The poet, teacher and author of Seven Thousand Ways to Listen explains what we need to question when things go wrong.
In life, obstacles are teachers. This is hard to accept, especially when we're in the midst of troubles. There is no escaping difficulty, though, because difficulty is always a part of our experiences. It's how we hold the difficulty that lets us move through it. The deeper way to uncover any experience is not trying to analyze it, not trying to sort it or to decode it, but to take very small steps to let it in, to let it work us and to see what's there right before us. Because often, that's where the simplest teachers present themselves.
So when you're stuck, be with the stuckness until it starts to dissipate. It's the cloud in the way. The question is, What's on the other side of the cloud? There is no shortage of doorways through which the majesty of life presents itself. Given this, we're constantly asked to be with what's before us till it reveals itself and to enter the conversation that difficulty opens. When things go wrong, we need to see through our confusion and pain and ask, "What is this obstacle trying to teach me?" When things don't go as planned, we need to put down the plan and enter the terrain of things as they are. Once there, we can begin to help each other take the next step.
All this brings us to the art of taking small steps, the practice of which comes from another part of the world. When in Brazil, my friend David encountered the phrase E daí (ay-die-ee), which is Portuguese for "And then?" Regardless of the story told or hardship conveyed, the custom is for the listener to ask after a while, "E daí?" with a tone that implies, "And so? What now?" Literally, e is "and" and daí means "from there, from a place near you," as in, "What is just beyond where you are?" or "And so, what is your next step?"
The phrase E daí invokes three successive meanings, often asked as three different questions by the one who will hear you out. First: "I hear what life has given you. E daí? And so, what does this matter? What does this mean?" Second: "I see where you are. E daí? And so, from there, what is in front of you? What is just beyond where you are?" And third: "E daí? And so, what now? What is your next step?"
Next: The conversation that will change everythingThe poet, teacher and author of Seven Thousand Ways to Listen explains what we need to question when things go wrong.
In a deeply practical way, this custom invites us to locate ourselves in any given situation from the inside out and from the largest frame of reference possible to the immediate circumstance. Before we overreact or react prematurely to whatever situation we find ourselves in, it helps to ask, "E daí? What does this mean in the journey of one life in its time on earth within the larger journey of all life across all time?" Such consideration will affect whether we respond at all or in what way. After locating the event in the largest frame, it helps to look at the particular situation and determine, "E daí? What is in front of us? Will the ground before us bear our weight? Should we back up? Should we sidestep the situation? Or should we stand firmly where we are?" Both the larger and more particular context help us to ask and know, "E daí? What is our next step?"
To make this useful, I invite you to sit with a friend or loved one. Once you are both still, take a turn describing an obstacle, a wall, a divide or unknown edge that is before you. Say to each other, "I hear what life has given you. E daí? And so, what does this matter? What does this mean in the context of your entire life?" Hear each other out and enter this a second time, saying, "I see where you are. E daí? And so, from there, what is in front of you? What is just beyond where you are? Where is solid ground?" Hear each other out one final time and ask, "E daí? And so, what now? What is your next step?"
Helping each other stay in conversation with the life of obstacles is a spiritually practical act of love that requires courage and compassion. It is a profound gesture that can change everyone involved. To listen to what gets in the way with your heart will change everything, regardless of what you've been told.