Tag Archives: start close in

Meeting the Moment #31 2021

I am revisiting a David Whyte question geared to all, and especially leaders, about courageous conversations which start with stopping the conversation you are currently having. This is the act of giving up the conversation that is taking your energy and paralysing you from taking the step you need to take, the one Whyte nominates as as the first step. the one closest to you. It is a favourite poem of mine and one I return to when I really don’t want to do something and find myself procrastinating or worse prevaricating. The instruction to start with the solid ground you have beneath your feet, for me is to return to what has sustained me before, to trust the firm foundations of my life, however fragile they might be, and to stop listening to what others, ghosts, phantoms included, might be conjuring up or camouflaging as my own questions.

There are a lot of conversations I thought I was in, and ones I have tried to hang onto longer than they required. Wanting to stay in a conversation that had been stopped for me in particular. I have a laundry list of conversations I thought I was in while I was still longing for them to continue; conversations I wanted to keep going with, but in fact I was talking to myself.

I think the first time I was really conscious of this phenomena was when I miscarried in my 20s. I was following a path, love, marriage, baby carriage and then that was abruptly halted. I felt dreadly alone and an anonymous patient in a big, sterile, hospital system and finding my way home in a beat up HG Holden with my completely bewildered husband. I bled for months on and off.

I have enough examples of this phenomena now over four more decades to fill a library. The chapters would include jobs I worked in and left or had closed on me, another would be on political life, institutional conflicts, another on marriage, another on motherhood, and one on grief and death. There would be some references to me halting conversations that were out of sync or step with what was required set in board rooms, performance reviews, terminations of employment, reports to police or other authorities, leaving friendships and setting limits.

We are in the middle of a conversation as a country, and indeed a whole world, with a virus. One that has the capacity to mutate, ability to close down nations, interrupt democracy, write new paragraphs in a fascist playbook, unleash fear and anxiety, disrupt movement, redraw maps. When we say we don’t want to be in the conversation and turn away from the virus, and turn towards each other with compassion, kindness, civility I am deeply encouraged. When we make the virus the baddie in this narrative, I feel more at ease. I delight in our chief medical officer telling everyone this is the weekend to tidy your sock drawer or clean out the shed, and our police commissioner wryly say leaving home to commit a crime is not one of the five reasons to leave your home. These responses are relational and human. Yet tonight I saw our largest capital city looking like a police state, helicopters in the air, every available person with a blue uniform being called to be on duty, all the trained dogs and horses on patrol, military back up for peace keeping and health protection on station platforms and in the public squares. New South Wales a police state, remnants of its colonial origins as a penal colony and my parochial ‘free settler’ version of myself as a South Australian kicks into gear.

The first step to take, for me, is to realise the ground I am on, in this democracy, has not been democratic for all, it is stolen, unceded land and I have to plant myself firmly in that conversation before I get too holier than thou.

But setting that aside, I am deeply disturbed about how we stop the conversation of individual rights and responsibilities over our shared rights and responsibilities. It is the I vs We conversation we need to stop. And one I need to stop myself being in. There is only really ever we. Being able to stay curious, open and gentle with the other starts with me. We are all seeking to belong; all seeking solid ground; all seeking to feel safe. We are all walking into unknown territory, into dark woods where the sunlight finds its way between branches, into uncertainty, where the pathways that were once assured no longer serve us, and new ones are not yet worn. These are the courageous conversations to have with one another, and we start with the conversation we need to have with ourselves. Where we hear ourselves into being bolder, more vulnerable, braver, more exposed to each others fears and anxieties by being in touch with our own. Taking a step towards empathy might be our saving grace and perhaps, the only real protection in a pandemic … to say nothing of the climate crisis ….

Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way to begin
the conversation.

Start with your own
question,
give up on other
people’s questions,
don’t let them
smother something
simple.

To hear
another’s voice,
follow
your own voice,
wait until
that voice

becomes an
intimate
private ear
that can
really listen
to another.
Start right now
take a small step
you can call your own

don’t follow
someone else’s
heroics, be humble
and focused,
start close in,
don’t mistake
that other
for your own.

Start close in,
don’t take
the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
close in,

the step
you don’t want to take.

You can hear and watch David Whyte reciting Start Close In here.

Photo by Kevin Wolf on Unsplash