by Mary Oliver
I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?
Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?
Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
For more poetry and information on Mary Oliver, see https://maryoliver.com
I’m inspired by this poem, and feel it captures so much of our experience as humans, offering an understanding about worry.
We can spend so much time worrying, with nothing gained! At these times when we can’t do something or change a situation we, by default, worry, ruminate and self blame.
The last two lines of this poem are wonderful and joyful, about the “old body” and “singing”- both using our physical selves. Singing can bring better breathing and integrate our experience, calming and restoring us to our better selves. When you sing you exhale and inhale more fully and this allows the body to relax, feel expansive and free. Physical activity and exercise allows us get us back in touch with an uplifting, hopeful experience of ourselves in the world.
In a similar way, when we are engrossed in an activity our worrying mind is distracted. When at work, personal concerns often fade into the background. People find ways to occupy themselves as a way of distracting from worries, misgivings and difficult feelings about themselves. People can be afraid to look at some things as they think this could lead to worse worry and speculation, and sometimes they just try to push away the worries. In most cases, facing these concerns and bringing them out into the air, sharing them with someone who understands your feelings can really help.
Very often our concerns are not ours alone, but are universal human ones. I imagine you’ve had that experience with friends when you also discover you are not alone in this!
This is not to minimise how difficult it can feel to suffer in silence, that our thoughts about ourselves are so hard to express, or bring us back to pain. We can experience the same thought, that judges us, and increases the fear of speaking. The pain is then intensified through fear. Speaking of it, eases it, gets it out of your system, and can be a great relief. Finding your voice, and speaking out to someone who really understands, can create a new experience.
I love poetry and art, appreciating as well as creating. In writing or painting work, or any making work, there is a time of flow and a time of stuckness or dissatisfaction; this is all part of the process of creating.
I love the sense of movement and flow in paintings and while I am making something. Each person may have their own individual way through these times of being stuck. Some people trust this will change, as it has before. Others use a sense of play, doodle, experiment or do some other creative work, have fun- anything to ‘warm up’ and get past the initial resistance, allowing the ‘happy accident’ and a way of seeing and putting things together.
Many writers keep a routine of work hours every day, the same number of words, or time, to maintain their focus. If you read accounts by artists and writers you will know they describe their struggle and what works for them. Some writers and artists see their work as self- defining, which can become a trap when it isn’t going well, they might think “if the work isn’t happening , then I’m no good.”
An important aspect is to keep some degree of activity and change in perspective, allowing a compassionate recognition of the process you are in, rather than overly critical view of yourself that can be self-destructive.
The process of making, for some, is a time of peace, when you are engaged and engrossed. At some stage, however, there is the necessary task, of editing or cutting out, rejecting work. You could see this work as part of the process, saving the scraps or ‘unnecessary parts’ to return to, so that nothing is wasted.
One activity I enjoyed in an art class was painting to music, of different rhythms and speeds, using different paints, more or less continually moving the brush on the paper. It ended as a whirling shape, and was wonderful to do, as if I was part of the picture.
Some very influential interesting writers on art, psychology and meditation
Marion Milner ‘On Not being Able to Paint’. (This is an interesting psycholanalytic exploration of making art, doodling )
Frederick Franck- ‘The Awakened Eye- A Companion volume to the Zen of seeing/ drawing as meditation’. (This explores drawing as a way of seeing and attending, creating a soft focus)
Julia Cameron ‘The Artists Way: A Course in Discovering and recovering your creative Self’.
(This is a really useful and practical course to encourage and stimulate the creative process).