Be thankful now for having arrived,
for the sense of having drunk from a well,
for remembering the long drought
that preceded your arrival and the years
walking in a desert landscape of surfaces
looking for a spring hidden from you so long
that even wanting to find it now had gone
from your mind until you only remembered
the hard pilgrimage that brought you here,
the thirst that caught in your throat;
the taste of a world just-missed
and the dry throat that came from a love
you remembered but had never fully wanted
for yourself, until finally after years making
the long trek to get here it was as if your whole
achievement had become nothing but thirst itself.
But the miracle had come simply
from allowing yourself to know
that you had found it, that this time
someone walking out into the clear air
from far inside you had decided not to walk
past it any more; the miracle had come
at the roadside in the kneeling to drink
and the prayer you said, and the tears you shed
and the memory you held and the realization
that in this silence you no longer had to keep
your eyes and ears averted from the place
that could save you, that you had been given
the strength to let go of the thirsty dust laden
pilgrim-self that brought you here, walking
with her bent back, her bowed head
and her careful explanations.
No, the miracle had already happened
when you stood up, shook off the dust
and walked along the road from the well,
out of the desert toward the mountain,
as if already home again, as if you deserved
what you loved all along, as if just
remembering the taste of that clear cool
spring could lift up your face and set you free.
by David Whyte
This poem found me, rather than the other way around, on the day after I came back from a deeply nourishing retreat with Alistair Appleton on Holy Isle. It spoke exactly to my experience of deeply drinking from the well of embodied heart practice, where I felt ‘you no longer had to keep your eyes and ears averted from the place that could save you’.
It’s curious how this path of mind-fulness practice seems to lead me – and many others – more and more to the body, to the heart. And when resting in the rich and textured awareness of the body, our ‘careful explanations’ are no longer necessary because there is the direct experience of true “knowing what is happening while it’s happening, no matter what it is” (as Rob Nairn would say it).
During this retreat, it was particularly the intimate re-acquainting with my own heart that felt like ‘the taste of that clear cool spring’ which could ‘lift up your face and set you free’. And yes, I am deeply thankful for it.
I’m aware that this poem connected very directly to this particular retreat experience, that it was the silence, the people, the meditations and the teachings on the island which brought me to this well from which I drank deeply. I wonder what experience led David Whyte to write it, or how it speaks to others. Do you feel you’re walking ‘out of the desert toward the mountain, as if already home again, as if you deserved what you loved all along’? Or are you feeling ‘the thirst that caught in your throat’, the ‘hard pilgrimage’ that the poem speaks of? And if so, what is it you need to allow yourself to know that you had found that well and to not ‘walk past it any more’?
There may be tears. And prayers, and memories, and a long and hard pilgrimage. But right now, I know this well is here, right here, welcoming us to drink as soon as we’re ready. Let’s drink deep.