How did you make your work too small for you?
In a recent Clearness Committee process I facilitated – in which the committee members are invited to only ask widely open questions, without offering the slightest advice to the focus person in the centre - the focus person shared a challenge she was facing connected to a business project she helped develop. The more she talked, the clearer it was to me that she was not only highly skilled, but also highly innovative in what she offered. The project itself was also fresh, likeable, groundbreaking; with a growing number of customers. Nevertheless, she wasn’t quite comfortable with her potential contribution – that’s why she asked for a clearness session.
At some point during the circle process it dawned on me: it’s time for the ‘David Whyte question’: ‘How are you making this project too small for you?’
I did not mean it as a call to humility. Rather the opposite: seeing two ’large souls’ – that of the woman and that of the project, what is a container large enough to hold both? How can the wide, wild soul of the woman enlarge the soul of the project? How can she boldly use all her courage to ask the questions that are necessary; to speak from her deepest authenticity; to bring all her courageous ideas and questions into the development of the project/product?
She later said that this question was a doorway to a larger sphere of possibility, and eventually clarity about her next steps.
How am I making our collective thought space too small for the highest potential?
Teams, organisations and communities share, often unconsciously, a collective mental space of possibility: who are we as our best selves and our best ‘we’; what could our products/services also be; who do we serve, really; what possibilities does the future hold; what is our highest potential?
Be it in the role of a leader or a teammate, my personal sphere of possibility is impacting the collective one. How often do I put people in boxes – silently denying them the chance to change and grow? How does my mistrust influence the collective trust? How am I impacting the creation of the future with my limiting beliefs as to what is possible or what are we capable of? What past experiences, fears and pains affect my innovativeness?
In my role as a leader, I have an even greater impact on the shared consciousness within a team/organization. How am I making our creative field too small for wide, wild ideas and souls? How can I consciously enlarge that space, and invite others into it?
How did we make our marriage too small for us?
I first encountered the ‘David Whyte question’ in the months following the breakup of my marriage.
Trying to make sense of what had happened, the question was a real treasure; and I do wish I had asked it before: How did we make our marriage too small for us?
Whenever two people share a home, this home has to hold too very vast souls. It may quickly get too small for them, literally and symbolically. Literally, it may mean seeking a balance between spending time together and making room to go out, explore new horizons, take solo time to hear one’s soul speak. Symbolically, it means keeping an intentionally large mental/emotional/spiritual container that keeps expanding as the souls expand (which is a sign of a life lived well).
In future, I want to notice the tiny signs of tightness, discomfort, frustration. And stop. Stop to ask that ‘question of the questions’: How am I making this relationship too small for me? How can I bring my full, authentic soul to it – in a powerful, clear yet gentle way?
In my experience, nonviolent communication – with its focus on one’s inner experience (rather than on judging others) - is immensely helpful in, first, nurturing the self-connection, and, second, expressing what’s happening in one person in a way that can be received by the other in as direct way as possible.
And just as importantly: Am I making my inner container too small for my partner? How is their soul growing – and how I can be a space holder, witness and supporter of this growth? How is their growth expanding my growth? How can we together sense into the larger horizons that are calling us?
How can we keep the connection at the frontier where our souls meet?
I will invite myself to ask these questions regularly; at least once a year, in a ‘retreat of two souls’ – perhaps a day, a weekend, or a week dedicated exactly to these questions.
And maybe there are times when a relationship does get too small for a soul, and it’s time to quit. Yet I want to ask this David Whyte question first, and let it work on me/us.
Witnessing each other into our full potentials is one of the ways Grace works through us humans.
How is this person making their life too small for them?
As I am witnessing the life steps of one of my children (now a young adult), I am yet again faced with the unfolding of a larger and larger soul – and the work/culture container that at this point may be too small for them.
I notice subtle signs of tightness and sometimes sorrow in my offspring – although on the outside, everything seems quite in place: the job, the plans, the friends.
Yet I witness from the rim that wide, wild soul that wants to be let out, to find its true place in the world. Living in tiny Slovenia – a traditionally village of villages, with many pressures for ‘fitting in’ within a rather conservative worldview – this is not always an easy call.
And now the ‘David Whyte question 2.0’: what is my role as a mother/elder in this unfolding? When to step in – and when to trust? On a deeper level: am I, in my inner vision/seeing of my child, holding a container large enough for their grand soul to flourish? Am I in any way, in my mental sphere, holding any limiting beliefs about what this young person could do – or couldn’t? How do I consciously grow the trust in my offspring, and in the larger Life container that holds the generations to come?
David Whyte is a poet and a wisdom carrier.