Monday, February 28, 2011

Opening Closed Doors

DHS 181

I remember reading a review of one of Mary Oliver's poems online a year, or so, ago and being more than slightly puzzled. In short, the reviewer said that Mary never says anything that anyone else couldn't say at any time, that she simply writes about the everyday common things that she notices, and everyone else could too, throughout the day (and life) and that just isn't special enough to make her poetry anything... well... special.

When i read that, i didn't know whether to laugh or shake my head in sorrow. He's absolutely right in pointing out what Mary writes about, but completely off the mark when saying that everyone else notices the same things as well, or with equal clarity. The vast majority of people do not notice the world as clearly as Mary does. In fact, the vast majority of people are completely blind to the goings on of the natural world and their internal world.

This has been one of my favorite poems by Mary over the past few months — although i admit to having new favorites all the time...


This morning
two mockingbirds
in the green field
were spinning and tossing

the white ribbons
of their songs
into the air.
I had nothing

better to do
than listen.
I mean this

In Greece,
a long time ago,
an old couple
opened their door

to two strangers
who were,
it soon appeared,
not men at all,

but gods.
It is my favorite story--
how the old couple
had almost nothing to give

but their willingness
to be attentive--
but for this alone
the gods loved them

and blessed them--
when they rose
out of their mortal bodies,
like a million particles of water

from a fountain,
the light
swept into all the corners
of the cottage,

and the old couple,
shaken with understanding,
bowed down--
but still they asked for nothing

but the difficult life
which they had already.
And the gods smiled, as they vanished,
clapping their great wings.

Wherever it was
I was supposed to be
this morning--
whatever it was I said

I would be doing--
I was standing
at the edge of the field--
I was hurrying

through my own soul,
opening its dark doors--
I was leaning out;
I was listening.

In the first third of the poem alone Mary challenges us twice to see nature with new eyes. Fix yourself a cup of tea and find a comfortable spot where you can sit quietly and watch some form of animal life. Sit long enough and quietly enough that you begin to see the sounds with your internal eyes. Sit long enough that you can hear the texture of the fur on their bodies or the shine in their eyes.

Sit with Mary's understanding that you really don't have anything better to do. That doesn't mean that this is simply the best choice for the use of your time at this particular moment, but that this is the best use of your life, period. Sit with the understanding that the best thing you can do with your life is to notice life, to pay attention to the world, to kick your focus out of your house and out into the world. This is invaluable advice she is offering.

And what would most of us do if a couple of the gods showed up at our door and made themselves comfortable at our dining room tables when we invited them in? Would we even invite them in? If we did, could we sit quietly, offering attentiveness, a willingness to listen, a willingness to Be, and no more? Could we comfortably offer ourselves, and no more, leaving all the psychological trappings in the closet for the time being?

And once we realized their true identity, could we still be free of want, desire, greed, need? Do you see that the gift is Life itself and not all the material "stuff" that we usually fall prey to? Do you see that clearly enough that you could be content, nay, happy, without begging the gods for more or different than you already have?

All it takes to see life in this way is to take Mary's advice and stop occasionally and to throw open the doors of your soul to the world. To throw all the doors and windows wide open and give free rein to who you are to lean out with the wind blowing in her hair and with life raining down on her face. To give her permission to listen, and see, and smell, and hear, and taste life as it really is, outside your head.

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