I set myself to learn by your going


“I set myself to learn by your going,” are the words of David Whyte in a poem dedicated to the memory of John O’Donohue, “The Wave.”  These words invigorate me, in that they describe my travels in Ireland last month, in some of John O’Donohue’s favourite places.

A few years ago, as I worked writing a myriad of things of interest to me, I struggled to make sense of what I was assembling until I read  read John O’Donohue’s blessing, “For the Time of Necessary Decision.” I saw at last the shape my writing was wanting to take. I could see the arc for Nest City. The relief I felt at being able to see my own writing left me with a great affinity for O’Donohue and his work. Even though we have never met I wonder at how his work has supported mine, and how the work that preceded his, supports mine as well.

5800 years ago a neolithic (New Stone Age) civilization lived on The Burren, on Ireland’s west coast. This early subsistence farming civilization has left its mark in the Poulnabrone Dolmen, a portal tomb. As the interpretive panels state on the site, “they are enduring reminders of sacred spaces.” I can feel the pull of people before me, in a land I have never lived in, yet a land that is a part of me in my relationship with humanity and our common journey.

Even when we can’t begin to imagine it, our work shapes our world. The work of farmers to house their dead still stands 5800 years later, when their impermanent homes are long gone. They left their awe in the world with O’Donohue, who in turn has left his awe in the world with us, the likes of David Whyte and I and innumerable others.

It seems in place and with others, we set ourselves to learning, and we do this with our great learning partners who travel with us, before us, and ever mindful of those who will travel after us. Many of these travellers we will never meet, even those in our lifetime, but that does not mean we do not travel and learn together. We most certainly do.

I set myself to learn by John O’Donohue’s going, and David Whyte too. Thanks to them both for sharing their love and their work. It shapes our world, how we see it, and most personally, it also shapes me.


Whose “going” do you follow in your learning?


For the Time of Necessary Decision

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Further Reading

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This post is part of Chapter 8 – The City Making Exchange. Here are some plot helpers of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities, the book I am sharing here while I search for a publisher:

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