Tag Archives: David Whyte

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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#1 Promises to Tomorrow: Making a Promise

This year’s blog is all about making promises to the future. This first post is a scene-setter.

What is a promise if not a commitment to pay it forward? It is a declaration of following through on a pledge, making good an intention. A promise is an act of hope, often an act of defiance and a forecast. A promise sits in today with recognition of fulfilment coming in a tomorrow.

When we show signs of promise, the potential is what we celebrate and we look forward to the harvest. Embedded in the promise is the seed and the bloom. The journey for a promise to be realised is often fragile, vulnerable and under threat. There are real dangers, snags and fears lying under the surface of a promise.

Each week I am going to explore a promise to the future – sometimes it will be personal, sometimes planetary and sometimes completely ‘off the wall’. I don’t know what they are yet … but I do promise they will unfold.

Every morning I wake to the twitter and chatter of birdsong – some in captivity and some in the wild. They promise the dawn is coming and a new day is rising from the dark. They sing of successfully making it through the night and chorus a welcome to a new beginning. They are steadfast in their expectation of all that they need will be provided and sourced from their surrounds. They promise the future will be there. The screech of the sulphur crested cockatoo surely started in the Jurassic era in the shape of a pterodactyl – from those earliest of times making a promise to survive and evolve. Birds were all dinosaurs once and birdsong is the foundation of all music that in turn is the foundation of song and words. The promise to tomorrow in the chatter of the morning continues to unfold. The music of their calls finds its way from their bodies to join with the other noises making a soundscape for the day to begin. Without effort they tell go of their song.

To Make a Promise.

Make a place of prayer, no fuss,
just lean into the white brilliance
and say what you needed to say
all along, nothing too much, words
as simple and as yours and as heard
as the bird song above your head
or the river running gently beside you,
let your words join to the world
the way stone nestles on stone
the way the water simply leaves
and goes to the sea,
the way your promise
breathes and belongs
with every other promise
the world has ever made.

Now, leave them to go on,
let your words alone
to carry their own life,
without you, let the promise
go with the river.
Have faith. Walk away.
To make a Promise
From ‘Prayer after Prayer’
© David Whyte & Many Rivers Press

Post Script: Our beloved sulphur crested cockatoo, Joe 50+ years in the family died in May 2017

 

Dancing with speeches #18 Aung San Suu Kyi

Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi spent a life in exile and lost a lifetime waiting and working for change in her country. She drew on the spirit of her people and the practice of nonviolence to keep her focused on her desire for liberation from military rule. The epitome of grace under fire, Aung San Suu Kyi always appears with a flower in her hair, beauty inside and out, a poetic defiance against tyranny.

Fearlessness maybe a gift, but perhaps more precious is the courage acquired through endeavour, courage that comes from cultivating the habit of refusing to let fear dictate one’s actions, courage that could be described as ‘grace under pressure’ – grace which is renewed repeatedly in the face of harsh, unremitting pressure.

From Freedom for Fear speech, 1990.

The antidotes for fear are truth, justice and compassion and a relentless application of them in the deepest ethical application, even to the cellular level is a vocation for the bravest of souls.  To be brave with yourself first is the first step or perhaps we are just ‘half a shade braver’ as David Whyte suggests.  There is an invocation, a litany of invitations to go further with our truths and stop being delusional – the oppression and failure of human rights is down to us as well, those who are free, it is our privilege to act and address.  We are not separate from the equation, an unholy symmetry until all are liberated.  Fear is the order of the day where human rights are being violated and the stock exchange in fear is alive and well in our nations and in our own hearts.

The fear of betrayal and rejection in our every day lives, hold us to ransom, call out our terrorist traits, bring sabotage and conspiracy.  When there is darkness, and fog it maybe hard to find the sunlight to shine on us and purify our hearts and support our steps to courage born of vulnerability. The spark and flicker of the candle can be enough to hold on to, the half a shade of bravery might inspire others to be a little bit braver too. Never under estimate the smallest act of breaking open the ground for others to follow and add their weight to the ground – every collective action begins with one voice, one simple act.

The fears that kept our ancestors alive throughout the ages have disappeared, yet we are still afraid of the metaphorical mastodon and we haven’t necessarily made our fears as extinct as creatures they were designed to protect us from.  The deepest fear, Marianne Williamson says is fear of our own greatness. Imagine liberation from fear what wonders might be visible, what humanity might unfold and evolution be aroused.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. Marianne Williamson

The fear of the other is alive and well in our time, in my country and the fear of a little one on the shores of our land seeking asylum speaks to me of an irrational fear. Speaking truth to power, working for justice and making compassion visible will be both inoculation from further fear mongering and a cure. Freedom from fear is a daily practice and discipline.

Arriving for conference Credit:http://www.rfa.org/english/news/myanmar/aung-san-suu-kyi-tells-myanmars-peace-stakeholders-to-prepare-for-conference-04272016163531.html

Arriving for conference to prepare for government Feb 2016 Credit

Made by Disappointment

Dear Sor Juana,

Managing our disappointments is an invitation to take up a new challenge to move from the broken to make something new and perhaps more beautiful, like in the Japanese tradition of kintsukuroi (which I have written about before to another). It is a signifier that has been broken – trust, hope, confidence – was worthy of being kept whole yet that wholeness was no longer its truth.   Moving through the disappointment is transformational, a liberation. This is a letting go, and an enabling. What was held in the container, now broken, is released. What ever the container is, be it the heart or the head, that container has served as a charging station and now this new thought or emotion is released and while not fully formed, is applied, to make a new way.

Disappointment is in many people’s lives, the rug being pulled out from under one’s feet, is an everyday experience.

Disappointment arrives after …

Hours of labour to be reduced to a single syllable response – no.

A generation of dreams to be washed away by the flick of a pen.

An agreed commitment is betrayed.

Unfavourable results presented as non-negotiable and intractable.

As disappointment wriggles its way out of the body, into the ether and into conversations it starts to transmute, empower and eventually transform. Disappointments inevitably are a call to action with redemption sewn into the seams.

I have been witness to many disappointments in people’s lives recently, and in some cases midwife to releasing those disappointments. There is the recognition that letting the disappointments linger is part of the grief, and then letting those same disappointments serve as the bedrock for a new way. As the awareness comes, it is like the gold of kintsukuroi making something more beautiful because it is broken.

Instead of By Appointment to some regal authority, how about we considering the idea of beautiful people being made By Disappointment?

Disappointment is just the initial meeting with the frontier of an evolving life, an invitation to reality, which we expected to be one particular way and turns out to be another, often something more difficult, more overwhelming and strangely, more rewarding.
David Whyte, 2003

Kintsukuroi

Kintsukuroi