In this episode of the Making Sense podcast, Sam Harris speaks with poet David Whyte about the importance of work and relationships, the balance between training and expressing of one's talents, the lessons of mortality, and other topics.
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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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and had a conversation originally recorded for they waking up app and while podcast
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Speaking with David White David is a poet and the author of ten books of poetry, along with four books.
Pros and day holds a degree and marine biology and has travelled,
very widely and
as your here, a sensibility,
that is quite relevant to questions of awareness, the nature of the self
what it means to live, unexamined life and other topics that are central to my concerns here. It really was a great pleasure to speak with him and he has a wonderful voice, so
I bring you David White. I am
with David White David. Thank you for me, sir pleasure.
So I recently discovered you
think I was, I was actually at the TED Conference where you spoke a couple.
Years ago, but I think I was not in your session and just heard echoes of of the effect you had on the rest of the crowd, which was quite positive, and then
subsequently saw that talk when it came online, and I saw something some another place where you were speaking in reading and now have have rights.
Said one of your recent nonfiction boxer prose books, the three,
marriages, which I want to talk about by your ear, primarily a poet and inside just to begin, I can you describe,
how you view your career as a writer and some of the other things
doings. I know you're not just
working as a writer. You also work with organizations, and you have an interesting way of Van interfacing with the world. So tell me what you're up to yes, I suppose, is to ways of looking.
My way as a right to one is looking back on it and looking at the stone journey. One
is the frontier the time on now.
I've always seen portray intimately connected to good thinking
There is a tendency to think that parties on the arts side and therefore you leave your strategic mind at the door,
but TAT is actually good. Poetry is very, very practical and looking at them.
Phenomenology of of the conversation of life, in other words, what happens along
way when you try to deepen that exchange,
and Coleridge said no, no poet begins in philosophy all they write very bad portray in its very true, but he also then said, but every part becomes a philosopher interesting, and so he asked that the practice of verbal acuity connected to listening and visual acuity starts to read you for
larger and larger understandings and I suppose the work of the port is to invite create language that invites everyone else into that understanding at the same time and in a beautiful way, actually not just day, not just quit indian mechanical way, but in a way that actually enriches you, as you
today. Experience you have a background in. Is it marine zoology? I do
Indeed, guy I had a ten year excursion into signs sciences from when I was seventeen
the seven or so, and I worked as a guide in a naturalist, ye anathema disdain, NEA Ecuador National Park system in Galapagos, and I felt like I I actually, I actually experienced all of my ambitions being fulfilled and left Galapagos wondering what I would do for the rest of my life really and that's when the return to you could say that this state
of attention that I am experiencing Galapagos also began my restarted, my Poletti Korea, because I've written partner since our six or seven years old
probably under the influence of my irish mother
and then I wrote seriously through my teams until I was seventeen or eighteen, when my science is overwhelmed, my time for writing
and it was good to have that hiatus. But when I was in Galapagos, I started to understand that there were five different levels of attention that I could identify. Of course, there are many many more. The Tibetans have gradations of hundreds of them, but
but there were five that I could identify and they were. I notice that the deeper my level of attention for the world
the more that my identity as a person actually changed and also deepened and and widened, and you could say that sir. I thought it to understand that
that a person's identity didn't depend on their inherited beliefs and are always felt actually that a person's beliefs are the least interesting thing about complex,
Would that most people realise that exactly ass, an damn that your identity actually depends more on how much attention you're paying two things at other unpaid
The latter other than you and of coffee are in a disciplined here of interviewing, which is a real discipline of listening to those that are other than
Yeah, I have begun to say that really
our true wealth is not even in the car
of time it really is its Kashmir.
It is in what we do with our attention. As we all know, what it's like to guard our time
To squander it by misusing our attention to
really you your life, becomes the substance of it.
Moment a moment. It becomes what you do with your attention and yes and weather.
With regard to your met for the first time. The great thing about the deeper and deeper states of attention lead you into the timeless yeah and the untrammelled, because we have all the surface language around time that you can as if you that we will kill time as if it were, that would be possible. We
if we could make time as if that would be possible and damn we have all kinds of language which actually don't doesn't bear examination when you apply it to time, and so am, I think one of the reasons put.
Trees so is so coming to the fore in the world of Instagram and
and the falling away of our previous structures is is its invitation to a timeless and the untrammelled you have so many children in the developed world who are bullied into their adulthood just by the way that we educate them and
They are the amount of coercion around learning and something about Porter that
I urge you to have your own language and to set, and that set you free do their
ground in medicine
generate contemplative tradition like
in Buddhism. You just mentioned Tibetan Buddhism. So what's your
background therein, easterner western spiritual traditions. Oh my first background with spending an enormous amount of time time by myself out in the woods and fields and hills of Yorkshire. Where I grew up in the north of England, I had a kind of was worthy in childhood. I had a very fierce education to
I know the kind of the last gasp of the old classical world classical teaching, but I am we had marvellous countryside,
round where I grow, and I spent a lot of time alone now and listening and watch
and I was always and trends to buy landscapes. So that was my first introduction and then I started when I was at univest it to get ready interested in the more esoteric forms of meditation, and I tried all kinds of things myself and when I think back is quite draw what I was telling my mind to, but then I discovered Zen sitting in Zen teachers, and I I start then quite seriously so many guys with was very serious teachers. I'm sorry, I feel, like that's a stood me in good stead. Actually.
The US, even though I dont have our eyes and teach you now. I feel like it's in my body and what about psychedelic? Did you have a air fares,
and you are you in a phase now. Are you have used them? They pharmacological advantages,
I do not have more obeys. Yes, I did, and I found them very, very helpful, which should you take while I was in sight
so I had experiences with various forms of mushrooms.
Then, with the with ecstasy,
and my first experience was one that was rarely rarely rejuvenating and that was with AL
De when I was that university- and I haven't you
lies into light, took it and had that experience that, and there was just one experience actually towards the end of my time,
investing, but I hadn't realised how much I'd been morning, my childhood and my child and visions of vision I should say of the world and that experience on Alice DE rarely restored my
the bridge between the young man I was becoming, and the child tat I had been and die
so that was really remarkable, am very thankful to itself I've, never
never been a drug, take up at every
and again I've had these threshold moments, which of vat which have deepened my
spends whenever I have taken anything. I've always just want to be alone, actually knew. So I often find company quite distracting, no matter how much fun you might be,
yeah. I always feel this incredible invitation to the underground to the inner too there too
grounding it in my body in grounding it in understandings and insights and solve most often just take off by myself. Walking.
Nice nice why air was at before you got into his and practice? Yes, yes and a couple of experiences after
yeah well ass, yet I know
I know where you speak
did not have a wordsworth in child had to be called back to buy them still. They
as evidence of the natural world, is, is available on the other side,
then many of those compounds exactly yes, I shitless start off with a poem I'd like you to read the Bell and the Blackbird, because
one of these poems, where the connection between your work and paying careful attention to the world ending of the deceptively changes in one's consciousness. One. When does that is so obvious, so maybe you could give us Hiwela I'll recite it. I have it,
memory sand and just a little context for this now the promised call. As he says, it's called a bell in the blackbird,
and its waylay. The in
it'd understanding. In the irish tradition, I could say the chaotic tradition, but particularly in the irish tradition, that human beings are constantly
choosing to early in the conversation that the strategic mind throws up. These blue
can whites and binary questions, because that's the only way it can approach things.
But almost always the way forward is actually holding them, both together all the way between things
the image Harry's ever mean in the irish, traditional of which occurs again and again of a monk
in the old irish church, which had a tremendous relationship with the natural world.
Monk standing on the edge of a monastic precinct and hearing?
in the morning and hearing the bow of the trappers, calling him to prayer, and they face to himself that is the most beautiful sound in the whole wide world, which is the call to silence to depth to another context, beneath the context that you have established
The wild and he's just about to turn towards the chapel. When doesn't he here
from over the wall. He has the call of the blackbird from the fields and the woods, and then he said to himself, and that is also the most beautiful sound.
Handle everything about the story. In the very irish phrase you are not told which way he goes because actually we don't get to choose. If you think about that, the first call is too a deeper understanding of us. How soon should I play my insured? I rehearse mall before I play my instrument in public. If I'm a musician, and should I deepen my understanding, should I educate myself more
get a degree before I have myself Atley at though the job world and the other one is the call of the world just as you find it just as you hear it just as you see it,
and perhaps even more importantly, just as it sees and hears you. So this is the peace, the Balin Blackbird, the sound of a bow, still reverberating, a sound of about still reverberating or a blackbird. A blackbird calling from a corner of the field asking you to wake into this life are inviting you deeper into the one that weight the sound of a bell, still reverberating, still reverberating or a blackbird, a blackbird calling from a corner of the field asking you to waken.
This life or inviting you deeper into the one that waits either way takes courage either way wants you to become nothing but that south, that is no self at all. Wants you to walk to the place where you find you already know. You'll have to give every last thing away the approach that is also the meeting itself without any meeting at all that radiance, you have always carried with you, as you walk both alone and completely accompanied in friendship by every corner,
of the world crying Hallelujah nice. I I love, you hear style of recitation, I would perhaps other poets
to this end I haven't noticed- or is this really
here our numb innovation, but you, you repeat lines
in a way that are it's kind of obvious,
when you hear it is it is especially obvious when you see on the page that
these lines are not repeated in the written form of the palm itself.
Now you son of REACH, reverse your steps
again and again in it, and it has a kind of incantatory quality to it.
Really it just demands that your palms really be
recited by you and that's the format which to consume them. Well, if you think about it, it's actually I mean it's. It's as its
Venus and innovation, but it's actually a real innovation, because that's how poor she would have been recited in the old, in the old traditions and on the chorus is was in. The greek theater, for instance, was something that was that the gods that said, and that far it had to be repeated because it couldn't be on
Good fully. The first time- and I often say poetry, is language against which you have no defences, so you have to actually sat in ways which, against which there are no defences. If you hear
a good marital argument. You here both sides repeating things usually three times the poetry of anguish, exactly in three different ways, because the other person
asked here it ah more poignant, more poignantly if you are bringing very bad news to another person of the loss of a loved one,
You will always be very careful about how you say it, and you will said three times in three different ways on your lease silence between the lines and you'll. Have this tremendous physical connection to the listening are so that's the way? That's the way. Poetry should be read actually, and it's a great pity that it isn't, and so many poor poetry readings, because
people turn up her departure reading, perhaps for the first time, and they hear something remarkable from the part man or woman and before they know at the ports onto the next line, when they haven't, even they haven't even actually caught up with what they just had you're. So many ports readings can be actually quite violence to the listener. So we need to treat the listener with a deep kind of respect, give them some space here, give them some silence. You don't even know what you ve written yourself. So you need to hear it to? U dont, you don't understand fully
the implications of what you said and if and if you do, it's not good portray. It always leads to broader and wider emancipations of urine
things are many lines every cited for twenty years and then suddenly, your stuff
somewhere in the hall or a rumour- and you say my god- I never understood that in twenty his efforts acting it
It is clear that you are literally trying to overhear yourself say things you didn't know, you knew not the discipline of writing partner, so you
speak about what you call the conversational nature of reality in various places. Why,
what do you mean by that? Well, it just seems very obvious to me.
Whatever human being desires to themselves will not come about exactly as they first imagined it offers laid out in their minds.
Equally, whatever the world desired of you will not happen, no matter how cool is that? Well, it is what always happens is the meeting between what you desire from your wild and walk the well desires of you, it's this frontier, where you over here yourself and you overhear the world, and that frontier is the only place where things are real. That's the that to me is they is the conversational Nightcore reality,
the discipline is to stay on that frontier as fully as you can does that relate in your mind to this this opposition you sketched in in the poem the the distinction between
In a hearing, the summons of the bell and yelling into work on yourself and and out of your craft and prepare rehearse yes and not yet
enter the world that the out you know and as opposed to actually trying your gifts, such as they are in public and for
worse. Yes, lovely relief. Actually to realize you don't get to choose, you always have to rehearse. You always have to deepen you always
have to practice? You always have to find the next level of generosity and near being or yourself, and you must meet the well just as it finds you now to with whatever you ve got road, and I think once you actually follow that frontier conversation,
The conversation itself actually starts to deepen you after, while you realize what are actually, I don't need to do the work I just need to be in that exchange in that meeting place and many more
that's the way my career has gone. It's only a career.
Looking back at the kind known frontier, otherwise in which you just try to keep a kind of integrity
grounded in us, while keeping your eyes and your voice dedicated towards the horizon, the
you're going to all the horizon in another person. Your meeting here,
that actually describes. How have you,
my career as well- and it really is a yes I'm, I'm now spending most of my.
I'm doing things that I never
envisioned doing and if you had told me, yeah you're, fired.
Years ago, that I would be spending my time in precisely this way.
Would not have believed you he it had. You showed me the path into the future. I it would have
I've only been unfamiliar to me. What have, I would have had reasons why that could not be them? Yes, yes, very well said I was
think a good work always lead you into well. You could not have imagined for yourself in. I grew up from my Irish in Scottish in Yorkshire sides with this kind of blood. Alan
J too, were to all hierarchical powers,
I come from long lines of irish, scottish and rebels and Yorkshire Luddites
and so you
mention when I first went full time is apart and I had my first invitations into the corporate world. My first reaction was to say no because my only my
Only understanding was that I would have to compromise myself. I'm compromise my work and create some kind of propaganda that worked in parallel with whatever the organization wanted. So so it was a powerful up setting and subversive surprised to find that
didn't after it would have been quite. It would have been much more comforting to have found that I didn't need to compromise and therefore I could say no, but I was actually led into
into a world that I I never imagined I would dare. I would belong to
yes, but it seems, like a nice point of said way to your book. The three marriages
and that is one. I should say what those three
marriages are, but I'd like to start with what you have
serve to be the illusion of work life balance here, because this strikes me as a
yeah and unusual, and very useful observation yeah, it's another binary that just has his most rest. So I'm not only supposed to be this. This incredible inspirational center of the charismatic understanding in the workplace, but when I come home, I'm supposed to be this paragon of perfection as as a partner in a love relationship are the parents and I in the family, so I just have this working
all the time. So it's really interesting to think that we live and breathe actually between our different marriages and are we have times where work is naturally the centre of our life and other times where family ass to come? First
Stir and knowing when those rhythms appear and disappears, is really part of being able to go through the doorway of happiness and satisfaction and understanding.
So the first marriage. To my mind, this is the one we normally talk about: another Jane Austen horse and carriage marriage, but in today's world
Also a love relationship with another person would have agenda our mid gender. You are so that's the first marriage is a love relationship with some with one.
Person and someone who you make yourself physically vulnerable with an that's what, of course, what sexual relations does is as undermine our sense of physical frontier. That's why you have arguments with the earth intimate loved one, not you dont have with anyone else in the world. So that's the first marriage and the second marriage is: is the marriage with year your met here with your vacation with your work, I often think work must be a marriage, because why would you have stayed so long in your work? If it wasn't a marriage, you mustn't of you must have committed. You must have made a promise to something that
was greater than the nets and the grits and the difficulty of the everyday insanity of work. Just like a marriage at home are committed relationship. If you were to take any one day in your work life, as the reason why you were in that work, you lock yourself up in the room quite often than ever come out, but
what keeps a marriage say nor a relationship saying our work saying is the horizon to which we have dedicated herself. That's what keeps the difficulty of keeping the conversation alive with another man or woman. That's what keeps us alive in keeping the conversation, the heartbreaking conversation with our work alive and then the third marriages, the marriage, the relationship with that tricky movable, frontier called yourself who, like
other person is constantly surprising you as to who is becoming what it wants from life. I always say you always meet the new you in the mirror, in the form of a stranger, and you always turn away from that. Stranger. To begin with, just cite you always turn
way from the surprise that your partner seems to inflict on you when they suddenly want something completely different or we have that same surprise with ourselves as we go through the different thresholds of our life in our midst. That is through our made fought his through our mid fifties sound and down, and you have to get to know them.
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Transcript generated on 2020-02-19.