Friday, March 25, 2011

...I want to know...

Self Portrait

It doesn't interest me if there is one God

or many gods.

I want to know if you belong or feel


If you know despair or can see it in others.

I want to know

if you are prepared to live in the world

with its harsh need

to change you. If you can look back

with firm eyes

saying this is where I stand. I want to know

if you know

how to melt into that fierce heat of living

falling toward

the center of your longing. I want to know

if you are willing

to live, day by day, with the consequence of love

and the bitter

unwanted passion of your sure defeat.

I have heard, in that fierce embrace, even

the gods speak of God.

~ David Whyte
Fire in the Earth
1992, Many Rivers Press


  1. As I fall toward the center of my longing, I come upon this post. Timely. Wondering, as always, if you are once again right where you are supposed to be. Thanks for posting this, Bonnie. EFH

  2. ...with its harsh need to change you.

    I wonder how David's self portrait has changed in the 19 years since he wrote this. I wonder if he is still so sure that bitter defeat is such a sure thing. I would love to know if he finds, as I have, in his older years the world to be ever more mysterious, interesting, and loving.

  3. Wow. I just read this, having been holding 'Fire in the Earth' in my hands moments ago, and had penciled a small x near it to remind myself to come back and read it again. Obviously I needed to read it again.

    Thanks for posting the link that led me to Anne Thomas' letter from Sendai today.

  4. Another poem I didn't know.
    A great one, giving cause for much reflections.

  5. bonnie i was left feeling and thinking the very same thoughts and feelings as dan articulates in his reply. i feel nothing but love in sometimes mysterious and sometimes in my face ways but love all the same connecting all and everything. thanks for sharing this. steven

  6. Dan & steven:

    It is encouraging to know, for those of us who have not yet entirely transcended our ego reactions to the heat, defeat and despair of life, that there are those out there who have. At the same time, those who say they do not experience defeat or despair must keep their hearts open to those that do. We are not all on the same spiritual timeline. This blog and my selections for it are generally intended to reach out to offer commiseration, hope and fresh perspectives to those who suffer - and meet them exactly where they are.

    And how do you account for the first eternal truth in Buddhism that "life is suffering"?


  7. Oh my Bonnie - I SO love this image and these words. I know.
    I took a fierce journey to self - stood alone in my own truths and embraced it all - it was then I knew that HE was there all along. Oh how I love this image and these words. "thank you"
    Love Gail

  8. Hi, Bonnie. With regard to the First Noble Truth, yes, Buddhism encourages us to come into relationship with suffering. We must acknowledge suffering and learn to work with suffering, and notice how suffering arises.

    So many of us get stuck on the First Noble Truth that we don't stick around for the Second and Third Noble Truths: the Causes of Suffering, and the Cessation of Suffering.

    The whole point of Buddhist practice is to overcome, or at least reduce the suffering we all experience.

    Sadly, many of us prefer to stay in denial or distraction about suffering rather than looking it in its face.

  9. Hi Dan: I so agree. And it is a process. It takes time for people to realize how much they themselves contribute to the causes of suffering and to learn to walk the eightfold path of attitudes and actions that lead to the cessation of suffering. I suppose this is why it is suggested that the cessation of suffering can take many lifetimes.

    In the meantime, Whyte offers us encouragement and ways to do just as you suggest - 'look suffering in it face'.

  10. I find it interesting that such variations in tone can be read into this poem. Forgive me if this is going to be contentious, I'm hesitant to bring it up, but I just want to say, Bonnie, that I am supportive of your move to "reach out to offer commiseration, hope and fresh perspectives to those who suffer" and that a poem like this is a vehicle by which those of us who have experienced such suffering can be comforted, knowing we're not alone, that there is a way out and through.

    I take this poem, not as "surety" or preaching dogmatism about the nature of the universe, but as acknowledgment of an aspect of existence and a willingness to refrain from flinching when it's hardest.

  11. Thank you neighbor. I appreciate how Whyte asks if when we are in despair, can we still see despair in others. One could also ask whether those who feel they have met and 'mastered' their despair can still see and respond to the despair in others.

    The title of Whyte's poem intrigues me. Is he perhaps suggesting that the way we respond to the questions in the poem, paints a portrait of self - or an aspect of self, - (just as our suffering or despair is but an aspect of our self in that moment - not our true/whole self)?

    Thanks for adding your perspective!

  12. Beautiful, and how well the picture goes with the words. I have just heard that a friend is dying, which makes the words even more poignant.

  13. So timely, for so many reasons Bonnie. I have so many take aways on this and it reminds me of Oriah's The Invitation which I have been wanting to work into a blog post sometime :) But I always admire how you pair words with your art. Which comes to you first, the words and then you create am image or you have an image and then search for the words? Just curious, regardless, you have a keen ability to do so. Blessings on your day...

  14. I think Catholicism also shares this aspect with Buddhism... that we are to carry our cross (suffering - whatever) the best we can. I have heard so many people say that they "deserve happiness" which is true... but it seems that so many people think that is what life is about.

    Nice to visit here. I've been so busy with kids these past two weeks. And I'm already behind on Kim Klassen's class - thank goodness I can purchase it so I can refer to it forever! I have some time tomorrow to work on it. You really seem to be exploding with creativity! Good for you! I can't wait until I know how to use your textures! :)

  15. A wonderful provocative poem, Bonnie, but, personally, I cannot accept that we must live with the unwanted bitter passion of our sure defeat. I believe that transcendence is always both possible and desirable, and, at a minimum, I believe that Eliot was right in "The Four Quartets" when he said something to the effect that we are undefeated only because we have gone on trying. Perhaps we are redeemed by the quest for transcendence, even if we sometimes fall short of our goal.

  16. George: I appreciate your comments and agree wholeheartedly. Your last sentence puts it beautifully.

    Perhaps I am unlike others in that I do not only post things I totally agree with, or that I think represent my way of thinking. I post to initiate a conversation, to provoke thought and a sharing of views. That may mean that you receive conflicting signals - but only if you think everything posted here has to align perfectly with how I think and feel.

    Thank you for sharing your well-considered thoughts which question Whyte's conclusions and offer a softer way of interpreting the journey we call life.

  17. hmm. After reading George's response, maybe I misunderstood the buddhist quote. I in no way think we face sure defeat. Nor do I believe in destiny in the sense that whatever we do will make no difference in the outcome. We have choices in our path AND how we respond to everything that happens to us.

  18. Margaret:

    That's one of the things I like about David Whyte's work - you find new things each time you read it - little gems to make you think - and perhaps solidify your present beliefs.

  19. Vicky: Thank you! Sometimes a piece of photoart makes me think of a poem or a quote - but usually I choose the written selection and then go into my archives to try and find something that will compliment it.

    I often wondered if Oriah's The Invitation was inspired by this older poem of David Whyte's - they are so similar - at least the querie part of each phrase.


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