SS: When one reads your work, there are tastes of Buddhism, psychotherapy, and encounters with the natural world. How have each of these shaped your journey and, particularly, what has been the role of psychotherapy or psychological thinking in your own navigation of midlife and in your writing?
DW: The natural world has all the essential outward living patterns that find a far inward symmetry inside human beings. The outer broad horizon of the veld in Africa for instance, has an equivalent inner correspndance inside the human imagination that enables a broad spacious and generous horizon to life. The contemplative disciplines of Buddhism are simply ways of learning to pay a profound attention to these outer patterns through disciplining the breath and the body at the same time. Eventually we learn not to choose between the inner and the outer world but live at a powerful frontier between these inner and outer correspondances.
I don’t think that there has been too much influence from psychological language in my work as it tend to be overly didactic, explanatory and is wont to abstract itself from the essential physical dynamics of incarnation. Psychotherapy of course in the right hands can be a powerful and extremely helpful form of help, but the academic language that stands behind it is not commensurate to the soul’s journey through an average life.
SS: You talk of cultivating a place you can visit daily where you are without identity, without partner, without children, without career. This inner sanctuary seems to be a place of inner generosity and abundance. It is clearly an imperativein your world. What ways might one achieve such an inner sanctuary ?
DW: We are not looking for a sanctuary in the sense of insulation, but a sanctuary of rested participation. A good silent walk, perhaps. Sitting silently at a desk by a window paying attention to the sun high in the trees or the rain beating down. Sitting with your daughter without preconception and seeing someone you’ve never met before in your life.
SS: You often speak of changing the way you relate to something, be it your partner, your job, or your children. It seems as though burnout and exhaustion occur when this way of relating is extinguishing one’s sense of passion. You suggest that passion might be the antidote to burnout. How would you suggest one keep this passion alive or reignite it?
DW: I suppose that passion is another way of describing a fierce form of attention. Each of us has our own particular way of paying attention to the world and being transformed by the way it seems to look back at us, or speak back to us. In our relationships with our children for instance we are almost always trying to relate to someone who is not there anymore, They’ve grown beyond the threshold where we want to keep them therefore we are not looking, hearing or seeing hard enough. Partly because it involves the grief of their growing away from us. You have to invite a child to continually speak in their own voice to see who is there. We also have to do this with ourselves, and when we write this dynamic down in words against which there are no defences we call this poetry.
But there are many attentive disciplines, many ways of keeping the internal foundational conversation alive, through a musical instrument, an art form, a work a relationship with a landscape, if we practice these arts constantly connecting them to a larger context, we stay alive, participants and interesting to others, including perhaps, even our own children!
SS: We have been discussing midlife in a western paradigm. Do you think it is a universal experience or is it more specific to certain cultures?
DW: It seems to be in most cultures. But the midlife dynamic is essentially the art and practice of remembering something you have forgotten in order to be large enough for the great irrefutable conversation with death.
SS: What do you see as the greatest challenges facing us in our Western, materially driven culture that puts such a premium on productivity?
DW: The part of the mind that creates products is not the part of the mind that can grant us any lasting sense of happiness. The narrow often unconscious definition of humanity as primarily a producer and creator of products is fundamentally misconceived. It is the basic flaw in Thomas Friedman’s Flat Future thesis. All good art forms remind us of the broader horizons of existence that make sense of any of its particular artifacts.
SS: You are easing suffering in your work because you have processed some of your own suffering. You have been to South Africa and you have some knowledge of our suffering and transformations. What are your thoughts on South Africa's journey as a nation?
DW: I am afraid I am completely biased on that point as I have fallen so utterly and completely in love with the landscape, the hospitality of the people and the astonishing flora and fauna of South Africa. I know the daily difficulty with violence and I know the forms of suffocation and isolation that occur because of that violence but I cannot help but look at all the barbed wire and high walls and security barriers and know that one day they will all come down and that South Africans will breathe again. The sobering underlying dynamic is that this prophetic future cannot occur in South Africa without it occurring in most of the rest of Africa too, the pressures are too great on any isolated pocket of success. But perhaps that is a difficult saving grace. South Africans have a very broad inspirational horizon to draw from and I do believe from what I have seen that they will find the inner necessities to meet this broad future.
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