Stop what you’re doing now and listen, really listen, to this podcast. Then come back to join the conversation here.
From the podcast website (link above) and the personal websites in links below.
If you can’t stop at the moment, read this post first and listen later.
The poet philosopher David Whyte and radio host and author Krista Tippett have influenced millions of readers and listeners, including me.
Their conversation broadcast on April 7, 2016, happened at just the right time to connect to our emerging blog theme of Jubilación.
Below, you can read some excerpts from the podcast, see how I am relating to them, and then, YOU have a role in building the next step.
First, read this exchange on finding our unique gift, what others sometimes call vocation:
Ms. Tippett: There’s some lines from this poem “What to Remember When Waking.” “To be human is to become visible while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others.”
Mr. Whyte: Yes.
Ms. Tippett: What does that mean?
Mr. Whyte: Well, it’s really working with that earlier dynamic we worked of of incarnation, of becoming visible in the world. And yet the gift that you’re going to give and keep on giving is an invisible gift that will take many different forms and that you learn more of each time you allow it to take a different form. And you move from your 20s into your 30s, and you suddenly find another, larger form for it, or a different shape that makes a different connection. And then you deepen it in your 40s. And you get overwhelmed by it in your 50s. And then it returns to you again in more mature forms, settled forms, in your 60s. So this is the gift that keeps giving. And it’s that internal deeper source. It’s you becoming more and more real and more and more visible in the world.
When I heard these words, I flashed on these from the very beginning of Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World:
“When I was little, I wanted to be big . . . I wanted to be seen. . . .”
That desire, so problematic for a Mennonite girl child, has evolved over a lifetime. I’ve been slowly transformed by life itself and by the privilege of walking beside some truly wise people. I’m in the process of learning to give myself away.
Or, as I described it a year ago on my “about” page:
And here I am as I look now, enjoying my encore vocation, circling around to the same desire I had as a young child — only now I would call my desire to become large instead of big. I want to be dissolved into something larger than myself. I’ve let go of a career I have loved; now I am living into my vocation. It’s still all about learning — and, by the grace of God, will be, right up to my very last breath.
Let’s go back to David Whyte and Krista Tippett for deeper exposition:
Mr. Whyte: Yeah. All of us have this inherited conversation inside us which we know is untouchable. It comes from our parents, from our — the way we’re made, and all the rest of it. But that’s an invisible quality inside you. All the visible qualities that take form and structure will have to change in order to keep the conversation real. Just as we go through the different decades of our life, we have to change the structures of our life in order to keep things new, in order to keep our youthfulness. And I do think there is a quality of youthfulness which is appropriate to every decade of our life. It just looks different.
We have this fixed idea of youthfulness from our teens or our 20s. But, actually, there’s a form of youthfulness you’re supposed to inhabit when you’re in your 70s or your 80s or your 90s. It’s this sense of imminent surprise, of imminent revelation, except the revelation and the discovery is more magnified. Fiercer, more to do with your mortality and what you’re going to pass on and leave behind you, the shape of your own absence.
Ms. Tippett: There are these lines from “Ten Years Later,” your poem: “Innocence is what we allow to be gifted back to us once we’ve given ourselves away.”
Mr. Whyte: Yes. That’s right.
Ms. Tippett: It’s true that one of the gifts of getting older that is a surprise is that — is a quality of youthfulness that doesn’t have anything to do with your physical body, but it’s like a recovery of something so lovely.
Mr. Whyte: Yes. Exactly. It’s like a deep memory at the same time, and a giving away. Innocence is, in a way, the ability to be found by the world. It’s not a state of naivety. It’s the ability to be found by the world you’re now inhabiting. And part of what we find is we’re just supposed to give ourselves away, actually. I often feel that one of the real signs of maturity is not only understanding that you’re a mortal human being and you are going to die, which usually happens in your mid 40s or 50s — “Oh, I am actually going to die. It’s not someone else I’m going to become.”
But another step of maturity is actually realizing that the rest of creation might be a little relieved to let you go. [laughs] That you can stop repeating yourself, stop taking all this oxygen up, and make way for something else which you’ve actually beaten a trail for. And it could be your son, your daughter, could be people you’ve taught or mentored, it could be — the more generous you are, the more that circle extends into our society and those who go after us.
Doesn’t this conversation just steal your breath away?
Now, my dear friends, here is the quote from the podcast that was meant for us!
Ms. Tippett: So you call forth something beautiful by asking a beautiful question.
Mr. Whyte: Yes, you do. Yeah, you do. And then the other part of it, too, is that there’s this weighted silence behind each question. And to live with that sense of trepidation — what I call beautiful trepidation — the sense of something about to happen that you’ve wanted, but that you’re scared to death of actually happening. [laughs] None of us really feel we deserve our happiness.
And before that exchange, this one:
Mr. Whyte:We go through those very, very narrow places. And John [O’Donohue] used to talk about how you shaped a more beautiful mind, and that it’s an actual discipline, no matter what circumstances you’re in. The way I interpreted it was the discipline of asking beautiful questions, and that a beautiful question shapes a beautiful mind. And so the ability to ask beautiful questions, often in very unbeautiful moments, is one of the great disciplines of a human life. And a beautiful question starts to shape your identity as much by asking it as it does by having it answered.
And you don’t have to do anything about it. You just have to keep asking. And before you know it, you will find yourself actually shaping a different life, meeting different people, finding conversations that are leading you in those directions that you wouldn’t even have seen before.
Ms. Tippett: That’s what Rilke called “living the question.”
Mr. Whyte: Exactly. Yeah. He’s always there before you. [laughs]
I feel as though I have been “living the question” that goes a little like this: “What new song is the world calling forth from elders today that has yet to find its language? What kinds of conversations can contribute to this birth?”
Last week in this space we talked about dream jobs, and you led me to an epiphany. Instead of speaking, I need to listen. Instead of proclaiming, I need to ask questions.
I first named our blog community ubuntu, after Desmund Tutu and his South African wisdom. You are part of it!
What are the beautiful questions we need to ask each other? What is one thing you want to know from others about their callings, their vulnerable places, their unfinished work, their fears, their joys? Who in the world shall we reach out to?
Can you think of one beautiful question below? My idea is to collect, then edit, these questions and use them as a base for interviews. I’m open to change if there is a better way, a more beautiful design, for all to share their wisdom.