The Soft Animal...a Homage to Mary Oliver

In January of this year, Mary Oliver, the much loved American poet, passed away. I stumbled across the news of her death on the internet a few weeks back. It stopped me dead in my tracks and and I noticed first the shock… and then sadness wash over me like a wave as I sat there staring at my computer in slight disbelief. It felt hard to imagine a world without Mary Oliver in it.

No one opened me up to life and death in quite the same way as Mary Oliver and although I never met her, I have felt the comfort and companionship of her poems so deeply and constantly through my years, her words calling me back towards the wonder, mystery and sacredness of life, again and again.

Mary Oliver’s poems convey such a deep aliveness and attention to the world, inner and outer. Her words are simple yet profound in their ability to gently reconnect us to the preciousness, beauty and wonder of our world, and at the same time wake us up to the fact our lives are not forever, and are to be cherished and loved.  

At some point in my early twenties I felt moved to write to her to say thank you and let her know how her poetry had impacted my life, I guess you could call it fan mail! I remember how it tickled me to imagine that exact card would be opened by Mary Oliver’s very own hands and read by her very own eyes. That somehow these words of gratitude that had come from deep in my heart might somehow touch hers. 

So thank you Mary Oliver for bringing us back to a sense of the preciousness of life and of our belonging in this world… for touching our hearts and minds with your poems.

It still surprises me having enjoyed so many of her poems that I can still stumble across one that I’ve never read before and that touch me so deeply. Here’s one of them….

WHITE FLOWERS

Last night

in the fields

I lay down in the darkness

to think about death,

but instead I fell asleep,

as if in a vast and sloping room

filled with those white flowers

that open all summer,

sticky and untidy,

in the warm fields.

When I woke

the morning light was just slipping

in front of the stars,

and I was covered

with blossoms.

I don’t know

how it happened—

I don’t know

if my body went diving down

under the sugary vines

in some sleep-sharpened affinity

with the depths, or whether

that green energy

rose like a wave

and curled over me, claiming me

in its husky arms.

I pushed them away, but I didn’t rise.

Never in my life had I felt so plush,

or so slippery,

or so resplendently empty.

Never in my life

had I felt myself so near

that porous line

where my own body was done with

and the roots and the stems and the flowers

began.

True meditation - it's not what you think.....

True meditation - it's not what you think.....

“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think what we’re seeking an experience of being alive….’” Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth. 

It was nearly 20 years ago that I became interested in meditation, something about it called to me, and I decided to give it a go. With enthusiasm I set about practicing every morning. At that time I lived in a small bedsit in Brighton in which I made a little simple shrine that I would sit cross-legged in front of, eyes closed (well, actually one eye was kind of open watching the clock, really hoping that it would over soon!). To sit still and watch my breath for even a short length of time felt like torture! My mind was all over the place, jumping from this thought to that thought like a drunken monkey, and my body was filled with restlessness and agitation.