The only place where things are real

I hope you will set aside 20 minutes and take in what is a perfect introduction to David Whyte‘s work. A poet and philosopher, and a longtime consultant to leading organizations, he begins by talking about the “conversational nature of reality.” It’s a phrase that may seem esoteric but the meaning of which is fundamental to your experience as a parent, a partner, an employee, a leader, a friend and any other present or future role you can imagine.

Early in the talk he says, “The conversational nature of reality is the fact that whatever you desire of the world — whatever you desire of your partner in a marriage or a love relationship, whatever you desire of your children, whatever you desire of the people who work for you or with you, or your world — will not happen exactly as you would like it to happen.

But equally, whatever the world desires of us — whatever our partner, our child, our colleague, our industry, our future demands of us, will also not happen. And what actually happens is this frontier between what you think is you and what you think is not you. And this frontier of actual meeting between what we call a self and what we call the world is the only place, actually, where things are real.”

I hear this as an invitation to a third way…one that is about engagement with the unknown rather than the seduction and false security of yes/no, this or that thinking and acting. This requires the capacity to sit in complexity…messiness…precisely when we – when I – want my work and relationships to unfold in neat and tidy, measurable and manageable pieces.

The poems he recites are from a collection called “Pilgrim.” And the work that first made me a fan is called “The Heart Aroused.”


landscape photography of mountain

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Liminal Space

“The word liminal comes from the Latin word limen, meaning threshold – any point or place of entering or beginning. A liminal space is the time between the ‘what was’ and the ‘next.’ It is a place of transition, waiting, and not knowing.”
inaliminalspace.org


While liminality often comes with a sense of urgency toward the new, a rush forward to escape the anxiety and awkwardness of no man’s land, it doesn’t have to be that way.

The opportunity of a liminal space is to occupy it as expansively as you can. If you are no longer back there and not yet over there you are still somewhere, a place called here.

During a time of intense creation, when our work was still forming and it’s impact as yet unknown, a few of us once said, “Someday we’re going to look back on this as the good old days.”

We were prematurely nostalgic for our experience precisely because we were in the midst of becoming rather than arriving, of curiosity rather than completion.

As long as there is some mystery, the unknown retains its hold on us. In doing so, it fires our imagination with all sorts of possibilities. A liminal space is a “not knowing” space, a reminder that we are always becoming.

“…wherever you are is called Here, and you must treat it as a powerful stranger.”     – from Lost by David Whyte


ancient architecture asia bench

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Go Do It

This week I have written about industriousness, initiative, reinvention and responsibility. I have written about the way that human beings come alive when they feel free to take meaningful, appropriate, even obvious actions in support of necessary change.

In reflection I understand that these various expressions are all shoots of the same vine; each an attempt to manifest my personal understanding and expression of the truth that meaningful action is a balm to anxiety. 

We can commiserate, complain, kvetch and confer all we want but until we act we will feel frustrated and useless, no different than a damp matchbook is to our hope for a comforting fire. Or, as David Whyte expresses it in his poem Out On the Ocean:

“…always this energy smolders inside
when it remains unlit
the body fills with dense smoke.” 

We’d do well, all of us who are hungry to take meaningful action for change, to revisit and reconsider the words of Howard Thurman:

“Don’t ask what the world needs.
Ask what makes you come alive and go do it,
because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

This is the time and place in which you live.

This is the time and place to act.

This is the time and place to express what you are here for.

Go and do.


bonfire surrounded with green grass field

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Poem for a Sunday Morning

Some poems lodge themselves within us and at the right moment, given the smallest opening, emerge to break down the last few bricks that enclose revelation.

This is one of those poems for me. I have heard David Whyte recite it many times, always commenting on how totally un-Irish it is for an Irish poet to not only put aside talk of death but to simultaneously affirm the beautiful mystery and possibility of life. 

When the poem “showed up” for me earlier this week it came first as a passing thought, just hinting at its intention to arrive at my door. The next morning, it burst through that door as both punctuation and affirmation in the midst of a conversation about the gift of an open heart.

It felt as if the poem itself came along beside me, wrapped an arm around my shoulder and said, “Yes, David, everything is going to be all right.”

This is why I read and write poetry, because it is “language against which we have no defenses.” (David Whyte)


Everything is Going to Be All Right
{Derek Mahon}

How should I not be glad to contemplate
the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?
There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
The poems flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart;
the sun rises in spite of everything
and the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the day break and the clouds flying.
Everything is going to be all right.


photo of clouds in a blue sky

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Poem for a Sunday Morning

In early 2016, as I was putting the finishing touches on a collection of blog posts and essays that I would publish as A More Daring Life, I knew that I would begin the book with the poem, A Course in Creative Writing by William Stafford.

Accompanied by Mary Oliver and David Whyte, Stafford is the third leg of the poetry stool on which I have most often rested and restored myself upon my entry into personhood some years ago.

Where David Whyte beckons us to a new conversational and imaginative frontier and Mary Oliver invites us to walk with her in the everyday presence of the natural world, Stafford pulls us into the here and now with the unvarnished language of his Western sensibility.

I come back to this poem when I feel myself too eager for clear instruction about what’s next. I come back to it when I feel myself searching for the road that is already paved and marked and brightly lit, instead of the one that is here, just beneath my feet.


A Course in Creative Writing

They want a wilderness with a map—
but how about errors that give a new start?—
or leaves that are edging into the light?—
or the many places a road can’t find?

Maybe there’s a land where you have to sing
to explain anything: you blow a little whistle
just right and the next tree you meet is itself.
(And many a tree is not there yet.)

Things come toward you when you walk.
You go along singing a song that says
where you are going becomes its own
because you start. You blow a little whistle—

And a world begins under the map.

—William Stafford


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

Mary and David Say

Mary and David Say

Who are you to be curious
about your future self?

Who are you to peek through your fingers
as you hold them against your face?

David Whyte says that “the world is meant to be free in.”

Mary Oliver invites us to “announce our place in the family of things.”

Do you hear their call?

Do you hear your own?

What is your reply?


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

Follow the Breadcrumbs

Every time you speak and in every way that you act, you are telling us who you are, what you care about, how you are made. Consciously or not, you are always dropping a trail of breadcrumbs for yourself and others to follow that will lead to a deeper understanding of you.

I didn’t realize until just this week that for months now I have been using words and actions in a wide variety of ways to express my desire for more physical, literally hands-on expression. Planting, cooking, constructing, washing, assembling, painting and a yearning for the physical challenge of playing an instrument have all been clues to this mounting somatic desire.

A sharply focused lens on my words and actions these last six months would have made this obvious but I needed time to realize that there is a larger question emerging about how I will satisfy a need my body already understands but about which my mind is just becoming aware. Those breadcrumbs I’ve been dropping allowed me to follow the path back to myself.

This is worth discovering for yourself. A way to do so that is both revealing and connective is to find a trusted partner or small group and ask each person to respond to a provocative question: “Tell us a story about when you were at your best?” or “Describe an experience that challenged you and how you responded to it?” or “What’s something about you that is true today that you never imagined would be true?”

Once the question is answered, you might follow-up with, “And how is that relevant for you today?” or another inquiry that brings the insight forward.

The listener’s job in this conversation is to spot the breadcrumbs that emerge in the response and then feed them back to the speaker, asking what they make of having left this particular trail.

The breadcrumbs aren’t an answer in themselves, but they are a pathway into a larger conversation full of “questions that have no right to go away.”


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

[Author’s Note: “…questions that have no right to go away.” is the final line of the poem, Sometimes by David Whyte.]

Poem for a Sunday Morning

TWICE BLESSED

So that I stopped
there
and looked
into the waters
seeing not only
my reflected face
but the great sky
that framed
my lonely figure
and after a moment
I lifted my hands
and then my eyes
and I allowed myself
to be astonished
by the great
everywhere
calling to me
like an old
and unspoken
invitation,
made new
by the sun
and the spring,
and the cloud
and the light,
like something
both
calling to me
and radiating
from where I stood,
as if I could
understand
everything
I had been given
and everything ever
taken from me,
as if I could be
everything I have ever
learned
and everything
I could ever know,
as if I knew
both the way I had come
and, secretly,
the way
underneath
I was still
promised to go,
brought together,
like this, with the
unyielding ground
and the symmetry
of the moving sky,
caught in still waters.

Someone I have been,
and someone
I am just,
about to become,
something I am
and will be forever,
the sheer generosity
of being loved
through loving:
the miracle reflection
of a twice blessed life.

© David Whyte: from
CROSSING THE FLOOD 2014

Move toward aliveness

“…anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.”

– from “Sweet Darkness” by David Whyte


Move toward aliveness, in all ways and at all times. It’s the only way to stay present, to stay vital, to stay engaged, to stay young…in mind, heart and body.

We are pulled, pulled, pulled to the middle…miles from the edge of our experience. The edge of our experience is where aliveness lives.

It waits for us like a loyal dog, wagging with exuberance when we come into view, jumping into our laps with only possibility on its mind. It begs us to step out, once again, into the field of play.

When we decline, it curls into a ball at our feet, resigned to our disinterest, ready for another try tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow.

Move toward aliveness, in all ways and at all times.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.

How Should I Not Be Glad?

I sat to write the other day and the words came effortlessly, as if I were simply transcribing something already written. As I brought the piece to completion I overheard myself utter the words “the poems flow from the hand unbidden,” a line from the Derek Mahon poem, Everything is Going to be All Right.

Hearing myself speak these words made me smile. I happily recognized that the poem had sunk in, after many readings and “listenings,” most courtesy of David Whyte who references this work of Mahon’s in many of his talks.

I felt a strange sort of kinship with the author, his work helping me to connect with the feelings generated by my own work; a quiet mind and a more open heart.

Even more, I was confronted by my own commitment to welcome all that comes to me; to reconcile myself to his opening question: How should I not be glad?

Everything is Going to be All Right

How should I not be glad to contemplate
the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?
There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
The poems flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart.
The sun rises in spite of everything
and the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the day break and the clouds flying.
Everything is going to be all right.

Derek Mahon, from Selected Poems


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.