September 13, 2011
All of our great traditions, religious, contemplative and artistic, say that you must a learn how to be alone—and have a relationship with silence. It is difficult, but it can start with just the tiniest quiet moment.
Being quiet in the midst of a frenetic life is like picking up a new instrument. If you've never played the violin and you try to play it for the first time, every muscle in your body hurts. Your neck hurts, you don't know how to hold that awkward wavy thing called a bow, you can't get your knuckles round to touch the strings, you can't even find where the notes are, you are just trying to get your stance right. Then you come back to it again, and again, and suddenly you can make a single buzzy note. The time after that, you can make a clearer note. No one, not even you, wants to listen to you at first. But one day, there is a beautiful succession of notes and, yes, you have played a brief, gifted, much appreciated passage of music.
This is also true for the silence inside you; you may not want to confront it at first. But a long way down the road, when you inhabit a space fully, you no longer feel awkward and lonely. Silence turns, in effect, into its opposite, so it becomes not only a place to be alone but also a place that's an invitation to others to join you, to want to know who's there, in the quiet.
That temple was the house I moved into after the end of a chapter in my life. There I would live alone, but also with my son a good deal of the time. It was a new start. There was a great deal of grief in letting go of the old, but I was so very excited about my new home. I felt that even though it was such a small house and an old house, it had endless new horizons for me, as if the rest of my life was just beginning from that place. It is important to have the equivalent of this house at every crucial stage in our lives. Where do you have that feeling of home? Do you have it in your apartment? Do you have it when you walk along the lakeshore or the seashore? Where do you have that sense of spaciousness with the horizon and with your future?
Gaston Bachelard, a French philosopher, said that one of the beautiful things about a home is that it is a place where you can dream about your future, and that a good home protects your dreams; it is a place where you feel sheltered enough to risk yourself in the world.
September 9, 2011
Most people, I believe, are living four or five years behind the curve of their own transformation. I see it all the time, in my own life and others. The temptation is to stay in a place where we were previously comfortable, making it difficult to move to the frontier that we're actually on now.
People usually only come to this frontier when they have had a terrible loss in their life or they've been fired or some other trauma breaks open their story. Then they can't tell that story any more. But having spent so much time away from what is real, they hit present reality with such impact that they break apart on contact with the true circumstance. So the trick is to catch up with the conversation and stay with it —where am I now?—and not let ourselves become abstracted from what is actually occurring around us.
If you were a farmer, and you tried to harvest what belonged to the previous season, you'd exhaust yourself trying to bring it in when it's no longer there. Or attempting to gather fruit too early, too hard or too late and too ripe. A person must understand the conversation happening around them as early in the process as possible and then stay with it until it bears fruit.
August 29, 2011
So many of us aren't sure what we're meant to do. We wonder if we're simply doing what others are doing because we feel we don't have enough ideas or even enough strength of our own.
There was a time, many years ago, working at a nonprofit organization, trying to fix the world and finding the world didn't want to be fixed as quickly as I'd like, that I found myself exhausted, stressed and finally, after one particularly hard day, at the end of my tether, I went home and saw a bottle of fine red wine I had left out on the table that morning before I left. No, I did not drink it immediately, though I was tempted, but it reminded me that I was to have a very special guest that evening.
That guest was an Austrian friend, a Benedictine monk, Brother David Steindl-Rast, the nearest thing I had to a really wise person in my life at that time or at any time since. We would read German poetry together—he would translate the original text, I read the translations, all the while drinking the red wine. But I had my day on my mind, and the mind-numbing tiredness I was experiencing at work. I said suddenly, out of nowhere, almost beseechingly, "Brother David, speak to me of exhaustion. Tell me about exhaustion."
And then he said a life-changing thing. "You know," he said, "the antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest."
"What is it then?"
"The antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness. You're so exhausted because you can't be wholehearted at what you're doing...because your real conversation with life is through poetry."
It was just the beginning of a long road that was to take my real work out into the world, but it was a beginning.
What do I care most about—in my vocation, in my family life, in my heart and mind?
August 23, 2011
A real conversation always contains an invitation. You are inviting another person to reveal herself or himself to you, to tell you who they are or what they want. To do this requires vulnerability. Now we tend to think that vulnerability is associated with weakness, but there's a kind of robust vulnerability that can create a certain form of strength and presence too.
There are many tough conversations, but one of the most difficult is between a parent and an adolescent daughter, partly because as a parent we are almost always attempting to relate to someone who is no longer there. The parent therefore usually tries to start the conversation by offering a perspective that the daughter finds not only out of date but also unhelpful; the daughter then replies by way of defense with something just a shade more unhelpful, and so the process continues. A year or so ago, I found myself in exactly this dynamic, my daughter's bedroom door slamming shut just as I was just about to say that last, deeply satisfying unhelpful thing.
But I caught myself and said, "David, this isn't a real conversation. How do you make this a real conversation?" I gave it the old 10-minute cooldown time, walked into the kitchen, made tea and put out a tray, and on the tray: a plate of cookies, a milk pitcher, a cup and a saucer. Then I knocked on her door and said in a very different, more invitational voice, "Come on, Charlotte, I've made tea. Let's go and have a talk."
As soon as I put the tray down and we had sat next to each other, almost by accident I happened to say exactly the right thing—I said, "Charlotte, tell me one thing you'd like me to stop doing as a father. And tell me one thing you'd like me to do more of." She suddenly gazed up at me with a lovely look in her eyes, one I knew from her very early infancy. She was engaged again because at last I was really inviting her to tell me was who she had become—not who she had been or who I wanted her to be—but who she was now. (David Whyte)
August 6, 2011
What is it all about? To get things done? No! Because you do them, and you undo them, and you do them, and you undo them, and you do them, and you undo them... What is the point in all of it?
It is the thrill of the process along the way. Physical human minds keeps thinking, "We have to be going towards some end." And you kill each other by the millions trying to decide what is the appropriate end that you are all going toward. And we say: well, there's your flawed premise. Because there is no end that you're going toward. We are all on a perpetual cycle of joyous becoming. We will never get it done, ever, ever, ever, ever.