Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
you don’t want to take.
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
way to begin
~ From ‘Start Close In’, by David Whyte
The idea of ‘close in’ has been with me for some time. I first encountered this poem — and all of the poetry of David Whyte about a decade ago. Since then, I’ve long though of it as being about a doing. After all, how else might we interpret the idea of “don’t take the second step” or “start with the ground”? This is active language. Surely he’s talking about the things in the world we are here to make happen.
More and more, however, I see the idea of ‘close in’ as being about something else. Something closer to being. From where are we living our lives? From where are we observing the world and one another? Ourselves? As I’ve explored this, I’ve noticed that when I move my awareness ‘close in’, I experience the world from a felt place, a place that touches the energies moving around us. Interestingly enough, ‘close in’ seems to allow for a connecting to the world in a much broader way.
Lately, as I go to sleep, I bring my attention very ‘close in’. I let the breath guide the way, as I feel the energy moving around my torso, down into my legs and feet. The connection to my hands and arms, neck and head is palpable. Lying there, allowing my mind to begin to shift from waking to sleeping, I notice that I feel much more connected to my life. When I wake up, I’m able to stay in touch with the body. Moving to my cold shower1, I work to deepen that connection. The closer I am to the felt sense, the closer I feel to life itself.
From this place, the things to say, the ways to connect, the movement of things feels more obvious. When I get stuck, when I trip up, it’s no surprise to learn that my attention has moved further away. I’ve moved into my head, unaware of the subtle hints being given to me by the energies in the body.
For sure it feels ironic — by moving closer in to myself, how can I possible be more in tune with everything outside? This connects to something that I’ve felt for a while, but have had a hard time articulating: it seems that the key to connection to the world happens through a deep journey inward. There’s a portal of sorts through the heart. This closeness within isn’t as personal as we might tend to think of it (goodness only knows that our culture has convinced us that our personal selves are a primary unit in the world).
We are embodied creatures, us humans. We live in bodies with highly sophisticated nervous systems that develop in attunement with those around us. We are social creatures as well. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that these two things are deeply intertwined. Our nervous systems must develop in partnership with those around us. It’s how it works. I’m no expert in this, but I’ve been learning quite a bit about it in recent months. A wonderful primer on this is Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score, a mind opening (and mind-bending) tome on how trauma impacts our lives largely through the ways it impacts our physiology.
Being ‘close in’ is really about being in our bodies fully, connecting to the incredible intelligence of our nervous systems, and our capacities to feel into one another. It seems that the closer we are in our selves, the closer we can be to one another. That seems like something we could all use right now.
I suppose I should write about the cold shower one of these days. Holy moly.↩