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Oh, Mary Oliver.  How you haunt me with the beauty and grace of your “Summer Day” poem, with these words that I’ve written about before:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?  

These are the words that week after week I stumble on—in magazines, on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday, even on the Gluten Free Girl blog—constantly imploring me to live the question so I can find my route home.  Every day has become an attempt to understand what the words mean in my life, with my brain and thoughts and emotions trying to wrap themselves around their significance.

It’s overwhelming.  How do you create a life all at once?

The answer to that is, you don’t.

What I do know is that when you are depleted emotionally, physically and spiritually, it’s difficult to hear the call of your spirit.  So with a week off from work and nothing planned, I decided to spend my one wild and precious week re-learning the art of self care.

With my social media feeds peppered with my friends’ vacations in Hawaii, Italy, and various islands, I felt (very jealous, but) perfectly happy to return to myself at home.

My staycation wellness retreat included:

The Spa. No self-care program would be complete without a trip to the spa.  Armed with a gift card and a free afternoon, I treated myself to a 90-minute aromatherapy massage.  As the therapist got to work, she marveled at my knotted muscles and declared that I needed something more intense that the treatment I’d booked, so she brought out her major weapons—hot stones that aided her as she untangled my knotted back, legs and neck and melted some of the stress that has kept my body captive.

I floated away, had lunch by the spa’s pool and took in the awesome city views of Fifth Avenue and Central Park.

Peninsula View

The grace of wellness: Surrender to being cared for and the universe will do the rest.

The Spin. I used to be a spinning class freak, carefully planning my work days around my class schedule.  Of course, my work days were more flexible back then, and as my life got more hectic, cycling went by the wayside.

This week I got back on the bike. I tried my first SoulCycle class.

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It was quite possibly the most insane class I’ve ever taken.  You cycle like a crazy person in candlelight to high energy music, and then do abdominal crunches and lift 2 pound weights WHILE you are cycling.  But I went at my own pace, alternately slowing down when I needed to and then pushing myself beyond what I thought I could do.  Oddly, I felt energized and strangely happy after the last song, Fun.’s Some Nights, with the lyric that twisted itself in my soul like the Mary Oliver poem:

What do I stand for?  What do I stand for?

Fitness is religion. My wellness mantra, that is what I stand for.

The grace of wellness: Getting back in the saddle again can be a literal pain in the you-know-what, but if you push through, euphoria is waiting on the other side of that ache.

The Yoga. I discovered yoga almost 20 years ago and though I stray from it, I always return to it like a soul mate.  For those who think it’s a lot of breathing and stretching and not a real work out, it always shows up for me a a seriously athletic undertaking that leaves me breathless.  And it teaches you to breathe through the difficulty, even when you think you cannot.

Never mind that my favorite yoga tape was eaten by the VCR (lest you think I’m a relic from the 80s, it’s actually a DVD-VCR combo…but I understand if that doesn’t change your mind), I rediscovered the joy of finding my breath in the face of some ridiculous looking contortions.

The grace of wellness: The deeper you breathe, the more your body—and mind—will open and release.

The Hugger. I’ve heard about Amma, the “hugging saint”, for a while and was intrigued by the fanfare around her.  One of India’s most highly regarded spiritual leaders, her religion is love.  She spreads joy and comfort through a warm smile and a loving hug. In New York for a stop on her North American tour, I lined up early on her first NYC morning for the chance to be embraced and blessed by her.

While in line and waiting for my friend Corey, I somehow found myself (uncharacteristically) making a new friend.  The lovely woman in front of me, on her own North American journey, was able to come that day because of a delayed flight back home to Australia.  Caryn and I both agreed that delays sometimes open a door to beautiful and transformative experiences and that she clearly was meant to come to see Amma that day. We chatted and found ourselves sharing details of our lives as only strangers with no agenda can.

As we talked and were lead into the hall to meet Amma, I was surprised by the thought that popped into my head.

I feel at home in the world.  

Because she had to catch her flight, Caryn was ushered up to meet Amma a bit earlier than my friend and I.  She looked radiantly transformed when she came back to say goodbye.  As we bid farewell, she kissed me on the cheek and gave me a hug—a real, tight and full-bodied embrace that felt like we’d always known each other.

Spirit draws people together as strangers so they can leave each other as friends.

I feel at home in the world.

When it was finally my turn to meet Amma, she smiled, pulled me in close and held me for what seemed like a full minute, chanting something in my ear while her energy gently pulsed around me.  When she was done, she put a Hershey’s kiss and a rose petal in my hand and sent me on my way.  I had the chance to sit on the stage while she hugged the people that followed me.  I took a few precious moments of my wild life, meditated and got swept away by the rhythm of the music that filled the hall.

Amma

The grace of wellness: When you allow yourself to be embraced, life presents sweetness, beauty, and the grace of new friends.

The Ladybug: Earlier in the week, I noticed a ladybug hanging out around my windows.  I’ve read that ladybugs are good luck, so I just let her be.  (Which probably makes me kind of crazy, but let’s just go with it, shall we?) She must have hung on for three days, playing around the window shades, flying around and just chilling in the summer sun.

On the fourth day, I realized I hadn’t seen her all day.  Then, I discovered her, lifeless, but snuggled just in front of a framed picture that my nephew drew from me a few years ago.

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The grace of wellness: Be open to signs.  Even a ladybug can offer a message of comfort.

How fortunate am I to have surrendered to the beauty of my own city? As I woke this morning, I realized today is my last weekday of this vacation and felt sad.  How do I keep up my good self-care intentions when I return to my hectic work life?

As with all good intentions, it all comes down to the measure of the commitment behind them.

And that is how I begin to draw the road map for my one wild and precious life.

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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 softly,
and exclaiming of their dearness,
fill your arms with the white and pink flowers,

with their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling,
their eagerness
to be wild and perfect for a moment, before they are
nothing, forever?

–Mary Oliver, “Peonies”

Every spring my love affair with peonies is renewed.  I’m obsessed with them.

How can you not be captivated by their beauty, in all of their voluptuous exquisiteness?

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Typically blooming only for one week in May and June, their season is short, making their earthly presence that much more exceptional.  I keep a bouquet on my table whenever I can find them as a celebration of the robust, fragrant, magnificent gifts that life gives us.

Peonies are my reminder to be present, appreciate beauty—no matter how fleeting…most especially when it is fleeting—and to take in magical goodness when it is in front of me.

While on a staycation this week, the words of poet Mary Oliver have shown themselves to me seemingly everywhere I turned.  In random blogs I’ve stumbled upon, in magazines I’ve been meaning to read, and in books I’ve opened, one inspirational line after another were revealed.

Ironically, the words that keep playing in my head are not the ones I’ve seen in blog posts or magazines. But the words I kept seeing triggered my memory for other words that clearly wanted to be acknowledged by me, desperately needing me to hear them again:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

With your one wild and precious life?

— Mary Oliver, The Summer Day

I’ve turned this question over and over in my head and haven’t been able to come up with an answer.

During my time off, I was plagued with a restlessness that I couldn’t quite shake. It was much needed time off, but something in me couldn’t quite let go.  As I struggled to relax, these words stayed with me, almost haunting me.

What finally came to me was that I didn’t need to know what my plan for my one wild and precious life is today.  It’s okay to not know.  My job – my real full-time job – is to live the question.  And as I began to let the words wash over me, I realized that it all starts with self-care. You cannot fully hear the answers to such a big question if you can’t even make time to floss.

So I’ve promised myself that I will spend the month of December better caring for myself, body and soul.  I know I won’t be able to stop the chaos, but I’m hoping to find some space to listen to the whispers that have been drowned out.

I am paying attention with wide eyes, open ears and a willing heart to answers as they present themselves.

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