Tell about it.
I love Mary Oliver’s poetry; it expresses so much of our inner capacity to feel and experience the inherent beauty in the world. I find that Oliver’s words are an inspiration when inquiring into how we can learn by paying attention to our direct experience and by spending time with nature. The ever present shapes, forms, textures, colours, relationships and ways of organising are a living playbook. If we look close enough we can begin to see the innumerable generative ways we can design and make social systems which feel more alive, and are a reflection of our true nature.
If you have never read any of Oliver’s work then I would encourage you to begin right here, with “When I am among the trees.” In this particular poem, Oliver encourages us to take a moment and slow down; to notice the delicacy of our environment and in the process become aware of the living breathing world that we are all a part of, and is representative of our interconnection. In many ways Oliver’s words can be perceived as simple instructions for living a full, enriched and beautiful life.
''When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”
As you read the poem consider how the imagery evokes in you sensations that all of us have every day, that we spend too much valuable time rushing around answering messages, checking mobile phones, making appointments and generally allowing a continual consumption of our previous time. We easily forget how fast life goes by and how fragile it is. Many daily distractions take us far away from a core of goodness that is rooted in stillness and we sense but find elusive to embody. Instead we choose to ignore who we really are and prefer to stay entangled in our busy nature. But by lingering awhile we can develop our inner capacities to recover the feelings of peacefulness and joy we always carry with us.
Oliver’s claim that the trees save her might sound rather strange and you might wonder save her from what? I think Oliver using her own experience is hinting that we each need to be saved from ourselves, and to achieve this Oliver understands that she must open herself to the world and become vulnerable through a deeper connection to life. To do this Oliver accesses her felt sense through deepening her observation, and she invites us to also pay attention, linger for a while to look beyond the usual.
‘The trees stir in their leaves’ models how we can inhabit the capacity to look deeper, to imagine not leaves stirring in trees but trees stirring in leaves. The tree’s invitation to ‘Stay awhile’ encourages us to pause and reflect on the bark that Oliver sees, on the pulp she does not, on the roots and soil that nourish the tree, all of which give life to the leaves. Finally, Oliver’s image of, ‘The light flows from their branches,’ captures a moment of being when she is touched by the life force, the spirit that animates us all but through our distractions is often ignored or dismissed.
Develop your own capacity for greater openness and consider when you might next have the time to take a stroll through the woods and what the trees might choose to tell you, if you listen and linger long enough. You might find yourself surprised by what you learn and discover.
Nature Inspired Leading Change, Coaching, Organisation Development & Facilitation. Writing about relationships, uniqueness, authenticity, love and the creativity of being.