David Whyte ‘Consolations’: 5 Quotes About Life’s Journey

November 20, 2021 by

Frank Blake

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If you are a fan of simple writing that expresses profound thoughts, then I highly recommend you read Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words by David Whyte. 

The book is easy to read — and makes observations that are impossible to forget. 

Consolations consists of 52 short chapters. Each is dedicated to a specific word, including ones we often discuss on Crazy Good Turns: Giving, Gratitude, Help.  

You can finish any chapter in a matter of minutes. The result is a book you can pick up, read, and then — if life requires — walk away from for a day, week, or even months. When you return, you’ll find something new and insightful. 

3 Unforgettable Quotes from ‘Consolations’

Within each chapter, Whyte fits keen and complex ideas into short sentences. The writing captures thoughts at their core, but allows the reader room to think around the edges. Many of those sentences kept me thinking long after I’d put the book down. 

  • For example, Whyte dedicates a chapter to the word “close.” Within it, Whyte observes:

“Our human essence lies not in arrival, but in being almost there.”

  • On “friendship”:

“The ultimate touchstone of friendship is not improvement, neither of the other nor of the self: the ultimate touchstone is witness, the privilege of having been seen by someone and the equal privilege of being granted the sight of the essence of another, to have walked with them and to have believed in them, and sometimes just to have accompanied them for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone.”

  • That underlined word above — “witness” — is a recurring idea throughout Consolations. For instance, when Whyte discusses “gratitude,” he notes:

“Thankfulness finds its full measure in generosity of presence, both through participation and witness.”

The Most Surprising Word  in ‘Consolations’ 

You might wonder: What connects the 52 words discussed in Consolations? How do they tie together? 

I can’t speak on behalf of the author (although we are aiming to interview Whyte, an English poet who resides in the Pacific Northwest, on the podcast in early 2022). But when I examine a book like Consolations, I look for the chapter that doesn’t fit — that is the key. 

The word I never expected to see Whyte write a chapter on is: “Pilgrim.”  

To the extent I’d ever thought about the word “pilgrim” before, it had been in the context of Thanksgiving and people arriving on the Mayflower. Not very profound. 

Occasionally, the word evokes old John Wayne movies. Even less deep. 

But when I read Whyte’s chapter on the word, I realized how foundational the concept is to our existence. 

To be a pilgrim, Whyte writes, is “the diamond-hard centre” of our existence. 

The word “pilgrim” speaks broadly to the human condition. A pilgrimage is about journeying, witnessing, and drawing close to a (perhaps unknown) destination. It’s what we’re all on, whether we’re conscious of it or not. 

And during this journey, Whyte rightly observes:

“We want to belong and be useful as we travel.”

As we go about our pilgrimage, Whyte reminds us of our need to be useful to others, to bear witness to them, and to enjoy being “close” — but not quite there.

Read ‘Consolations’ With Me? 

As you can see from the quotes above, the thoughts in Consolations come from someone who has spent time rolling around in the meaning of words. Whyte recognizes how words reflect the reality of our lives, and reveals patterns within our thinking and being. 

That’s why I’d like to share Consolations with you. 

We sent copies of Consolations to 25 50 people who signed up for our giveaway. From here on out, we’ll be having an ongoing discussion about the book on Twitter. You can reach me @FrankBlake there. 

Even if you didn’t receive one of the free copies, I invite you to take part in the discussion. Post your thoughts with the hashtag #CGTreads. 

I am excited to hear what you discover. 

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