David Whyte, the poet and philosopher, captures the essence of awareness in his poem, Everything is Waiting for You:
Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice. You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.
Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.
(Click here to hear David Whyte reading this poem on On Being’s website.)
When I left Chicago in January, I carried with me boxes and boxes of pottery made this past year. Over the summer and into the fall when I wasn’t traveling to places such as Ecuador, France, or Lithuania, I could be found by a wheel at Lillstreet Art Center making tumblers and bowls and cylinders. Sometimes I chatted with my pottery friends, sometimes I took a break for coffee but for the most part, my attention remained laser-focused. This resulted in many pots to sell on my Etsy shop, assuming I eventually photographed and listed them.
Two days ago, I noticed the four o’clock sun casting a glowing light, so I set out for the granary studio to finally photograph my pots against the wall’s warm wooden boards. After unwrapping the collection and reuniting with my pots as if they were old friends, I ventured outside and around the corner of the granary to check the status of the sun, as it would dictate table placement. “Ah, perfect lighting,” I thought. Then I looked down, right where I was standing, and saw a backdrop just sitting there, waiting for me. A white surface with crackling paint, unknown in purpose, stood in the grass. Branches and leaves covered the top along with varying wooden planks, some cut during the construction of the studio and left behind, some battered from years of weather. In addition, a rusted pair of scissors sat there along with some sort of crumbling pulley. I moved one board to block the strongest beams of sun, rearranged a few sticks, and my scene was ready. I set to work carrying my pots out two or three at a time and propped them there, against the granary, the woodpile, the rusted tools in the background. Some people in the city would have to work hard to gather and assemble the props for a scene like this. I just had to open my eyes and see it there, waiting for me.
The photoshoot brought a pleasant energy to the afternoon, both in the act of productivity and in being outside. I heard the birds overhead, no doubt confused about the balmy 60-degree weather in February. The cats wandered over occasionally to look on and check in on my progress. My dad came out to join me, bringing drinks to toast the day, the glowing sun’s light, the warmth in the air, the splendor of the afternoon, and the promise of longer days ahead.
Imagine what could be waiting for us if we were to only open our eyes to see it. To quote the great David Whyte and the poem above, “Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.” So often, too often, we are blind to the familiarity around us, even when we’ve changed to see it differently. My word for the year, rather than a resolution, is awareness. Awareness of my surroundings, awareness of the words that I use, awareness of the people both in my bubble and outside of it, awareness of the way in which I move through the world. Here we are alive, as Mary Oliver says. What will we do about it? Will we be alert to our surroundings? Will we see what’s there, every day, waiting? Will we go through the motions of daily life forgetting to remember the magic of it all?
A good friend of mine recently said, “I don’t want to wake up a year from now still feeling like I’m sleepwalking through my own life.” This statement echoes the truth of how easy it is to live in our busy and bustling world without feeling like an active participant. But we don’t have to live that way. We can be present and alive. Start small. Start discovering the world in small ways – notice the way the clouds float overhead or the way your spices sit on the shelf. Listen to the birds and the crunch of frozen grass under your feet. And remember to stop and take in your surroundings, no matter how familiar, because you never know what you’ll see. After all, everything is waiting for you.
David Whyte’s poem, “Everything is Waiting for You”, can be found in his book River Flow: New and Selected Poems.
My pottery is available for sale on Etsy under elisabethafondell, Twin Spruce Ceramics.