On stillness and the sources of life


Yesterday, along the Barrow River, I saw a heron standing on a weir, solitary and still, and then rise up and fly away in a slow and dignified movement. This last week of October was a special time for the ancient Celts, and so I was glad to have this encounter, because herons were special creatures for them, dwelling between the different realms of land, water and sky. Maybe because of their solitary and independent nature,  herons were also seen as messengers from the gods.

Certainly, moments when we come across beauty in nature often feel like blessed moments, which lift the heart,  especially as we stand in the stillness looking after them.  And when Mary Oliver saw a heron rising up,  she reflected on life rising up from the depths of pools in which we stand. It is only from developing a capacity to be still,  from having our own wells, that we can really relate with wisdom to all that happens in our lives. We have to descend before we can arise.

So heavy is the long-necked, long-bodied heron,
always it is a surprise
when her smoke-colored wings

open and she turns
from the thick water, from the black sticks
of the summer pond, and slowly rises into the air
and is gone.

Then, not for the first or the last time,
I take the deep breath
of happiness, and I think
how unlikely it is

that death is a hole in the ground,
how improbable that ascension is not possible,
though everything seems so inert, so nailed

back into itself –
the muskrat and his lumpy lodge,
the turtle, the fallen gate.

And especially it is wonderful
that the summers are long
and the ponds so dark and so many,
and therefore it isn’t a miracle

but the common thing, this decision,
this trailing of the long legs in the water,
this opening up of the heavy body

into a new life: see how the sudden
gray-blue sheets of her wings
strive toward the wind; see how the clasp of nothing
takes her in.

Mary Oliver, Heron Rises from the Dark Summer Pond

Stilling the voices

File:Ryotan Temple Gate.JPG

Today I’m flying low and I’m

not saying a word.

I’m letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep.


The world goes on as it must,

the bees in the garden rumbling a little,

the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten.

And so forth.


But I’m taking the day off.

Quiet as a feather.

I hardly move though really I’m traveling

a terrific distance.


Stillness. One of the doors

into the temple.


Mary Oliver, Today

photo yanajin33

Birdsong on the first day of Spring

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I don’t know where prayers go, or what they do.
Do cats pray, while they sleep
     half-asleep in the sun?
The sunflowers? The old black oak
     growing older every year?
I know I can walk through the world,
     along the shore or under the trees,
with my mind filled with things
     of little importance, in full
self-attendance.  A condition I can’t really
     call being alive
Is a prayer a gift, or a petition, or does it matter?
The sunflowers blaze, maybe that’s their way.
Maybe the cats are sound asleep. Maybe not.

While I was thinking this I happened to be standing
just outside my door, with my notebook open,
which is the way I begin every morning.
Then a wren in the privet began to sing.
He was positively drenched in enthusiasm,
I don’t know why. And yet, why not.
I wouldn’t persuade you from whatever you believe
or whatever you don’t. That’s your business.
But I thought, of the wren’s singing, what could this be
     if it isn’t a prayer?

Mary Oliver, I Happened to Be Standing

photo sylvain haye