we are poised to begin a new season of turning. This is what will happen again in a few days, a turn away from the dark, a journey towards the light. Energy begins to be stored and, emerging from the dark, potential from what has been incubating under ground now begins to be visible. I have not pruned on the June long weekend like I usually do and so I not in sync. The solstice helps to re-set and forecasts the light arriving to do just that

There are going to be arrivals and departures between this solstice and the next, in much the same way there is every year. Comings and goings inside the hidden places of the soul and in the highly visible public places of airports and churches. An arrival of a loved one, international gathering for celebrating lives committed signing up for a life long journey … and probably between this solstice and the next …. a goodbye.

Moving with the seasons and having respect for the shortest of days and the longest of nights is a movement of the heart. To live in harmony with the elements, intertwined with nature and love, where, like a Celtic love knot, there is no beginning or end. To live enchanted by this phenomena of constant movement to and from the light is my promise to tomorrow. Imagine always living knowing what step you are taking towards or away from the light. When the sun hits the ocean’s meeting place and throws itself on to the horizon reaching as far as the eye can see, the curve of our planet glows. Radiant beams. ‘You are alone with the transfiguration’…. ‘you ask the question you are afraid to ask’ May the shortest day of the year and the longest night bless and remind us the transitions from dark to light and light to dark.

 

TURN SIDEWAYS INTO THE LIGHT

Turn sideways into the light as they say
the old ones did and disappear
into the originality of it all.

Be impatient with easy explanations
and teach that part of the mind
that wants to know everything
not to begin questions it cannot answer.

Walk the green road above the bay
and the low glinting fields
toward the evening sun, let that Atlantic
gleam be ahead of you and the gray light
of the bay below you, until you catch,
down on your left, the break in the wall,
for just above in the shadows
you’ll find it hidden, a curved arm
of rock holding the water close to the mountain,
a just-lit surface smoothing a scattering of coins,
and in the niche above, notes to the dead
and supplications for those who still live.

But for now, you are alone with the transfiguration
and ask no healing for your own
but look down as if looking through time,
as if through a rent veil from the other
side of the question you’ve refused to ask.

And you remember now, that clear stream
of generosity from which you drank,
how as a child your arms could rise and your palms
turn out to take the blessing of the world.

In RIVER FLOW: New and Selected Poems
© David Whyte and Many Rivers Press

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Glen Helen

 

Promises to Tomorrow #11 Harvest

On the way home from my weekly walk back from the Farmers Market in my little village a neighbourhood stopped by to say hello and to offer some freshly harvested cherry tomatoes. The season is coming to an end and she offered me a question about endings to accompany her gift: How is it facing separation, knowing it is coming? And in a flash not only had she picked the fruit for harvest she picked a piece of my heart as well.

The inevitable ending confronting me as a little of My Love disappears each day was front and centre and I thanked her for the tasty red balls delivered in the brown paper bag as a I silently continued along the path keeping the tears hidden so not to ripen before I got home. 

What if we lived our lives fully conscious of our disappearance and the disappearance of those we love and indeed the knowledge of the disappearance of our species, other species and our planet? We would live differently I am sure – we more regard for beauty and an arc towards wisdom and skips of joy solidly walking with gratitude.

The poet and philosopher David Whyte asks us to contemplate being in an apprenticeship to our disappearance. In this apprenticeship we learn from and lean into others who can help shape our thinking and desires. We sip from cups of knowledge around tables in cafes, kitchens and bars. We hold onto the sunsets and sunrises as reminders of the every turning truths each day and night holds.

Having a promise to tomorrow orientated to apprenticeship is underscored in the knowledge we are all indentured to those who have gone before us. The reward for the apprentice is to learn from the master and in these post-modern times not everyone has a master to drawn on, yet as the Celts (among others) know well, mother nature never fails to teach and she brings to every class universal lessons of the elemental nature of play, time, hopes and dreams. The tiniest of the tomatoes contains more the enough seeds to bring a future harvest – they are indeed a promise to tomorrow of fecundity and the sweet smell of new life. And the vines in my neighbourhood have started to be harvested too – the seasons are turning all around me.

So despite the heart breaking, as it is prone to do. When you love, and separation is inevitable, the wonder and joy of the new season is also on offer, and the instruction not to hurry to the next season until this one is fully complete and harvested is the promise to tomorrow I met on the road this morning.

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Promises to Tomorrow #4: Play

The more I play today the more silt I am laying down in the river of play for tomorrow … or that is the how the logic goes in the parallel universe of compassionate imagination (thank you Phil Porter co-founder of InterPlay for sowing the seeds of these thoughts and practices with Agnotti Cowie this week). Being playful, and mischievousness break through. In this era of alternative facts, fake news and post truth brings multiple platforms to play.

Being able to laugh (even on the inside) is a way to inoculate yourself from some of the harm of the powers of evil. Satire is a gift to get through hard times – the first all Aboriginal TV show Basically Black in 1973 introduced us to Super Boong, the first Aboriginal Super Hero, it took another couple of generations before Cleverman came to our screens and breathtakingly took us all (not just one person in trouble) to a new place to save the planet (can’t wait for the next series).

Play can reveal, camouflage, inspire, transcend. Without play we don’t learn how to get along with others, build our muscles and find interesting ways to use our bodies and our brains. Play helps us find out what works, form habits and attitudes, beliefs and trust. Play is essential in our human development. Play is sometimes called the “universal language of childhood”. I will often play peek a boo with a child on public transport, even one a few rows away they usually pick it up in a few moments.

Play is too important to be left at the school gate. It gets codified into sport, or the arts as we grow older and improvisation is left to everything other than play! We improvise through the rest of our adult lives, so why not in play too! One of my favourite living poets, David Whyte says with a chuckle directing listeners and fellow poets: “just follow the instructions as if you know what I meant when I gave them to you; isn’t that what you do anyhow all the time?” I have stolen this instruction more than once when working with groups – it is liberating advice.

Playing for play’s sake and noticing the instructions embedded in the experience, allowing the body to be teacher and mind to be taught, allowing the spirit within to be released and captured in a thought not yet fully formed, to be revealed in a contemplative moment – this is the essence of an improvisation practice known as interplay.

Start in small ways …. Instead of for pity (insert your vernacular expletive here) sake – say for play sake. Next time you walk through the security screening at an airport – say Ta Da with outstretched hands or do a pirouette as you exit. Tap dance your way into a lift. Say yes and when you want to disagree and add your own layer to the conversation. Respond to an email with a made up poem. Talk in gibberish when you are lost of words.

I dip into the InterPlay well each year.  To play is a gift and one not to be taken for granted. My promise to tomorrow is to do more playing, to recognise play as a way of exercising and holding power; as a way to unlock possibilities for resistance, resilience, fun and whole-heartedness. I also promise to know and understand the power of play has inherent qualities like following and leading.

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PS:

Here is a John O’Donohue blessing for one who holds power.

And a few thoughts from past blogs

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