This past week I’ve been immersed in yet another Mary Oliver poem, and her uncanny way with timeless ideas. Like her, I try to learn from plants and animals, hoping to adopt some of their blessings into my human life, and rise above the tendencies of my ego habits.
In “Roses, Late Summer”, she imagines being a rose, and “If [she] had another life…wouldn’t mind being a rose/ in a field full or roses./ Fear has not yet occurred to them, nor ambition./Reason they have not yet thought of./Neither do they ask how long they must be roses, and then what./Or any other foolish question.”
Let’s explore fear, ambition and reason, and their antidotes: safety, gratitude and freedom.
So much of the drama playing out currently is fear-based. When we make decisions from this frame, we have such a narrow range of options, as the sympathetic nervous system closes down the higher functions of our brains. We cannot access empathy or compassion when our survival feels like it’s at stake. The body becomes more contracted, ready to pounce or recoil, so we just don’t feel well or robust.
How does your body feel when you are afraid? What is the opposite of those feelings? Pause a moment and encourage those sensations of safety. Likely, your muscles relax a bit, your breath comes more deeply and your belly can soften. Breathe in safety and ease, and say to yourself, “I am safe” or “May I feel safe”.
Flowers don’t seem to have fear. They push up through the cement cracks, twine around rubbish piles and tolerate constant uninvited visitors. They seem fearless in their undaunted pursuit of life, boldly announcing beauty, fragrance and sensuality.
Roses also seem humble, accepting life’s indifference to their individuality, moving gracefully from seed to blossom to compost. While dandelions and buttercups are all about greed and self-preservation of their species alone, the roses embody a patient, elegant grace among their fellows. I’ve always assumed that every animal and plant loves being just what they are, not trying to have the long stems or particular petal color of another posey.
They model the antidote to ambition – gratitude . How does your body feel when you want more than what you have? How does it feel when you are content, accepting, and even thankful for your life as it is now? Pause again, and allow gratitude to flood your body. Breathe it in, smell it, see the beauty that is right here, in the room, now. Feel the comfort of your chair or bed, decide to notice that you are are alive, now, and that this will not last forever. Maybe create a mantra, such as, “I am whole, I am complete, I am content.”.
The third lesson from Mary Oliver’s roses is freedom from reason. This might sound just crazy or at least uncomfortable. After all, we try to base our lives on sound thought and logic, right? Whenever anyone questions why I did or didn’t do something, I believe I need a rational response. Guess what? I don’t. I can eat ice cream with coffee or have a bunch of beer or garden in the rain just because it feels right to me. I won’t do anything to harm another, but I am learning to answer, “I don’t know why.” or “This might not make sense to you, but it’s the way I feel.”
We all have many inner resources for wisdom, yet usually think we need to have reasonable, logical defenses. We have endless creativity that could be disregarded if all of our ideas had to “make sense” to someone else.
Most of our esteemed inventions would never have come to form if this creativity were squelched.
The rose keeps giving luscious, delicate petals, even though the aphids might make them into Swiss cheese. The blackberries send our their sweet, plump orbs of juice even though this year’s heat dome shriveled them into round raisins. The moon keeps showing its measured faces, rhythmically circling our planet, nonplussed by wildfires, real estate prices or vaccination arguments.
We may have “good reason” to criticize our neighbor, but what are the side effects? Could that be making you feel worse? What if the neighbor is, just like you, doing their best to wade through this current day, with all of its complexity?
Could you also take a short break from reason? How would that feel in your body? Do you take your own wisdom into consideration? Do you feel you need to defend yourself? Pause to relax into a more child-like mind and body mood. Get really soft and let yourself just want what you want. Be more like an animal or a plant. Here’s a mantra from Novalis:
Be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe.
No less than the trees and stars.
In the noisy confusion of life
Have peace in your soul.
Once you’ve had a vacation from fear, ambition and reason, you might feel refreshed and ready to approach some of the challenges in your life. Ideally, allowing your body to relax, will open up those other parts of your brain, like springing open previously locked doors.
For a quick refresher, keep this mantra by your side, “I don’t need to know everything right now. I am grateful for my life, just as it is. I am safe, learning to live in ease.”
If you would like support in finding your own mantras or practices, for whatever life is serving you today, consider a yoga therapy session or a group yoga class. These modalities will reconnect your mind, body and deep wisdom.
I hope this is helpful!