David Whyte: Following the Signs

One of the best parts of my job at Sounds True is hosting a free weekly podcast series called Insights at the Edge. During each conversation, I attempt to listen with my whole being, not with my mind alone and not with a list of prepared questions ready to be served up in a particular order. Instead, I actually “take my skin off” (so to speak) so that I am in a receptive state and can hear what is being said through all of the pores in my body. I love the experience of listening that deeply and hearing what Sounds True authors are saying, both in their words, and in the spaces in between their words. I am also listening and attending to what could be called “a greater field of inquiry”—to the questions that other listeners might have. I love this part of my job because it is a time when I get to be in a state of full sensitivity and receptivity, which for me is highly enjoyable.

One of my favorite recent podcasts was with the poet David Whyte. David and I talked about something he calls “the conversational nature of reality.” You might want to take a listen or read the transcript so that you can hear and see for yourself how he presents this idea. What was intensely meaningful for me was how he described an approach to living that mirrors how I approach an interview. What if we lived our lives as if we were deeply engaged in an open-ended conversation? What if we asked our heart’s most central questions and then followed the thread of responses delivered by the world, even if it leads us into unknown places?

In the interview, David makes the point that there is always a feedback loop, a conversation if you will, going on between our innermost thoughts and desires, and the world. We have all kinds of ideas about how we want things to go, and then the world speaks to us. Some doors fly open and other doors slam shut. It is as though reality is a field of intelligence delivering all of the feedback we need in a variety of forms, including seemingly random comments from strangers, illnesses and broken bones, changes in the weather, and synchronicities of all kinds.

After recording this interview with David, I started reflecting on what it might mean to lead an organization by attuning to “the conversational nature of reality.” I am certainly asking questions all the time about Sounds True’s future and how best to “steer the ship.” What if I were to steer by faithfully and intensely listening and then following the signs as they appear? I love this idea because it feels so respectful of others and the wakefulness of the world itself. It also puts me in touch with what might be called an indigenous sense of being, a sense of being in touch with how reality is presenting itself in the physical world, rather than being overly identified with my own pre-conceived notions and plans.

The challenge for me as a leader is that I often feel I am supposed to have answers (not just good questions) and I feel a kind of inner pressure to lead according to some kind of formalized blueprint, rather than according to the signs that reality is presenting. One of the business writers who has influenced me the most is Sounds True author and organizational consultant Peter Block (author of the audio program The Right Use of Power). According to Peter Block, the role of the boss is to “convene.” What does the boss convene? Conversations. I love this notion. Convene conversations? That is certainly something I can do! When it comes to organizational life, we often discover what is needed next through dialogue, through conversations we have with everyone who touches the business and whom the business touches—which is why I so value all of the comments I receive from people who read this blog and comment on the podcast series. These conversations reveal our next step, maybe not the step after the next step, but certainly the next step we need to take (which may sometimes be to wait, or gather more information).

Sometimes during a podcast, I will refer to the title of the series and ask authors, “what is your current edge?” In that question, I am attempting to probe a bit and find out where people feel a sense of excitement and uncertainty in their lives. Where does their knowing turn into unknowing? People often talk about the many things they have discovered in the past, but what is most interesting to me is the inner conversation we are each having with ourselves. The cool thing about a “conversation” is that we might have an idea of what we want to say, but we never know what the other party is going to say. So when we open up to what David Whyte calls “the conversational nature of reality”, we open to surprise, to the open-endedness of our situation, to reality delivering us something we can’t manufacture but is instead gifted to us. How do we navigate such a conversation that is out of our control? I like the idea of enjoying the pauses, and following the signs.

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9 Responses to “David Whyte: Following the Signs”

  1. Joseph Rowe Says:

    Tami, thank you for these superb interviews. We who live in France, or in Europe in general, mostly hear only stereotyped media reports of what is really happening in America, and we don’t often hear from the deepest soul of American, which you and your colleagues represent.
    I especially want to thank you for introducing me to the magnificent work of David Whyte, and also to your teacher, Reggie Ray.
    This is medecine for the soul, in times when we really need it…

    Joseph Rowe

  2. Brad Warren Says:

    I just wanted to say thank you for all of the amazing interviews. I just recently started listening to your podcast series and have absolutely loved every interview I have listened to. It is interesting to hear you describe how deeply you engage in “listening with your whole being.” One of the first things I noted to my wife after listening to several interviews was how obvious that was after listening to your questions. So many times I find myself smiling as your questions show how clearly you were just listening to what was previously said.

    I haven’t listened to the David Whyte interview yet, but I intend to on my commute home today from work! Thank you again for the wonderful work you do!

  3. Anonymous Says:

    I agree, we are reflection of the big picture
    I like the idea of a feedback loop, a conversation if you will, going on between our innermost thoughts and desires, and the world. We have all kinds of ideas about how we want things to go, and then the world speaks to us. Some doors fly open and other doors slam shut. It is as though reality is a field of intelligence delivering all of the feedback we need in a variety of forms, including seemingly random comments from strangers, illnesses and broken bones, changes in the weather, and synchronicities of all kinds.

    Now to imput the data without filters – which is what meditation can do.
    I like you and what you offer as a business… enlightenment … keep up the good work.
    Angele of Issues Magazine, a canadian cheer leader of yours.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Thank you for your honesty.

  5. Conversations Says:


    What follows are some glimmerings that came as a response to one of interviews.

    1. Shares in a company would only be available to non-management employees and

    2. The board would be wholly employee selected.

    3. An automatic purchase of shares in the company would make up a percentage of the employee’s compensation for retirement and at least a portion would be cashed out at retirement.

    4. The founder or founders of a company would sell shares to employees for a percentage of ownership. Dividends would be optional.

    5. Financing would come from employee stock purchases, bond issuance and private/public loans (especially from other such businesses.)

    6. A portion of a patent royalty would be paid to the party responsible vice solely to the corporation.

    7. Firms would not be able to patent public research.

    8. Firms not adhering to this structure would absorb a tax penalty designed to put them at a competitive disadvantage. Business done complying firms would incur a tax benefit.

    On the wider field of representation or conversation…

    Lobbying: The result of socially useless advertising platforms resulting in media capture and politician capture and the effective loss of citizenship through the loss of voice and representation. No share of the power through citizenship then no share of the wealth either. Our time and attention cannot be sold without our permission, to do so is theft. Contrary to the example set by Google it turns out that search does not require a lot of energy or compute resources and search makes demand based advertising (the heart of the sponsorship problem) obsolete. Its kind of like the broken window theory, the constant theft of time and attention and the acceptance of puffing (fraud) make it normal to treat people like sheep and erode privacy (basis of all rights.)

    A simple subscription ‘should’ provide private, ad free, unlimited anytime anywhere access to all: applications, services, content (print/video/audio/game,) ISP wireless or otherwise… Such subscription services should be massively redundant and sometimes offered as a public service.

  6. Tami Schwartz Says:

    Referring to “the conversational nature of reality”, lately I’ve made an effort to really pay attention to these “conversations” to identify their reality. One thing i’ve noticed is that, if i listen with my heart or my body, they stop me in my tracks. Not in a dramatic way, but in a subtle knowing. i “feel” them. If i’m hearing it from another, i notice that I’ll stop and make eye contact for a brief, sometimes longer, time. And strangely, at that moment, it is as if they know it too. Funny. Beautiful concept and exploration. Thank you for these “life changing” podcast, Sounds True.

  7. Alana Says:

    Dearest Tami,

    I have listened to your conversation with David Whyte more than a handful of times! Not only has his work been deeply profound and insightful. I am truly grateful for Sounds True and ‘Insights at the Edge’. This weekly podcast serves as a beautiful, humble and gratifying reminder of the connection each of us has to the deepest, most essential aspects of our nature. I am so thankful to be connected to the tremendous work of each of your guests and your sincere, honest and most engaging conversations.


  8. Daniel McComas Says:

    Oh, now look at you brothers. In the blog just above you were doubting yourself. Whether you had “what it takes” to lead others, And here, you come to one of the most frightening, awakenings there is to come to. And one that requires mountains and oceans of courage to accept. And trust me, after going to war with the Marine Corps infantry, I believe I know what fear is.Yet you did it, just like that. And this is the knowledge, that not one of us here, KNOWS the truth. Well, perhaps, I believe, just slightly differently, but our beliefs, don’t make reality.
    Yes ma’am Ms. Tami, you are most certainly, God’s Angel!

  9. Tiffany Says:

    Tami, I recently came across “Sounds True” when searching for interesting podcasts on iTunes to listen to when driving to and from work on my iPod. I was so excited to come across your channel. You give the best interviews I’ve come across so far, and you have talked with some of the most interesting people. I’m going to listen to the David Whyte interview next. My undergraduate degree is a B.A. in Journalism and I can honestly say you do such an excellent job of listening to the people you are interviewing and then asking the right questions to be able to truly maximize the time you spend together and extract the most valuable content for your listeners. You have a very soothing and balanced approach. I’m almost done with my M.B.A. – your web site is wonderful and overall I am just really impressed with the content and am excited to have stumbled across it!

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