Select Page

The Journey-Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew

what you  had to do, and began,

though the voices around you

kept shouting

their bad advice-

though the whole house

began to tremble

and you felt the old tug

at your ankles.

“Mend my life!”

each voice cried.

But you didn’t stop.

You knew what you had to do,

though the wind pried

with its stiff fingers

at the very foundations,

though their melancholy

was terrible.

It was already late

enough, and a wild night,

and the road full of fallen

branches and stones.

But little by little,

as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice

which you slowly

recognized as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world,

determined to do

the only thing you could do-

determined to save

the only life you could save.

(in New and Selected Poems)


This statement is true in both directions (that is There and Back Again):  I leave because I must.  To grow, to have anything to offer my community, I must step towards my most loyal challenger, my petty tyrant, my fiercest foe (that is, the wholeness of my Self, the inner reflection and the outer mirrors).   I must step out and travel into and through the waiting mountainside, into the heart of the earth, through the desert sky and the fecund density of the forest, across barren the mesa and deep into the canyons of soul.  Only there (only here) can I find out and meet everything that is fully present.  I step forward to practice and to clarify what I am willing to accept from the fullness of my manifestations.  There is an imperative to move from community into Community, from self into Self.

I have committed fully and ruthlessly to the spiritual life, the Warrior’s path.  I am beyond the point of return.  It’s not merely incorporating the routines of contemplation and discernment; it is engaging each encounter as a specific opportunity to gather power, to grow, to mature in the soul’s journey.  Moreover it is courting, seducing, and stalking these opportunities for self-evolution and surrender into freedom.

This commitment does not, in this lifetime, look like special robes (recent ordination not withstanding).  It does not entail specific fasts, define my social sphere, or demand regimented practices, though it has and will encompass these apparent austerities at times.  It is a discipline of tapas, of building the purifying fire and the intensity that burns through limitation, fear, rage, grief, and any other sense of separation by using these very same daemons as fuel.

There’s snow in the mountains here on the New Mexico-Colorado border, an elevation dependent spring which seems like a gravity dependent lightness.  Rilke says, “patiently trust our heaviness.” On this Path we are called to sink below the buzz and business and to let our apparent humanness and the places of seeming ugliness be what grounds us down into the dark void of a blood red womb, a vacuum, and a depth, and a sweetness.   There is an expansive lightness as one climbs higher by sinking into the fullest surrender; yet, too, there is a coldness, a rawness, a hesitation that only slowly gives way to full spring.


II, 16

How surely gravity’s law,
strong as an ocean current,
takes hold of even the strongest thing
and pulls it toward the heart of the world.

Each thing –
each stone, blossom, child –
is held in place.
Only we, in our arrogance,
push out beyond what we belong to
for some empty freedom.

If we surrendered
to earth’s intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.

Instead we entangle ourselves
in knots of our own making
and struggle, lonely and confused.

So, like children, we begin again
to learn from the things,
because they are in God’s heart;
they have never left him.

This is what the things can teach us:
to fall,
patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke ~

(Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God,

translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy)