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Our Walk in the World: The Unexpected Utterance

Frank Berkhout

"It is only by giving our all that we open our soul as a conduit to all of life. Whenever we do this, we’re sensitive enough for the unexpected utterance to flow through us."

For me, poetry is where the soul touches the everyday. It is less about words and more about awakening the sense of aliveness we carry within us. To walk quietly till the miracle in everything speaks is poetry, whether we write it down or not. I confess I started out wanting to write great poems. Then, I was worn by life into wanting to discover true poems that would help me live. Now, in the second half of life, I want to be the poem!

Carl Jung spoke of the poet, and more largely the artist, as a lightning rod for the Unconscious. He held the poet and artist as the conduit through which the collective experience from all time passes. When feeling what is ours to feel, each enlivened soul is a conduit for all of life. In this way, everyone, when thoroughly here, is a poet.

In a Jungian sense, I know my truest work has come from beyond me. And I believe that all the great artists, whoever you think they are, would affirm the transience of their genius over the ownership of such gifts. As the Romantic poet Shelley put it: “Poetry is not like reasoning ... for the mind in creation is as a fading coal, which some invisible influence, like an inconstant wind, awakens to transitory brightness.”

It is our receptiveness to the forces of life that make us brighten, that make us a filament for the Mysteries. Another English writer, D.H. Lawrence, affirms this when he says, “Not I but the wind that blows through me.”

This doesn’t mean that we don’t participate or give our all. On the contrary, it is only by giving our all that we open our soul as a conduit to all of life. Whenever we do this, we’re sensitive enough for the unexpected utterance to flow through us. Athletes experience this as being in the zone. The reward for giving their all, through their immense practice and effort, is to enter the flow of the game, the way a fish swims with all its might to catch the current. When our soul is aligned with the current of life, we’re often touched deeply by the unexpected utterance of life. And that kiss of the unexpected is often life-changing.

So, what does the unexpected utterance sound like, feel like, look like?

No one can know but you. And you will know. When you shovel your walk at night and stop to look at the moon and something in the cold blue makes you realize that there is nothing between you and the heavens, the utterance is speaking to you. When you’re bumping through a crowd in Manhattan or Chicago, frustrated because you’re late, and suddenly you give up, and in that relaxation of will you realize that there is nothing between you and all the others, and that everyone’s heart is beating at the same time—the utterance is tapping you in the chest. When you’re fishing and after half a day something bites, and in the tug, you’re not sure who is catching who, you are in that moment a conduit.

When you breathe fully after the torque of sudden pain or stop crying after being punctured by grief, the unexpected utterance has touched you at the core. And after that recurring fight with your partner, when you fall apart while watching them breathe in their sleep, your love is the utterance. In truth, the inexplicable utterance can appear at any time in any form.

It brings us closer to life. It makes us remember that there’s nowhere to go.

And when the same red bird seems to be following you, though that seems impossible because you’re seeing it in different cities, the unexpected utterance is telling you to stop running.

And when the sax player in the second set exhales a soft minor chord that makes it hard to put your mask back on, the unexpected utterance is telling you to stop pretending. And when you hold your father’s hand as he’s dying and feel his father there, the utterance is showing you what outlives us all When fully present and working with what we’re given, we’re compelled by the current of the Mysteries, which informs the heart of our being, the way wind ripples through a lake. When touched deeply enough, we’re compelled to make a difference where we live, which is at the heart of our doing. Then, we stop in the rain—without thinking—to remove a fallen tree that is blocking the road.

And when the stories weave and knit us together, it is the unexpected utterance that is the thread. So never dismiss the fleeting moments of connection no matter how they defy ordinary logic. The moment that touches everything is the elixir of the gods, who having to leave this world put all their godliness in that recurring moment.

This excerpt is from Mark’s new book, Drinking from the River of Light: The Life of Expression (Sounds True, 2019).

Questions to Walk With

•  Describe a recent moment when, through the depth of your own feelings, you experienced the feelings of others. Describe how you think this deepening of feeling works.

•  In conversation with a friend or loved one, describe a time when you unexpectedly spoke from a deeper place. How did this come about and what came through you?