Instructions for living a life by Mary Oliver

Pay attention.

Be astonished.

Tell about it.

I’m not sure if this is considered a poem or simply a quote but it has always been one of my favourites. Today is the first anniversary of Mary Oliver’s death. She left us with so many exquisite poems and this one seems, to me, to capture so well the essence of how she lived and what she wrote.

So here is a small tribute to her based on this poem.

Pay Attention. How else will you know what is going on around you?

You must be present to life each day as it is, notice it, observe, especially

the smallest details – this grasshopper, the ocean’s shine, the green

fists of the peonies, the daily presentations. Let us not become blasé about

this remarkable life.

Be astonished. We can become unimpressed with what we have seen

and experienced many times, becoming indifferent to both the beauties

and the horrors the world shows us over and over. It is only right, she tells

us, to be amazed and impressed by everything, especially (again) the small

details. To be filled with awe, lost for words.

Tell about it. For a poet like herself, Oliver knew how to tell us what she

saw, how to put words to what might seem indescribable. Yet I think she

meant not only that we should write poetry but that we should speak of all

that is remarkable about this world, to share the wonders we see and hear

with others as she so generously did with us.

Mary Oliver said all that and so much more in 7 words.

Are you not astonished?

With Intention by Janice Falls

And what will you do

with this unspent year,

these 365 never-before days

unspooling from the wheel as it turns,

neither stopping nor hurrying

despite your self-driven pace?

Will you greet each one

with heart wide open,

seeing all the beauty of this world

as well as its infinite sadness,

the madness and grief woven into

the achingly exquisite texture of a day?

Will you pause…

in your haste for each busy day to be done

for the next special event to arrive,

so that you might taste any moment now

be it bitter, fresh, rich or bland

and let it roll across your tongue

so that you truly know it?

Each new day will never again be here.

Greet it without clinging or aversion

or worse without noticing,

as intimate and near to you as your breath.

Unwrap each day as the gift it is;

be surprised with delight or with disappointment

but do not look away too long

for this one will not come to you again.

I wrote this poem some years ago after being asked if I knew of any poems for the new year. Though there are several, I didn’t know any at the time so I put pen to paper to see what would come and here you have it.

I think, as I read it now, that I was writing what I needed to hear, to slow down, to pay attention, to be more present to each moment. It felt important to speak not only of the beauty of this world but of the sorrow, the delight and the disappointment – life as it is.

As we enter not only a new year but a new decade of possibilities, may you treasure each day as it comes, each new day that will never again be here.