Mindful

by Mary Oliver


Original Language English

Every day
     I see or hear
          something
               that more or less

kills me
     with delight,
          that leaves me
               like a needle

in the haystack
     of light.
          It was 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.
     Oh, good scholar,
          I say to myself,
               how can you help

but grow wise
     with such teachings
          as these --
               the untrimmable light

of the world,
     the ocean's shine,
          the prayers that are made
               out of grass?

-- from Why I Wake Early, by Mary Oliver

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/ Photo by Loyal O.A.K. /


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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

Every so often I come across a poem by Mary Oliver I haven't read in a few years, and rereading it I get to say, "Wow!" once again.

Read this poem a few times. Each statement just rings in the air.

Sometimes I can appreciate a poem more fully when I read it as if the line breaks weren't there, allowing me to really take in the meaning and imagery (then, when I reread with awareness of the line breaks once again, I can insert the since of rhythm and stillness they imply)...

Every day I see or hear something that more or less kills me with delight...

that leaves me like a needle in the haystack of light.


Mm.

It was what I was born for -- to look, to listen, to lose myself inside this soft world --

That's such a great line, isn't it? "To lose myself inside this soft world."

to instruct myself over and over in joy, and acclamation.

There is a fundamental delight to the encounters and experiences of each day -- but we must continuously "instruct" ourselves in it. Each time we recognize that joy, we are learning. The opposite is also true: each time we ignore it, we are forgetting.

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.

I think this is the poem's true epiphany. The delight she speaks of, the magic in the day, is not discovered through having some sort of extraordinary experience. It is, surprisingly, in "the ordinary, the common," the eventless moments.

How do we see? The title tells us -- through being Mindful. Through paying attention. Through stillness of mind, accompanied by relaxed, open awareness. It is then that the day's delight reveals itself and we come to see even the most mundane moment for the immense landscape truly it is.

Oh, good scholar, I say to myself, how can you help but grow wise with such teachings as these --

The day is teaching us. Are we being a good scholar? Are we drinking in the joy given to us? It is there, when we are mindful:

the untrimmable light of the world, the ocean's shine, the prayers that are made out of grass?


Have a beautiful day, noticing the untrimmable light of the world!



Recommended Books: Mary Oliver

Why I Wake Early New and Selected Poems House of Light American Primitive What Do We Know: Poems and Prose Poems
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Mindful