Feb 6th and 7th, 2015 The Lama Farm and Jung Society of Utah welcome the renowned poet, David Whyte, in a live poetry evening and workshop for an early Valentine’s weekend event. Whyte’s poetry readings and teachings take his audience on a fierce exploration into the frontiers of the beloved and undiscovered self. For this author it seems perhaps the boldest love affair any of us might hope to achieve in this lifetime—a love for our once and future self—reminding us of the beauty of an awakened life. Whyte’s venture into the inner-scape of self is entitled “What to Remember when Waking, Asking the Beautiful Questions.”
Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the conversation…
All the birds and creatures of the world are unutterably themselves,
Everything, everything, everything is waiting for you.
—David Whyte “Everything is waiting for you”
Difficult Questions and Beautiful Answers
David Whyte is a poet, transformational teacher and organizational consultant. One might question how these three unlikely pursuits combine in a cohesive career, and be delighted to find it is Whyte’s most particular and profound gift of inquiry through poetry which invites participants in all three arenas to dare ask their own courageous, difficult and beautiful questions. In each of his disciplines, Whyte pushes his audiences to examine the inner world in our diverse and sometimes disconnected aspects of life and thereby discover how closely related the answers are in each. His impassioned and lyrical insight offer balm, guidance and practical application for everyday people grappling with a desire to reconnect or most simply, uncover their inner voice.
This February Whyte makes his public debut in Salt Lake City to ask those very questions. Over the past two years Whyte’s career has crystallized around the planet as his poetry and prose reach new levels of recognition and familiarity. With this notoriety, Whyte is sought out to teach and perform extensively to audiences entranced with the modern mystic nature of his voice and themes. Co-sponsoring the event are The LamaFarm a Utah mentoring and guidance organization cultivating inner-consciousness and awakened living and the Jung Society of Utah. Machiel Klerk, founder of the Jung Society, says “David Whyte’s poetic vision is similar to the depth psychology of Carl Jung with the notion that the human is no accident but a carrier of meaning and of gifts, that there is an ‘other world’. This is what Jung meant as he defined the individuation process and the collective unconscious. Poets explore these ideas in their own words suited for their time, and David Whyte does that magically.”
Whyte has authored seven volumes of poetry and four works of prose. To his devoted readers, Whyte’s poems cast a web of sonorous and earthy self-discovery. In his live readings, Whyte’s gift of penetrating human connection draws his audience into the same web. Shifting seamlessly between reciting his own poems and quoting the work of his favorite poets he weaves an irresistible spell of sound and silence. Whyte’s performances call to mind firesides of old, in which audiences disappear from the world of passive listener and enter into a journey alongside him—the journey into the self .
A native of England, Whyte now makes his home with his family in the Pacific Northwest. As a child, David, roamed the fields of his father’s Yorkshire, England, memorizing aloud—to clouds and cows alike, the poems of the romantic poets—Wordsworth and Keats to name a few. “My mother’s voice taught me a connection to Irish folklore tradition coming right out of the ground and imagination of the Irish.” And it was his “father’s Yorkshire which had its own storytelling tradition and lent a grounded, steady compassion and almost surreal honesty to the voice.” Whyte says, “In many ways I got schooled in the two ends of the spectrum in human voice.” “I was always naturally interested in the voice and memorizing poetry. I started quite young and constantly looked to the future with anticipation for building my repertoire; always thinking what the next poem would be, even if that were only two or three a year.”
It was perhaps through his youthful learning to recognize the soulfulness in others’ words that Whyte began his own development in understanding human expression of the inner voice. These early solitary recitations began a lifelong ‘courtship’ with his favorite poems and authors—well over 300 at last count—which Whyte recites in his performances as they uniquely apply to the present moment of his teachings.
By education and training Whyte began his formal career with a degree in marine biology, working as a naturalist guide and anthropologist in the Galapagos Islands, Andes, Amazon, and Himalayas. One can only imagine how he might have plied his craft as a wordsmith pondering anthropological insights and guiding human conversation along the trails and extremes such journeys offer. The combination of explorer of the natural world and guide to seekers’ paths shifted from geographical boundaries to human frontiers as his vocation in poetry emerged.
Speaking from his home last month in the Pacific Northwest, Whyte offered his perspective on his poetry and work and how he enters the conversation on the human experience. Whyte’s transition from geographic to human interior exploration suggests an underlying quest to discover his personal genius. “I think I always intuited the human voice as a representation of our identity in the world,” Whyte explains, “Everyone possesses a personal genius.” Whyte says finding, or at the very least seeking our authentic voice through asking questions of our deepest self is a means of uncovering this personal genius. “At the center of every conversation is an invitation, just as there’s an invitation in good poetry to the truth; to uncovering…your own particular way to be in that truth. It has to do with your own genius, not as Mozart, or Dylan Thomas or Madam Curie. I am thinking just of the way you hold life as an individual.”
Why is it so difficult to ask ourselves these questions and find our authentic voice? (VH)
Whyte describes his own experiences discovering a ‘hidden voice’ that needed to be remembered or gathered back into full expression within the body. “I remember when I was 13 or 14 [deciding] to have a consistency of voice no matter who I was speaking to; to have it grounded in my body.” Learning to express his authentic voice at that time, Whyte says ”Strangely enough, there are huge parts of your body you don’t want to be in because of the hurt and trauma of living, ways you do not want to share your voice. You actually try to escape from that psychologically, so the journey into the voice is the journey back into the body, actually being here. Poetry is a representation of that, an artful expression of the human journey.”
How does our authentic voice help us uncover our genius? (VH)
“Genius is not something we either have or we don’t.” According to Whyte, “we all have genius to be revealed, an identity to be shaped. By exploring our self-perception, releasing judgments we hold onto in our physical bodies we help reveal our genius, which is often buried in the darkest corners within.” Whyte describes a “fully-embodied” voice as the place from which he strives to share his poetry, a place that allows him to express his own genius. In an era when spiritual seekers ask questions for which they find no answers and mid-life crisis newbies don’t have a manual on which to cut their teeth, David Whyte gently and insistently urges us with his deeply compelling point of view to explore our internal frontiers for the answers. He explains how as our own voices explore difficult inner questions, we discover “the way the voice represents the frontier of what you think is you versus what you don’t think is you. Once these limits are exposed, [you] just might reach past them into the possibility of who [you] actually are.”
Whyte’s teachings will captivate Utahns at once for his guide-work in untamed frontiers and the discipline of his philosophical and contemplative tradition.
As a powerful storyteller, it is not uncommon for Whyte to recount experiences from his days as a trail guide and anthropologist and share poetry from his current walking retreats in Ireland, Italy, England and the Galapagos Islands. Such pilgrimages have long been a practice of the seeking soul. Here in Utah we are fortunate to have some of the most beautiful and untamed vistas of any wilderness anywhere on earth. We have the opportunity to take to the trails and mountains with similar intent, finding enough silence in nature to awaken, or free from sleep, a certain element of the unconscious mind and possibly begin to examine those interior frontiers. Speaking about ways to begin an ‘embodied practice’ for self-exploration, Whyte says “our great religious and contemplative traditions look at the way human beings are constantly being invited into the new, emancipated sense of self in the world.” Starting with the walks in the countryside he took as a youth memorizing a favorite verse, Whyte’s expeditions into exterior frontiers introduce an embodied physical practice for the parallel journey we are invited to explore in his poetry—to find our voice and honest expression of self.
The poet has spent years in spiritual practice uncovering his authentic voice. Whyte says “I sat Zen for years where the beautiful questions are known as Koans, an Eastern contemplative tradition asking the unanswerable questions.” Citing an example of such a question, Whyte asks “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” and goes on to describe what personal meaning such a question might hold by feeling into the places of the body that might be blocked by this query. A possible answer, he goes on is “how much of my life is real, how much is what I make up speaking back to me in my own voice?” Explaining how we separate from our manufactured perception of self, Whyte suggests we might discover “…a deeper, more foundational self. Starting there can feel like a kind of death, at least dismemberment or falling away. This is a letting go of a part of you that can no longer speak the truth.”
What are the ‘Beautiful questions’ you are asking us to remember when waking?(VH)
“These questions come from a part of you already knowing and calling you, one who already knows the new truth to which we belong,” Whyte says. “A place from which to speak, dance or shape a life that can distinguish the authentic you from the pattern of thousands of images told from the courageous human life at the center of your existence.” As suggested by answering the Koan above, we “[don’t want] to be part of some other life, body…but right here at this place, now! Taking only the steps you can take, speaking the only words you can speak, making the only life you can make.”
Why is the live interaction you have with an audience so profound? (VH)
“On stage, there is a kind of ritual invitation being made; strangely enough that invitation is to the silence that lies as a context for all the beautiful language and truths you hear in poetry. Quite often in a room full of people whether on stage or in a conference room, I’m following the listening in the room–where the silence is most profound.” When Whyte speaks to an audience, something almost alchemical happens in the interaction. As he describes “something quite new happens in performance; listening and responding to the profundity of the silence…that’s where the magic and the art form are and that’s where something new will happen at the same time.” Audience members engage in dynamic interaction in response to the poet’s invitation to discover our personal genius, to join what resonates from that selfsame voice of authenticity and honesty with which he speaks. As Whyte engages with an audience he dares us to ask the Beautiful Questions, to risk discovering our unexplored interior frontiers, not necessarily because of their innate beauty, but because of the beauty and genius we discover in ourselves when we ask them.
Valerie Holt is a writer, mentor and founder of The LamaFarm where the soul of the seeker rises from the ground we break, dig on purpose.™ She is thrilled to cohost David Whyte in February as he urges us to Remember the Beautiful Questions as we are waking.
see the article as it appears in the CATALYST MAGAZINE Here