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Poet, author and inspirational speaker David Whyte spoke about the benefits of self-awareness and personal growth in “Solace: The Art of Asking the Beautiful Question” Wednesday night at Campbell Hall.
Originally from England, Whyte is world-renowned for his seven volumes of poetry and three books of prose. In “Solace,” Whyte encouraged audience members to embark on a “pilgrimage” of internal rebirth by entering a state of self-reflection.
Whyte described the human lifespan as a journey in which the individual constantly asks, “What’s next?” Instead, he said, people should be more open and accepting of the future. Whyte spent a majority of his speech developing the theme of pilgrimage with stories about his niece and a close friend of his whose lives were transformed while traveling the Camino de Santiago in Spain, a Christian pilgrimage route with origins in the Middle Ages.
El Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James, encompasses many trails stretching across Northern Spain, from the south of France to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela on the western coast of Spain. Originally a path to St. James the Great’s shrine, the Camino routes now attract hundreds of thousands of people each year. Whyte said both his niece and friend made the journey on foot and experienced a type of internal transformation.
Whyte said his niece was moved when she left her boots in a pile of clothes at end of the route, in accordance with a tradition of leaving an article of clothing behind. By leaving behind her shoes, Whyte’s niece was finally able to “be comfortable with the unknown,” according to the speaker.
Attendee Colin Gray said Whyte’s ideas resonated with his own work as an artist.
“I thought Whyte really echoed the idea of being ‘comfortable with the unknown’ throughout his speech. If we are able to ‘let go,’ we can create space in our lives for a new person. By venturing out into our imaginations we can find a type of calling. I try to keep this in mind when I am creating drawings or sculptures,” Gray said.
Whyte then described the journey taken by a close friend at a crossroads in her life, between motherhood and starting a professional writing career in London. Whyte said during this journey his friend was called “peregrine,” or “pilgrim,” by those she encountered, and she came to understand the heartbreak of her kids growing up was a natural part of her life “pilgrimage.”
Two poems about Whyte’s niece and his friend, entitled “Finisterre” and “Camino” respectively, both appear in his most recent compilation of poetry titled “Pilgrim.” Whyte said even though the two individuals were enlightened during their treks, not everyone must walk the Camino de Santiago to start a “pilgrimage” or reincarnation within.
Attendee Angie Horn said she was exited to hear Whyte for the first time in person.
“I liked hearing the introductions to his poems because each poem has a story behind it,” Horn said. “Hearing these stories about his friends and family that serve as a context to his poems really helps me appreciate his poetry in a whole new way.”
Whyte also used various pieces of his own poetry and personal anecdotes to explain his own self-journey, including his transformations as a parent when he held his daughter as a newborn and, more recently, witnessed his son go off to college.
Attendee Julia Woodward said she valued Whyte’s insights on parenthood, as they coincided with many of her own feelings as a parent.
“The poem he wrote to his daughter was absolutely fabulous. He talks about holding his daughter as a baby and already realizing that her future is out of his control,” Woodward said. “This realization as a parent that your kids are independent of you and are unique is such a profound part of being a parent.”