Sunday, January 31, 2016


One thing you never have to concern yourself with if you subscribe to my blog is the possibility of my filling up your inbox. It’s been awhile since my last blog. If I don’t have something that I suspect is worth your time to read, I don’t write. But last night, an incident presented me with material.
I run at night – because that is when I have time and because I am a night hawk and am most active at night. The downside of this predisposition is that it is dark and every now and then, I toe into a small rise of some sort – broken blacktop, bad seam, or poor paving and meet the road with various parts of my anatomy. Last night was one of those, and though overall not as bad as some, it did leave a long split of skin for which my dear husband matched the edges back together and secured with “butterflies.” The wait for healing begins. I mention this not for sympathy because I played a role in this scenario by not paying attention. Earlier in the run a motorist had been rude and threatening, and I was still, in my mind, back there. Just as I said to myself, “That’s enough Christina, leave it,” I hit the rise in the road and down I went.

My life has been about asking questions, many of which sought to understand the nature of this mind we’ve been endowed with, using the modern idiom—an extraordinary piece of technology—which routinely had us in one location, in our mind, while our physical body is someplace else doing something else, most often without our awareness of this fact. Sure I knew I was on the road. Sure I knew I was running, BUT not in any of those precise moments when I was rendering my irritation over yet another angry, careless driver. We would swear we are aware of both at the same time. The brain fools us because its speed is phenomenal. It jumps back and forth between, in this case, my attention to the road and the conversation in my head that I was having with the driver long gone. Our awareness is generally not developed enough to notice when our minds make the jump from where we are physically to a scenario in our minds. We truly believe we can “multi-task.” It just isn’t so. In that blink of the jump from my attention on the road to the rant in my head, life could have ended, depending on the circumstances. Fortunately, for me, this time I’m merely incapacitated.

I have spent a lifetime studying this phenomenon where we are one place in our mind at the same time as being another place with our bodies. People can go through their entire lives without realizing that their present reactions or emotions in no way reflect their present environment. The best modern day example is people talking on the phone while driving. Their attention can be miles away depending on the conversation, even decades away, and we’ve all noted at one time or another how that effects what they are actually involved with – operating a car.

The growing interest in mindfulness is a heartening indication that more and more people are beginning to realize how much of their actual lives they miss by spending it in endless conversations in their head. We can change this as the practice of mindfulness can show us.  I have spent many years working to silence that otherwise seeming endless conversation that so robs us of lives
that we could have, ones where our awareness is involved with the actual moment we are living. Obviously, I still have work to do, but
I’ve had a taste of that delicious freedom that accrues to us when the mind is still, and that is why I sat this morning feeling a deep sense of rapport with Mary Oliver and her sense of wistfulness when she says in the last half of her poem “Blue Iris”:

“What’s that you’re doing?”        whispers the wind, pausing
in a heap just outside the window. 

Give me a little time, I say back to its staring silver face.
It doesn’t happen all of a sudden you know.

“Doesn’t it?” says the wind, and breaks open, releasing
distillation of blue iris.

And my heart panics not to be, as I long to be,
the empty, waiting, pure, speechless receptacle.

Friday, January 8, 2016

An Autograph

I’ve never been a hero-worshipper or found myself in throngs of squealing fans enthralled with some new star. It wasn’t that I didn’t want heroes; I think it was just having a few too many disappointments rather early on. So imagine my chagrin when I found myself thrilled to receive an autographed copy of a Mary Oliver book for Christmas. I actually gasped. There on the inside cover, right in the middle of the page in black ink from the medium-fine nib of a fountain pen was her name. No fancy script, no curls or flourishes, just basic cursive, completely readable with a dot over the “i” that ran a little to the right, and then a period after the name as if it were the end of a sentence.  

 I ran my finger across it, slowly, then jumping the gap, I tapped the period. That’s probably as close to Ms. Oliver as I’ll ever get, but it was something, a meeting of sorts, creating substance in that book that went beyond that of her discerning thoughts and penetrating observations.

It has been a treasure to live in her time, share the world she’s seen and experienced. Her poetry and her prose never cease to leave a sustained impression for she is real. Art of the highest caliber takes more than a talent that one is willing to raise to its most skillful level. Art also requires that an artist not back away from life, that they face whatever is dished up to them and stay with it alert, engaged even when the demons howl. Mary Oliver has known blistering poverty, illness, the loss of one she loved for over 40 years and sundry other challenges that rocked her life. But she persisted and remained open and intimate with the world around her.  Emerson once said, “…we only believe as deep as we live.” It is Mary Oliver’s gift to us that she has lived so deeply.

What follows are excerpts from the book she wrote after the loss of Molly Malone Cook, entitled Thirst:

When Roses Speak, I Pay Attention’
…And they went on. “Listen,
the heart-shackles are not, as you think,
death, illness, pain,
unrequited hope, not loneliness, but
lassitude, rue, vainglory, fear, anxiety, selfishness.”
The fragrance all the while rising
from their blind bodies, making me spin with joy.

‘A Pretty Song’
From the complications of loving you
I think there is no end or return.
No answer, no coming out of it.
Which is the only way to love, isn’t it?
This isn’t a playground, this is
earth, our heaven, for a while.
Therefore I have given precedence to
all my sudden, sullen, dark moods
that hold you in the center of my world.
And I say to my body: grow thinner still.
And I say to my fingers, type me a pretty song.
And I say to my heart: rave on.

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones;
Just pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence into which
another voice may speak.

Is it no wonder I would like to be closer to her? But if it is just occasionally running my finger across her name left from her pen in my book, I will be grateful for even that proximity to a being who so astonishes me.