Mary Oliver, a Pulitzer Prize winning poet, has died at the age of 83. What she left behind is a treasure trove of poetry that brought forth feelings and deeper meanings in the natural world and beyond. She has been compared to having the vision of Ralph Waldo Emerson and according to Bruce Bennett her award-winning book American Primitive has the “primacy of the primitive” (July 17, 1983 New York Times). She could often be found walking the lands of Cape Cod which holds a special place in my heart.
One special quality of her poems is the feeling of ‘nowness’ – being in the present moment and a sense of wonder.
Read the beginning her poem called A 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.
The questioning attitude of the poet, that feeling of being a witness and part of an experience happening in just this present moment, now and at no other time, the joy of witnessing – just a small wonder. All this shines through clearly in her poetry. We seem to take for granted the little things that make up our lives passing though the world without really noticing. Mary Oliver reminds us just how special our world really is.
(photo by Dan Dvorscak)
In Sanskrit rasa( रस) means the tastes of life. It can be something you see, a beautiful flower that takes your breath away; something you hear, possibly music; or even something you read, perhaps this poem. Whatever it is, it evokes such sensations that we pause and notice. These sensations are generally hard for most of us to put into words.
But, you are part of the process that creates these feelings of rasa. The rasa does not exist by itself. It is neither in the object nor just inside you. The experience needs both the object and the observer. The feeling is intertwined, formed by the relationship between the seer and the object. Or perhaps, think of rasa as a flavor. The flavor comes from your taste buds interacting with the food you are eating. You and the food become as one in the experience of tasting. Without either the food or you there is no taste.
Wonder, Yoga, and Meditation
The rasa term for wonder is adbhuta. It is that feeling of being surprised, being filled with a sense of admiration, amazement, or even awe at something beautiful or remarkable. Wonder is also be experienced by looking at something in a new light.
Let’s take this attitude of wonder into our yoga and meditation practices. The next time you take a yoga class, sit for a few moments before beginning your practice. Focus on the wonder in your amazing body that allows you to do these poses we call yoga. Feel the sensations that come up when doing each pose. Right now, marvel at the feelings and sensations that are arising. Don’t try to imagine what the pose felt like the first time or the last time you did them, rather experience the poses as if you are doing them for the very first time. If a sensation or movement brings a strong sense of wonder to you, stay with it. Perhaps hold the pose a little longer than the rest of the class is. After all, it’s really your yoga class! Your experience is neither in the teacher nor the other students. This adbhuta that you are feeling arises from your explorations with the world.
In your next meditation practice, bring something to mind that is truly marvelous – wonderful, delightful, full of awe. If nothing comes to mind, use the grasshopper experience from Mary Oliver’s poem. Imagine a grasshopper sitting in your hand eating some sugar. Imagine what its head looks like. Imaging what the eye of a grasshopper sees and how the world looks from its perspective. Imagine the wonder of seeing the grasshopper as it takes to the air and flies.
Take this sense of wonder and experience of mystery of the small things off your mat and into the rest of your life.