I remember a time when I thought that if I didn’t say things out loud, if I didn’t tell someone my agitations or my experiences, then they didn’t really happen. This was also the time when I was highly discombobulated, drinking heavily and suffering from panic attacks.
In my novel Swimming Naked, Lucy, the protagonist, describes the sensation like this:
“I looked at the deep green drapes that separated me from my father and felt a surge of adrenaline rush through my body. My skin seemed to vibrate. I was suddenly lost somewhere between rage and panic, and the words began to tumble out of my mouth, like my body was trying to quickly heave heavy objects overboard in order to stay afloat.”
Maureen, my VERY patient therapist at the time, suggested yoga and poetry. I suggested that I tell her another story about my agitation. After I quit drinking, I was finally able to turn myself over to a movement discipline via Pilates and a beauty discipline via Mary Oliver. Yoga and meditation came later.
I still consider Mary Oliver my own personal poet laureate. When I need to find words that speak to stillness, wonder and awe, I turn to her.
So welcome to the silence. I can’t wait to find out what happens when you listen.
I Happened to Be Standing
By Mary Oliver
I don't know where prayers go,
or what they do.
Do cats pray, while they sleep
half-asleep in the sun?
Does the opossum pray as it
crosses the street?
The sunflowers? The old black oak
growing older every year?
I know I can walk through the world,
along the shore or under the trees,
with my mind filled with things
of little importance, in full
self-attendance. A condition I can't really
call being alive
Is a prayer a gift, or a petition,
or does it matter?
The sunflowers blaze, maybe that's their way.
Maybe the cats are sound asleep. Maybe not.
While I was thinking this I happened to be standing
just outside my door, with my notebook open,
which is the way I begin every morning.
Then a wren in the privet began to sing.
He was positively drenched in enthusiasm,
I don't know why. And yet, why not.
I wouldn't persuade you from whatever you believe
or whatever you don't. That's your business.
But I thought, of the wren's singing, what could this be
if it isn't a prayer?
So I just listened, my pen in the air.