“Start close in.” Sage wisdom from poet David Whyte with all that is happening in the world. On one hand, there is the enormity of it all—wars, suffering, grief, loss, disruption in politics and government. On the other hand, the mundane—things I need to take care of today. And “stuff” on every level in between. It seems that everything everywhere is in flux.
Yet at the same time, I find laughter and warmth with friends. I savor early mornings with my coffee in front of the fire. I drink in the blaze of colors in the autumn leaves against the clear blue sky. And cold, crisp nights showing off a beautiful canopy of stars. I celebrate a great accomplishment with a coaching client and a neighbor’s welcome news that she is now cancer free after many difficult months. There is goodness, there is love, there are pockets of peace and stillness in which to rest. There is much to be grateful for.
So much to take in, to process, to hold in our minds and hearts. For me, it begs the question: How do I stay true to myself and all that is happening and make a difference in the world around me, all while living my daily life?
That phrase “start close in” comes from the opening and closing lines of one of my favorite David Whyte poems:
Start close in,
the second step
or the third,
start with the first
you don’t want to take.
From David Whyte’s poem “Start Close In”
David Whyte reminds us to stay present right here, right now with what is in front of us. Not to jump ahead to the second or third step—not to rush to action and result—not to overlook what is perhaps most important to be present with in the moment, even if it’s not comfortable, even if we just want to make it all ok again as quickly as we can. Start close in with whatever is happening, easy or difficult, and walk through it step by step. Let the moment show itself to us on its own terms rather than imposing our own interpretation or desire. “Start with the first thing close in,” he says, the step we may not want to take.
When I first started teaching in The Netherlands more than 16 years ago, I sometimes heard the Dutch people say, “I have to stay close to myself.” It was their way of acknowledging that something more was being asked of them; that they were being called to step forward in their truth, in their full authentic presence.
In the Japanese culture, they speak of kokoro, which means the coming together of mind, heart, spirit. It’s first about bringing all of our being into alignment with who we are at our essence, and with who we feel called to be. And then to align with something bigger than us—a greater Intelligence or Wisdom or Truth, however you wish to name it. Embodying the concept of kokoro starts close in. It starts with staying close to ourselves and meeting the world from the truth of who we are.
In the last few months, I have been in my own deeper journey of starting close in and of staying close to myself. I keep coming back to kokoro, especially as it asks me to align myself with something bigger. I’m reminded that I can be fully present with what is happening yet not have to take on full responsibility for it. Most of the time, it’s not my job to carry it and make it all ok. Rather, my job is to be “response-able”—to tap into the deeper wisdom and intelligence within the situation or the interaction and sense how I’m being asked to respond in service of something bigger than myself.
Looking at the World in New Ways
Through meditation, I found a set of “lenses” through which to view and experience life. I call them “lenses” because it feels like putting on a magical pair of glasses. Each lens helps me look at the world and at myself from a particular perspective or awareness. I’ve named them:
Greater Wisdom / Greater Good
If you are familiar with the chakras—vortexes of energy within us through which we exchange information and awareness with the world around us—you may notice a correlation with these lenses. Common Ground aligns with the Root Chakra, Connection with the Sacral Chakra, Integrity with the Solar Plexus, Relationship with the Heart, Truth with the Throat, Vision with the Brow, and Greater Wisdom / Greater Good with the Crown.
For this moment, we’ll start with Common Ground. However, you might also find it interesting to start with Greater Wisdom / Greater Good and work in reverse order. Both approaches can be illuminating. See which approach is most effective for you. And if you are not familiar with chakras, simply imagine each lens as a context through which to look at and experience the world around you.
Common Ground (Root Chakra)
Feel your feet on the ground. We all stand on the same common ground, live on the same planet Earth, have the same cosmic home address. Therefore, as you consider any situation on Earth, consider that it is happening on the same ground you stand on. Every person or place inhabits the same common ground. You share common ground with everything that is unfolding.
What shifts in your awareness or perspective as you look out at the world through this lens?
Connection (Sacral Chakra)
There is a web of connection between everyone and everything in the world. It is said that there are no more than six degrees of separation between you and any other person, situation, or place in the world. That means that you know somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody who has a connection to any individual person or place. You know somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody who has a personal investment in any situation on the planet.
As we first experience the world through this lens, it’s often a sense of energetic connection. Perhaps it’s even as basic as feeling drawn towards another person, place, or situation, or instinctively wanting to back away. Be curious about what you feel. What does it touch inside you?
This lens helps us recognize that there is an energetic matrix connecting everything. What shifts in your awareness as you experience the world through this lens?
Integrity (Solar Plexus Chakra)
Integrity is about living in accordance with a set of moral and ethical principles. Living in ways that are congruent with what you believe, what is important to you—what it means to you to live authentically and stay true to yourself. It’s what “stay close to yourself” means. To “start close in” is to start by looking inwardly to who you are and what you value. And then to have the moral and ethical courage to live in accordance with what you sense in the heart of your being are right choices for you.
The lens of Integrity asks: What does it mean to walk in the world in integrity with every person you meet, everything you see and feel, every situation you encounter? And what does it mean to be in integrity with yourself? Because we walk on common ground, whatever impacts one will in some way impact all.
What gets your attention through the lens of Integrity?
Relationship (Heart Chakra)
Recognizing Common Ground, an energetic sense of Connection, and living in Integrity, the lens of Relationship asks us to meet the world in the awareness that we are, in fact, in relationship with everything around us whether we realize it or not.
Relationship happens in the space in between people, ideas, situations, beliefs, worldviews, actions, behaviors. The lens of Relationship asks us to pay attention to the space in between us and everyone and everything we encounter. What’s happening in that space?
What do you notice when you meet the world through the lens of Relationship?
Truth (Throat Chakra)
Truth is a big word. It can be interpreted in many ways. The lens of Truth asks us to listen and sense beyond interpretations and opinions to get to the essence of what is happening. What is it really about? There are small-t truths—each individual’s beliefs about who they are, what is real, and how they fit into the world. And then there are capital-T Truths—the less-disputable realities of the situation.
Your truth and mine may not be the same. The lens of Truth asks us to step beyond our assumptions, our preferences, our own agendas, and sense the capital-T truths driving what is happening. Whether you are caught up in the moment-to-moment unfolding or observing from afar, take a step back. Lift up above the situation or drop underneath it for another perspective. What do you sense? What new insight is available? And then lift still higher or drop even deeper. What new information comes?
Standing on Common Ground, sensing Connection with everything around us, living in Integrity with ourselves and others, and choosing right Relationship with all that we encounter, supports us in sensing the Truth of the moment. What happens when you meet life through the lens of Truth?
Vision (Brow Chakra)
The lens of Vision helps us acknowledge how we see the world and our place in it—our worldview. Our worldview shapes how we experience and define the realities of the moment and the energy we project into the situation.
The Vision lens invites us to view life with “soft eyes”—to view the world with compassion and sensitivity to the realities present. To hold space for a person or a situation is to be intentional about the energy we project through how we view what is happening.
What shifts in your experience when you are conscious of the lens of Vision?
Greater Wisdom / Greater Good (Crown Chakra)
Seeing and experiencing the world through the lens of Great Wisdom / Greater Good helps us transcend individual wants and desires to gain a greater sense of who we are within the collective whole. This lens brings all the other lenses together, expanding our capacity to consider the whole of what is happening and the impacts and ramifications of its unfolding. It asks us to tap into a Greater Wisdom or Intelligence for guidance. What wants to happen in service of a Greater Good?
Take a moment to revisit each of the seven lenses, starting once more from Common Ground. Sense what each lens is showing you—what each lens is asking you to be more aware of. As you come to the lens of Greater Wisdom / Greater Good, what is important for you to pay attention to? What is it showing you as a next step?
Finding Your Way in Unsettled Times
When you walk in the world in full awareness of all seven of these lenses, you will make a positive difference for the world around you. You will live in a way that contributes to the Greater Good. You will bring your unique and special gifts to the world. To be sure, it’s a practice. Even though I’ve only recently given names to these lenses, I recognize that I’ve been practicing walking in the world in this way for many years. Now I’m finding clearer language to talk about it. Living in this way is indeed a life-long practice—a life-long learning and cultivation of awareness and action.
What do these seven lenses mean for you? What would it mean for you to “start close in” today? To “stay close to yourself?”
In the coming days, practice looking at the world around you and within you through these lenses. Perhaps focus on one lens each day for a week. You might choose to focus on a particular issue or situation at first, practicing being present with what is happening through each of the lenses. Let these lenses bring new insight and awareness in your daily walk in the world.
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- Alan’s current free series of Monday Meditations titled “Wisdom in Our Bones” centers around these seven lenses. The series began on October 16th and will continue through November 20th. All are welcome to join the free Monday sessions live or listen to the 20-minute meditations at your convenience to deepen your experience in working with the lenses. Go to the Monday Meditations Recordings on our website to listen. The most recent recording is at the top. Scroll down to the October 16, 2023 recording to hear the meditation on “Common Ground.” Then scroll back up for each succeeding meditation through November 20th.
- Alan’s book Intuitive Living includes full chapters on each of the chakras. It offers a comprehensive exploration of the spiritual and emotional aspects of each chakra.
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