I just wanted to share this lovely Mary Oliver poem with you this week. She is talking about peonies, but of course she’s talking about life and death, impermanence and everything. I have some rhubarb coming up in my yard that looks like her peony babies – through the plants in my garden, I feel a bond to her nudging us all to awaken. It gives me the feeling of spring, and life, returning. But like everything else in our world, including our bodies and our minds, it’s all in constant change, so whatever is returning is not really returning, but something new and actually unknown rolling in.
Making way for the new life implies letting go of last year’s life, and all those other lives we’ve already eaten up. There is a dying in every birth and we are encouraged by the Buddhist path to bravely stare this unsteady ground of continuous gain and loss, in its unsteady face. Nothing lasts in its same form and still we long for the reliable, the known. We thrive through our human connections and connection to places and cultures. How can we manage all of this transition while we hunger for sameness?
Brain science tells us now that the most nourishing cuisine for brain health is learning something new – all the time! Could we risk this new learning in the company of others and feel less afraid, maybe nourish heart and head together? I think we’ve been doing a version of learning something new for about one year, and it’s been everything from awkward to infuriating. We are adapting, slowly, and can keep practicing kindness to soften or accept the agitation.
We haven’t exactly reached the final destination yet, either. When is a pandemic over? Our eagerly awaiting a return to whatever life was before is ignoring time’s passage, like showing up at the high school reunion imagining that the dream boat is still svelte, mysterious and sexy. Everyone has changed, and what is lost is irretrievable. We are pushed into the present but still resist. What if we tried relaxing into the present instead of resisting it with so much vigor? Maybe the courage to do so isn’t all steely and knight-like but softer, like flower petals slowly opening.
In slowing down, we might lean toward the poets, who don’t look away, or the contemplatives who also stay with each moment. I would love to be like the flowers in Mary Oliver’s poem, who are trembling and eager in that last line. I won’t spoil it for you, but instead I will open the gate now, so you can immerse yourself in her lush offering. It’s kinda long, but worth the moments you’ll give to reading.
This morning the green fists of the peonies are getting ready
to break my heart
as the sun rises,
as the sun strokes them with old, buttery fingers.
and they open–
pools of lace,
white and pink–
and all day the black ants cimb over them,
borning their deep and mysterious holes
into the curls,
craving the sweet sap,
taking it away
to their dark, underground cities–
and all day
under the shifty wind,
as in a dance to the great wedding,
the flowers bend their bright bodies,
and tip their fragrance to the air
their red stems holding
all that dampness and recklessness
gladly and lightly,
and there it is again–
beauty the brave, the exemplary,
Do you love this world?
Do you cherish your humble and silky life?
Do you adore the green grass, with its terror beneath?
Do you also hurry, half-dressed and barefoot, into the garden,
and exclaiming of their dearness,
fill your arms with the white and pink flowers,
with their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling,
to be wild and perfect for a moment, before they are
Beauty the brave. Here it is again. My silk-suited black cat slithered onto my desk and sniffs to acquaint herself with this new moment. I’m glad she’s lived longer than a peony will, yet of course I don’t know how long I will have her. We won’t have each other forever. We are getting to have a longer “perfect moment”, before we are also “nothing forever”.
Indulge your senses, now. Take a moment. Don’t go anywhere special, just soak up this one right now. And the next one as well. Go on and on. Seek out every version of Beauty, bravely. What is here, now? What do you see, smell, hear, feel, right now? Soak it up, bravely, and feel it dissolve at its own pace.
Here’s my moment: the ringing from our chimes is here and gone quickly. The clouds to the west have deferred to the sun’s bright descent, holding back like ladies in waiting. Chimes again, different pattern. The couch throw pillows make small shadows on the cushions behind them. Chimes go longer now. The tree branches offer moving shadows on the curtains. The furnace rumbles like a small train from the hall, and I feel my whole body anticipating the whale-sized breath of the heat that will soon follow. There it is now. The fridge is countering with a jalope’s bubbling rhythm. A car passes on the street, the furnace dies out, the fridge quits the competition, the sun is gone. The chimes go on. I’m sure the shadows are new shapes now, but I looked away. I missed the transition and now it’s all new again.
There is so much in each moment! Where will you put your focus today? Make time to take it slower, looking, smelling, hearing your world right now.
Enjoy this early spring day.
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