Your Busy Heart

Take your busy heart to the art museum and the 
chamber of commerce 
but take it also to the forest. 
The song you heard singing in the leaf when you 
were a child 
is singing still. 
I am of years lived, so far, seventy-four, 
and the leaf is singing still.
~ from What Can I Say, by Mary Oliver ~


It might be that the best thing to do right now is to push away from the desk, walk down the hall, exit the building and take a walk.
It might be that what you discover outside could not possibly be confused with a forest. It might just be parking lots and buildings and people.
It might be that the fresh air is as close to the forest as you need to get, to refresh yourself, clear your mind, consider your questions in a new way.
We should all get to the forest as often as possible, I couldn’t agree with that any more strongly.
And, even though that may not be easy or convenient to do, we can take steps in that direction. Those steps include pushing away from the desk, walking down the hall, exiting the building and breathing in a new perspective.


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.

Mary and David Say

Mary and David Say

Who are you to be curious
about your future self?

Who are you to peek through your fingers
as you hold them against your face?

David Whyte says that “the world is meant to be free in.”

Mary Oliver invites us to “announce our place in the family of things.”

Do you hear their call?

Do you hear your own?

What is your reply?


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.

I have work to do

I go down to the shore in the morning
and depending on the hour the waves
are rolling in or moving out,
and I say, oh, I am miserable,
what shall—
what should I do? And the sea says
in its lovely voice:
Excuse me, I have work to do.

 – Mary Oliver, A Thousand Mornings


I taught two classes today. The university is back in session.

I feel like a rider who’s been thrown from her horse. She’s back on now but she’s feeling it.

Just because I asked for this doesn’t mean it’s easy. The rhythm of the work comes with time.

I’m not “miserable.”

I’m also not an ocean.


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.

Thank you, Mary Oliver

I am so thankful for the life and work of Mary Oliver and so sad to learn that she died on Thursday. Her poem, “The Journey” is the first thing I posted on this blog twelve years ago. Just yesterday, in an accidental feat of perfect timing, I published it again as the centerpiece of a meditation on becoming a person. The person I am becoming continues to be shaped by Oliver’s work; “The Journey” and so many others. With deepest gratitude for her peaceful and powerful impact on my life, I have republished below a reflection I wrote in 2016 on her poem, “Wild Geese.” 

flying_canada_geese

Image credit: Kelly Warren – Wild Spirit Resources, LLC

I tacked this poem onto my bulletin board a few days ago. It’s been staring at me ever since, trying to help me understand, to see in a new way. This seems like a good day to explicate it as best I can. First, here’s the whole thing.

“Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

In my reading of the poem it has three acts: permission, perspective, and invitation.

Permission

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

There are a couple of lines in this poem that stop me in my tracks, starting with the very first. If all I could have is that first line I’d be more than satisfied. I needed to hear it a long time ago. I wish I had known and believed it  long before now. It’s a mantra, a meditation. It’s also the beginning of permission to simply let go of all of the “shoulds” and comparisons and the pervasive perfectionism  that prevents creative expression.

The permission in these opening lines simply says, “It’s ok to get off of your knees, once and for all, to let go of shame and guilt and ‘not enough’ and walk on timid but strengthening legs to that which is calling you forward.” It reminds me of the heart-wrenching scene in “Good Will Hunting” when Sean (Robin Williams) says to Will, “It’s not your fault.” “It’s not your fault.” “It’s not your fault.”

And just as that permission begins to settle in, I hear the poet’s invitation to unburden myself of my despair AND to be present to the despair of another. My pain is no greater than yours. Yours is no greater than mine. We are all hurting. And we must all get up and continue walking. And we must help each other do it. It’s the only way.

Perspective

Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.

The world goes on. I am small. It is vast. I am important, but not nearly so much as I think. I want to be special, to be heard and understood as I’m sure I never will be. Won’t you give me more time? More attention? More care and concern? Why have you moved on? Why must we change the conversation?

Eventually, as my voice gets smaller, drowned by the gorgeous volume of a world in motion, I have to reconcile myself to the hard truth – hard, hard truth – that it doesn’t exist just for me. It is not a backdrop, an elaborate setting for my experience. It simply exists. As do I. And by existing as it does, it reminds me to keep returning to myself to learn what I must learn. And to never stop because there is no end to that discovery.

Invitation

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

If only I am willing to refuse my loneliness – that subtle device by which I convince myself that no one else will quite understand – it is all there for the taking. Gifts too beautiful to take in at a glance. I am here. You are here. The world is here, made to be free in.

On stronger legs now I stride into the world, persistent in my self-reflection, consistent in my regard for you, ready to learn all I must if I am to live into the possibility I can see just above the horizon.

That faraway place, always right here.


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.

#500

On May 14, 2007 I uploaded my first blog post. It was this poem – The Journey – by Mary Oliver:

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Today, over eleven short years later, you are reading post #500.

As the poem concludes, I started writing in this space “determined to do the only thing I could do – determined to save the only life I could save.”

What that meant then is that I was desperate to unlock my capacity to express myself on the issues, ideas and opportunities that matter to me most. To that point and for a long time after, it felt like too big a risk to be thought of as a fraud or a phony; a poor writer with poor ideas and a poor ability to share them. That’s what my merciless voice in the head had to say about it, anyway.

These days I write less to conquer demons and more to help me think. As a daily discipline it has both a meditative quality as well as a purposeful intent. The discipline is to stop long enough to germinate a thought and turn that thought into something I want to say. The meditative quality is that I don’t know where it will lead but I trust that it will be somewhere good, or at least good enough. And the purpose is that I want to be a catalyst; that I have a responsibility to push myself and others to start and sustain conversations that matter about leadership, change and the rough road to self-awareness.

Of course, there’s an ego component as well. I wonder who is reading or not; why or why not. I relish the thoughtful comments, questions and encouragement that come my way, brief reminders that something has landed, a nudge to keep going.

But even that satisfaction has taken a back seat to the value I gain, personally and intimately, from simply thinking onto the page.

I am no longer vexed by the inner demons. I no longer feel a sense of “should” or “have to.” Today, I write because it makes me a better person, in the way that any daily practice of stopping, thinking, and expressing will do.

To paraphrase Seth Godin, whose encouragement inspires me to continue, we will never have more freedom – to express, to create, to build, to disrupt, to connect – than we do right now. Might as well take advantage of it.

And so I will. Thank you for reading.


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. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.