The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac

I know, you never intended to be in this world.
But you’re in it all the same.

so why not get started immediately.

I mean, belonging to it.
There is so much to admire, to weep over.

And to write music or poems about.

Bless the feet that take you to and fro.
Bless the eyes and the listening ears.
Bless the tongue, the marvel of taste.
Bless touching.

You could live a hundred years, it’s happened.
Or not.
I am speaking from the fortunate platform
of many years,
none of which, I think, I ever wasted.
Do you need a prod?
Do you need a little darkness to get you going?
Let me be urgent as a knife, then,
and remind you of Keats,
so single of purpose and thinking, for a while,
he had a lifetime.

–Mary Oliver

Hear the poet read this poem at On Being


How Was It?


It has frequently been remarked, about my own writings, that I emphasize the notion of attention. This began simply enough: to see that the way the flicker flies is greatly different from the way the swallow plays in the golden air of summer. It was my pleasure to notice such things, it was a good first step. But later, watching M. when she was taking photographs, and watching her in the darkroom, and no less watching the intensity and openness with which she dealt with friends, and strangers too, taught me what real attention is about. Attention without feeling, I began to learn, is only a report. An openness — an empathy — was necessary if the attention was to matter. Such openness and empathy M. had in abundance, and gave away freely… I was in my twenties and early thirties, and well-filled with a sense of my own thoughts, my one presence. I was eager to address the world of words — to address the world with words. Then M. instilled in me this deeper level of looking and working, of seeing through the heavenly visible to the heavenly invisibles…

Somewhere in my writings I have described how M., unfailing, whenever I came home from a walk in the woods or the fields, would say “How was it?” and how dear this questions was to me. Reading in her journals this last year and half I came upon the following entry:
Mary has just returned with yellow flowers
and a wet Luke who has been swimming in the 
ponds. I always ask her for news. What does
that mean, what news am I looking for? Good,
I imagine. What I means is news of humans.
Mary comes home with fox news, bird news,
and her loving friends the geese Merlin and 
Dreamer, who are going to become parents
under Mary’s eyes once again. How many years
has she been watching them? They come 
running to her. That’s Mary’s news.
I don’t think I was wrong to be in the world I was in, it was my salvation from my own darkness. Nor have I ever abandoned it — those earthly signs that so surely led towards epiphanies. And yet, and yet, she wanted me to enter more fully into the human world also, and to embrace it, as I believe I have. And what a gift to read about her wish for it, who never expressed impatience with my reports of the natural world, the blue and green happiness I found there. Our love was so tight.
— Mary Oliver, Our World (pp. 71-73)

Simply To Witness

Beholding establishes a sacred relationship… To behold is not to fix, change, judge, or even want. It is simply to witness — to embrace with our awareness. In beholding the self, we witness a miraculous manifestation of divine energy living right inside us, with all its hopes and fears, joys and tears. This witnessing is the “heart to heart.” It brings us to the sacred. It is the essential realization that must be present for any real healing to occur.

— Anodea Judith, Eastern Body, Western Mind: Psychology and the Chakra System As a Path to the Self (p. 232)


Befriend All Of That Ancient Stuff We Carry Around

If we were to make a list of the people we don’t like–people we find obnoxious, threatening or worthy of contempt–we would find much about ourselves that we can’t face. If we were to come up with one word about each of the troublemakers in our lives, we would find ourselves with a list of descriptions of our own rejected qualities. We project these on the outside world. The people who repel us unwittingly show us aspects of ourselves that we find unacceptable, which otherwise we can’t see. Traditional lojong teachings say it another way: other people trigger the karma we haven’t worked out. They mirror us and give us a chance to befriend all of that ancient stuff we carry around like a backpack full of granite boulders.

— Pema Chödrön, Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion (p. 163)

Another Part Of Taking Responsibility Is Gentleness

We have a strong tendency to distance ourselves from our experience because it hurts, but the dharma provides encouragement to move closer to that experience. Although there are lots of words that could be used to explain compassionate action, I’d like to stress the word communication – in particular, communication from the heart.

All activities should be done with the intention of communicating. This is a practical suggestion: all activities should be done with the intention of speaking so that another person can hear you, rather than using words that cause the barriers to go up and the ears to close. In this process we also learn how to listen and how to look. You can practice making your actions, your speech, and your thoughts inseparable from this yearning to communicate from the heart. Everything you say can further polarize the situation and convince you of how separate you are. On the other hand, everything you say and do and think can support your desire to communicate, to move closer and step out of this myth of isolation and separateness that we’re all caught in.

Taking this kind of responsibility is another way of talking about awakening bodhichitta, because part of taking responsibility is the quality of being able to see things very clearly. Another part of taking responsibility is gentleness, which goes along with not judging but rather looking gently and honestly at yourself. There is also the ability to keep going forward. You can just keep on going; you don’t have to get frozen in an identity as a loser or a winner, the abuser or the abused, the good guy or the bad guy. You just see what you do as clearly and as compassionately as you can then go on. The next moment is always fresh and open.

— Pema Chödrön, Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion (pp. 155-156)

We Do Not Deserve Resolution

As human beings, not only do we seek resolution, we also feel that we deserve resolution. However, not only do we not deserve resolution, we suffer from resolution. We don’t deserve resolution; we deserve something better than that. We deserve our birthright, which is the middle way, an open state of mind that can relax with paradox and ambiguity.

— Pema Chödrön, Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion (p. 112)

See What Is

Holding on to beliefs limits our experience of life. That doesn’t mean that beliefs or ideas or thinking is a problem. It’s the stubborn attitude of having to have things be a particular way, grasping on to our beliefs and opinions, that causes the problems. Using your belief system this way creates a situation in which you choose to be blind instead of being able to see, to be deaf instead of being able to hear, to be dead rather than alive, asleep rather than awake.

As people who want to live a good, full, unrestricted, adventurous, real kind of life, there is concrete instruction we can follow: see what is. When you catch yourself grasping at beliefs or thoughts, just see what is. Without calling your belief right or wrong, acknowledge it. See it clearly without judgment and let it go. Come back to the present moment. From now until the moment of your death, you could do this.

— Pema Chödrön, Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion (p. 112)

You’re Lucky To Live Sad Moments

Louis C.K.: The thing is you need build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something, that’s what the phones are taking away. Is the ability to just sit there like this. That’s being a person, right? You have to check. You know, underneath everything in your life there’s that thing, that empty — forever empty.

The knowledge that it’s all for nothing and you’re alone. You know, it’s down there. Sometimes when things clear away, you’re in your car and you go, oh, no, here it comes that I’m alone. Like it starts to visit on you, just this sadness. Life is tremendously sad just by being in it. And so you’re driving and then you go, oh, that’s why we text and drive. I look around pretty much 100% of people driving are texting.

So anyway, I started to get that sad feeling. I was reaching for the phone. You know what, don’t. Just be sad. Just let the sadness stand in the way of it. And let it hit you like a truck.

You’re lucky to live sad moments. And then I had happy feelings because when you let yourself feel sad your body has like anti-bodies. You have happiness rushing in to meet the sadness. I was grateful to feel sad and then I met it with true profound happiness. It was such a trip, you know? The thing is because we don’t want that first bit of sad, we push it away with like a little phone. And you get a little kind of — You never feel completely sad or completely happy. You just feel kind of satisfied with your product. And then you die.

The Freedom Of Nothing Solid

Moving away from our experience, moving away from the present moment with all our habits and strategies, always adds up to restlessness, dissatisfaction, unhappiness. The comfort that we associate with concretizing and making things solid is so transitory, so short-lived.

Moving into our experience – whether it’s the opening experience of love and compassion or the closing down experience of resentment and separation – brings us an enormous sense of freedom: the freedom of nothing solid. Something about “nothing solid” begins to equal freedom. In the meantime, we discover that we would rather feel fully present to our lives than be off trying to make everything solid and secure by engaging our fantasies or our addictive patterns. We realize that connecting with our experience by meeting it feels better than resisting it by moving away. Being on the spot, even if it hurts, is preferable to avoiding. As we practice moving into the present moment this way, we become more familiar with groundlessness, a fresh state of being that is available to us on an ongoing basis. This moving away from comfort and security, this stepping out into what is unknown, uncharted, and shaky – that’s called liberation.

— Pema Chödrön, Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion (pp. 43-44)