That’s the big question, the one the world throws at you every morning:
‘Here you are, alive. Would you like to make a comment?’
Mary Oliver, Foreword, Long Life: Essays and other Writing
How grass can be nourishing in the
mouths of the lambs.
How rivers and stones are forever
in allegiance with gravity
while we ourselves dream of rising.
How two hands touch and the bonds
will never be broken.
How people come, from delight or the
scars of damage,
to the comfort of a poem.
Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.
Let me keep company always with those who say
“Look!” and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.
Mary Oliver, Evidence.
The painful thing is that when we buy into disapproval, we are practicing disapproval. When we buy into harshness, we are practicing harshness. The more we do it, the stronger these qualities become. How sad it is that we become so expert at causing harm to ourselves and others. The trick then is to practice gentleness and letting go. We can learn to meet whatever arises with curiosity and not make it such a big deal.
And slowly, very slowly, it became clear to me what they were saying.
Said the river I am part of holiness.
And I too, said the stone. And I too, whispered the moss beneath the water.
I’d been to the river before, a few times.
Don’t blame the river that nothing happened quickly.
You don’t hear such voices in an hour or a day.
You don’t hear them at all if selfhood has stuffed your ears.
And it’s difficult to hear anything anyway, through
all the traffic, the ambition.
Mary Oliver, At the River Clarion
“Make of yourself a light,” said the Buddha, before he died.
I think of this every morning as the east begins to tear off its many clouds
of darkness, to send up the first signal – a white fan streaked with pink and violet, even green.
An old man, he lay down between two sala trees,
and he might have said anything, knowing it was his final hour.
The light burns upward, it thickens and settles over the fields.
Around him, the villagers gathered and stretched forward to listen.
Even before the sun itself hangs, disattached, in the blue air,
I am touched everywhere by its ocean of yellow waves.
No doubt he thought of everything that had happened in his difficult life.
And then I feel the sun itself as it blazes over the hills,
like a million flowers on fire –
clearly I’m not needed,
yet I feel myself turning into something of inexplicable value.
Slowly, beneath the branches, he raised his head.
He looked into the faces of that frightened crowd.
Mary Oliver, The Buddha’s Last Instruction
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
Mary Oliver, In Blackwater Woods
We often think that the way forward lies in us putting a lot of work into our life, hoping to improve and fix what we do not like. And we can bring that attitude to meditation also, seeing it as something I am doing, and something I have got to do. However, just as one of the big problems in meditation is that we can take ourselves too seriously, we also need to realize that a big step towards contentment lies in letting some things go or not holding on too tightly to the succession of energies that appear in the mind, both positive “improving” ones as well as the ones that are arise from difficult events or people. Now to say this sounds quite simple. But the tendency of the mind is to hold onto most things and make them into problems. We don’t have the faith or the trust or the willingness to just totally let go in the moment, to allow things pass through lightly, rather than amplifying them and making them into a story about our value or our life. Where meditation helps is in coming to see that the mind is continually generating stories and fears, and that holding one to every one can become quite tiring. Letting go our our inflated sense of the importance of our dramas can be liberating. The image in this poem may help - as a way of dealing with thoughts in meditation, as a way of dealing with our preoccupation with “me” and “I”, as a way of dealing with our tendency to improve and fix and fret.
For years and years I struggled
just to love my life. And then
rose, weightless, in the wind.
“don’t love your life
too much,” it said,
and vanished into the world.
Mary Oliver, One or Two Things