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Midlife and the Great Unknown: Finding Courage and Clarity Through Poetry

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"In the middle of the road of my life I awoke in a dark wood, where the true way was wholly lost." When you find yourself suddenly without bearings, as Dante Alighieri voiced so well centuries ago, where will you look for guidance? Throughout the ages, teaches David Whyte, the language of poetry has held a special power to hazard ourselves boldly at the fierce edges of our "In the middle of the road of my life I awoke in a dark wood, where the true way was wholly lost." When you find yourself suddenly without bearings, as Dante Alighieri voiced so well centuries ago, where will you look for guidance? Throughout the ages, teaches David Whyte, the language of poetry has held a special power to hazard ourselves boldly at the fierce edges of our lives. On Midlife and the Great Unknown, you will engage with poetic imagination as it was meant to be experienced: as your companion and guide for the challenging terrain of midlife. Join this Yorkshire-born poet and bestselling author to explore: Radical simplification—an invitation to sit in silent reflection and observation • Using your poetic imagination to navigate life's cycles of loss and joy • Honoring who you are right now, including your skills and limitations, and more The language of poetry can emancipate you into the next phase of your existence, teaches David Whyte. It can help you break through obstacles and give you courage to take necessary risks. Drawing from the wisdom of fellow poets Rainer Maria Rilke, Emily Dickinson, and Seamus Heaney, Whyte invites you to boldly engage in a conversation with the second half of your life on Midlife and the Great Unknown Note: Excerpted from the full-length audio course Clear Mind, Wild Heart.


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"In the middle of the road of my life I awoke in a dark wood, where the true way was wholly lost." When you find yourself suddenly without bearings, as Dante Alighieri voiced so well centuries ago, where will you look for guidance? Throughout the ages, teaches David Whyte, the language of poetry has held a special power to hazard ourselves boldly at the fierce edges of our "In the middle of the road of my life I awoke in a dark wood, where the true way was wholly lost." When you find yourself suddenly without bearings, as Dante Alighieri voiced so well centuries ago, where will you look for guidance? Throughout the ages, teaches David Whyte, the language of poetry has held a special power to hazard ourselves boldly at the fierce edges of our lives. On Midlife and the Great Unknown, you will engage with poetic imagination as it was meant to be experienced: as your companion and guide for the challenging terrain of midlife. Join this Yorkshire-born poet and bestselling author to explore: Radical simplification—an invitation to sit in silent reflection and observation • Using your poetic imagination to navigate life's cycles of loss and joy • Honoring who you are right now, including your skills and limitations, and more The language of poetry can emancipate you into the next phase of your existence, teaches David Whyte. It can help you break through obstacles and give you courage to take necessary risks. Drawing from the wisdom of fellow poets Rainer Maria Rilke, Emily Dickinson, and Seamus Heaney, Whyte invites you to boldly engage in a conversation with the second half of your life on Midlife and the Great Unknown Note: Excerpted from the full-length audio course Clear Mind, Wild Heart.

30 review for Midlife and the Great Unknown: Finding Courage and Clarity Through Poetry

  1. 4 out of 5

    Morgan Blackledge

    My wife and I just spent a day in the car, listening to this program, driving through the Southern California mountains, wineries and orchards, back and forth from a long, ridiculously gorgeous beach walk with our dogs. It was essentially my first day off in 16 weeks. It was a perfect, 75 degree day. The dogs were overjoyed. My wife was running and playing with them. She looked lovely. We were both in good health. The surf was gentle and warm. The sand was flat, clean and firm. For a moment, it wa My wife and I just spent a day in the car, listening to this program, driving through the Southern California mountains, wineries and orchards, back and forth from a long, ridiculously gorgeous beach walk with our dogs. It was essentially my first day off in 16 weeks. It was a perfect, 75 degree day. The dogs were overjoyed. My wife was running and playing with them. She looked lovely. We were both in good health. The surf was gentle and warm. The sand was flat, clean and firm. For a moment, it was so wonderful and perfect I was without thoughts. I was just noticing and deeply appreciating the moment. Of course, all of this appreciation was emerging from a pervasive and undeniable sense of impermanence. But that only served to amplify the joyous experience of the simple beauty of it all. I'm 47. Beginning at around age 40, I responded to the events of the Great Recession by going back to school for my MA, and embarking on a 2nd career as a psychotherapist. It has been a wonderful privilege. But also an intense little climb. Both my wife and myself have had to sacrifice just about every superfluous comfort and fancy in order to walk this path. We have literally been down to our last nickel on so many occasions that I have actually lost count. Over and over, through wave after wave of austerity, we have had to ask ourselves "what's really essential". Every time the answer has been our love and our work. Every time we have been on what felt like the brink. We have asked ourselves "are we okay right here and right now" and every time, the answer has been decidedly yes. And now we're here. Thus far, my experience of midlife has been predominantly one of noticing suffering, or at least noticing intensity and discomfort, practicing radical acceptance of life as it is, practicing self-care, contacting my values and stepping in the direction of a richer more meaningful future. What has emerged from this process has been a life stripped back to the bare bones of acceptance, commitment, meaning and service. We are finally reaching the point where things are stabilizing. And we are reintroducing some of those extra little pleasures again. A nice meal out. A relaxing day off. A moment to recharge and reconnect. We are finally harvesting and tasting some of the fruits of our sacrifice and hard labor. Only now, we really savor and appreciate these flavors in a whole new way. And let me tell you. They are delicious. Same flavors. Whole new experience. This is what Midlife and the Great Unknown is all about. Shedding the old skin. Identifying what matters. Arriving in the present moment. Appreciating life for what it is. Diving in to the shark infested blue hole in the ocean and retrieving treasures from the abyss. David Whyte is himself a treasure. He has clearly done so much diving and seeking, that his mind is like a strong box and every little utterance is a rich, multifaceted jewel of love, loss and deep appreciation. His practice is reading and writing poetry. He has clearly spent so much time grasping at the obscure, essential meaning of words that he is, for lack of a better way of phrasing it, just plain good at it. He's a professional meaning maker. Midlife and the Great Unknown is a meditation on making meaning out of this often maligned but utterly profound juncture of life otherwise know as the middle passage. According to Whyte, it's our time to shed our sandals, stand on wholly ground, listen to the voice in the fire, and deliver it's wisdom in words and deeds that others can understand and benefit from. One time, when I was in my 20's, I was walking in Berkeley and I met a figurative sculptor who worked in the traditional way of carving marble. His work was phenomenal. I was in awe of this man. He had clearly sacrificed everything for his art. At one point he said "this is what you get when you dedicate your whole life to something". I don't think I'll ever forget that. David Whyte reminds me of that guy. He has dedicated his whole life to reading and writing poetry. I can't help but respect him for walking this path. I'm sure becoming a poet was at times an utterly groundless and terrifying journey. How many well intended (or even not so well intended) skeptical, cautious words of advice must he have endured. You know, "I guess you could always teach English as a backup plan", that kind of stuff. How many times did he have to ask himself "am I okay right here, right now". How many times did he have to dive into the shark infested unknown. Well, the good news for us is that he did, and he brought back some real treasure, and he freely and generously offers it for our benefit at this particularly bitter sweet juncture of life, where everything right here and right now is still alright, but undeniably about to change. What will you do with the rest of you're one wild life? The "crisis" of midlife is to answer that question, and deliver the fruits of your hard earned wisdom to your hungry fellow travelers. Thank you David Whyte for dedicating your one wild life to exactly, just that. I wrote the above on 5/17/15. I Just finished re-listening to the amazing thing today 7/8/17. I think it's my 4th or 5th listen. It's every bit as satisfying as the fist time. David Whyte is a treasure. .

  2. 4 out of 5

    Katrina Sark

    Courage is the ability to cultivate a relationship with the unknown. To create a form of friendship, if you will, with what lies around the corner, over the horizon, with those things that have not yet fully come into being. Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet confinement of your aloneness, to learn that anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you. You take life as you find it. And you build marvelous things from everything that’s there in the recipe, in the eleme Courage is the ability to cultivate a relationship with the unknown. To create a form of friendship, if you will, with what lies around the corner, over the horizon, with those things that have not yet fully come into being. Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet confinement of your aloneness, to learn that anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you. You take life as you find it. And you build marvelous things from everything that’s there in the recipe, in the elements that are gathered in any one particular moment in your life. The antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest. The antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness. The reason you’re so exhausted is that much of what you’re doing you have no affection for. You’re doing it because you have an abstract idea that this is what you should be doing in order to be liked. You have to put yourself in an adult relationship with the things in the world. Mary Oliver: “You do not have to be good. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what is loves.” One of the great disciplines of marriage is to allow another person not to be overshadowed or encompassed or imprisoned by your fears within the marriage. It’s one of the challenges for human kind at this point in our history to allow the natural world to have places where it’s untouched and can regenerate itself. You should attempt to feel your aloneness in as startlingly clear and stark way as possible. And once you’re at the bottom of that aloneness, you will be put back into relationship with the rest of the world. And it’s one of the more difficult disciplines, of course. The first feeling is to put everything right, to start making relationships again, to go out. But there is an old tradition of mourning, of pulling the curtains of the house, of not going out, of retreating into a kind of darkness, of going into the ashes of the world, that is very old, and I do think at times very necessary.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Pat Loughery

    I really enjoyed Whyte's commentary and recitation of his own poetry and that of others. It's a bit rambling in nature, hard to follow his structure. But the reflections on becoming your true self and doing work that you can be wholehearted about, those were fantastic. So was the elegy for his Welsh friend. As if I didn't already know that I just need to read Whyte's entire collection, I'm more convinced now. Two things were slightly annoying: 1. The way Whyte recites poetry includes this odd, dis I really enjoyed Whyte's commentary and recitation of his own poetry and that of others. It's a bit rambling in nature, hard to follow his structure. But the reflections on becoming your true self and doing work that you can be wholehearted about, those were fantastic. So was the elegy for his Welsh friend. As if I didn't already know that I just need to read Whyte's entire collection, I'm more convinced now. Two things were slightly annoying: 1. The way Whyte recites poetry includes this odd, distracting habit of repeating phrases frequently. He does it so that you really grasp the significance of the line, but the pacing and space is all messed up. 2. The track breaks on the CD are in strange places. I haven't looked closely, but maybe they're just equally timed. But they're not placed between themes, paragraphs, poems, whatever. To find something you have to track change and just fast forward or rewind, or maybe listen to the track. If you want to queue up a specific thought, good luck. Those are minor nitpicks in the end. I'll listen to this CD many times over.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Anita Ashland

    Whyte is my favorite poet, so it is wonderful to listen to him talk about the midlife passage, and how important it is to reap the harvest of this stage of life. He also weaves in quotes from his own poetry and the poetry of others like Rilke and Mary Oliver. This is the second time I've listened to this and I plan on listening to it once a quarter or so. There isn't a print version of this audio book. His insights are very Jungian to me and Jungian analyst James Hollis's audiobook Through the D Whyte is my favorite poet, so it is wonderful to listen to him talk about the midlife passage, and how important it is to reap the harvest of this stage of life. He also weaves in quotes from his own poetry and the poetry of others like Rilke and Mary Oliver. This is the second time I've listened to this and I plan on listening to it once a quarter or so. There isn't a print version of this audio book. His insights are very Jungian to me and Jungian analyst James Hollis's audiobook Through the Dark Wood is a perfect companion to this.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Mike McFadden

    I've listened to this at least 5 times in the last 12 months. It's filled with amazing stories and antidotes that help reorient one's view of life. David Whyte is the one that narrates the audiobook/CD as well. I've listened to this at least 5 times in the last 12 months. It's filled with amazing stories and antidotes that help reorient one's view of life. David Whyte is the one that narrates the audiobook/CD as well.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Behrooz Parhami

    I listened to the unabridged 3-hour audio version of this title (read by the author, Sounds True, 2008). This book, targeting the 25% of people between the ages of 35 and 55 living in the United States, is an excerpt from the 2001 set "Clear Mind Wild Heart." I am not in the targeted demographic, but still decided to peruse the book, having heard praise for Whyte’s success in bringing the poetic imagination, not only to people's private lives, but also to the corporate world. While talking about I listened to the unabridged 3-hour audio version of this title (read by the author, Sounds True, 2008). This book, targeting the 25% of people between the ages of 35 and 55 living in the United States, is an excerpt from the 2001 set "Clear Mind Wild Heart." I am not in the targeted demographic, but still decided to peruse the book, having heard praise for Whyte’s success in bringing the poetic imagination, not only to people's private lives, but also to the corporate world. While talking about the need to engage with the poetic imagination as a companion and guide for the challenging terrain of midlife, Whyte makes a remarkable observation: A swan is extremely awkward when it walks on land, barely able to maintain its balance, but it undergoes a magical transformation, as it steps from land into the water, suddenly becoming agile and majestic. We all need to find our elements, the setting in which we can be graceful and self-assured. Elsewhere, Whyte opines that one of the saddest things to observe in this world is an old person who has become bitter and cynical. The outer bodily deterioration, combined with the mind's inner rot, is simply unbearable! As American writer Henry Miller opined about aging, "If you can keep from growing sour, surly, bitter and cynical, man you’ve got it half licked." I suppose these two pieces of advice, as well as much of the book's other content, is just as useful to human-beings before reaching midlife and afterwards, so I recommend the book to everyone, young and old.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Johan Hagström

    " The cure for exhaustion is not rest, rather it is full heartedness" is one of my favorites quotes from the British poet David Whyte in his widely popular novel “Midlife and great unknown” In a poetic journey with a plethora of thoughts somewhat arranged in an structure around the theme, of one day finding yourself in midlife and realizing you are lost. Take time to ponder and own your life instead of letting it own you, David seem to state as he mentally leans on Dante’s famous quote “in the mid " The cure for exhaustion is not rest, rather it is full heartedness" is one of my favorites quotes from the British poet David Whyte in his widely popular novel “Midlife and great unknown” In a poetic journey with a plethora of thoughts somewhat arranged in an structure around the theme, of one day finding yourself in midlife and realizing you are lost. Take time to ponder and own your life instead of letting it own you, David seem to state as he mentally leans on Dante’s famous quote “in the middle of the road of my life I awoke in a dark wood, where the true way was wholly lost”. The book gives food for thought and time to reflect on important things in life and our inner priorities. A good read.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jon

    Whoa, mind blown! Came across this innocently enough after hearing David interviewed by Krista Tippet. What drew me in was how he spoke of poetry as a vocabulary for the numinous and how this extended to our everyday lives. Nothing new in itself but I've never been convinced previously. I went in expecting poetry with a focus on midlife what I found was much more. What was it? Not 100% sure at the moment, but something worth discovering. A short read, I'll be going over it again soon to pull mor Whoa, mind blown! Came across this innocently enough after hearing David interviewed by Krista Tippet. What drew me in was how he spoke of poetry as a vocabulary for the numinous and how this extended to our everyday lives. Nothing new in itself but I've never been convinced previously. I went in expecting poetry with a focus on midlife what I found was much more. What was it? Not 100% sure at the moment, but something worth discovering. A short read, I'll be going over it again soon to pull more out of it.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    I will refer to this again and again. I will listen to this more than once this year, for sure, because I’m in the mid-life process of dying and being reborn. The roles I’ve held for so long that have served so well no longer serve me or others. David Whyte’s meditations here help me envision how to let these roles die and that there is a path forwards, a creative, vital path of awakening and awareness of being at every stage of this experience of changes through life.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Claire Steele

    There is great wisdom to be found in the simplicity with which David Whyte articulates the things of the spirit, the love of the landscape and the challenges and rewards of a life lived creatively. A book to return to again and again

  11. 5 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    I liked Whyte's book, The Three Marriages and thought I would read the others, but this one was not good. It was mostly his musings and his poetry. And though I am a fan of poetry, I am not a fan of his poetry. I liked Whyte's book, The Three Marriages and thought I would read the others, but this one was not good. It was mostly his musings and his poetry. And though I am a fan of poetry, I am not a fan of his poetry.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Shishir

    Powerful wise and profound words dressed in crafted imagery of language often repeated for maximum effect - Brilliant Wisdom of age and aging brought to life in beautiful language weaving deeper meanings to the most mundane

  13. 5 out of 5

    Marty

    Exceptional.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

    So much of poetry is in the reading; specifically in the rhythm. David Whyte is clearly talented and has some very interesting ideas and philosophies that resonate quite deeply. However, I could not get past something very little on this audio-book, his repetition of phrasing. Whenever Whyte chooses to place emphasis on something, a verse or line or couplet, he'll stop and repeat that line to place emphasis. I understand what he's trying to do. He's trying to draw our attention to what he believ So much of poetry is in the reading; specifically in the rhythm. David Whyte is clearly talented and has some very interesting ideas and philosophies that resonate quite deeply. However, I could not get past something very little on this audio-book, his repetition of phrasing. Whenever Whyte chooses to place emphasis on something, a verse or line or couplet, he'll stop and repeat that line to place emphasis. I understand what he's trying to do. He's trying to draw our attention to what he believes to be the crucial points in the poem, but in doing so he robs the poem itself of its natural rhythm and flow. He does not allow us the silence between the lines to come to our own personal understanding and reflection--the very point he's partially pushing for. And once you notice this phrasing, it's impossible for you not to hear it and it becomes distracting.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Gydle

    I thought I didn't like poetry. Well, I was wrong. I just needed to listen to it, not read it on a page in a book. Listen to it preferably walking along the ocean, or in a forest, with one ear out, tuned to the birdsong. David Whyte's voice is like ice cream. Rich, sonorous, satisfying. The Irish undertones are so lovely. Lots of people complain about him repeating lines. I find it helpful. Getting the whole poem just once would not work. He repeats bits of it, repeats the whole thing, talks about I thought I didn't like poetry. Well, I was wrong. I just needed to listen to it, not read it on a page in a book. Listen to it preferably walking along the ocean, or in a forest, with one ear out, tuned to the birdsong. David Whyte's voice is like ice cream. Rich, sonorous, satisfying. The Irish undertones are so lovely. Lots of people complain about him repeating lines. I find it helpful. Getting the whole poem just once would not work. He repeats bits of it, repeats the whole thing, talks about it, then says it again. You have a chance to get it and think about it. This is the kind of thing you will come back to again and again. I've already listened to it twice. I also like that he doesn't just read his own poetry, but also the poetry of Rilke and others.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Donna

    Loved it!! I listened to the entire CD while walking by the lake one spring morning .... the beauty of the poetry and the author's soothing voice captured my heart and soul. So beautiful! Listened to the CD several times more since that day and continue to enjoy it and be inspired by it as I was the first time. Loved it!! I listened to the entire CD while walking by the lake one spring morning .... the beauty of the poetry and the author's soothing voice captured my heart and soul. So beautiful! Listened to the CD several times more since that day and continue to enjoy it and be inspired by it as I was the first time.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    I picked this book up because I liked some poems I had read by the author... I was 75% of the way through this book before I looked at the title and realized this may be for people going through a midlife crisis. HAHA maybe I am a little too young but HEY I'm in grad school so that counts as some sort of crisis, right?! Really good book, beautiful poems and analysis of life throughout. I picked this book up because I liked some poems I had read by the author... I was 75% of the way through this book before I looked at the title and realized this may be for people going through a midlife crisis. HAHA maybe I am a little too young but HEY I'm in grad school so that counts as some sort of crisis, right?! Really good book, beautiful poems and analysis of life throughout.

  18. 4 out of 5

    C. Jellie

    This book was enjoyable and unexpected. Some beautiful poetry and ideas. However, the repetition of lines within the poems was distracting and annoying in the audio version as it stopped the flow of the poetry.

  19. 5 out of 5

    David Roberts

    My first exposure to David Whyte, and I've devoured everything since. My first exposure to David Whyte, and I've devoured everything since.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Donna Fleetwood

    This book, this book. My guide through the woods in midlife. I cannot put a date that I finished it because I read it again and again in pieces

  21. 4 out of 5

    Krzysiek

  22. 4 out of 5

    Zachary

  23. 5 out of 5

    Laura

  24. 5 out of 5

    Lisaavery

  25. 4 out of 5

    N.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Lavinia

  27. 4 out of 5

    Julie

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kristina Evans

  29. 5 out of 5

    Michelle McKenzie

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jim Hacking

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