Go Beyond Yourself

I was listening to an On Being podcast in which poet David Whyte was recalling a story of a dinner with his writer friend John O’Donohue. He mentioned he was thinking of giving his father money and said the amount, and John said, “Oh David, go beyond yourself. Give twice that much.” David Whyte’s larger point was that we should always be more generous than we are first inclined to be, and he didn’t just mean with money or time. He meant with our gifts, our art, our love, and the wisdom of our souls.

What would happen if we all went beyond ourselves every day? If instead of saying no because we were tired, we said yes? If instead of holding back out of fear, we leapt with real faith? If instead of holding our tongues to avoid conflict, we spoke our truths? What would happen if we tried something new with our art? If we agreed to something else just because it felt right, and not because it might lead to bigger things? What would happen if we set our work aside for a day and gave ourselves time to breathe?

When I was young, the concept of going beyond myself seemed thrilling, if a little frightening. I had a lifetime to uncover my purpose and a dizzying number of paths to take to find it. Now, in mid-life, it’s sometimes easier to opt for comfort, quiet, stability. I’m too old to keep starting over, I sometimes think. I should just coast until retirement. At the same time, I worry I no longer have fifty years before me to figure out my purpose. And part of me hopes that somehow, without my knowing, I’ve already fulfilled it. That’s a peaceful thought, isn’t it?

I had a nice rest this past summer and now I’m feeling restless. It’s time to go beyond myself again. But that doesn’t mean just picking up more work or filling my day with tasks I can cross off a list. I think I truly understand now that the path that leads beyond is not an external path (I tried that route) it’s an internal one. Fall is a perfect time for meditation, reflection, contemplation, and exploration. It’s a time of letting go and falling freely.

Go beyond yourself. See how generous you can be.

If you like this post, please share