Poem for a Sunday Morning

I Happened To Be Standing
{Mary Oliver}

I don’t know where prayers go,
or what they do.
Do cats pray, while they sleep
half-asleep in the sun?
Does the opossum pray as it
crosses the street?
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?
So I just listened, my pen in the air.


selective focus photo of house wren perched on white birdhouse

Photo by Tom Mann on Pexels.com

Hints of Gladness

That my daily writing sometimes elicits a positive comment or an appreciative mention makes me feel great. That once in a while, someone “likes” or shares my words is a kind reminder that a hand is holding the other tin can at the end of this string. I love knowing that you are there. I appreciate you for your kind attention.

And I do not do it for you. I do it for me.

My writing lets me know what I’m thinking and, more personally, what I need. I do not write to share expertise or “know how” though sometimes I find myself with one foot caught in that trap. I write because I trust that what is longing to be expressed are my own questions – a prelude to my own wisdom – seeking to come to my aid.

When I wrote yesterday about being a source instead of a resource, I was reminding myself to reassert my self-authorship, that only I get to decide how much of my creativity, energy and commitment to share. No one can do that for me. No one is waiting for me to shoot up an eager hand. No one is waiting to pick me.

In short order I came across yet another of Mary Oliver’s beautiful messages of reassurance and possibility. Here, she takes us into the forest to listen and then to notice how the trees encourage us to follow their example, to ease ourselves into being ourselves, our shining, light-filled selves.

I needed that today. Maybe you do, too.


When I Am Among the Trees
by Mary Oliver

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

Poem for a Sunday Morning

A Dream of Trees
{Mary Oliver}

There is a thing in me that dreamed of trees,
A quiet house, some green and modest acres
A little way from every troubling town,
A little way from factories, schools, laments.
I would have time, I thought, and time to spare,
With only streams and birds for company,
To build out of my life a few wild stanzas.
And then it came to me, that so was death,
A little way away from everywhere.

There is a thing in me that still dreams of trees.
But let it go. Homesick for moderation,
Half the world’s artists shrink or fall away.
If any find solution, let him tell it.
Meanwhile I bend my heart toward lamentation
Where, as the times implore our true involvement,
The blades of every crisis point the way.

I wish it were not so, but so it is.
Who ever made music of a mild day?


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Whole People / Whole Lives

The Uses of Sorrow | Mary Oliver

(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.


One of the gifts of a long relationship, in this case I am thinking of my 24 years of marriage but other, even longer friendships also come to mind, is that you learn how to stand with others in both the dark and the light.

As I think about this gift of learning to accept and be present to the fullness and wholeness of life – as opposed to just the summery, shimmery goodness of it – I think about my client organizations and all of the workplaces I have been privileged to be a part of through the years.

And I recognize that some places, some leaders, understand and embrace this wholeness much more truthfully and comfortably than others. That is to say, they acknowledge, accept and expect that whole people with whole lives walk through the front door every day. Those whole lives consist, of course, of pain and loss and fear and uncertainty just as much – and sometimes even more – than they consist of joy and openness and possibility and achievement.

This is obvious to us when we stop and think about it, obvious when the words are typed onto the page. But in the moment, in workplaces that are so often curated to be POSITIVE and CREATIVE and to achieve SUCCESS, it is too easy to forget. It is too easy to send the message – out of our own discomfort with other’s pain – that those less popular feelings of suffering and loss are to be left at home or in the parking lot. It is too easy to send the message that those feelings, the feelings of whole and full human lives, are not welcome under the bright lights of the workplace.

We might begin to counteract this by simply saying to ourselves, as we drive to work each day, or as we stride across the threshold: Whole people with whole lives are here today, including myself.


photo of person s hand holding a lensball

Photo by Nicole Avagliano on Pexels.com

Poem for a Sunday Morning

Maybe
by Mary Oliver

Sweet Jesus, talking
his melancholy madness,
stood up in the boat
and the sea lay down,

silky and sorry,
So everybody was saved
that night.
But you know how it is

when something
different crosses
the threshold — the uncles
mutter together,

the women walk away,
the young brother begins
to sharpen his knife.
Nobody knows what the soul is.

It comes and goes
like the wind over the water —
sometimes, for days,
you don’t think of it.

Maybe, after the sermon,
after the multitude was fed,
one or two of them felt
the soul slip forth

like a tremor of pure sunlight
before exhaustion,
that wants to swallow everything,
gripped their bones and left them

miserable and sleepy,
as they are now, forgetting
how the wind tore at the sails
before he rose and talked to it —

tender and luminous and demanding
as he always was —
a thousand times more frightening
than the killer sea.


beach clouds dark dark clouds

Photo by Josh Sorenson on Pexels.com

An Admonition

You must not ever stop being whimsical. And you must not, ever, give anyone else the responsibility for your life.

{Mary Oliver}


It is difficult, if not impossible to imagine feeling whimsical without also having a deep reservoir of personal responsibility.

Whimsy feels like freedom. A whimsical person is less interested in the judgments and criticisms of others and more concerned with seizing the present moment and making out of it what she can. That would, most often, mean to take what is and happily question, examine and play with the possibility of what it might become.

Personal responsibility is the best kind of maturity. It is to be the author of one’s own life. It does not require the validation of others, especially authority figures, though it gladly welcomes their support and acknowledgment of positive contributions made. Mostly it welcomes their willing efforts to knock down the roadblocks that prevent the exploration of new frontiers.

So many modern workplaces are starving from a lack of whimsy and responsibility, or in the language of business, “creativity” and “ownership.”

A whimsical person, a person who is responsible to him or herself through their commitment to self-authorship (see Do Your Work) does not choose to belong to an environment in which he or she will be led by those who do not demonstrate that same kind of commitment.

The whimsical, self-authoring employee sniffs out paternalism and the narcissistic impulses that feed its compulsion for hierarchy, rigidity and control. Like so many wild animals sensing and fleeing a coming storm, they are long gone before being lashed by what can be avoided.

The modern organization, then, has to reconcile itself to the truth that whimsy (creativity) and responsibility (ownership) will only exist if its leaders model and cultivate them in the most authentic manner possible. Leaders must be prepared for and promoted into positions of greater influence based on personal demonstrations of creative thought and the integrity of self-authorship.

The degree to which this is true of the leader is the degree to which it is possible for the team.


 

 

Poem for a Sunday Morning

My friend, Theresa, loves this poem. I haven’t seen her for a few days and that’s too long. Today, that changes. I will welcome “the splash of her touch.”


Flying

{Mary Oliver}

Sometimes,
on a plane,
you see a stranger.
He is so beautiful!
His nose
Going down in the
old Greek way,
or his smile
a wild Mexican fiesta.
You want to say:
do you know how beautiful you are?
You leap up
into the aisle,
you can’t let him go
until he has touched you
shyly, until you have rubbed him,
oh, lightly,
like a coin
you find on the earth somewhere
shining and unexpected and,
without thinking,
reach for. You stand there
shaken
by the strangeness,
the splash of his touch.
When he’s gone
you stare like an animal into
the blinding clouds
with the snapped chain of your life,
the life you know:
the deeply affectionate earth,
the familiar landscapes
slowly turning
thousands of feet below.


 

You do not have to be good

So says Mary Oliver.

And releasing the demands of being “good” may provide the freedom you need to be yourself.

To know how you are made,

To know who you can turn to,

To know what you need – what you want – to learn;

This is how to live and how to lead a more daring life.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

Invitation

The way I’d like to go on living in this world wouldn’t hurt anything, I’d just go on walking uphill and downhill, looking around, and so what if half the time I don’t know what for —

{Mary Oliver, excerpt from “1945-1985: Poem for the Anniversary” from Dream Work}


Maybe today a little more wandering, a little less doing. A little more imagining, a little less producing. A little more “just because” and a little less “have to.”

Maybe today you will stop watching your scoreboard, just for a few moments, and instead watch the way the sunlight fragments through the window or the birds search the grass for something hidden.

Maybe today you will stretch your legs, and notice how your feet and legs work together to keep you in motion. Maybe today you will remove the headphones and listen instead to the buzz of life around you.

Maybe today a little more daydreaming, the slightest space for the birth of a new thought, a reconsideration of something once settled.

Maybe today a quiet invitation to the divine to enter in and have its way with you.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

Poem for a Sunday Morning

In early 2016, as I was putting the finishing touches on a collection of blog posts and essays that I would publish as A More Daring Life, I knew that I would begin the book with the poem, A Course in Creative Writing by William Stafford.

Accompanied by Mary Oliver and David Whyte, Stafford is the third leg of the poetry stool on which I have most often rested and restored myself upon my entry into personhood some years ago.

Where David Whyte beckons us to a new conversational and imaginative frontier and Mary Oliver invites us to walk with her in the everyday presence of the natural world, Stafford pulls us into the here and now with the unvarnished language of his Western sensibility.

I come back to this poem when I feel myself too eager for clear instruction about what’s next. I come back to it when I feel myself searching for the road that is already paved and marked and brightly lit, instead of the one that is here, just beneath my feet.


A Course in Creative Writing

They want a wilderness with a map—
but how about errors that give a new start?—
or leaves that are edging into the light?—
or the many places a road can’t find?

Maybe there’s a land where you have to sing
to explain anything: you blow a little whistle
just right and the next tree you meet is itself.
(And many a tree is not there yet.)

Things come toward you when you walk.
You go along singing a song that says
where you are going becomes its own
because you start. You blow a little whistle—

And a world begins under the map.

—William Stafford


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.