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is a word that stands by itself, carrying the austere, solitary beauty of its own meaning even as it is spoken to another. It is a word that can be felt at the same time as an invitation to depth and as an imminent threat, as in ‘all alone’, with its returned echo of abandonment. ‘Alone’ is a word that rings with a strange finality, especially when contained in that haunting aggregate, ‘left all alone’, as if the state once experienced begins to define and engender its own inescapable world. The first step in spending time alone is to admit how afraid of it we are.

Being alone is a difficult discipline: a beautiful and difficult sense of being solitary is always the ground from which we step into a contemplative intimacy with the unknown, but the first portal of aloneness is often experienced as a gateway to alienation, grief and abandonment. To find our selves alone or to be left alone is a deep, fearful and abiding human potentiality of which we are often unconsciously, deeply afraid.

To be alone for any length of time is to shed an outer skin. The body is inhabited in a different way when we are alone than when we are with others.

Alone, we live in our bodies as a question rather than a statement.

The permeability of being alone asks us to re-imagine ourselves, to become impatient with ourselves, to tire of the same old story and then slowly hour by hour, to start to tell the story in a different way as other parallel ears, ones we were previously unaware of, begin to listen to us more carefully in the silence. For a solitary life to flourish, even if it is for only for a few precious hours, aloneness asks us to make a friend of silence, and just as importantly, to inhabit that silence in our own particular way, to find our very own way into our own particular and even virtuoso way of being alone.

To inhabit silence in our aloneness is to stop telling the story altogether. To begin with, aloneness always leads to rawness and vulnerability, to a fearful simplicity, to not recognizing and to not knowing, to the wish to find any company other than that not knowing, unknown self, looking back at us in the silent mirror. One of the elemental dynamics of self-compassion is to understand our deep reluctance to be left to ourselves.

Aloneness begins in puzzlement at our own reflection, transits through awkwardness and even ugliness at what we see, and culminates, one appointed hour or day, in a beautiful unlooked for surprise, at the new complexion beginning to form, the slow knitting together of an inner life, now exposed to air and light…

Excerpted from ‘Alone’ in “Consolations:The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words.” © David Whyte and Many Rivers Press 2015

Available at: http://davidwhyte.stores.yahoo.net/newbook.html



is the hallway of presence, a doorway to new desire, the first necessary step in the maturation of an unexpected life and arises from the sudden, sometimes unwanted and difficult grounding that undergirds our experience of awe. Shyness is the sense of a great unknown, suddenly about to be known, and suddenly become immensely personal, addressing us as if we might know what to say, where to put ourselves, or in the case of romance, what to wear. To feel shy is to look five ways at once: to the beckoning new life in front of us, to the line of retreat behind us, to alternative possibilities of escape to left and right, and lastly, in really difficult circumstances, the hope for a complete and sudden disappearance. Shyness is the first necessary crossroads on the path of becoming.

Shyness is underestimated and neglected as a necessary state when first approaching the new, the necessary and the overwhelming. Without shyness, our over-confidence precludes us from the appropriate confusion, awkwardness and helplessness that accompanies the first stage of revelation. Without shyness we cannot shape an identity ripe for revelation.

Our visual media, especially television, tells us that shyness is unnecessary and thus corrupts our sense of what constitutes a real exploration. Likewise, in our virtual travels it is rarely possible to meet many beautiful representations of shyness through social media, but physical shyness tells us through our very vulnerability, that we are at last in the presence of the mystery, of some thing, some place, or some one we deeply desire or that represents what we desire, though we do not as yet, in our essential physical helplessness, know how to bring it about. Shyness is the exquisite and vulnerable frontier between what we think is possible and what we think we deserve.

Without shyness it is not possible to apprehend the new. Total confidence at the beginning of a new phase of life means we are misinformed, that we are deeply mistaken, that we think we know what is about to occur and who we are about to become. Shyness is an invitation to a dance with the unknown, to a far form of perceived beauty about to become proximate, an art form to be practiced and cultivated, shyness is our friend, the annunciation that it might just be possible to walk through the door of all our present besieging difficulties and make a new beginning.

Excerpted from ‘SHYNESS in "CONSOLATIONS: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words."2015 © David Whyte

Available at: http://davidwhyte.stores.yahoo.net/newbook.html


Waiting To Go On

…It must be
under all the struggle
we want to go on.
It must be,
that deep down,
we are creatures
getting ready
for when we are needed.
It must be that waiting
for the listening ear
or the appreciative word,
for the right
woman or the right man
or the right moment
just to ourselves,
we are getting ready
just to be ready
and nothing else.
Like this moment
just before the guests arrive
alone in the kitchen
sensing a deep
down symmetry
in every blessed thing.
The way
that everything
to us
is preparing to meet us too.
Just on the other
side of the door
is about to knock
and our life
is just
about to change
and finally
after all these
years rehearsing,
the curtain,
we might
just be
to go on.

From ‘Waiting to Go On’: in ‘River Flow: New and Selected Poems’ ©David Whyte and Many Rivers Press


Permission was given by the author to reprint these works here.


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