David Whyte —
The Conversational Nature of Reality

“Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet / confinement of your aloneness / to learn / anything or anyone / that does not bring you alive / is too small for you.”

David Whyte is a poet and philosopher who believes in the power of a “beautiful question” amidst the drama of work as well as the drama of life — amidst the ways the two overlap, whether we want them to or not. He shared a deep friendship with the late Irish philosopher John O’Donohue. They were, David Whyte says, like “two bookends.” More recently, he’s written about the consolation, nourishment, and underlying meaning of everyday words.

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is an Associate Fellow at Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford. His books include The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America, River Flow: New & Selected Poems, and Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment, and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words.

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I am neither poet nor philosopher. This interview makes me yearn to be both. Just gratitude.......

I recently ended a relationship, and this podcast really hit home. Love and loneliness.
“Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.”

Spoken words, felt words, real conversations are one of the great qualities of On Being. This is equally true of David's audio presentations. Clear Mind, Wild Heart was my touchstone, a near friend, when I found myself leaping into the unknown.

If anyone's wondering about what "the blade cuts things together" means, it's when a blade is so sharp and fast that after it slices material, the two cut pieces still remain together as if the blade passed right through it.

Thank you, Newbie....I am keeping your explanation of a soul-searing experience.

I pondered this deeply, as koans are wont/designed to do, and my take was this: There are containers/walls/silos/affects that keep us separated, and so to 'cut things together' is to cut away all containers, internal and external, making a whole- together.

I have been a fan of Davud Whyte for ten years and of course was thrilled by the interview . Both Krista and D.W. bring a grand healing through words that I am so very grateful for . Thank you both for sharing your work !

This is the interview I have been waiting for so many years to hear! Both such wise and wonderful voices in our world today... Beautiful. Thank you, thank you.

There is so much to savor in this interview. I had set aside this day for retreat and reflection, and this came as a deep, surprising gift to guide the day. Thank you, David and Krista.

So often, On Being airs episodes that are precisely what I need to hear. This week was the first week of my new life as an independent woman, not defined by my marriage, and learning to figure out who I am, possibly for the first real time in my life (better late than never). It's scary, but so far it's not as bad as I anticipated, and particularly the poem Vulnerability hit close to my recent experience.
As always, thank you.

After listening to David Whyte, I was so curious about your past interview of John O'Donohue that I listened to it and enjoyed it as much. There is such wisdom and truth in those two interviews that listening to them was in itself a fulfillment of what John O'Donohue called “the need to always keep something beautiful in our minds”.

The only aspect of both interviews I could not come to term with is the mention by both poets of their work in the “preservation of the soul in corporate America” (a most antithetic expression, a bit like “blood dialysis in Dracula’s castle”). I am tempted to say that one way to resolve this apparent oxymoron is to focus on corporate America as a patron of the arts (after all, at the end of every broadcast of On-Being, we are reminded that is was made possible by a grant from such or such foundation from corporate America).

If the fundamental “raison d’être” of the corporate world is to apprehend the world as an object rather than as a presence, an “It” rather than a “Thou” as Martin Buber would say, efforts to preserve the soul in such a context are laudable and even heroic only inasmuch as mutual aid between passengers of any class and playing music on deck were laudable efforts on RMS Titanic.

Does the need “to always keep something beautiful in our minds” inevitably require such a narrowing of focus? I would love to discover that it does not, but for now it will have to do.

With gratitude for this program.

Of so many gorgeous interviews, astonishing guests, this stands alone, for me, as my favorite poetry and wisdom. Thank you!

Time is of the essence, the force out of my control,
there is only one consult and that would be my Soul.~Dolby

After hearing this interview twice with DW, I am so grateful for the beautiful language and reflections, that I sit here in Wonder of the gift of Life. It feels so good. Thank you.

I heard just a few sentences by David in a preview and thought, "He sounds like John O'Donohue, but it's not him. He doesn't have the strong Irish accent." Imagine the goosebumps a few minutes later when the show began and he explained their close relationship and the heritage of his accent. It was like a good friend came back to life. Thank you . Thank you for this interview. My cousin introduced me to John Donohue decades ago when she mailed me homemade cassettes of his New Dimensions shows. I trust they are communing on the other side.

We attend the 9:00 mass on Sunday, but for me mass begins at 7:00 listening to On Being. It's all one weaving. Thank you.

Sitting on the genius rock I am comfortable in my uncomfortability, I ask the same question, the consistency of my insanity my resilience, knowing the wisdom of the stars, and wonder what miracle is this turning into. Thank you for your inspirations, your connection to my creativity, David, and my small round mindfulness.

This interview had so many beautiful thoughts. I may have to listen again just to be able to integrate some of the ideas in practical ways in my own life.

I can sit and listen to David Whyte all day long, his choice of words and time he takes to reflect on the way he comes across. It says a lot about how he reacts to the questions from Ms Tippet, (which come from a totally different space and reasoning).
David talks about it coming from the long body, about it resonating from a deeper place. A pleasure to listen to his voice.

I have never been so moved by a poet or poetry in my life. I am going to buy the book Consolations by David Whyte asap. Thank you for continuing your ever changing and delightful broadcasts at MPR.

My husband of 58 years just recently died. David's words as always meet me where I am. " Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet confinement of your aloneness to learn..." Thank you David.

I lost my son, Christopher, and these essays were especially poignant to my sadness and aloneness.

“Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet / confinement of your aloneness / to learn / anything or anyone / that does not bring you alive / is too small for you.”

Interesting. I completely disagree. This statement in itself creates separatism as if the world is here to serve you like a master thus everyone and everything is your slave. If one is truly alive everyone and everything is alive in the exact right measure to keep you alive and more alive in all encounters though the measurement of the exchanges is tempered to meet the mutually needed engagement.

This interview really made me think: the conversation between one's self and the world as we find it is a powerful idea. Sort of like mindfulness, but more active. I also loved his description of "genius."


Poetry is the souls attempt to express itself through words.

I listened to a podcast on a philosopher and poet by the name of David Whyte, Truly known for his books, poetry and philosophy. He was described as knowing the true underline of everyday words. I liked how he went on to describe himself as being abducted by poetry, to me I pictured a state of being in a much higher reality with words. He knows how to see past the obviously and grasp words on a whole new level. David mentioned that he felt that scientific language was not precise enough I'm guessing to him our everyday language is not in depth enough to fully portrait the underline meaning. I loved how David described his thoughts of simply being. David said he felt his identity depended on how much attention he was paying on things other than himself in a deeply attentive state. This made me think of someone in a meditative state where you start to become a wear of things that you normally would look past everyday. Part of deepening your attention is developing your own presence and self awareness.

There was a few things David said that I could not understand and I read it over and over and replayed it again trying to see if I would grasp his meaning, unfortunately I still don't understand. This was" whatever you desire of the world would not come to pass exactly as you like it, whatever the world desires of you will also not come to pass". Trying to analyze this..It could be that he is saying sometimes our human standards maybe a bit too high? or life may not be exactly how we want it to be and whatever the world may need from us the world may not receive? I'm puzzled.

One other thing that was said by David I really like and found it relative to what I studied recently was David saying "a beautiful question shapes a beautiful mind, Just as much as asking as it does knowing" this relates to the Gnostics in a sense because the Gnostics see knowledge and asking questions a very important part of learning and raising your awareness. This can also be relative to Socrates as he sees himself as a teacher and a student he ask and answers questions in believing that obtaining "truth" is an ultimate goal and process through learning. Like Socrates David also believe the answers are already within.

Overall I enjoyed David's view he has a creative way of expressing himself that is metaphoric and deep, He is truly admired, I loved listening to his poetry.

I was listening to David Whyte on the way home and had to pull over as tears came flowing when David was reflecting on calling forth beautiful questions:
" Yes, you do. Yeah, you do. And then the other part of it, too, is that there’s this weighted silence behind each question. And to live with that sense of trepidation — what I call beautiful trepidation — the sense of something about to happen that you’ve wanted, but that you’re scared to death of actually happening. [laughs] None of us really feel we deserve our happiness."
I left my marriage because I couldn't live that story anymore and now 2 years later I'm on the verge of living a beautiful question and I'm petrified. His words were like salve on my heart.
Thank you David!

Laughed and cried at his poignant words. I felt understood and a kindred spirit he help me drop my aloneness.

What a great episode!

One thing puzzled me, though -- I'd be grateful if someone could give me an example of a "dinosaur" and also one that's seen the light -- as discussed in this exchange;

David Whyte: ...I don’t think we quite realize how over-structured our organizations were just 25 years ago or 30 years ago. There are still plenty of dinosaur ones left for us to still go and live in if we want them, but ...

Ms. Tippett: I think we’ve realized that every once in a while when we engage with an organization that’s still structured that way, that hasn’t managed to change…

Mr. Whyte: Yes.

Ms. Tippett: ...and you realize how unwieldy and inefficient and ridiculous it is…

Mr. Whyte: Yes.

Ms. Tippett: ...and bad for us.

Hi Susan,

My interpretation of this exchange is that horizontal organization structures (i.e., ones that have many layers from top to bottom) are old and antiquated, and as Krista says, "inefficient". Today, organizations are learning to be more horizontal in nature (i.e., "flat" organizations where there are few layers between staff and execs). Universities are a prime example of vertical organizational structures (dinosaurs). A small non-profit is an example of a horizontal, more nimble organization.

Now listening to the unedited version.
The produced piece is wonderful
How can this be better.

I have been seeking guidance for my own life's season of incredibly alone-ness. After a move from a place where I enjoyed rich days in nature, deep friendship with others in authentic relationship, I moved to Minnesota. North-central Minnesota where even eye contact is difficult for people where "others" are concerned was utterly brutal for me. It has been so stressful I have despaired of life itself on multiple occassions. Guided by Parker Palmer, Courtney Martin, Krista Tippett, OnBeing guests and a brief interlude with Brooke and Terry Tempest Williams at a book signing three years ago, I am coming out of the dark at last. David Whyte's post here has allowed me to understand the beautiful realities that are now mine as a result of this season. My entire spirit has been able to calm down and rest in it because of the new awareness of its gifts to me. With the deepest of gratitude I write this.

I listened to the Conversational Nature of Reality. Which talked about all of our allies, or positive things in our lives. Qhich we rarely give ant tie or thought to. To not fall into the excption that you are all alone. But instead embrace, and take ll& accept the lessons that go on about you. Be alert & open to take in the teachings of what ever comes your way, in what ever from. Inanimate or alive.

He talks about the complexity of us. That while a cloud is just a cloud & will always be a cloud. As a kingfisher will always be a kingfisher. Never will it decided & say 'I'm feed up being a kingfisher, no I think I'd like to be a crow, that would fit me much better'. No a kingfisher is always a kingfisher he says. Yet we are unique we can changed our minds & we do often say we are feed up as being us, & become something else. & what starts as a facade, a mask, a false identity. We forget, & that is who we become. His talk was very enlightening. I enjoyed it since he is a philanthropist & a poet. He did very well.

"....poetry is language against which you have no defenses."
Yes! Thank you for this wonderful conversation. Your dialog exemplified the subject matter.
I currently serve as a chaplain in the context of a retirement community and nursing home. As a long-time writer and reader of poetry I enjoy bringing poetry into conversations with elders. Repeatedly I have found that poetry, far more than any well-crafted questions or conversational prompts, takes the conversations into places of great vulnerability and insight.

On this embarrassing day, on which Donald Trump secures the Republican presumptive nomination, this poem strikes me as an antidote to his worldview. "To run from vulnerability is to run from the essence of our nature, the attempt to be invulnerable is the vain attempt to become something we are not and most especially, to close off our understanding of the grief of others. More seriously, in refusing our vulnerability we refuse the help needed at every turn of our existence and immobilize the essential, tidal and conversational foundations of our identity."

Amazingly tantric poet and philosopher! I am inspired by this interview and his poetry to develop a yoga class. Krista, your questions invited a most tantalizing conversation and he yielded delicious answers. Thank you, David, for asking the beautiful questions, and just as important, packaging and sharing that insight with all of us willing to hear. Namasté


My aloneness is teaching me deep lessons in my deep pain.
I am only aware of this when I feel deep compassion. When my spirit resonates with words expressed. The spark of knowing in the pain.
Then I see the treasure that pain and aloneness is.

His words resonate so deep. Its as if he saw me and knows me.
In my aloneness there is sacred joy.

DW's perspective on what it means to be human I found to be interesting. I'll have to reflect on it more to pull the truth that there may be in it out. Thank you.

I love the discourse about "the vulnerability of being visible." Mr. Whyte's perspective on vulnerability is really eye-opening - that we are afraid to be seen because if we can be seen we can be hurt - but that being able to be vulnerable is the only way we can really give our whole selves to an experience.

Reality is collaborative. It happens at the margins when beings interact (or converse). I love that.

I appreciate how David Whyte touches on how language is more than just spoken and written word. It is the interactions that we have with what is around us, and depending on how we communicate will define our reality. The humbleness that Whyte illustrates through his work is very refreshing even though it may not have beauty at the time. In a sense I feel that this allows us to look at things that are ugly and see beauty in them.

I Believe that David has some great poems that talk about our relationships with language. Language is a way of saying what we mean but it can also be used to divide the masses. David seems to acknowledge the different times of the day as resulting in different ways that we communicate. He says that the night puts on eyes to see those of its own kind. This is so true in the sense that we can communicate in different scenarios depending on the way it makes us feel. During the daytime we are workers but at night we a loose rebels in some ways. We use the night and day as a form of language in terms of when its time to party or relax. This is not to say that we can't still relax or party during the day but it is just a form of language.

I really like what Whyte said about vulnerability. It is so important to having open honest discussions and to being able to make mistakes and learn from your mistakes. Vulnerability so often gets a bad rap and is made out be weakness but really it is a display of strength. Vulnerability means you willingly open yourself to harm, knowing that even if you are hurt you will grow from it.

I met John when my husband & I and my stepson & his wife were in David Whyte's Ireland group (10 days then). John was leading the first 4 days with David. We went to John's home in Clare, met his mother, went out onto Dun Aengus, to John's Conamara house when it was being renovated etc. My life was transformed, I was transformed, by being with John. We went to many workshops John led, and an hour with John, by a lake in the Catskills after my husband died "saved my life". I feel John with me every day.