Tell me, what do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
This compelling question posed by Mary Oliver in her poem The Summer Day moves me every time I read it, ever since I first came across it posted on the refrigerator of my dear friend Teresa.
This is not a question with answers such as: earn a lot of money, lose 25 pounds, become famous or find a husband (or wife) deeply satisfies, even though these are the answers we often chase believing they are what will give us a significant and meaningful life; believing that is what will finally make us happy.
In many ways answering and re-answering this questions sums up the core of my own personal life and leadership practice, and the coaching and programs I offer in the powerful inquiry practice of The Work (of Byron Katie). What thinking and beliefs keep me from living out of the centre of this question? The Work helps me to illuminate and inquire.
Oliver's question is expressed as an invitation to look deeply inside ourselves; to look through and beyond the assumptions, attachments and fears that keep us stuck and small. It is an invitation into a life where we take the leap and show up in the fullness of ourselves, our gifts, our voice, our vulnerabilities, even though we can’t guarantee comfort or control, or even survival.
This poem inspires me, challenges me, touches me, and at times offers me a kick in the pants (of the helpful variety) that wakes me back up to life, and out of the dream of my own thinking that can separate me from my own life, from the ability to pay true attention to what is here, now, available, possible, like the grasshopper in Mary Oliver's poem.
I am so grateful to the poets who can move me this way and illuminate these human questions and patterns with such grace and precision. I often read Mary Oliver's poems in the retreats I host, because they resonate for me with how I experience my practice in The Work, helping me to tap into deeper sources of knowing, new ways of seeing, thinking and acting, and being moved into a space of new possibility.
The places where I am most stuck, or most ready to grow and evolve, are not problems to be solved with linear, logical problem solving approaches. I can't just think my way out of them. They benefit from a curious, compassionate inquiring mind, a space opened and held for new insights to show themselves, old attachments to let go. It is my experience, in my own practice and working with hundreds of people over 18 years, that The Work, in its powerful and beautiful simplicity gives me access to that space to engage and transform my stuck patterns, my frustrations, my judgments, my stress and suffering, my conflicts and my pain, and to step out the other side, fully present and available for my “one wild and precious life.”
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
— Mary Oliver 1935 - 2019 —