In the introduction to an anthology (The infinite Dirt) I am just published in (very happy to be able to write that) the editors wrote that they had arranged the poems in a way that in a single sitting the reader would be able “to unearth the stones in the pattern we have laid.” And indeed that was true as the a beautiful pattern emerged from the pages that had previously been hidden and the invitation to look once again at other stones in my life making pathways and summoning me to walk in new ways over stones and with a pebble in my shoe as well.
This time last year I had finished a week on The Burren and learnt more about taking baby steps and appreciating the landscape at one with all the elements. With wind and rain and good company, with a lilt in voices around me and an Air in my heart I was blessed by every stone. That landscape that you would have known so well Biddy, blessed and caressed me, held me and pushed me to new places. I am so grateful for those days. Invisible offerings from the visible continue to take hold and unfold.
In the boardroom this week I invoked the phrase from Spanish poet Antonio Machado – ‘se hace camino al andar,’ or ‘you make the way as you go’ – as we set about our work for the future with new leadership, new budget, new plans. I love bringing poetry into decision-making spaces and it is a challenge I am setting myself to do more often, partly inspired by David Whyte’s work mine host in Ireland last year. Poetic language is fresh and wild, leaving spin doctors reeling as they can’t contain the emotive power of poetry that cuts through familiar phrases or weasel words.
The gift of well-chosen words to support your own steps as well as your fellow travellers is one to receive with deep thanks, especially on the days when there are no words adequate to mark the moment. Silence has its place too. In my past week there have been two contrasting moments of endings marked – one with silence and one with words. An Aboriginal elder asked a group of us to be silent for a minute to mark those who had passed through the space we were in. With dignity and the sounds of the waves in the distance, we stood in the soft winter rain in a circle and joined our breaths with the universal one and soaked up the memories and allowed the air to get into our lungs. From there I went with a few others to paint stones. The second moment was a series of stories of past conquests and a public betrayal of peers over champagne and shiraz. The room full of ghosts invoked to score points and to stamp the past passport of all of those gathered to close a chapter. Stories filled both spaces and what was left said and unsaid in both said more than what was unsaid and said.
The patterns emerging from the stones laid and the path I walk contain the stories of those path and yet it is still my path, the one I make by walking it. I have friends walking the camino right now, and for me everyday is the walk of the pilgrim and I travel in great company.
The road in the end taking the path the sun had taken,
into the western sea, and the moon rising behind you
as you stood where ground turned to ocean: no way
to your future now but the way your shadow could take,
walking before you across water, going where shadows go,
no way to make sense of a world that wouldn’t let you pass
except to call an end to the way you had come,
to take out each frayed letter you brought
and light their illumined corners, and to read
them as they drifted through the western light;
to empty your bags; to sort this and to leave that;
to promise what you needed to promise all along,
and to abandon the shoes that had brought you here
right at the water’s edge, not because you had given up
but because now, you would find a different way to tread,
and because, through it all, part of you could still walk on,
no matter how, over the waves.
(c) David Whyte