from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Saturday, 9 December 2017

David Whyte's 'Consolations'

I dip into this book of short essays from time to time. Each of them is a short but original and profound meditation on a particular word.

What Whyte does is take an everyday word, usually related to 'the human condition', for a walk.

The essay is a form I really like. I have just completed another of my own towards a book of essays I've been writing on our relationship to the other-than-human; this one was a requirement of my residency for the National Trust, and the book will be completed next year, I hope.

There are many essay writers I admire. John Berger is a big favourite, and there are many within the field of 'nature writing' and ecopsychology, my own passions.

Right now, I'm thinking of Whyte's 2015 book as it is going to make a good Christmas present for a family member.

Today – as you can see! – I'm having a break from the computer – so to whet your appetite and also be brief here are two small quotes from Consolations:

'Alone': 'To be alone for any length of time is to shed an outer skin. The body is inhabited in a different way when we are alone than when we are with others. Alone, we live in our bodies as a question rather than a statement.'

(Although I really like this, I think that final sentence would be as accurate and true if reversed, as well.)

'Friendship': 'The ultimate touchstone of friendship is not improvement, neither of the other nor of the self; the ultimate touchstone is witness, the privilege of having been seen by someone and the equal privilege of being granted the sight 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 brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone.'

Which is a cue to say to you, my readers, how much I appreciate and am grateful to each of you for accompanying and witnessing me here. Whether you were already a friend when you first visited this blog, have become one since, whether I have met you in person or not, whether you are a frequent or occasional visitor, the fact that each of you gives attention is irreplaceable. Obviously, without you there would be no blog. Thank you.


CONSOLATIONS The solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words David Whyte (Many Rivers Press, 2015)


  1. Miri says:

    Another really interesting piece, Roselle. I found that last paragraph very moving and immediately felt the need to recognise it. As I think you know, this space – sometimes one-to-one, sometimes a larger community, means so much to me in the same sort of way. I know I can come here and feel true friendship with someone I can trust.

    I puzzle about that earlier paragraph about being alone, maybe because I'm ambivalent about aloneness – what it feels like, how it changes and demands balance for it to work. That final sentence: yes, I agree that statement and question could be reversed but I'd go further; that both statement and question can't be separated – that the presence of one insists on the other at the same time.

    But maybe that's already implied in which case I'm stating the obvious.

  2. Ah, thank you, Miri – lovely words.

    Personally, I have learned to love solitude as much as I love intimacy. You're right that the issue might be balance; I find that solitude has become such an essential refuge for restoration and replenishment for me, so that I may keep feeding my friendships and relationships.

    And yes, actually, I agree with your penultimate comment - of course they can't be separated, and I noticed I fell into the dualist trap of thinking which of two options might be the most 'correct', when of course it's a false binary in the first place...

    Love to you


  3. Well it's taken ages for me not to fall into the trap and sometimes I still do. Like you, my first response was to try and choose one of the two options. I simply couldn't by which time the penny had dropped.
    M x


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