Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Art of Asking Beautiful Questions

Journey 6"x6" oil, earth pigments, cold wax

"Poetry is the art of asking beautiful questions."  That line, from the workshop I did with David Whyte last Saturday, has rented a small bit of space in my head and keeps popping out for air.  Whyte showed us plenty of Irish hospitality (without the single malt) He read to us, told us stories, steeped us in poetry and asked us beautiful questions: questions like "what star just appeared in your life, that you did not know you were following?"

I think Whyte's poetry has such wide appeal because he invites each of us into the interior of our lives in ways that are both practical and mysterious. He takes us on a pilgrimage to somewhere we didn't know we wanted to go, but when we get there we recognize it as the necessary destination.  On Saturday he took us to the wind swept shores of Gallway Bay  and held us up to peek out the same window that Wordsworth did at Cambridge. He stood with us at Finestre while the moon hovered over our shoulders and we threw away our old boots.  He read from his most recent book "Pilgrim" and reminded us that he'd never walked the Camino but after a few more  sentences (because he's Irish, he said) he would be convinced that he had.

Royal Roads University (David Whyte workshop was here)

But mostly Whyte urged us to "start close in, don't take the second step or the third, take the first step, the one you don't want to take." He saw his job that day as teasing us out of our cocoons and onto the path to be "nourished and disturbed". The day was spent weaving in and out of the highways and side roads where we might have "conversations".  He invited us to have the courageous conversation, the one we don't want to have.  It might be with a friend, a spouse, your child, with yourself.  It's about being brave enough to say the thing that needs to be said. He observed that we are often afraid to initiate these conversations because we're not sure we can handle the response we'll get. There are so many conversations we can have: "with the horizon, with silence, with the unknown."  A good question Whyte suggested, is "what conversation am I not having with my heart and mind?"

He reminded us that the stories we tell ourselves, the ones about how things are, about how we are, are really conversations. He suggested that if we engaged in conversations with others in this same way we talk to ourselves we wouldn't have many friends! I found this framing of "self talk" as conversation helpful in looking at the stories that rattle around in my head.  "No, I guess I really don't need to say that, it's not very helpful. I really could open a different conversation."  News flash!
Too warm for a sweater in Victoria?  With the Camas at Beacon Hill Park

Whyte invites us to cultivate a relationship with the unknown.  We spend most of our time shying away from the unknown, trying to wrap things up and get them into the cage of the known asap.  But the truth is we are always walking into the unknown.  If we could do some sort of measurement we would probably find there is more unknown to us than known.  And  so we have this uncomfortable relationship with a large part of our life. Whyte suggests we could ground ourselves in the unknown.

In his summing up Whyte suggested our first step was to stop having the conversation we're having now. That's the only pathway to change. Most of our conversations arise from habit. If we stop the conversation we're having now then the opportunity exists to begin a new conversation.  And the new conversation can emerge out of the silence. Conversation gives rise to invitations which produce seeds that can then be harvested.

Such a rich opportunity, to consider what is it that I want to say, need to say or conversely what is it that I'm avoiding saying? And why am I avoiding it? An even more interesting question. And now, let the conversations begin.