Nourishing Surprise


316 West Second Avenue, November 3, 2011

Excerpt from What to Remember When Waking by David Whyte:

The conversational nature of reality means that whatever you want from life will not occur in exactly the way you’d like it to. But, also, whatever life wants from you – society wants from you, your parents want from you, your partner wants from you, your children want from you – will also not occur. And that what occurs is this third quality which is more like a meeting and a dynamic of the two, a conversation between the two.

I’d like to speak about the life that can actually be conversation in its essence, where we don’t choose too early in the process and we allow things to come to fruition in a surprising, nourishing, and generous way. I do think that human beings are desperate for this form of nourishing surprise and all good art, actually, and all good drama, all good entertainment has this sense of generous surprise in it. Whether it’s a plot, whether it’s a novel, whether it’s an unattainable note which is attained within a recording or a song, whether it’s a surprising moment of truth in an author that you might be listening to – we all thrive on suddenly finding ourselves in a new world that actually is an old familiar world that we’re simply re-recognizing again.

So the conversational dynamic almost always has the sense of one’s original notions of what one is going to do in life – a direction you’re going to take, the way you’re going to mold a day or a life – are more in a sense of a gift which has not yet been unwrapped. And that you’re going to unwrap this gift in the presence of other people and other elements and discover what lies at the center.

Perhaps the metaphor is more precise if we understand that the gift changes according to your attentive powers and to the attentive powers of those who are unwrapping the gift with you. That you actually create a different reality and a different identity according to the depth of attention that you are paying. When we’re paying very little attention, I do believe that there’s very little of us present, there’s very little surface area, there’s very little that can be found.

One of the first acts of transformation is simply to pay attention to what you want to transform, to the area that you were made to hold the conversation with. And this is, in a sense, one of the merciful dynamics that lies at the center of seeing reality in a conversational way. That you don’t actually do the work of transformation. You don’t do the work of changing yourself. What you do is begin the conversation and the conversation then does the work of changing you.

You’ve just got to arrange to be in the conversation itself. You’ve got to cultivate your voice. You’ve got to cultivate your presence, your robustness, and then you must speak into it, or you must dance into it, or you must write your way into it, or you must work your way into it, or play your way into it. Whatever your particular way forward is in life. Cultivating that sense of presence and a sense of other presences there, will create the conversation.

And so I’m going to take the monkey off of my personal back. I’m going to put the burden down. I’m going to stop trying to see myself as this discreet piece of ammunition which I fire at life – that life is a target which I’m going to hit. So I’m going to stop this sense of alienation, of distance, and I’m going to look to the dynamics of the conversation itself to do all the work, to create a kind of buoyancy.