December 26, 2023

David Whyte – The Vulnerable Choice of Breaking our Hearts Open

Thomas is joined by poet, author, speaker, and leadership consultant, David Whyte. They discuss the deep benefits of learning to hold both happiness and difficulty at the same time. David shares some of his poetry and the personal experiences that helped him to directly observe the interconnectedness of all living beings.

He and Thomas explore our individual and collective reluctance to be vulnerable, present, and open to change, and how embracing those aspects of life can open us to true maturation and healing. As David explains, there is beauty to be found even in pain and grief, and making space for these challenging emotions also opens us to the most joyous ones.

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“The deeper you get into the silence of the body the more moveable it is.”

- David Whyte

Guest Information

David Whyte

David Whyte is the author of eleven books of poetry and four books of prose. He holds a degree in Marine Zoology, has worked as a naturalist guide in the Galapagos Islands, and has led anthropological and natural history expeditions in the Andes, Amazon, and Himalaya.

His life as a poet has created a readership and listenership in three normally mutually exclusive areas: the literate world of readings that most poets inhabit, the psychological and theological worlds of philosophical inquiry, and the world of vocation, work, and organizational leadership.

In organizational settings, using poetry and thoughtful commentary, he illustrates how we can foster qualities of courage and engagement; qualities needed if we are to respond to today’s call for increased creativity and adaptability in the workplace.

He brings a unique and important contribution to our understanding of the nature of individual and organizational change, particularly through his unique perspectives on Conversational Leadership.

Learn more at davidwhyte.com.

Notes & Resources

Key points from this episode include:

  • Dismantling outworn wounds and promises in order to come into a greater generosity with our human community
  • How vulnerability opens us to trauma and yet brings us the deepest joy and meaning
  • Giving voice to that which cannot be spoken
  • The emancipation of confronting the depth of our reluctance to be in life
  • Creating a world that is larger than your traumas – as a foundation to meeting others right where they’re at

Episode Transcript

Thomas Hübl: Welcome back to the Collective Trauma Summit 2022. My name is Thomas Hübl. I will be the convener of the summit, and I had the delight and the warm feeling in my heart to welcome you, David who is here with us again as a regular guest. And so, David, warm welcome. Happy you’re here.

David Whyte: It’s very good to be here with you, Thomas. Half a world away from you, but in close conversation.

Thomas Hübl: Right, so every year we have our conversation here for this summit. And every year I walk away with a warm heart liquefied by your words and very happy to be here with you again. And since we had already had some conversations in the last year, I’m curious what’s unfolding for you? Because as we do our work, every one of us has the leading edge where we find life exciting and our growth happens. So what’s that for you right now?

David Whyte: It has to do with giving myself over to a really profound sense of meeting actually, and exposure in a way to the movability of life. I mean, you use this phrase ‘to liquefy things’ for things to start moving and flowing again. So especially in my poetry, well, I am writing a lot about the deeper experiences of joy and happiness and being overwhelmed by existence in a good way, actually. And the kind of revolutionary, everyday miracle that’s possible in a human life. And so a lot of my writing has to do with capturing that.

Your work has a lot to do with trauma, of course. And most poets would come in through the doorway of trauma in writing now. And that doorway, as you know, is also meant to be a doorway to deeper reward, to actually creating an identity which is larger than your traumas, but has not forgotten them because they’re going to be the foundation for your compassion and meeting other people and helping other people. And so it’s that edge that I’m working with, trying to speak about the ineffable experiences of existence that are quite astonishing and hard to speak to. To begin with, it’s hard to speak to our trauma, but it’s perhaps even more difficult to speak to our hidden joys and enthusiasms. And so that’s the great challenge at the moment.

Thomas Hübl: Mm hmm. That’s beautiful. Do you maybe like a poem or anything that comes from that flow? Anything that speaks about the joy?

David Whyte: I’ve got a good representation of that with a poem that I wrote at this very desk, actually. And just behind the screen here, are two French doors that look out onto a green, a very green garden in the Pacific Northwest area of the United States. And one east of morning I was in here and the sound of spring in the Pacific Northwest is the sound of the red-winged blackbird. It’s the migratory bird here and it’s the most beautiful sound. Every geographical area of the world has its sound of spring as if there’s a spring season. And here it’s the red-winged blackbird. It’s a beautiful sound. And when you hear that, you know spring has arrived.

I had the door open just as I have now. I was sitting down to write and I was writing actually, I was in a deep state of attention in intentionality. And suddenly the door behind me opened and my wife appeared with the meditation bell and struck the bell, just spontaneously and the bell went right through my body sitting at this desk. And at exactly the same time I had the red-winged blackbird call. While this was already lodged in my psyche, because in the Irish tradition, there’s a meme, there’s a story of a monk standing at the edge of the monastic precinct, and he hears the bell calling him to prayer and at exactly the same time he hears the blackbird, a different species of blackbird in Ireland, calling from the other side of the monastic wall. And he hears the bell and he says, “That’s the most beautiful sound in the world,” which is the call to depth and prayer and to enlarging yourself in that silence. But at the same time, as he hears the blackbird, he says, and that’s also the most beautiful sound in the world, which is just the sound of the world as it is with no need to change, although it is change itself.

The great underpinning in the psychological underpinning of that story is that the monk doesn’t actually choose between the two. It’s really a meme that represents the human being just as that conversation between the two. So here I am sitting at the table. I hear the bell, (I’ve known this story for years) I hear the bell going right through me and I hear the blackbird at the same time. And I just started writing and the poem came out whole. So this is called:

The bell and the blackbird

The sound of a bell
Still reverberating,
or a blackbird calling
from a corner of the field,
asking you to wake
into this life,
or inviting you deeper
into the one that waits.

Either way
takes courage,
either way wants you
to be nothing
but that self that
is no self at all,
wants you to walk
to the place
where you find
you already know
how to give
every last thing

The approach
that is also
the meeting
without any
at all.

That radiance
you have always
carried with you
as you walk
both alone
and completely
in friendship
by every corner
of creation

Thomas Hübl: Mhm. Beautiful.

David Whyte: Cause when you hear that line, “that radiance you have always carried with you,” many times you say: What radiance? Where is that radiance? And certainly, it’s the experience of the world, you know that that life is difficult and life is suffering. “What lies beneath the trouble.” One of the themes I’ve been working with this year is, is the way we’re constantly troubled as human beings, actually. But it’s almost always the next dispensation of our life, which is knocking on our door. And we’re troubled because we actually don’t know how to hold out to make ourselves large enough for understanding. And I think part of the worldwide work on trauma that, you know, working with this part, enlarging our understanding of ourselves to hold both joy and difficulty at the same time, to hold our troubles and the way we’ve been hurt or violated by life, the way our identity has been broken into at times without our consent, it seems and the way that we are essentially vulnerable creatures there. And you can’t have any real joyous conversation without the same vulnerability that lays open to trauma, woundedness, and difficulty.

There’s a famous Zen koan where a young monk asks Yun Men: “What about the withered tree in the garden with all the leaves falling from it?” And Yun Men says “A body that is completely exposed to the Golden Wind.” That was his answer. It’s a famous answer and is fairly looking at the way that your present life is really your former life. It’s already on the way out. Part of being a whole able to hold a conversation is to hold the conversation with the seasonality of your existence. And the golden wind in that kind of koan is the wind of autumn that the cold, a wind bottom that takes the leaves from the trees down. So it’s really talking about a beautiful kind of presence and vulnerability to a body that is. What about that withered tree with all the leaves falling in the garden, a body completely vulnerable, completely exposed to the golden wind that’s us as human beings? And so that’s part of where I’m writing to at the moment. Hmm.

Thomas Hübl: That’s beautiful. I love the part of vulnerability at the same time, that which makes us vulnerable to trauma. But it also is that which gives us the deepest meaning, and that is the deepest meaningful relationships and connection to life. It’s that openness.

As we already talked in former conversations like dealing with collective trauma, I mean, also like something that’s thousands of years old, that is like life in its more frozen form.

And a lot of trauma healing is. That’s why we call it liquefaction. It’s like allowing that which is frozen to become fluid again. And so often when I listen to you, in my experience, I feel as if that which is liquid in me, I deeply enjoy your poetry because I feel I’m joining your stream. When you speak, it’s like I’m joining a liquid stream of words that’s open and new. And maybe you can speak a little bit about the quality of liquidity or what’s liquefying. And how poetry has, in a way, the magic of liquefaction. So in a way, it’s also an amazing aspect of touching the traumatized parts of us.

David Whyte: Yeah. Well, I think that moveability, the liquefication that we experience and the beauty of a falling stream on a rocky hillside is the way that human beings slowly articulate truth. If there’s a certain beauty to the way you sometimes finally say to yourself what you need to say, or sometimes you say it to another person, you overhear yourself saying things that you cannot return from. There’s a wonderful way in which your voice becomes naturally revelatory when you start to overhear yourself saying the truth, it’s like the way water fills up each little pond as it moves down a mountainside. It fills it to the top, and then it just spills over down into the next pool beneath it, from pool to pool. And there’s a kind of invitational gravitational experience. And it’s the same experience we have of going deeper and deeper into our own bodies, I think. It’s really interesting that the deeper you get into the silence of the body, the more movable it is actually when we have our identities and our personalities we get frozen.

But what lies beneath the evolving personality on the surface is something that’s like water. I remember years ago in the Himalayas, I got very, very sick. I had amoebic dysentery. I was in a very remote part of the Himalayas. And I collapsed, really. And I had to be carried into this little hamlet where I was placed in a yak manger. It was the only place the family had to put me. The family had about six children, mother and father, all in a single room. And so they put me out in this manger, where the yaks ate the straw from. I was there for three days and three nights.

But on the third day, I was hallucinating and I had this experience of my body being the great, seasonal body of the earth. And I was the water vapor in the sky above the Annapurna. I was the water falling in snow on the glaciers up there. I was the slow-moving reality of the glacier. I was the melting of the glacier into the streams. I was the stream coming past the house where the little house and the manger where I was laid for three days. And then I was the Marsi and the river below that. And then I was the Ganges and I was the ocean all at once. I had this sudden image of the river going past that we’re given a name, we give a name to something that’s already gone in the way we called it the Marsi Ande. I suddenly understood myself as this moving river that I’d been given the name, but actually what was underneath it was something else, this other more enormous cycle.

So I sat up in the manger and let out this huge gunshot of laughter here, and the whole family ran out and I was raving there and hallucinating, covered in yaks drawn. And then they all just bowed to me, actually. I think they understood the experience I was having. I was laughing and happy and I felt like I was going to die, actually, too, at the same time. So I thought, this is my last day. And the whole David Whyte project seemed completely absurd. You know, who is this Whyte guy who was carrying the world on his shoulders, you know? And so that was a very, very powerful experience of moveability you’re talking about when things start to melt.

I have this piece called “Intimate Invitation.” And it’s the way that the inner silence of the body is always calling us.

Intimate Invitation
I just have to look
and I see
I just have to listen
and I hear
I need only the slightest
desire for anything
to find it has already been met
right in the center of my body.

No need to go anywhere,
it seems
And not much
to live for, you say,
but you forget
how you once also saw
so clearly
the brave outline
of a single leaf

You forget
you once also saw
so clearly
the brave outline
of a single leaf

You forget
how you were ravished
each morning
by the presence of birdsong,
how the stream
of clouds in the sky
seem to run
right through you

and the sun on your skin
seem to pass
right through
to some inner complexion

When the sun on your skin
seem to pass right through
to some inner complexion.

How even when
you were stuck without faith,
held back and afraid
to move even a little,
you could be like
the beauty we see
in winter ice

Even when you were stuck
and without faith,
held back and afraid
to move even a little,
you could be
like the beauty
we see in winter ice
just beginning to break and flow.

And because
after all this time,
you have lived
for so long without faith
in your own joys
and your own grief

And because
after all this time
you have lived
for so long without faith
in your own joys
and your own grief

You live daily
with the loss
of every word
equal to describing
what first brought you
into this life
and the mercy
that hides your journey

You live daily
saying ‘love’
as if it were still far away.

You live daily
saying ‘love’
as if it were still far away.

Not much to live for,
I say put down
your heavy burden
and rest from the hard,
everyday labour

of not hurting,
or not feeling,
or not hearing,
or not saying
or seeing.

Stop keeping
the tears at bay,
I say:
give it all up,
just come home.

Thomas Hübl: That’s very beautiful.

You said one sentence before, that very much stayed with me: Your voice becomes revelatory.

David Whyte: Yes.

Thomas Hübl: What you say becomes revelatory.

At least in my understanding of trauma, when we integrate trauma, we regain the parts of us that were the cause of talking about. Like when something is dissociated and missing. We talk about the world, we talk about ourselves. But the moment it comes back online, we actually speak from it.

That’s why every time we heal something, our voice becomes fuller and actually exactly as you said, revelatory, because what we see is not just cognition, it’s sensing, sense-making, embodiment. It’s all of it being said. And that’s so beautiful. And maybe you can speak a little bit more about the revelatory voice, you said when you say to yourself what you need to say to yourself, like when you come into a deeper self-contact, your voice reveals, maybe you can speak it. It’s very beautiful.

David Whyte: Yeah, I do think a good time or good speech is as listened into the world as much as it’s spoken.

Thomas Hübl: Right.

David Whyte: You’re trying to speak to the listening ear. I don’t have the image that is more unconsciously grounded in my body now but I did use it years ago when I was writing, I would imagine myself whispering into a loved one’s ear in a very, very low voice what needed to be said. And it’s that kind of closing, whispering which is enchanting you into and engendering new into new understandings.

So in a way, it’s like being a good parent to your future self. Parenting the self who’s going to live out the days to come in a way. You are big enough. You are large enough to actually meet the heartbreak that is your path. And we spend a lot of time as human beings looking for the path where we won’t have our hearts broken. But every path that has any sincerity to it will break your heart. You’re doing a lot of heartbreaking work. And the moment you close yourself off from that heartbreak is the moment you’re stopped being actually useful and gifted to other people. The only way we can stop having our hearts broken is to decide not to care. And of course, that has enormous repercussions on our system because it’s only the surface of you that can decide not to care because the inner part of you can’t stop caring. But it meets this wall on the outside. Or it meets an argument, or it meets reluctance.

So our only choice is to have our hearts broken around the path that we really care about. Yeah. Don’t get your heart broken around someone else’s path. Someone else’s work. Break your heart on something that you care about. And most of us care about other human beings. So they’re there all the time. So the people we choose, yeah. The word that leads us to the right kind of people and to help in the right kind of way we want to help.

So this is a constant kind. It’s like a musical instrument. We’re learning how to play. And there’s never an end. With a good musician, a good musician gets simpler and simpler as the decades go by and in their approach to music. And I think it’s the same thing for a human being, you know, with our vocation and our work and our way of being as that, there’s a necessity for simplicity. And I think, you know, given the difficulties of our times with our massive consumption of resources, we’re all contributing to global warming, not not just large industries, the oil industry, we all drive cars. We all use an enormous amount of energy and packaging and the only way into the future is through simplicity, actually. Through a joyous simplicity, not puritanical simplicity.

One of the things you learn as you get older is that there’s an incredible joy in saying no to so many things that you felt you had to say yes to when you were younger. And that got you into that, got you into all kinds of trouble. And there’s a famous book which is called “Getting to Yes.” And I’m thinking of writing a book called “Getting to No.” Just Saying no to eating too much, to speaking too much, to needing so much, just a beautiful no to it – to allow something else to arise that’s much simpler, that needs less inputs, that needs less resources. And so that’s certainly a theme. I think that’s a necessity for humankind at the moment.

At present our present goals are still around increasing every input and every output. And it’s not. We all know the game is up and it’s just not sustainable. So that’s trauma. That’s a trauma for us as the world we thought we were given, it’s actually not the world we live in. And the promises that were made to us and that we’ve made to ourselves.

I often think that the critical juncture of maturation in human life is around giving up on old outworn promises. When you think about it, we’re promise-making animals, we’re constantly making promises to other people and to ourselves. And there’s a whole shibboleth around breaking promises, you know, that taboo around breaking promises. But when you think about it, human beings have to creatively dismantle and liquefy, as you would say, old promises that are outworn from the season in which they took place.

If you think about it, the promises you make over the cradle of a newborn child are really powerful, and they’re almost always to do with complete and utter protection around that child. And they’re good promises because they’re made in the seasonality of utter physical vulnerability on the part of that child. But if you were to keep to that promise when they were 13, 14, or 15 around complete protection, you would ruin the child. And of course, there are lots of childhood lives that are ruined through that, over-protection and over-control. Now, from one promise that was made in a good place.

So the ability to let go of the promise I think I found myself in this beautiful fishing chapel, which is part of a set of monastic ruins on the side of the river Cong that runs between Lough Mask and Lough Corrib in Connemara, actually on the edge of Connemara. These ruined buildings are so beautiful. But the most beautiful structure of all is this stone chapel with an old fireplace, where the roof has gone. And there’s an opening in the floor where the monks used to drop their fishing lines down or their nets. And apparently, there was a bell attached to the net. And when the bell rang, you had to fish. Ah, if you know anything about fishing, the bell rang and you almost had to fish. But I’ve often thought it would be a beautiful place to be there on a winter’s evening with another monk catching up on the monastic gossip.

But even more powerfully, if you were in by yourself with this fireplace and this slot in the floor with a river running beneath, ja. And it would be a very prayerful place. And it’s really remarkable, actually, the way that some buildings are actually much more beautiful as a ruin than they ever were in their heyday. The wall that faces downstream has fallen away. The roof has gone under and one wall. So there’s three walls now, a fireplace slot in the floor, three walls. And then you’re looking downstream. You’re looking at everything that is flowing away from you. Just as I was in the manger, in the little hamlet in the Himalayas all those years ago.

I was in there and I was in a difficult relationship at the time. And I was looking at everything that was already gone, I realized that I had made a promise that was static. I made a promise to this other person. And although the promise was good when I made it, it was actually imprisoning both that person and myself, ja. And the interesting thing was, I never said the promise out loud. But I might as well have shouted it from the rooftops. Because it was so powerful.

So in that little fishing chapel, I said to myself, How do you break a promise? How would you do it in a good way? Because there’s so much in the literature around making promises, but so little around breaking promises. But so many of the ways we get stuck around old traumas are around promises we’ve made of complete defense against anything like that happening again. Which would mean we stop almost everything coming in. So this is the piece I wrote called “To Break a Promise.” And I think it’s a kind of crucial step in not only letting go of old promises but letting go of old wounds and difficulties. You let the situation go. You let the other person go. And let yourself go.

To Break a Promise
To break a promise,
make a place of prayer.
To break a promise,
make a place of prayer.
No fuss now. No fuss now.

Just lean into the white brightness
and say what
you needed to say all along.

Break a promise
Make a place for prayer.
No fuss now. No fuss now.
Just lean into the white brightness
and say what you needed to say all along.

Nothing too much.
Words as simple as yours
and as heard as the birds
sang above your head.
Or the water running
gently beside you
Let your words join
one to another
the way stone nestles on stone,
The way water just leaves
and goes to the sea
The way your promise breathes
and belongs with every other promise
the world has ever made.
Now let them go on.

Let your words
have their own life without you.
Let the promise go with the river.
Stand up.
Walk away.
Have faith.

There was a lovely, masterful sense to that “Stand up, walk away, have faith,” because as I walked away, I said to myself, you know, if the promise is still real, it will just come back to you. You won’t be able to give it away, actually, so you can’t lose, actually. So just try giving away a few of the promises that you think are taboos in your life.

And almost always they will come back to you in a different way if they do come back and you’ll be holding them more lightly.

But if you’ve got yourself into a fishing chapel on a January day for an hour and a half, almost always, you probably need to let the promise go. The promise to go with the river, stand up, have faith, walk away.

So it’s lovely. It’s been an invitation to investigate promises in my life. Have a sense. And I especially wonder what unconscious promises I may live and that I’ve never actually said them out loud. But I might as well have written them in blood, you know. The way they keep me held in place. And quite often the person who made that promise actually isn’t there anymore. And the people for whom it was made other than you are not there in the same way. Let the promise go with the river. Stand up. Walk away. Have faith.

Thomas Hübl: That’s very powerful, David. There are so many things we could lead this into. But one thing. If you look at the collective situation and we say we are in a moment right now, I think there are many collective promises. I think anyway, that we are in a time the world is getting more liquid and many things are in the process of change. And I think the place where you talk about the revelatory voice is also a place where we find a connection to the movement. Also, when you speak about the river like the river is a connection to that movement and if you feel comfortable in the river, then we can join the current change movement. But some things have to be dissolved, fall apart.

Many promises. I think that what we gave each other is subject to liquefaction right now, and it’s sometimes painful, especially when there is trauma around the promises. And that’s why we can’t let it go. And the pain comes back when we dismantle the promises.

I’m wondering given we’re at the edge of a cliff where we don’t see the world to come yet, but we feel the world is liquefying around us and it might be a scary moment then also, given climate change, as you said, it’s not sustainable if we all continue that consumption. So what when you speak a bit into this time, like what are the collective promises that we may be that we have to let go, even if it’s painful in order to liberate ourselves into the next iteration?

David Whyte: Yeah, so I think it’s part of the unconscious promises as they the way we’ve promised we would stay true to our old communities in a way, and where the borders and boundaries of those communities lie and every boundary and frontier is being broken down at the moment. And that’s why we’re so collectively disturbed by migration of people who are not of our same culture, you know, into our countries.

Everywhere you go, there’s this falling away of the very community that we grew up with as a child, that we recognize that we have to let go. So part of it is this invitation to a greater generosity about what makes up my human community. The good part of this breaking down is that we have to work together. And despite the war in Ukraine, despite Putin and Russia and all the rest right now. And it’s just something we can’t turn our face away from that acceleration of having to work together. Both for practical necessity, but also for a greater unconscious reason in the future around human harmony and understanding of the beauties of diversity and differing constellations of elements that make up human life around the world being brought together. And that process is accelerating. We’re just a temporary one step back. Where I think we’re just confronting all different forms of reluctance right now. When you think about it, I often say, we think about self-knowledge as being my understanding, my virtues and powers, and the way I bring those gifts out into the world. But self-knowledge has as much to do with understanding all the ways that you don’t want to have the conversation, thank you very much. You know, all the ways you are reluctant to be here, are reluctant to have to deal with the battles. You have to deal with constant conversations with people not being there when you want them. You know, where we’re very reluctant to show up, actually.

So it is really quite amusing and instructive, actually, to look for a day just at all the ways you are reluctant to be in your life. You know, if you have dogs, the way you’re reluctant to be a dog owner, if you’re in a marriage, the way you’re reluctant to be husband or wife or a partner, and it’s not an indulgence, it’s actually emancipating you and allowing you both to have a sense of humor about it, but also to be honest about the times when you need more alone time or you need certain aspects of of of aloneness in your life. And if you are reluctant to have conversations every part of the day, it’s because you actually need more silence in your life. So that you can be allowed to get hungry for conversation. So what do I understand the measure and depth of my own reluctance to be here because life is difficult. Life will break your heart. Life is full of people disappearing and illness and goodbyes, ja. So every human being has the right not to want to be here, in a way. We have that birthright. Part of us understands how difficult even the most ordinary life is to live, how difficult it is to love and understand so many different kinds of circumstances and all the different forms of love that we’re invited into. They’re all forms of being exposed to that golden wind that Yun Men spoke to earlier.

So I do think that as a collective, we’re actually looking at our entire communal reluctance to take the next step. We’re getting a bit of a throwback into our past, with an autocratic figure from the Second World War, almost in the form of Putin. And battles that are just a waste of time really, they’re necessary. Of course, if you’re Ukrainian. But they’re really wasting a lot of time at this. But that’s the way we change. I think we take one step back and take 2 steps forward. And in a short period of time, we take two steps back and one step forward, ja.

Thomas Hübl: I love that ‘collective reluctance,’ I’m saying, and also what you said, it’s very important that we have a right to be reluctant, the right to not feel, you know, as I often say, another word of another way to say trauma is “here it’s not good for me.”

You know, here in this space and time moment in the traumatic moment, it’s no good for me. So moving out somewhere is better than being here. That’s why in all the presencing work, if I don’t understand the intelligence of not being here, I will always get stuck on my spiritual path because I forced myself to be more present versus being. As you said, everybody has a right not to be here because that sometimes requires more intelligence than being here.

And being here means feeling, being present to the experience, and sometimes zoning out this has to happen. If we develop exactly this sensitivity that is said we have a right to be collectively reflected and absent because we create an awareness of it and in that respect, we can become more engaged again because we are not fighting against this mechanism, but we actually honoring that mechanism and bringing love to it, embracing it, and then we can melt back into what was formerly so difficult.

David Whyte: Yeah, it’s beautiful. I think that’s very well said, Thomas, well said. I mean, just if you allow yourself to be honest about the way you’re reluctant to be, all the way that you’re reluctant to be in your relationship, for instance. It allows you to understand the way that your spouse or your partner might be reluctant, and you can actually laugh about it. And because I feel the same. So she doesn’t or he doesn’t have to be anything other than themselves and you meet the person with all their wishes is not quite to be here.

I mean, it’s one of the reasons both young men and women, but especially young men, are caught up in the world of video games. Because here you can restart the game and if you die, you can actually restart the game and you can buy those extra life points solved by the cloak of invisibility so that you can’t be found there at all. And you have a sense of ultimate control, all the illusion that you can manipulate all of these parts of the world that you’re involved with through the video game. Unlike your actual life, where you have to pay tremendous attention and the conversation is deepened through vulnerability rather than having ‘power over’.

We’re losing the gifts of a lot of young men, I think caught up in video gaming. Unfortunately, there’s nothing wrong with video gaming like any job or anything. But its addictive nature is really very, very bad. And the way that it actually starts to shape your personality around manipulation and protection and calculating the odds all the time.

Thomas Hübl: Yeah, very deep. I see this also as one of the more collective trauma symptoms, like the addiction process that you’re describing.

David Whyte: I’ve just been having a few new thoughts on addiction, actually, which has. And addiction in many ways is the way we stop the process of maturation. It’s something we take on to stop something from happening. And then it takes on a life of its own. But we got into that addiction because we got afraid of the way we were maturing, and the vulnerability that comes with that. So. This new line of thought for me that I’m just pursuing. I’ve only just begun thinking that way. Yes.

Thomas Hübl: Interesting. Maybe this is also connected to one theme that I would love to look into and maybe also see is any kind of political response to and when in their communities somebody is missing or goes missing, it’s the responsibility of the community to go to look for the one who is missing. If there’s somebody buried under an avalanche. So we need to go to look. It’s a healthy response.

In collective trauma work, I see a lot like that. The deepest pain is not the pain that screams. The deepest pain is the pain that is frozen, is mute, doesn’t have cameras, is not being heard, doesn’t have a word like it has no creation through the word. And it’s kind of muted. And I believe that everybody who has a certain level of awareness of the culture also has a responsibility to detect who’s missing because when you deeply hurt, people are missing in their hurt. You cannot even hear the hurt. But it’s still very active, but it’s mute. And also the highest exaggeration of stress is freeze. So we are simply frozen and shocked. And if that shock stays and life seems to go on, but the part of the person got frozen in time. And I’m wondering because I think most of life energy in our culture also and in individuals is locked in that mute pain.

I’m wondering, because I’m sure that there is something in your own exploration, even if you name it differently, that speaks to the the one who is missing, the one who is mute, the one who is only looking but not speaking anymore, where we don’t even sometimes recognize that we meet people that are in heavy distress or pain. But we don’t recognize it because it’s not screaming – it’s frozen. So maybe you can speak a little bit to that theme.

David Whyte: First of all, I’ll just say it’s beautifully articulated, Thomas and what led you to this? What led you to this theme at the moment?

Thomas Hübl: Yeah. Because I see often that when I engage in the deep collective trauma work, I see often also in people in large groups how the deepest pain is the one that I really need to listen for, that I need to look for because it’s not coming to me. As long as it can speak, it’s anyway coming from how people express something, but there are always a certain amount of people that carry a deep pain, but they’re not coming forward, you know, they’re not speaking.

And so my responsibility is to actively listen and look for that which is missing. And I think that that part of our society needs to be strengthened because like that we will, first of all, be of incredible support, but also regain a lot of life’s resources that are frozen in the permafrost of our cultures. You know, there’s a lot of frozen in the ice.

So every time I see this and I see how deeply wounded and deeply wounded are quiet, when I studied/worked as a volunteer for the Red Cross, as a paramedic, it’s very clear for a paramedic that you go there first with some somebody is quiet where somebody screams because the people that are quiet are usually more in danger, like they’re in a higher emergency than the ones screaming. I saw it in many people that I saw as a paramedic in shock states. So when somebody is really hurt, it’s kind of okay sometimes, you know, because people are just sitting somewhere and it doesn’t look like a big trauma. But these people are often severe in the States. And yeah, so that’s what led me to it. And I’m always looking at how can we as conscious communities, be the ones who look for the ones that are missing.

David Whyte: Yeah, well, it’s very close to the underlying dynamic of writing poetry, actually, and why poetry is so damn difficult to write – good poetry, you tend to be on it. You tend to be under the illusion that you’re. You’re going to find this part of you that will speak the truth, the beautiful truth into the world. But actually, you’re trying to find the parts of you that cannot speak. And that’s the part of you that’s going to write the poetry, actually try to say exactly the same phenomenon.

When you do that, of course, then you speak on behalf of so many people who cannot speak in exactly the same way. Yeah. So they have the voice. And I have this piece I wrote for a friend who needed to leave the situation he was in. He now has left the situation, but it took him a long time to get there, partly because he didn’t believe he deserved the life he could have if he left it. And of course, it’s that part of him that couldn’t speak the part that somehow was traumatized through a certain kind of emotional imprisonment that was afraid of actually releasing himself from that confinement. So this is called, “You Know When It’s Time To Go.”

We all know the way that we will stay with the traumas that we’re familiar with. Emotional difficulties that we’re familiar with because that’s what constitutes our world.

Well, that’s the world we’re familiar with. And you don’t know who you’d be if you were if you were actually without them. It’s actually a frightening, open horizon that you quite often don’t feel you deserve in many ways.

You Know When It’s Time To Go
You know
when it’s time to go,
that involuntary sense of hesitation
discovered inside
what only looks
like your own body.

You know when it’s time to go.
That involuntary sense
of hesitation
discovered inside
what only looks like
your own body.
A hesitation
like a movement in itself.

Your reluctance
to hear the call
as much, an invitation
as if a door is open
in the broad heavens
and called you through
your reluctance
to hear the call
as much an invitation
as if a door has opened
in the broad heavens
and called you through
your unwillingness to hear the bird song
another kind of listening.

Your unwillingness
to hear the bird song
Another kind of listening
and the complete inability to speak

Such a clear and articulate understanding
of what you want
and the complete inability to speak
such a clear and articulate understanding
of what you want.
Even in the midst
of thinking
you will never be ready,
even when you feel
you’ve never deserved
that freedom to go,
even under the comforting illusion
that you never had a single speck
of faith in what you want.

You’ve already packed
your silent reluctance away,
lifted your ear to the morning bird song
and before anyone can wake,
you’re out the door
down the road,
round the corner and on your way.

The complete inability to speak
such a clear and articulate understanding
of what you want.

Even in the midst of thinking
you’ll never be ready,
Even when you feel
you’ve never deserved that freedom to go,
even under the comforting illusion
that you never had a single speck
of faith in what you wanted.

You’ve already packed
your silent reluctance away,
lifted your ear to the morning bird song
before anyone could wake
You’re out the door,
down the road,
round the corner
and on your way.

Thomas Hübl: Hmm. Truly beautiful.

David Whyte: But I mean, that complete inability to speak. It’s interesting that your ears are listening for that in your work, actually. The place where it’s not being sad. And not being spoken. And I do think that maturation has to do with innovating in all of these parts of ourselves that we’ve pushed out into the cold and having them live under one sky perhaps is a more accurate description. So I think that’s certainly part of the difficulty of our times.

I mean, it’s interesting that one of the great themes of our time is the weather. Which just breaks across all human boundaries within a day, you know, the weather system can move through five or six countries in northern Europe in the course of 24 hours. Bringing with it whatever it brings, this collective experience and increasingly more and more traumatic experiences of the fierceness of the weather. So I think it is beautiful in a way collective unconscious invitation for us to break down those boundaries ourselves.

Thomas Hübl: Very much so. And levels of the when you speak about our maturation, because I am very serious that’s part of our learning that we are frozen in the trauma, we couldn’t harvest it. We couldn’t integrate that learning. If you just look at the Holocaust, massive transgressions of any kind of human rights.

We didn’t open that in us as millions and millions of people to really allow that feeling to come back that embodiment and to harvest that pearl of ethical learning in order, for example, to deal with AI or nanotechnology or whatever we are inventing now.

And I believe that part of ethical learning is frozen in the ice. But we are developing technologies where we need that ethical understanding to match consciousness and technology. But in a way, part is frozen. And I think that’s exactly the maturation that you speak about. We have to harvest it. We have to integrate that in order to become mature enough to meet those skills on other, you know, science, technology, video gaming, or digitalization, this needs maturity to meet it.

David Whyte: Yes. Obviously, when you work with a lot of individuals as part of collective trauma and you see I’m sure you’ve witnessed a lot of healing. What kind of healing are you witnessing collectively in your work? Where do you see the reason for what most people would call hope? Around the way things are crystallizing right now?

Thomas Hübl: What I see is like when we as people make deep experiences. That’s because I deeply believe in the power of interdependence that the individual and the collective are not two, but they’re actually one expression. So we are not separate from the collective, but we have a collective self and an individual. So that’s one.

And whenever we harvest in groups, even when we deal with something very difficult, for example, the Holocaust, racism colonialism, or gender violence, the group becomes this witnessing power when somebody shares or somebody goes to something and hundreds of thousands of people are like a hub for it. This gives such a tremendous collective experience of togetherness in the pain and togetherness in the growth in both the liberation and also in the deep pain that we are facing.

I think that creates a new priming of an experience of the collective that is centered around healing, honesty, authenticity, relationality, attunement, resonance, and these kinds of collective hubs. I believe in the healing modality of now.

David Whyte: Yeah.

Thomas Hübl: We need that because that speeds up individual healing a lot and the individual healing helps collective insights to emerge through us. And I had many groups around, for example, the integration of Nazi Germany and Jewish people in the room and into the deep pain that is in there.

But what happened almost all the time was that there was such a nakedness and we could really feel the deep support of a deeper presence that enabled things that are amazing, literally amazing. And I think that that’s what I call the arising of the collective witness. We are not anymore looking just as individuals at each other, but when we form like an orchestra together and we are collectively witnessing as much as we are still individually feeling and participating. And that collective witness has a tremendous power.

That’s what I find very hopeful, because I often see a small cup, so much water, but thousands of cups, cold, much more water. And in this spiritual practice, we always talk about how to increase the cup so that more light can be channeled through it. Yeah, and I think collectives are collective cups, and then the pain is relatively smaller, and then the small cup faces it. And that’s what I call deeply hopeful.

David Whyte: Marvelous. And of course, this conference is part of that work.

Thomas Hübl: Yeah, definitely. And also our relation and our conversation and you being part of this and we have a resourcing network of many people doing incredible work already. Like that’s a bigger cup.

And I see as you said by yourself, I see poetry. That’s why I love our conversations because you said before that the unspeakable feels spoken to through poetry and art. And I think that’s why I was walking through the Biennial in Venice just three weeks ago, I had such a deep joy being immersed in one of the most famous exhibitions in the world and seeing leading-edge art from all around the world. And it’s similar to my experience with you. It’s such an important contribution to liquify in this creative space things that cannot be said otherwise.

They don’t reach us when they are being said just through academic words or something. They need to go for the heart.

David Whyte: I remember when I lost my mother and I had no idea, you know, what an unconscious part of my foundational identity my mother was until she was gone. And so it opened this up, this doorway of writing. And I wrote intensively for six months, lots of poems about my mother and memories of my mother and my mother’s identity, not as a mother, as a person who just happened to be a mother, but who had a much larger identity than one I could name during my life as her firstborn son.

I remember after six months, I was just so thankful for poetry that it allowed me to say, I’ve done seven years of work, actually through writing for six months. Seven years of grief. And I always think that the only cure for grief is grief itself. Grief is its own cure. That’s the only way you get through grief is just by grieving. And so it’s a beautiful form of articulation and grieving and letting go of at the same time.

And this strange sense that actually, if there was something if there was an afterlife, you know, she was on to other things, actually, and she’d left us all behind, which is very difficult for the first-born son of an Irish mother to confront. You might not be the center of the world that she was actually asked, you know, and she was letting herself go. And let me go at the same time.

So through this beautiful, troubledness, of woundedness there, this full exposure to the golden wind of what has been taken away from you that you find you have that golden wind inside yourself too, that can also ruffle the branches of other people, people’s trees at the same time in a good way.

Thomas Hübl: It’s very touching because of the idea that you brought this up and because my mother just passed away seven days ago.

David Whyte: Oh my God yes.

Thomas Hübl: And it’s touching me how you speak about poetry, like how that was a way to deal with it. And I like what you said that grief is its own remedy.

David Whyte: Yes, exactly. Yeah. I really feel like I got to know my mother as not a mother, actually. As a person who was much larger than any name, we’d all given her, like working with the essence of who was speaking to you. And so I do recommend that if you do put pen to paper and there are all kinds I had this experience after my mother had gone. We all have those experiences, a very ancient dynamic, you know, of the bird at the window in the morning or seeing a rainbow in the distance and feeling as if you’re being spoken to, ja. And I kept having these dreams, and I was just about to find out where my mother was here. And I’d be told, and then it wouldn’t happen. And I’d wake up and the revelation had not been given to me. And I had this culminating dream. I was at the cottage in Yorkshire with my father in another room. It was after my mother had gone and I was sat on my mother’s bench at the back door by her roses used to grow roses by the back doors. It was our favorite place to sit. And I had an envelope in my hand with the sunlight falling out of it.

In the dream, I knew it was from my mother. And I knew that if I opened it up, I would know everything about where my mother was from this letter, you know. And I was just opening the letter when I woke up, of course. And so of course, I tried to go back to sleep, put my head in the same pillow to get back, but no.

So I said, Listen, David, go to the kitchen table now. It’s very early and it’s winter morning. I go to the kitchen table. You know what your mother would say to you, and write the letter from your mother to you. So somewhere in here, I have that. It’s called “Farewell Letter.” I’ll read this poem for you, Thomas, having just lost your mother.

Thomas Hübl: Thank you.

Farewell Letter
She wrote me a letter after her death
And I remember a kind of happy light
falling on the envelope
as I sat by the rose tree
on her old bench at the back door.
So surprised by its arrival,
wondering what she would say,
looking up before I could open it
and laughing to myself in silent expectation.
Dear Son, it is time for me to leave you.
I’m afraid that the words you are used to hearing
are no longer mine to give.
They’re gone and mingled back in a world
where it is no longer in my power
to be their first original author,
nor their last loving bearer.

You can hear motherly words of affection now
only from your own mouth,
and only when you speak them
to those who stand motherless before you.

As for me, I must forsake adulthood
and be bound gladly to a new childhood.
You must understand this apprenticeship
demanded of me an elemental innocence
from everything I ever held in my hands.

I know you are a generous soul as well
Able to let me go.
You will, in the end, be happy to know
my God was true.

And I find myself after loving
you all for so long.
In the wide, infinite mercy of being mothered myself.

P.S. All of your intuitions were true.

Thomas Hübl: That’s really beautiful.

David Whyte: Yeah. I had this sense that my mother was in a new childhood where my mother had lost her own mother when she was 13, and she became a mother to her siblings, to her daughters and then the church in the bad old Ireland broke the family apart, and she had to flee to England when she was 15, you know.

So I had this feeling that she was meeting her own mother again and she was giving herself over to the last part of the childhood that she’d never had herself. “I know you are a generous soul as well able to let me go. You will in the end be happy to know my God was true. And I find myself after loving you all for so long in the wide, infinite mercy of being mothered myself. P.S. All of your intuitions were true.” A beautiful koan at the end trust my mother to leave me with. And were you with your mother when she passed away?

Thomas Hübl: No I couldn’t, because it was very fast, so I just couldn’t fly. I arrived the morning after.

David Whyte: Yeah.

Thomas Hübl: But we were in a good relation. There was a lot of love between us.

David Whyte: Yes, exactly. I always say that when you lose someone, the conversation doesn’t stop and carries on maturing actually, and you see new aspects. I had this writer class theologian, poet friend John O’Donohue, and I feel like he died 15 years ago. And I feel like our relationship, it was so intense while he was alive. But I feel like it’s still going on and maturing and new understandings about each other. And I have the same thing with my mother. That’s why I actually came into a deeper friendship with my mother after she’d gone. And because the gravitational field of motherhood is so powerful and we grow up in that.

And we’re quite helpless. And I remember when I went away to university, my mother was a very good cook, but I never lifted a finger in the kitchen at home until I got to university and suddenly said, wait a minute, nothing’s going to happen unless I do it. So I started cooking, and I became very good in the kitchen cooking. And I still love cooking.

But if I went home, it was just as if someone had cut my spinal cord and I would sit in the chair. I physically could not do anything in my mother’s kitchen. The gravitational pull of everything she’d done and provided was just as if I returned to this powerful substrate of belonging that I grew in.

And so in the beautiful, gifted part of death is this. As you say, this sudden moveability of everything and even to let go of the word mother, which is so powerful that in and of itself that in every language – mother, mutha, madre… it’s such a beautiful word in every language.

Thomas Hübl: It’s beautiful to be in this space with you, David. Thank you for reading that poem, it touched me. I see our time is already so progressed, and I deeply enjoy the space that we dive into again and again. And now I walk away with all my heart and am so connected to you.

David Whyte: And I look forward to some corner of the world in the future where we can have a live conversation again as we did together in the same room.

Thomas Hübl: I think our paths will cross again physically.

You’re such a great contribution to this summit. I love what you bring in your unique way to the summit. It’s very essential.

David Whyte: Very kind, Thomas, the feeling is reciprocated. So thank you very much. God Bless and I wish you well in your deepening conversations with your mother.

Thomas Hübl: It’s indeed what I’m having at the moment.

Thank you. It’s so beautiful.

David Whyte: Thank you very much. Keep well, Thomas.

Thomas Hübl: You too. Looking forward to the next time.

David Whyte: Exactly. Bye now.