“Mostly I give attention to what I’m doing—cutting, chopping, stacking. I have a good time.” —Mary Oliver
Some poets are natural mindfulness teachers, their poems wonderful texts on meditation. Why? Because poets pay as much attention to the present moment as Buddhist practitioners, while capturing their contemplative practice in language that resonates within the soul.
“Thought buds toward radiance.” – Mary Oliver
In her prose poem “What I Have Learned So Far” (New and Selected Poems, Volume Two, 2005), Mary Oliver appears to be chastising herself for overdoing her particular form of contemplative practice. “Meditation is old and honorable,” she writes, “so why should I not sit, every morning of my life, on the hillside, looking into the shining world? Because, properly attended to, delight, as well as havoc, is suggestion.”
"What would it be like to listen to the poetry of your life, as to the poetry of Rumi or Mary Oliver or David Whyte?" - Jay E. Valusek
Every day, we awaken to write the next word, the next line or stanza in the epic poem of our life. Some days, the pen remains suspended in the air, leaving that little space—a lacuna—between the lines. Other days, we find a rhythm of our own, the words begin to rhyme, and time begins to flow from line to line without apparent effort. We listen to the sounds of the world, the seasons of the soul. The poem goes on, never quite finished.
“Wherever I am, the world comes after me. . . It does not believe that I do not want it.” —Mary Oliver
Not long ago, during a meeting of the local insight meditation community’s service committee, which I had just joined, the volunteer coordinator passed around a clipboard and asked us to write down our cell phone numbers. When the sheet arrived in my hands, I stared at it for a moment. “Uh, what if we don’t have a cell phone?” I said.
“Someone I loved once gave me / a box full of darkness. / It took me years to understand / that this, too, was a gift.” —Mary Oliver
Is this not what everyone we love gives us—a box full of darkness—the moment we cross over the risky threshold of love? Once we perceive that he or she has captured our lonely, longing and longsuffering heart?
“For some things there are no wrong seasons.” – Mary Oliver
Long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away . . . I was a petroleum geologist, of all things. It’s true. I have a master’s degree in earth science, and spent a few years searching for oil in the Gulf of Mexico, before switching careers and becoming a writer. A much better fit. But something kept gnawing at my gut. As it had for many years.
“And I began to understand what the bird was saying.” – Mary Oliver
You might argue that Mary Oliver has an overly romantic view of nature. Birds sing, for example, because they are happy. Because the sky is wide and blue, because the fields and foliage are green and growing, because the world is wonderful! Not, of course, to warn off territorial invaders or sexual competitors. Birdsong is so enchanting. It must be some type of praise, right? And so it goes. In so many poems.
“The soul is like a wild animal—tough, resilient, savvy, self-sufficient, and yet exceedingly shy.” – Parker J. Palmer
As soon as we approached the cash register at our favorite coffee shop, we knew something was wrong. Chey is a sweet, almost indefatigably outgoing young woman whose smile is, as far as I can tell, just part of her body. But her face was pinched that afternoon. We asked if she was okay.
“I want to believe I am looking into the white fire of a great mystery.” – Mary Oliver
Sitting in the meditation room at home, a warm blanket over my legs, heart still glowing in the aftermath of a brief, but luminous, sit with Barbara at the end of a long, hard day. A candle burns before me. My left trapezius muscle burns within me, a fire of old, recurring pain. I’m thinking about community. How rare and precious it is. How temporary and ordinary. How luminous.
“People are hungry, and one good word is bread for a thousand.” – David Whyte
Never underestimate the power of one good word, captured at just the right moment by the ear of the heart. Back in September 1994, for example, as my first marriage began unraveling, my soul plucked a single paragraph out of a 360-page book on contemplative psychology—a paragraph that changed my life, and set me on Lao Tzu’s “journey of a thousand miles.”
About the Blog
These are the personal reflections of Jay Valusek on the process of Lectio Poetica, on nature, on poetry in general, and on some of words or phrases from poems we have used in our local gatherings.