Breast Cancer Book Club: David Whyte’s Consolations

A dear friend of mine who has been doing restorative yoga with me shared several poems during our sessions, one written by acclaimed writer David Whyte. I loved the poem so much that I looked up more of Whyte’s work and came across his 2014 book, Consolations (Many Rivers Press). It’s my first offering to what I am calling the Breast Cancer Book Club, readings I know or discover that bring me insight and solace during this long process.

Whyte Consolations 2

The subtitle of Consolations is “The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words.” The book is arranged like a dictionary, each entry a brief meditation three to five pages long. Whyte opens with the word “Alone” and traces through such words as “Crisis,” “Gratitude,” “Honesty,” “Robustness,” and “Silence,” among many others. His language is lucid, lyrical, and straightforward, and his insights are both comforting and challenging.

For example, of gratitude Whyte writes, “Gratitude is not a passive response to something we have been given, gratitude arises from paying attention, from being awake in the presence of everything that lives within and without us…. Gratitude is the understanding that many millions of things come together and live together and mesh together and breathe together in order for us to take even one more breath of air, that the underlying gift of life and incarnation as a living, participating human being is a privilege; that we are miraculously part of something, rather than nothing” (89).

Whyte Consolations HelpOn courage: “Courage is a word that tempts us to think outwardly, to run bravely against opposing fire, to do something under besieging circumstance…but a look at its linguistic origins is to look in a more interior direction and toward its original template, the old Norman French, Coeur, or heart. Courage is the measure of our heartfelt participation with life, with another, with a community, a work; a future. To be courageous is not necessarily to go anywhere or do anything except to make conscious those things we already feel deeply and then to live through the unending vulnerabilities of those consequences” (39).

My friend and I have been drawing upon Whyte’s book during restorative yoga, as she reads a passage aloud, often several times, for both of us to absorb as I breathe into a held pose. I have also enjoyed selecting a single entry to read and contemplate before I go to sleep at night, or when I first wake up, or sitting under a tree in the neighboring park. The short, rich chapters work beautifully as individual meditations, formal or informal.

Whyte Consolations RestI’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys contemplating the world and how we exist in it, though I think many of the entries hold a special resonance for those currently engaging a challenge or change. Its words have brought me healing, wisdom, and solace, and I will be returning to it again and again.

Happy reading!