Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Us and the world's otherness - Mary Oliver's insights

Here is a benign face for you:

The American poet Mary Oliver.

“I stood willingly and gladly in the characters of everything - other people, trees, clouds. 
And this is what I learned, that the world's otherness is antidote to confusion - that standing within this otherness - the beauty and the mystery of the world, out in the fields 
or deep inside books - can re-dignify the worst-stung heart.”

She's new to me (thanks Annee.) I feel sure she has more to tell me about the world's otherness as an antidote to confusion. Otherness, a wider perspective, letting go of our routine reactions, is being in the present, finding a mindful mode of being. 

And how can we accept ourselves if we cannot accept our place in the family of things?

“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 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,
call to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.” 

I like her use of the journey, and it relates to the book referred to in my last posting, "The Old Ways." Any path really worth walking is so much more than a mark on a map; it will have so much more to offer, if we are entirely in our walking of it, if the path moves through us as we move along it. If we can do this, then we walk in the otherness the poet refers to.


In "The Old Ways," Robert MacFarlane writes about Nan Shepherd's book The Living Mountain. "She went into the mountains searching not for the great outdoors but instead for profound 'interiors,' deep 'recesses.'  On the mountain, writes Shepherd, "I am beyond desire. It is not ecstasy...I am not out of myself, but in myself. I am. That is the final grace accorded from the mountain."

What a pity some people use the hills as a sort of outdoor gym, against which to prove themselves, and advance their muscular fitness. The hills will do that stuff for you anyway - but they can do so much more. Any path, any track can.

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