WORDS: Genius by David Whyte

The Solace, Nourishment, and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words

Genius by David Whyte

From Consolations


is something we already possess.  Genius is best understood in its original and ancient sense: describing the specific underlying quality of a given place as in the Latin Genius Loci, the spirit of a place, it describes a form of meeting, of air and land and trees, perhaps a hillside, a cliff edge, a flowing stream, or a bridge across a river.  It is the conversation of elements that makes a place incarnate, fully itself.  It is the breeze on our skin, the particular freshness and odors of the water or of the mountain or the sky in a given, actual geographical realm.  You could go to many other places in the world with a cliff edge, a stream, a bridge, but it would not have the particular spirit or characteristic, the ambiance nor the climate of this particular meeting place.  By virtues of its latitudes and longitudes, its prevailing winds, the aroma and color of its vegetation and the way a certain angle of the sun catches it in the cool early morning, it is a unique confluence, existing nowhere else on Earth.  Human genius lies in the geography of the body and its conversation with the world.

The human body constitutes a live geography, as does the spirit and the identity that abides within it.  To live one’s genius is to dwell easily at the crossing point where all the elements of our life and our inheritance join and make a meeting.  We might think of our selves as each like a created geography, a confluence of inherited flows.  Each one of us has a unique signature, inherited from our ancestors, our landscape, our language, and beneath it a half-hidden geology of existence: memories, hurts, triumphs, and stories in our lineage that have not yet been fully told.  Each one of us is also a changing seasonal weather front, and what blows through us is made up not only of the gifts and heartbreaks of our own growing but also of our ancestors and the stories consciously and unconsciously passed to us about their lives.

To live out our genius is to live out the conversation between our particular inherited body and the body of the world from which we seem to have been made.  Genius is not a fixed platform where we can arrive solely through accomplishment, it is the meeting place of our particular physical body meeting all other bodies, corporeal and elemental: a body breathed over by wind, shaken by interior tremors and washed away and rearranged by periodic floods; it has its own hard-won language and its attempts to order the un-orderable but it also must follow the seasons, its own forms of happiness and its particular and necessary griefs; it intuits a particular future for itself but is made in conversation with all other futures.

Genius is both a specific gift and a possibility that has not yet occurred; it is not a fixed internal commodity to be exploited and brought to the surface but a conversation to be followed, deepened, understood, and celebrated.  Genius is the meeting between inheritance and horizon, between what has been told, what can be told, and what is yet to be told, between our practical abilities and our relationship to the gravitational mystery that pulls us on.  Our genius is to understand and stand beneath the set of stars present at our birth, and from that place, to seek the hidden, single star, over the night horizon, we did not know we were following.

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