Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean –
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down –
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Another well-known Mary Oliver poem, which felt appropriate in this season of sun!
I’ve always loved the way she moves between big life questions to the detailed noticing of the little insect in front of her. And right from the first time I read it, I was particularly touched by that last question: ‘tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?’ A little google search showed me I’m far from the only one. It’s given inspiration to art works, images, tattoos, articles, it’s turned into the title of a book, a blog, a short film… clearly this question matters to many of us.
I guess it touches on the longing to live a rich and full life, to break free from the auto pilot and habitual patterns that keep us locked in old ways of reacting. How much time of any day am I fully conscious, aware, actually living? Am I appreciating the preciousness of this life as much as I can, is my life wild enough, and free? Am I living it in such a way that when it comes to the end of it, I’ll be able to let go in peace? Big questions, touching right into my intention and motivation for practising (and teaching!) mindfulness and compassion.
But it also lives out in smaller ways. The other day I was walking in the baking summer sun that has been scorching Holland for the last few months. It was over 30 degrees and no shade or breeze to be found on this dusty path around a big water reservoir, thick reeds growing all around it. And then suddenly I came to a narrow bridge over the water and there it was: a sparkling fresh invitation, clear to its sandy depths, teeming with little fish. The autopilot said ‘keep walking’ – I had places to go and no swimming gear. But I paused, and dove in… I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a swim so much.
So yes, I plan to be awake to the moment in my one wild and precious life, say yes to its invitations rather than always stay with my planned schedule of things to do. I plan to notice and love the details of my life, to be ‘idle and blessed’ a bit more often, and to be present with the people I’m with. Of course there’s a time for hard work and it’s not all free and easy – but I hope (and plan!) to not live in my head rather than in my life. It’s a good practice!