“When I Am Among Trees”
by Mary Oliver
When I am among trees,
Especially the willows and the honey locust,
Equally the beech, the oaks, and the pines,
They give off such hints of gladness
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
In which I have goodness, and discernment,
And never hurry though the world
But walk slowly, and bow often
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
And call out, “stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”
When I was in college one of my creative writing professors gave us the best assignment, in my opinion, that could be given. Over the course of the semester we needed to hand copy 50 poems of our choice into a notebook. Unlike some students who waited until the end of the semester to bust out 50 poems with a numbing, sore hand, I took to this assignment with immediate, fervent vigor. I poured over poetry as though they were the river bottom and I was the waterfall. I spent countless hours discovering new poems because of this homework. In an independent study the following semester with this same professor, I asked to be assigned the task again but my hand written anthology would include only international poets. That assignment has followed me through post-college years and thankfully so. I still copy poems into my journal when they strike me.
I stumbled upon this Mary Oliver ditty a few weeks into being in Tulum. I was homesick, I was second guessing myself, I felt angry, I felt awful. Needless to say, it spoke to me so I copied it into my journal. I hope it speaks to you too. This is what I’m trying to do here. I’m learning how to be filled with light because I have felt darkness for so long. Your own self-perception can be so filled with self-loathing and it’s such a nasty downward spiral. I have a college degree, I’m able bodied and smart but I have spent most of my 20’s flitting though life being a waitress and being miserable because of that. Thinking of myself as less than because my successes have been more privately personal than monetary.
I moved back to Rochester after being in VT for ten years and would run into people from high school I hadn’t seen in just as long. I was embarrassed to say what I was doing for work. I’m 29, I should have a career by now, right? I should be married, own a house, have a child, have a white picket fence. I have avoided the 9-5, 40 hour work week, office job do-hickey lifestyle because it scares the shit out of me. Because I see so many people doing that and they aren’t happy or fulfilled. What general society begs of us is so different from what I want for myself and it’s a constant inward struggle to remind myself of that. Sure, it would be great to make some decent money, to own a house, to have a secure job but I don’t think I would be fulfilled. Because I want to travel, because I don’t yearn for many possessions, because I long to be fluent in Spanish, because I want to live in a foreign country in order to experience life in a different way, I am here. You have one chance at life and tomorrow is never guaranteed.
Probably most people I ran into after a ten year respite thought nothing of me working in a restaurant, but I disliked myself for it. I harshly criticized myself thinking I was capable of so much more but not knowing how to get out of the cycle. So I decided to make a change. I woke up. I had a choice. I realized either a.) you’re going to be a waitress, forever talking about traveling and never actually doing it or b.) you can quit the job you’re not crazy about anyways and start traveling. The cycle of perpetuation is just that. You want to make a change but you are so scared that you sit inside your little tornado and it spins you until you slowly forget your dreams and aspirations. You lose yourself and the tornado spits you out onto a seat of complacency. Ten years, twenty years, thirty years go by and you don’t even recognize yourself in the mirror anymore. It’s time to wake up.
So I left, I was dying to. And it would all fall into place right? I would embark on a journey and happiness would find me and it would be limitless. But it wasn’t. The darkness followed me here and I was angry about it. And I blamed everyone else. Ashley told me I needed to stop harping on the negatives so much, I needed to look at things from a different perspective, I needed an attitude adjustment. No one better than a close friend to gently hold a mirror up to your face and nudge you in a better direction. So she lent me “The Places That Scare You,”
by Pema Chodron- a guide to fearlessness in difficult times (read it, whoever you are, I can promise you it will change you for the better). A few days later I circled around some sea turtles
which blew me away. I spent some time with a few new people who, unbeknownst to them at the time, opened my eyes. Seriously, opened my eyes. I’m thankful for it all (I’m sure Ashely is too, she doesn’t have to deal with my icy bitchiness as much). I actually rounded a corner with my own happiness.
When you stop placing blame, when you stop trying to figure out what exactly happened to make you so unhappy (because let’s face it, it’s not one thing that made you unhappy, pinpointing the base of unhappiness is like untangling a fishing net), when you just acknowledge your demons, then they start to fade away. The beauty of life is that we have free will. We can wake up every morning and say, “I’m unhappy and I am going to project it onto everyone that comes in contact with me.” I did this for awhile when I first arrived and thankfully a few people called me out on it. Or you can wake up and say, “I’m unhappy, I acknowledge that it exists, it’s time to let go of the unhappiness, it’s time to loosen up.” I’m trying the latter these days. Acknowledge your emotions, accept them and let them go.
I arrived in Tulum and I was standing behind a wall peeking around a corner. The darkness I felt was behind me for the most part but it was still present and threatening. But I made a choice last week to deal with it. And suddenly, I love being here in Tulum! I ride my bike to the ocean every day now. Sometimes I go even if it is raining and enjoy the cooling drops in this steaming humidity. By golly, life whizzes by. Don’t waste it being angry, because what is to be gained at the end of it all? The time is always nigh to grow some balls and do what scares you. I still have anxiety from time to time about this trip. I worry, I get nervous, what if something happens and all my money disappears tomorrow? I have an exact monetary value to my name right now. I have no job, I have no income. I eventually will get a job teaching English but not until the spring. I could be stressed about this, I could let it cripple me. But I don’t. I remember a woman in Australia told me once, “you just have to trust.” It’s the best advice anyone has ever given me. I think of it often when I’m freaking out about a choice I’ve made. This is what you wanted so dive in and surround yourself with it. So, I take Mary Oliver’s poem to heart. I am trying to go through life now easy, to be filled with light, to shine. And you know what? It’s starting to work.
*the title of this blog post is a quote from a comment that a wonderful, amazing woman in VT wrote to me recently. She knows who she is. 😉
|Also, holding infants that you’re a pseudo-Auntie to for extended
periods of time every day can really make you smile.
|I mean look at that precious little face!