« Making Sense with Sam Harris

#240 — The Boundaries of Self

2021-03-07 | 🔗

In this episode of the podcast, Sam speaks with poet David Whyte about his new and on-going series for the Waking Up app, based on his book, Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words.

With the imagery of a poet and the reflection of a philosopher, David turns his attention to ordinary words, each a doorway into the underlying currents of human life.

They discuss 4 tracks from the first installment—Friendship, Honesty, Ambition, and Alone.

SUBSCRIBE to listen to the rest of this episode and gain access to all full-length episodes of the podcast at samharris.org/subscribe.

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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back with David White David As for joining it's a pleasure, so we are already have a series of your poetry in taken aback at which people have absolutely loved and now you're coming back with yet more work, which has some dry. From your book constellations the soulless nerve judgment and underline meaning of everyday words, which the book I absolutely love, you have given us readings from that boy. And some margin area and these are just a fantastic pieces of audio silent. When I wanted to do here is, is have ay, conversation around a few of them. I thought we would drop in Europe The sections on friendship. De ambition. Alone and that we could have a brief conversation about each, but damn perhaps two before we jump in What was your inspiration for this book, because this really
just as a great formula for you at astute the power of language teachers drill down on the significance of specific words here, which is the perfect use of your talents. Ass, a poet to bring us, this kind of prose, lovely, you're very kind. I think they were. There were two forms of in I turn away, I in Paris. Actually, I was speaking to my assistants phone, my colleague, to requiring with me for years and damp she's critics, item that I had, Been invited to run I too little philosophical peace for the observer magazine in England, The observer magazine goes out to millions of people on Sunday morning, so it was a lovely, lay way of getting a lot of of listening is to my work
And she found a little hesitant and I said, what's the hesitancy she said it can't be any longer. Then three hundred words I set up I'm half Irish, though the half English the eye recited me said it sadly type to take your breath in oh, never mind accomplish anything that would give anyone any insight unless you're. Actually writing portrait and so. I can't remember how we finished the phone call, but I remember clicking it off quite firmly as if to say. Well, I don't think I'm going to do that Anyway, I walked around Paris all day and then I ended up in a restaurant by myself and death and I sat down, and I said to myself what if you could write, What you need to write in three the words the other specification was that it had to be a single word title which I didn't mind you know I said what
What would you write about die, So I ask the I remember asking asking them: Waiter, if he had that any station ran and they do it actually being friends. So, He brought out some stuff Ray and damp started. Writing and I wrote at the top of the page, regret. And I I realized immediately how orphaned that word was and how unfashionable at it had become and how I was constantly meeting be blue sky They had no regrets, however, how I was com, currently asking myself where They ve been all their life there if they have no regrets, but that really put me back into a stream of experience that I had all add had all my life around word swear. I always felt the adult
well well, was using words in a way that, where. Strict and away from the physical experience of of What the word mentioned when you think of a child When they first hear the word door, it's not an abstract word. Exists, separate from it Our own bodies in that word is the actual physical experience of the door itself. And I always felt this very very strongly, then a growing. I grew up in her in a linguistic frontier actually between Ireland and the North of England, de the north of England is very different than the received identity that we think of when we, when we think it Mountain Abbe. Are we think of Jane Austen that Southern England, it's very hierarchical, let's very different socially in the north of England is actually
has more of a scandinavian influence from the Viking settlements that were there, it's very Solitary and and people are really really straight, with your ass as they say in Yorkshire. They say nothing until they say everything about you and your flaws and how you can put yourself right. So had that on one side of the house. Would these Yorkshire thee Vowel sound sooner very short sentences if a set, if a story is told, is told exactly the same. Tom would say to my father: Jim that story about when you you're driving out that hill towards Scarborough you got out at the top. You went into the pub this fellow said to you. An use back to him and my dad would say. Well, we were driving out this hell. We stopped at the top of data, we went and upon the fellow said to me, and I said, and you were actually. It was a kind of a ritual we enjoy
the delegation of what had happened, but you didn't expect it to be any different on the other side of the house. Was this very different laws I'll call you sub language it was all wholly Saint, Mary and Joseph tonight, the holy mortal shame if it's all the same in Heaven and it was and and a story was never told the same way my mother? I never had my mother tell the same story. I had about five parallel childhoods for her, so I started to understand quite early that you could habit language in very, very different ways and that law. Language could live in your body in a way in which she could could open up different worlds to you, and in a later on, I had our. I read the great philosopher, Wittgenstein in say you,
Cannot enter any world for which you do not have the language you not enter any world for which you do not have the language and so I felt like I was privileged living at this frontier and I could more my axe and I still do actually quite disturbing to two Irish, people when, when I'm off into irish ship is the higher saxon from my mother but is entirely natural. Yes, dad sigh of three actions, which is a kind of resource for I received English from college. My Oxford Dialect, which is a full dialect actually and irish the irish accident and my present kind of americanized Yorkshire fancy haitian slam, I've all has been interested in language. And the way that people learn words actually
If you will learn the word door when you're learning French now as it, doubt you learn. It is an abstract. You see the english word on one side. You see the French on the other. Let bought you know and you don't have it in your physical body, while many of us as adults learn words, you know, like regret, lie alone in the sixty percent sooner as abstracts. So the attempt of this book was to go back to this physical and at him, a logical route of the word the etymology of a word of courses is its root in the past. How it was first used here and what it meant when it was first physically expressed almost as a surprise in the society of the language and so I felt there was tremendous solace in
the way that words could be used. From their their original meaning. That regret. Could actually be a kind of faculty for living, more positively into the future. Actually, with honest, deep regret here, you might treat a grandson with more patient some time than you did your own son, whose boyhood You might have missed the key save your own involvement yeah growing life, so regrets as a frontier with the future and it's really actually quite remark. Boats who actually choose things out in your life that you would regret deeply. If you, wherever a bully at school, even for just a moment Choose out that moment to see how it still lives in your body? and it almost always
What's? U n! sphere of generosity towards anyone who is being bullied around you at the moment. And in many ways you start to look too. Deem yourself from that moment. Oh, I found it. I found it very, very useful indeed, to actually think of me once in my life, that I deeply regret. And use them as a pair of eyes and ears for paying tension to my future Was beautiful I was with put your your work in practice, action of waking up instead of Theory section and confuses a few people, because there is often an assumption that meditation practice requires silence or mostly silence, or that he has spoken
instruction is men. Two million produce the next chapter. Of silence, but that really is the case, or at least it is the case with what I would considerably real meditation They, the relationship between the power of words in the power of silence, and so when I recommended that people do It simply listen to your. Readings in the same frame of mind in which they would meditating. Just let your thoughts replace their own, which is what happens, whenever we reader or listen to someone read but It is possible to recognise the nature of mind just as clearly wow, contemplating someone else's thoughts. So it is really in the in that spirit that debt, we offer these these new readings in the EP, I think you said that beautifully because SAM, the object
in meditation and Oliver, contemplative disciplines, a silence, but it really that silence is in order for you to perceive something other than yourself or what you ve arranged as yourself, too, They perceive this frontier between what you call yourself and what you call other than yourself, whether that's a person nor a landscape her? So One of the greatest starts of poetry is actually to create silence through attentive speech speech that. Something in such a way that it appears as a third Thea between you and allowed her and in you into a deeper and more generous. Hence of your own identity on the idea, the identity of the world. So I think poetry is is the
verbal art form by by which we can Actually, create silence. So without its preamble blood, sir, launch into the first choice after here on friendship. And then we will come back to discuss it. Friendship. Friendship is a mirror. Presence and a testament to forgiveness, friendship, not only helps us to see ourselves through another's eyes, but can be sustained over the years. Only with someone who is repeated, forgiveness for our trespasses? as we must find it in ourselves to forgive them. In turn,. A friend knows our difficulties and shadows and remains in sight a companion
to our vulnerability is more not triumphs. When we are under the strange illusion that You do not need them. A friend knows our difficulties and shadows and remains in sight. A companion to our vulnerability is more the now triumphs when we are under the strange illusion that we do not need them. An undercurrent, real friendship, blessing. Exactly because elemental form his rediscovered again and again through. The standing and mercy. All friendships of any length are based, on the continued mutual forgiveness without tolerance and mercy. All friendships die Without tolerance and mercy, all friendships die
in the course of the years. A close, Friendship will always reveal the shadow in the other ass Chaz ourselves to remain friends. We must know the other and their difficulties and even their sins and encourage the best in them. Not through critique, but addressing the better part of them. The leading creative edge of there, incarnation. Thus, Sir clay, discouraging why make some smaller, less generous lasted themselves. Friendship is the great hidden transmitter of all relationships it can. Its form a troubled marriage make honourable. I professional rivalry, makes sense of heartbreak Unrequited love, come the newly discovered ground for sure parent child
relationship the dynamic of friendship. Is almost always underestimated. As a concept, force in human life a diminishing circle of friends is First terror. Diagnostic of a life in deep trouble, I've overwork of too much emphasis on professional identity, of forgetting who will be there when our Ahmed, smell, it is run, into the inevitable now natural disasters and funded that is found in even them most ordinary existence. Friendship Transcends dust parents. Ensuring friendship goes on after death, the exchange only transmitted by absence the relationship advancing and maturing in silent internal conversational way, even
after one half of the bond is passed on, but no matter. But no matter the medicinal virtues of being a true friend hoss. Staining along close relationship with another, the ultimate touchstone, a friendship is not improve, meant neither of the South Nora. The other, the ultimate touchstone of friendship, is witness. The privilege of having being seen by some one and they equal privilege of being granted the site of the essence of a other to have walked with them and to have been saved in them and sometimes just to have accompanied them for, however, briefest ban on a journey impossible to accomplish alone.
But no matter. Medicinal virtues are being a true friend staining along close relationship with another, the ultimate Touchstone of friendship is not improvement, neither of the South North of the other. The ultimate touchstone of friendship is witness. A privilege of having been seen by some one and the equal pay Age of being granted the site of the essence of another to have walked with them and to have believed in them, and sometimes just to have accompanied them, for, however, briefest ban on a journey impossible to accomplish alone. Friendship was begun enough to waking from error, a very, very realistic dream, a dream In which I had been with a very very close friend a friend,
who had passed away, but in the dream he was alive again with all of the joy of discovering he was actually still alive and we were in a car tat was an open top car and we were driving across the golden gate, bridge? Actually, but the sun going down on one side and the moon on the other and we had our arms round each other shoulders and we were laughing and telling jokes and we were also laughing out all the ways that we had consciously or unconsciously insulted, and her each other over the years and how we'd being good enough to forgive each other waking out that dream in the joy of that dream and forgiveness of that dream. Brought me to end Stand something of the essence of what it means to be a witness and forgiving witness at that for a good friend, so friendship. I love this
sad contemplation on friendship is now we were recording this happy. What one hopes as the tail end of a global pandemic, where many of us have spent a year being less social, then perhaps we ever been in our lives, so I feel keenly the importance of free ship and how imperfectly. I have maintained my own in this context. And so just one point you make here about The nature of friendship is that it does. Action by different dynamics than any other relationship? The companionship it is, as you put it to our vulnerability, is more than our triumphs. The face Of our lives that we show to a friend is the face that We often busily conceal in every other social. Encounter friendship is characterized here,
Your friendship is characterized by a total absence of pretence. And as an interesting boundary to discover- and I guess we can just take a few more must reflect on what markets, friendship from other. Forms of acquaintance, with when I went when someone become a friend, and how do you know that has actually been compost yeah. Sam contained a great french essayist who really began the form for us actually, He said that that real friendship very, very rare, partly because in its debts It comes to us in the same way that a good marriage comes to us, which is also very, very rare and, Good marriage and a good friendship. It is- is a product of our willingness to be fully vulnerable, but also
to find the right person with whom to be fully vulnerable and in marriage and in friendship. You can have a kind of friendship in marriage. And you can have a form of marriage in friendship. Actually, I kind of committing over the years, do you find that the relationship advances along the action. Your mutual vulnerability. Rather than along the sense of trying to impress through your powers- and you are in. Vulnerability and so the lovely thing about friendship is at its core. Still lay asking us to be forgiving, both of them. Stakes. We make ourselves in the friendship You will always say the wrong thing to the at the wrong talking to your friend over the years, partly on power,
that's because you ve meant to tell you- couldn't quite evident it at all it comes one day and they too often they work they might go away for a while and select their wounds that, if the fur chip is still alive it if it is a friendship of years, I definition they have come back to you and they forgiven. You. And you have you have then to forgive yourself and you have to find a way to actually included in the conversation. At the same time,. So lovely the way that along friendship is is based on, mutual forgiveness of one since towards each other. And the other lovely thing about friendship is is that is that a good friend looks at the best in you and
remembers what they were first drawn by what they were first impressed by and knows you in your worst. When you're not living up to your possibilities, and encourages you any are very, very basta. There's nothing. As good for your own sanity when you're going through your own difficulties and especially people who start to hate themselves enough for various reasons,. To have a good friend who sees you through different eyes, who sees the leading edge of your maturation in away and Through their eyes, brings your eyes to rest on it to do so. I've had a number of really really Klaus male friends. Through my life, I'm just it
stage in my life, where I now have really really good female friends too. But sir, I have a good sign of half a dozen friends around the world, most of whom ice. And time either in the mountains are talking over literary and philosophical. Our both matters here and I have I have had who incredibly close friends, one whose passed away. With whom I strangely still have a very, very powerful relationship. You know, I'd die beyond this little disquisition. Talking about ten who loved him in the sixteen hundreds and late fifteen hundreds and die he Lost his close friend at here elaborate tee. When they were both quite young But in many ways he kept up an intellectual and philosophical
no most physical relationship with him after his death. And this is one of the remarkable things about. True friendship is that it does transcend disappearance. It transcends mortality, the endeth YE. I often think you have as many conversations with the person you have lost too, was close to you after they ve gone ass, you had before they passed away, And I often think in the case of of JANET done here. Who is a friend who last that's action? have the possibility of winning arguments now that I care for a while, The lack of vision- I can always have the last word and shut off the dialog box. There's always a sense. Actually in a really long and really loyal friendship. All mortality actually that one of you will be gone before the other
there's a strange way, especially with with John who is also a speaker. Remarkable we carry was from the West of Ireland. He was fluent in philosophical german. He was fluent in Irish. They had a bed Paradise vocabulary I'll I think that I begin to sentence, and then he ends it well, one stage in a second, or vice versa. Remember something he said and begin with that thought and death, and carry it on myself. So there's this amazing, invisible and very physical sense of inheritance from a heartfelt and powerful friendship. Most beautiful. Yet it is also interesting away. Friendship reveals the boundaries of the self and preferences ay ay
One often finds it difficult the beach charitable to oneself, and so much of our self talk is frank. A poisonous and is never the sort of thing we say to a friend and one way of correcting for this is too Just yet consciously imagine in how you would treat your friend in this circumstance where you are currently lacerated yourself with self judgment and The door too, compassion swings open effortlessly. Once you put the dilemma of friendship over it rather than me, the fault relationship, dear yourself, in your and your felons very well said, and it's really interesting to extend that thought to how you speak to yourself, it's trusting that most The dialogue we have with ourselves and in the mirror is set quite negative, if you spoke
to others the way you spoke to yourself in the mirror you would never have another fair friend in your twitter account or rather quickly, exactly ass. So it's really interesting. You know we often think of meditation as in purely silence, in order to make a friendship with this deeper sense of south and deeper sense of the world. But it's really interesting to think that you could actually practice a conversation with yourself that helped to mature and helped in your own maturation that you could put Tis holding a fruitful conversation with yourself near. I think was actually one french philosopher who define the philosopher as someone who could stand on the railway station, platform waiting for the train for now and keep Himself, fully engaged with his own thoughts
I was the only way you could do, that is if it was leading towards larger and larger, standing south. Ask yourself the beautiful question and to to follow those questions and to stand what we I recognise the south compassion. And to find a verbal way actually, which is, I think, maybe as The definition of poetry as any the arts overhearing yourself say things you didn't know, you knew that you perhaps to begin which were actually frayed to want to know and that you allow yourself to understand so Friendship with another always introduces two friendship with the deeper, underlying phenomena beneath the surface south, which is which is exit.
They want. Your your whole life is is is trying to invite people into, I think Well, crossing the boundary into what one is willing to let oneself understand as a great subway into our next topic, His honesty, honesty is reached through the doorway of grief and loss. Honesty is reached through the doorway of grief and loss. We cannot go in our mind, her memory, or a body. Is where we cannot be straight with another with the world, all with our south. The fear of loss in one form or another if the motivator behind all conscious and conscious dishonest is.
The fear of loss in one form or another is the motivator behind all conscious unconscious. Dishonest is all others are afraid of loss in all. Forms, all of us at times are haunted, are overwhelmed by the possibility of a day appearance. And all of us, therefore, I one short step away from dishonesty Every human being dwells intimately close to a door of revelation they're afraid to pass through honesty lies in understanding how close unnecessary relationship with not wanting to hear the truth honesty lies in understanding. Our close unnecessary relationship with not wanting to hear the truth, the ability to speak the truth
much the ability to do scribe. What it is like stand in trepidation at this door as it is, actually go through it Come that beautifully honest spiritual warrior. Equal to all circumstances, we would like become honesty, not the revealing some foundational truth that gives us power over life or another or even the south. Honesty is not the revealing of some foundational truth that gives us power over life or another or even the south, but a rope bust incarnation Into the unknown unfolding vulnerability of existence, where we acknowledge how powerless we feel how little we actually know how afraid we are of not knowing and how studies. We are by the generous Mary
of loss Conferred upon even The most average life. Honesty grounded in human Letty And indeed, in humiliation and in admitting exactly where we are powerless. Honesty, is not found in revealing the truth. He is not found in revealing, The truth, but you know the standing, how deeply afraid of it? We are. To become honest is in effect, to become fully and run lastly, incarnates it into powerlessness. On this day, allows us to live with, not knowing we do not know the full stop We do not know where we are in that story. We do not know
who is at fault or who will carry in the end, honesty is not a weapon to keep loss and heartbreak. It may honesty, is the how to diagnostic of our ability to come to ground in reality, the hardest attainable ground of all the place where we actually dwell the living breathing frontier, where there is no realistic choice. Between game or loss. Say you are you, may the point that honesty is often a matter of admitting how little we know, rather than merely landing again again upon further truths, This interesting way how how do you think of CS as a sharing so much territory with a confession of ignorance. Well, you know I'm just
by seeing the way the word honesty is used as a kind of weapon in day conversation whence and says can be honest with you. You should always say no big us at Bay a piece of ammunition which they want to fire at. You yeah dad, to my mind, the tat, the invitation sent to knowledge needs needs to be more of an invitation, so I think the the the pivotal line in the hole the whole I say is honesty: lies in understanding our coasts, a necessary relationship with not wanting to hear the truth. And it's that axis of vulnerability. Again, it's. Honesty is grounded in an humility. So this is where you do it.
You want someone to be honest with you want it in the context of friendship,. I remember a good irish friend of mine, saying when I was I was starting to explain something that I done now had been misinterpreted and halfway through the sentence I remember were on a mountain and in The baron of North clarity turned round, and he said, never explain he said he said your enemies, won't believe you and your friends don't need it it was the most beautiful thing to say: the most inviting thing and that led me into a deeper dialogue with myself. Here So the other pivotal sentence in the USA is honesty, is grounded in humility and indeed and humiliation and admitting exactly where we are powerless. Honest
He is not found in revealing the truth, but enough standing, how deeply afraid of it we are and if followed by, to become honest, is in effect to become fully and robustly incarnates it into powerlessness. I mean I work a lot. I have worked a lot in the corporate world and I I say that real conversations, always and along this axis of vulnerability even in in the most, Stir the most powerful hierarchy is indeed in the business world And the foundational access of vulnerability, in the hierarchy of the workplace is mine. As a leader simply admitting that I do not have all the answers my only got one pair of eyes parity is I've only got one imagination and one intellect.
But in conversation with you in making an invitation to you, I can double and triple and quadruple and multiply all of those faculties by creating a conversation. That's attentive to our mutual future, but, of course, that kind of vulnerability means giving up off my protected place in a hierarchy, So honest day As always, you know the unspoken measure of integrity in the workplace, that is also the and its also the unspoken measure of integrity and marriage, aura or a friendship. You're really isn't integrity is, is a measure of how, closely, what you're willing to have exposed in public and what is true of you in private,
in register with one another. If you have a vast landscape of private occupation, which you would never dare to reveal to others. The inner that that really is the formula for a complete lack of integrity. I'm interested in is discomfort. We feel around the truth right, whether its discomfort speaking the truth to others or in knowing it Ruth about ourselves. That really does seem to be yet another place, whether that this boundary of self can be done. Earned him, and that is that that is the tension. That is, that this feeling of self this feeling of. Of living in jeopardy under the gaze of others or the gaze of reality itself and it's always the giving up of protection. And immunity, so
Of course, there are parts of the mines that have evolved, and rightly so, to protectors and to cut he ate immunity we ve survive because of them. But of course as you know, you know, I've heard a lot of your time rocks and not of your invitation to you make through your various talks and to understanding the a more movable, more conversation identity. We don't want to lose those powers of protection of recognising what is a threat or what is other than us. There to our ability to five and evolutionary scale that day can't providers any send solve real happiness, our presence, so we to go to a different part of the mind whose power recall, is not protection but Meeting and presence and what law
slight can incredible form of generosity and duty as its gift here and since this other remarks. Oh flow, that spoken too in all of our great contemplative traditions, and this do flowing more conversational more generous mind actually able to call on the strategic mind for protection for saying no and for saying this is other than me and is bad for me him. So one of great fears, as you know, is that we would it when we, when we go into this no self, we will lose all sense of discernment. And we will lose all sense of protection. And it's only with ensuring into the practice that we understand that we can call on those qualities, but now
have them as the central arbiter of our identity so Do you think that the invitation to honesty is the invitation to this to this deeper I'm doing actually this deeper identity, which is is able to breathe through these boundaries by what looks like on the surface, a kind of robust vulnerability in while the topics of identity and vulnerability and achieving anything like security and happiness in this life leaders
naturally to our next word, wishes ambition ambition if you'd like to continue listening to this conversation, you'll need to subscribe SAM Aristotle work once you do, you'll get access to all full length, episodes of making sense podcast, along with other subscriber, only content, including bonus episodes in a maze and the conversations I've been having on the waking about the makings, has podcast his ad free and relies entirely on listener support, and you can subscribe now at San Paris network
Transcript generated on 2021-03-08.