All That Glorious, Temporary Stuff: Poetry By Mary Oliver

Meditation, so I’ve heard, is best accomplished
if you entertain a certain strict posture.
Frankly, I prefer just to lounge under a tree.
So why should I think I could ever be successful?

Another one of my favorite neighborhood trees, budding out for spring.

Some days I fall asleep, or land in that
even better place – half-asleep – where the world,
spring, summer, autumn, winter – 
flies through my mind in its
hardy ascent and its uncompromising descent.

So I just lie like that, while distance and time
reveal their true attitudes: they never
heard of me, and never will, or ever need to.

Of course I wake up finally
thinking, how wonderful to be who I am,
made out of earth and water,
my own thoughts, my own fingerprints –
all that glorious, temporary stuff.

~ Mary Oliver

Oh Mary Oliver, how I love your words. Thinking about the wonder of life, the gift that getting older offers if we’re only paying attention. I’ve been saving this one for a long time – thank you to First Sip for sending it my way so many years ago. This is just the right time to share.

Words are the spark that ignites my soul. I am a collector of language in all forms, not a hoarder. The extraordinary beauty of the written word must be shared. These monthly posts, inspired by another’s words, are my gifts of beauty and spirit, shared with love.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Silence Is Not An Absence Of Sound – Reflections on Gordon Hempton

I had just slipped out the front door in silence early one morning, hoping to squeeze in a quick walk-the-dog, when I realized I’d forgotten the library book I wanted to return. Quickly I turned around, and as I walked up to my driveway, my husband shouted ‘Jen” from the upstairs window.

I screamed.

Breathing deeply, I tried to recover from his startling interruption, all the while scowling at his hysterically laughing face in the window. “OMG – what if you’d been carrying groceries!” he managed to squeak out between bursts of laughter. “You’re so jumpy!”

Annoyed that my silence had been so rudely squelched, I slipped quietly inside, gathered my book, and headed back out. Jumpy? I guess so. I prefer to think of it as my Zen Jen mode that flows so naturally whenever I am by myself.

My family thinks it’s hilarious to make me scream while I’m gardening, or washing dishes, or writing. I think someday it’s going to give me a heart attack.

I’ve crafted a fine art of sinking into silence. It’s a coping mechanism, a centering tool, and most of all, a state of absolute bliss. Silence, you see, is not merely an absence of sound.

I’ve written before about how walking is my meditation. I’ve put hundreds of thousands of miles in during my lifetime, always preferring to walk instead of run, to go slow instead of fast. On a recent walk, I was delighted to listen to Gordon Hempton talk about silence on one of my favorite podcasts, Krista Tippett’s On Being.

I don’t always listen to podcasts or music when I walk; often I prefer to just listen to what’s going on around me, or the thoughts that are floating in my head from a busy day of teaching and mothering. But this day, a blue-sky January morning, I was mesmerized by his words. Hempton, an acoustic ecologist and founder and VP or The One Square Inch of Silence Foundation, blew open my mind with his explanation that silence is an absence of noise, not an absence of sound. His definition precisely named what I’m searching for when I walk, or sit in my garden, or stand on a snow covered mountainside – a way to cancel out the noise in my life in favor of a way to truly hear what is happening around me.

“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.”

Aldous Huxley (Music at Night and Other Essays)

It turns out, finding silence isn’t so easy. Music, Hempton says, is a reflection of who we are, and who we are is a reflection of what we hear. As a kid, I remember my sister constantly wanting me to turn down the radio, to be quiet. Growing up, my parents listened to Simon and Garfunkel and country music. In my teens, I became immersed in Goth music, lulled by the almost hypnotic, soothing sounds and emotional lyrics. I met my husband at a punk show – he was the singer in a band, I was hanging out backstage after the show. As an English major, I spent hours in my Berkeley apartment crafting my senior thesis to a background of Chopin and Rachmaninoff.  Hempton’s claim fits me like a glove.

“Does not everything depend on our interpretation of the silence around us?”

Lawrence Durrell (Justine (The Alexandria Quartet #1))

Intrigued by this idea about silence as an absence of noise, I asked my family what their favorite sounds were. At first, my son replied, “crazy bass”, reflecting his place in the teenage culture of rap and urban music. But on second thought, he shared ”wind howling through the tall pines in a snowstorm far from any other source of noise”. I wonder if he knew that the whisper of pine trees is mine?

Hempton says true silence doesn’t exist; rather, we search for silence from modern life. Judging from the responses of my family, I’d agree. Rain, waves, water rushing, the absence of sound, and the cry of a raven were all sounds that my family loves, and to me, represent what it means to be in a place – of nature’s ‘acoustic system’, as Hempton shares.

Strangely enough, my middle school students are loving nature’s acoustics, too. My last period of the day is a remedial reading class – just imagine, for a minute, trying to get 12,13, and 14-year-olds who have below grade level reading ability to actually READ for 50 minutes.

It’s no small task.

Early on, I decided that my number one goal would be to help them develop a love for reading by learning that reading is relaxing. Every day, one student gets to choose where we ‘go’ for our relax and read time – to the ocean, by a foggy stream, in a sunny meadow, by a crackling fire – and for our ten minutes of quiet reading, we listen to nature sounds. And they love it. Curled up in a beanbag, hearing the sounds of rain trickling down the window (even on a sunny afternoon) helps them to relax and let their bodies and brains travel to another world. Spending time in a quiet environment helps them to calm down, and when they feel safe and secure I can start to help them become better readers. It works.

“I’ve begun to realize that you can listen to silence and learn from it. It has a quality and a dimension all its own.”

Chaim Potok (The Chosen)

Finally, Hempton shares that silence is an endangered species. He believes that we must take our children away from human-constructed noise and experience spaces and times of silence. We should go into nature, to allow them to experience and feel their body, and to meet the sounds of wildlife. We are born listeners, he states, and as we age we are ‘taught’ how to listen. He believes that it is in nature where we are truly able to notice the darkness of night and an empty our thoughts. I wholeheartedly agree.

As I grow older, I grow more comfortable with the vulnerability of silence. When I’m walking, I feel a shedding of all that troubles me, the burdens of balancing life and the fears about the future slide into the dirt beneath my sneakers. It is in the absence of noise, in the silence, surrounded by the sounds of the world, that I feel most secure, where I find my center and can just be

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Zen Master, Please Help Me!

Future Past Present
Future Past Present (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Peace is present right here and now, in ourselves and in everything we do and see.

Every breath we take, every step we take, can be filled with peace, joy, and serenity.

The question is whether or not we are in touch with it.

We need only to be awake, alive in the present moment.

Each time I read Thich Nhat Hahn’s writing I know it has come to me at the right moment. This is no exception.
I need to slow down.
Peace in the moment. That’s a hard concept for many women who, like me, try to manage a home, children, a job outside the home, time for a spouse, and any small scrap of a social life.  It’s hard to be peaceful, present  and in myself sometimes. I want to feel like every breath and step is full of joy and serenity, that counting the steps I take in life can simply bring me into a meditative state. More likely, I’m counting to see how fast I can go and how far I can get in a set amount of time!
My ‘busy’ life season is November through April. I feel like I’m moving in alternate realities, never present in one place long enough to get grounded. Early mornings every day of the week and weekend leave me tired, very much alive, and frequently frantic.
I need to be present.
Thich Nhat Hanh
Thich Nhat Hanh (Photo credit: Leonard John Matthews)

Being in touch with the moment is something I strive for. Sometimes I feel it – that deep exhale as the soft breezes caress me, the warm covers enfold me, or the child’s arms envelop me. But more often than not, lately, I’m over-caffeinated, under rested and way too hyped out to simply sit and be present.

I need a Zen Master to come find me.

I need Thich Nhat Hahn to show me that really, peace is inside me.
I just need to know where to look.
I do know that I am alive, and I’m awake (barely).
I guess that puts me two-thirds of the way to peace, right?
Not that I’m counting or anything…

Zen Master, please help me.

What do you think? Be my Zen master?
How do you do at being peaceful, present, and awake in your life?
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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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