Feeling Slightly Out of It Most of the Time

Marine Layer over Los Angeles, January 2, 2012

Excerpt from What to Remember When Waking by David Whyte:

[There is] an astonishing amount of loss in an everyday lived life — that all of us in our existence as human beings have to say goodbye to everyone we know. Either you will say goodbye to them or they will say goodbye to you. You will go before them or they will go before you.

There's never been a person since the beginning of time who has been exempted from these heartbreaking farewells, especially as you start to work through the fiercest cycles of existence — where, for instance, in your early twenties you get the first inkling that everything that you've wanted and hoped for may not come fully true, where as a parent your heart breaks when you realize you can never be the image of perfection in fatherhood or motherhood that you wanted for yourself, where you have the first break in your work life in the sense of something being torn apart where you realize you may not acheive all the goals that you set for yourself when you were young, when you lose someone in your family incredibly close to you. 

I do think that one of the dynamics that occurs is that a person when they've felt loss at such a foundational level, they say to the rest of creation, to god, to no one in particular, "If this is what life involves, then I'm not playing the game. If life is full of so much difficulty and vulnerability and loss, then I'm not going to go out and meet it. I'm actually going to create my own little bubble, my own rules, my own internal video game that I'll play according to the way I've laid it out. I'm actually not going to apprentice myself to the difficult and fierce revelations of existence."

So it's quite helpful to know that not feeling as if you belong, feeling as if you don't quite know how to play the game, is actually part of a full human incarnation. That almost everyone you see around you, even the most phenomenal players who seem to be full of competence, always have a part of them that is looking from the outside in, that doesn't feel as if they quite belong to what they're involved with, that doesn't quite know how to take the next step. And that instead of seeing this dynamic of difficulty as being something you have to overcome, it's quite interesting to look at it as a core human competence, actually. 

That if you look at the rest of creation, nothing else gets to feel as if it doesn't belong. If you look at the clouds or the sky or the osprey sailing across the Puget Sound in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, the whale off the coast of Greenland, a landscape, everything in the natural world is just as it is and none of these creatures get to imagine themselves as other creatures. A rock is just a rock. A mountain is a mountain. A cloud is a cloud. In fact, we go into the natural world because we want an intuition of rested simplicity where we feel it might be possible just to be [ourselves].

But, actually, it may be that just being yourself as a human being means feeling slightly out of it most of the time. And that a form of enlightenment is to understand that you'll never feel quite at home in the world and you're not meant to, because your sense of compassion for the rest of creation and for others depends on your understanding of exile — how far a creature, especially a human creature, can feel from true parentage, from their true inheritance, from their true home.


Start Close In

by David Whyte, from River Flow: New & Selected Poems, 1984-2007

Start close in,
don't take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
close in,
the step
you don't want to take.

Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way of starting
the conversation.

Start with your own
give up on other
people's questions,
don't let them
smother something

To find
another's voice,
your own voice,
wait until
that voice
becomes a
private ear
to another.

Start right now
take a small step
you can call your own
don't follow
someone else's
heroics, be humble
and focused,
start close in,
don't mistake
that other
for your own.

Start close in,
don't take
the second step
or the third,
start with the first
close in,
the step
you don't want to take.