Friday, January 14, 2011

Whyte and whittling

whittle |ˈ(h)witl|

verb [ trans. ]
carve (wood) into an object by repeatedly cutting small slices from it.
• carve (an object) from wood in this way.• (whittle something away/down) reduce something in sizeamount, or extent by a gradual series of steps

I've started this post several times. The words 'dither' and 'smoosh' and the old nursery rhyme 'See saw, Marjory Daw' keep popping up, but I've just looked up the dictionary definition for 'whittle' and it's this word - this activity - that comes closest to describing the process I'm in.

Whittling. In an earlier version of this entry, I talked about whittling a new set of paddles; there's still some resonance in that; something rhythmic and intentional about it. 

We wake each morning with no idea how the day will unfold; what will the hours offer? What - or who - might life nudge us towards, and why? What - or who - will we be invited to engage with, resist? What will we set aside, create, rebuild or undo? And how often do we stand/sit/lay down in this place that's somewhere between quiet calm and head-back, throat-open holler? We seem to be living an accelerated 'mixed-bag reality' that - for all its gifts and challenges - we can trust as being ultimately 'on our side'; on the side of good and of forward movement; of alignment, awakening, learning, refinement. The chaffing and sandpapering sure can sting though - never more than when someone we love finds themselves on the receiving end of a sudden sharp shock to their system? 

Group Dynamic (detail) - oil on board - CB 2010

A few weeks ago, my friend Nan (who journeyed from Cape Town to Dunedin last September) sent me David Whyte's poem Sweet Darkness. I'd intended posting it here today but after visiting Whyte's website realized I'd need to have his permission to post that poem here, and - well, the process could have taken days, weeks or months. So, instead of the poem, I'm posting the link to his website. I spent quite some time there, exploring, exploring. Click here for Yorkshire-born David's eloquent thoughts on 'Poetry, Work and Vocation' and on 'Conversational Leadership.' I also have David to thank for last night's visit to the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington (T. Clear, you and Melinda will love this site; Marylinn, too. And Susan and Melissa. . . well, I'm sure you all will. . . ! There are glass bridges and seas to cross, water forests to walk. . . ).

Also whilst wandering the far reaches of the blogosphere late last night, I came across this beautifully expressed piece by David in the Huffington Post - "The Poetic Narrative Of Our Times.".

Here's an excerpt. . . 

". . . It might be liberating to think of human life as informed by losses and disappearances as much as by gifted appearances, allowing a more present participation and witness to the difficulty of living. What is real can never be fully taken away; its essence always remains. It might set us a little freer to believe that there is no path in life - in the low valley, in the shelter of Keane's comfortable bar, snug by a turf fire or abroad in the mountain night, that does not lead to some form of heartbreak when the outer narrative disappears and then reappears in a different form. If we are sincere, every good marriage or relationship will break our hearts in order to enlarge our understanding of our self and that strange other with whom we have promised ourselves to the future. Being a good parent will necessarily break our hearts as we watch a child grow and eventually choose their own way, even through many of the same heartbreaks we have traversed. Following a vocation or an art form through decades of practice and understanding will break the idealistic heart that began the journey and replace it, if we sidestep the temptations of bitterness and self-pity, with something more malleable, compassionate and generous than the metaphysical organ with which we began the journey. We learn, grow and become compassionate and generous as much through exile as homecoming; as much through loss as gain, as much through giving things away as in receiving what we believe to be our due. . . "

You can read the full article here - and, too, Mameen, Whyte's life-affirming poem, that begins 

"Be infinitesimal under that sky, a creature
even the sailing hawk misses, a wraith
among the rocks where the mist parts slowly.
Recall the way mere mortals are overwhelmed
by circumstance, how great reputations
dissolve with infirmity and how you,
in particular, live a hairsbreadth from losing
everyone you hold dear.
Then, look back down the path as if seeing
your past and then south over the hazy blue
coast as if present to a wide future,
recall the way you are all possibilities
you can see and how you live best
as an appreciator of horizons
whether you reach them or not,
. . . "

Waters I Have Known (detail) - oil on paper - CB 2010


  1. Ah, yes. Loss & all its baggage. The trick, I believe, is to learn how not to be consumed by it.

    Thanks for the link to the Museum of Glass. It's only about 40 minutes (or less) from my house, and I'm ashamed to admit I've not yet been there.

  2. Dear Claire, thank you for the infinite wisdom in this post, the muddling toward, the tears, the offering of losses. But your most terrible year has not robbed you of your sense of wonder, your buoyancy (you are a sea creature after all). The blows to the heart come hard and fast. It could make one fear to ever love another. But you will not let the dreadful sorrows erode your capacity for joy. Which is your gift, one of many. Your resilience, in spite of it all, is something that will make me braver. Love, Melissa

  3. Amen to all Melissa says. Rich offerings for us here, Claire, from the feast and forge of your year. Thank you and hugs . . .

  4. If we did live in the depths of despair, one would never be enlightened at the good things to be found from surviving them.The complexities we build in our lives seems to get in the way of happiness sometimes.Many of us don't realize what we really have, when many have none.

  5. Hi T. Learning how not be consumed by loss is the best way forward. I agree. When we grieve, perhaps the truly honouring thing to do is to plunge into the underworld, to turn our grief this way and that, to inhabit it and know it thoroughly, and then to lovingly return to the land of the living? I wonder. I do know that it took me an inordinately long time to 'fully' grieve my older brother after he died and that I've been learning to 'do it' differently since. I think grief demands a certain ferocity and specific timbre of wholeheartedness of us?

    Whilst 'holding on to loss' is understandable, it is not the same as 'holding a loved one' after they have gone? The former seems to have little to do with the now-absent person, can become binding, a kind of quicksand capable of engulfing us and the beloved; the latter seems more acknowledging and can be both enduring and releasing. We can hold a friend/ a child/a parent after death without holding ONTO them?

    Thanks, T - you've nudged me along a bit. xo

  6. PS. T. I can imagine you and Melinda and your gifted glass team driving up to the MOG and making a day of it. ; )

    (Have you been to the museum in Corning? I went there two years ago with my friend Sarah - she drove up from Pennsylvania and I drove down from Upstate New York; Corning was more-or-less the midpoint on the map and the only way we were going to be able to see each other was if we both jumped in a car and drove! It was a wonderful adventure. And all that beautiful glass. . . we LOVED it.)

  7. Dear Sparrow

    We're in a kind of cauldron together. It's called 'being human!'

    Thank you for referring to me as a 'sea creature'; it made me smile and feel a whole lot more buoyant than when I sat down to write this post.

    When it comes to love, I suspect one of the challenges is to banish fear whilst at the same time keeping our wits about us? Having a breastplate helps. Resilience makes us all braver, yes - in this community, we are especially blessed and can take turns giving and receiving. L, C xo

  8. Dear Pen - feast and forge, yes. And you, my friend, a most patient and insightful traveling companion. Thank you xo.

  9. Hi Steve - I agree, there's much to celebrate and be thankful for. Even during times of grief and despair. I believe it's possible to inhabit more than one place at a time - in fact, I wonder if this isn't a requirement at times? For it is true, we know light by knowing darkness, and darkness becomes bearable - perhaps also a kind of humus or compost - that intensifies our experience of light. Impurities, scar tissue, dents and the like add more than they take away, I think.

    We are well-resourced, yes - for the most part, we have everything we need. And yes, it is important to stand in a place of abundance rather than in one of paucity. It is also helpful to be able to share the changing realities of one's process. That way, the interim 'smoosh' of life becomes something that can find new shape, maybe even grow wings?

    Thanks for coming by, Steve. I so enjoyed reading your piece on/for Mother Nature, as well as the stunning photographs accompanying it.

  10. The notion of "holding onto loss" feels like what a friend calls "being stuck in the story." We each have a narrative, riddled with some quite terrible things, and we can be overtaken by the tale and the things, as though that is what we are made of, rather than allowing it to be what it is, a thing that happened and is over. We will not change it with a retelling.

    Beautiful interpretations here, new wisdom to explore. We can never have too many around us who see this human experience more gently than we may, who can speak of it - and us - tenderly, showing us what we have gained and not just what we have lost.

  11. ". . . we can be overtaken by the tale and the things, as though that is what we are made of, rather than allowing it to be what it is. . . "

    Dear Marylinn - thank you for these instructive words. To borrow words from a friend 'the teacher arrives when the student is ready.' While we know these things, it is helpful to be reminded. We are called in our lives to be active participant and observer; both. Detachment in no way implies lack of engagement - to the contrary, it is through detachment that our fullest participation becomes possible. The wisdom of paradox.

    What you write about community here is so true, too, Marylinn. Gentle teachers everywhere.

    Claire xo