Playing with the Profane and Divine

Tomales Bay Sunrise

Are we animal or are we spirit? Reading David Whyte’s poem on maturity, I am reminded to be in the past, present, and future simultaneously. Can we also hold both the profane and divine simultaneously?


is the ability to live fully and equally in multiple contexts; most especially, the ability to courageously inhabit the past the present and the future all at once; the wisdom that comes from maturity is recognized through a disciplined refusal to choose between or isolate three powerful dynamics shaping human identity: what has already happened, what is happening now and what is about to occur.

Immaturity is shown by making false choices: living only in the past, or only in the present, or only in the future, or even, living only two out of the three.

Maturity is not a static arrived platform, where life is viewed from a calm, untouched oasis of wisdom, but a living elemental frontier between what has happened, what is happening now and the consequences of that past and present; first imagined and then lived into the waiting future.

Maturity calls us to risk ourselves as much as immaturity, but for a bigger picture, a larger horizon; for a powerfully generous outward incarnation of our inward qualities and not for gains that make us smaller, even in the winning.

Immaturity always beckons, offering a false haven, an ersatz safety, in one state or the other: a hiding place and disappearance in the past, a false isolation of the present, or an unobtainable sure prediction of the future. But maturity beckons also, asking us to be larger, more fluid, more elemental, less cornered, less unilateral, a living conversational intuition between the inherited story, the one we are privileged to inhabit and the one, if we are large enough and broad enough, moveable enough and even, here enough, just, astonishingly, about to occur.

Excerpt from MATURITY taken from the upcoming reader’s circle essay series. ©2013 David Whyte

I find myself, at times, tumbling in the waves of how profane our human world is. What animals we are. How full of despair and destruction. How is it that we still suffer so and make others suffer too? Then, I am at the beach watching the light of the fading sun kiss the sand in orange hues and think how blissfully sublime it is to be here, as a human, having this experience. I think my life is filled with awe: the rainbow after a storm over the Grand Canyon is just one such moment; I think we all have them. Life is not one or the other: disgust or beauty. It is both.

Rainbow over the grand canyon
Each are magnetic. When we slip into noticing all of the suffering and fill our lungs with anger and disgust at the depravity of human beings, we tumble downward into noticing the dozens, hundreds, thousands, millions of ways humans can be cruel, heartless, and unkind to each other and the world we inhabit.

And when we slip into that altered state of awe, we leave behind the profane and gracefully ascend into the divine. We forget the struggle and suffering as our hearts expand three sizes to hold our sense of wonder in our chest. What a miracle to be here in this moment, having this experience!

I am trying to ride between these two and all the spaces in between. So I play a little empath game to practice. I call it, “I am the universe experiencing itself as…” which is a long and clumsy title, so you might suggest something better. And it goes like this, you say, “I am the universe experiencing itself as….” and fill in that blank. Maybe it is a butterfly emerging from the cocoon? Maybe it is the the first flower coming up through the snow? Maybe it is the light coming through a prism and splitting into a rainbow. Maybe it is lovers at the peak of orgasm. You make it up. Then imagine how it feels to experience that. What is it to be that butterfly, flower, prism, or those lovers? Awaken your inner poet. It is there. I promise.

Then (alone or with a partner or group), suggest something that seems opposite or completely different, orthogonal. Maybe “I am the universe experiencing itself as a piece of gum on the sidewalk.” Then imagine being that gum, what it would be like to be stuck to the pavement and stepped on, unnoticed by others. Or to be a gun or a starving child.

Give yourself several full cycles of breath to experience both the awe and the profanity. Begin with finding the awe in the profane. Begin to discover the profane in awe. Dance. Build this muscle of being with both what is glorious and what is disgusting. Imagine death and birth and transformation. Imagine loss and sacrifice. Imagine blessing and abundance. Swirl it all through your heart and mind. If doing this with another, hold each other (metaphorically or physically) through the dance.

Hold all of this through practice, growing the strength to be with what is as it is. Slowly, we slip less into noticing one extreme or the other. Slowly, we begin to live in complex wholeness.

If you want to develop the muscle on this, let’s connect and play with it.