Pay attention, Find the Joy, Tell About It

by evoker on February 13, 2019

in Uncategorized

Mary Oliver tribute

Last month we lost one of the great poets of our time. Mary Oliver has seeped into the culture with lines like “your one wild and precious life”. She took her leave of the physical plane at age 84. Prolific, profound, much celebrated, she was rooted almost always in nature first. What a trove of poetic gems she has left us.

Mary Oliver (Source: NPR Kevork Djansezian Getty Images)

The title for this post—pay attention, find the joy, tell about it — was attributed to her as a recipe for living that I picked up in a workshop side conversation just a few weeks (someone can tell me where this is in her works—it sounds so much like her (see excerpts below), that I took my conversationalist’s words at immediate face value.

Her poems are the evidence that she paid attention often, detecting or extracting the joy.  

Every day I see or hear something that more or less kills me with delight,
that leaves me like a needle in a haystack of light

It is what I was born for, to look, to listen, to lose myself inside this soft world—                                         
to instruct myself over and over in joy, and acclamation

Nor am I talking about the exceptional, the fearful, the dreadful, the very extravagant—  
but of the ordinary, the common, the very drab. The daily presentations…

Or another on the daily somatic hits she lived for

Ten times a day something happens to me like this
Some strengthening throb of amazement
Some good sweet empathetic ping and swell.
This is the first, the wildest and wisest thing I know

That the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness

Mary Oliver, to me, is the mystery that she writes about. How did this this person, this poet walking the woods and fields, get formed into who she became? Wikipedia writes “As a child, she spent a great deal of time outside where she enjoyed going on walks or reading. In an interview with Maria Shriver, Oliver described her family as dysfunctional, adding that though her childhood was very hard, by writing it helped her create her own world.” But how did her imagination turn to nature and language, and why did she keep find images everywhere, the ones she’d take beyond themselves and that yielded the piercing insights dropped into her verse? How did she, in the quiet of her poetry-composing hours, illuminate the world with her pen? And then we pick up her words and they feed our souls, making us believers in something vast, yet near, and mysterious. One line she wrote gives us a clue to her search past the facts as presented– how dreadful to believe in only what can be proved.

She and her craft are mysterious, like only the best of poets achieve. Her poems get at to mystery that can’t be captured in words. Yet words were her medium.

She talked about the end of her life this way once, in “When Death Comes”:

When it is all over, I want them to say I was a bride married to amazement,
I was the bridegroom holding the world in my arms.

In a STEM era–now being promoted by some as STEAM, with the A standing for arts (hooray)–with tight school budgets maybe we can’t give time to poets, or music. There is too much code to write on the road to The All Digital. With the right visual enhancement goggles, we can virtualize nature so we not need really touch the dirty ground.

But for all Mary Oliver readers and fans, the goggles may not add much. We will be taking walks, looking attentively, telling about the joy we find in the ordinary and the drab.

Thanks Mary Oliver, for your wild and precious life, for being married to amazement.   


“How Can I Fix Those People”

by evoker on January 30, 2019

in Leadership

by Cartoonist Walt Kelly

We all see messes and problems in the world that we don’t like and want to go away. Companies losing money, teachers on strike, government shutdowns that seem unnecessary. We gain and seek information on the messes and their cause, we form our opinions, we start to voice those opinions in small or in big ways, depending on our motivations

But when it comes to messes, all kinds, there is one step to take before seeking external information so we can form our opinions. It is asking yourself a simple but profound question—“how have I contributed to the making of this mess? What have I don’t to create the world I am complaining about? What have I done to keep teachers salaries so low in some places? How did I not step up at my company now that I find it losing money? How did my non-action lead to a government shutdown that seemed to hurt so many and could happen again?

This is a hard approach. “Surely”, you will ask, “I don’t have to take any blame for messes that happen far from me and whose causes I am not even aware of.” And that is fair, and the answer is of course not. But in a time when we are quick to blame others and to find something we don’t like so we can condemn it within seconds(seems as though several million of us on social media act blindingly, massively quick), shouldn’t we slow down just a bit. We may want to readily despair at our opponents’ motivations as much more self-serving than our own, but is it better to have another reflex that will slow us down and help us do the Pogo move for responsibility?. (“We have met the enemy and he is us!”, from early Oct, 1948—no I wasn’t born yet either, at least not quite yet.)

To stick with a business example. I have coached business leaders who do not get this truth of stepping up to responsibility, and it is always to their and their company’s detriment.  Coaches and consultants hear things like this from leaders, not quite so blatantly, but to similar effect: “How can I fix those people out there in my business?” when the company does not execute the plan they have put in place. A better question to start with, before any “fixing of others”, is how can I alter my leadership approach and values to set a culture in motion where my employees, especially the moderately talented ones, not just the superstars, can contribute and thrive.

When leaders get this question, and take it to heart, that is when things start to change. Let’s stop complaining first, as employees, leaders, and citizens—apparently this does not fix much even though if often feels pretty good.

Pogo offered us a useful statement in 1948. It still holds today. We have messes we have to address. Let’s start with a look inside.


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