“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.”
~ Mary Oliver
Unexpectedly, yesterday afternoon, I felt a sadness descend upon me.
At first I tried to ignore it.
Then, to laugh it off.
I immersed myself in busy-ness.
But it didn’t go away. Instead it settled on my bones like a numbing fog.
Until I could barely think or move or breathe.
I couldn’t think why. I couldn’t shift it at all. I was burdened with this great weight.
Finally, not knowing what else to do, I climbed the hill behind my little farm house and sat down in the thick plush grass of the old orchard. The hill continued on behind me, and I felt safe with it at my back. The sun shone above me. And as I sat I remembered my old Aboriginal Aunty, and what she said to me once, when I was experiencing a similar kind of sadness, brought on by homesickness and worry.
Just go outside, she said. Go sit down, and listen a lil bit.
Listen to what? I asked.
Just listen. All dem answers come when you just listen. Go on, go now. Sit. Be quiet. Open your eyes. Open your ears. Be alive with listening.
Be alive with listening. Isn’t that the most beautiful thing you’ve ever heard? Such wisdom in those words.
Yesterday, remembering that, I sat quietly, with nature all around me.
I heard the grass finches chirping and peeping and flitting from place to place. I heard the birr of their wings. I heard the rush of air as a flock of fat pigeons flew overhead.
I heard my husband down on the flats by the river, driving the tractor that tows the spike aerator. I smelled the good clean scent of dirt and grass.
I filled my ears and there was more and more to hear. Bugs and beetles and birdsong and cows. A distant call from a renegade rooster.
I heard the sleepiness of Sunday afternoon. I heard Harry and Bert playing dog wars in the back yard. I heard the rustle and creak of the heavy boughs of the Sydney gums as the wind shifted and the salty afternoon air blew in from the bay.
The afternoon shadows grew longer, and still I sat.
The sun warmed my skin. The breeze tangled my hair. The grass tickled my calves.
I heard my heart beating. I felt its pulse strong and steady in my throat. In my ears. In my hands.
As I listened something inside me grew larger – a vast lake of silence – and I found myself rowing out into the middle of that lake in the small boat of my mind. There I bobbed, every breath a ripple taking me closer and closer to what it was that was troubling me so.
I remembered, then.
Being with my friend Angela as she died. Holding her hand, whispering comforts, and watching the flickering artery in her neck through translucent skin that was stretched too thin over her bones.
At first you could see the beat was steady but weak.
As the afternoon and then the night dragged on that flickering pulse became weaker. The beat more irregular. Her breathing too. I waited to see if each breath might be the last. If that flickering pulse would slow to a stop. But I was busy then, holding space for Angela, helping ease her into that place of transition. Being the support crew for her and her loved ones. I sang to her, I whispered, I anointed her with oils, I helped her to die. It was all for her. There was no space for me to feel my feelings. Not then. I was busy holding that space of peace and love and oneness.
Yesterday, in the sun with the hill at my back I remembered my own pain, and tears ran down my face. I tapped into a grief and a rage so strong it felt as if I were the one who couldn’t breathe, couldn’t flow, couldn’t find my peace.
It all came flooding out and I let myself cry until there were no more tears.
Then I listened some more.
I felt the earth cradling my bones. I felt the breeze caress my cheek. I heard the throb and drum of my own strong heart. I heard the trees breathing. I heard the earth sighing. I heard the world turning.
The first stars came out as the sun sank behind the curve of the horizon. My little farm house lit up with a soft glow from the kitchen light. I could see Ben come up from the river paddock and call the dogs home. He glanced up and saw me sitting in the grass and pulled the door to, happy just to know where I was.
I remembered how peaceful Angela was, after my work with her. How I helped her find that place of sanctuary.
I heard the truth of that place being whispered back to me by the earth, the sky, the trees, the stars. I heard the truth of everything being perfect in each moment. I felt the peace in my own heart. I felt it sink into my bones, until I was light with the weightlessness.
I came back down to my little farmhouse, cooked an omelette, took a shower, and crawled into bed. The windows were flung wide. I was still listening, and the earth and the moon and the stars and the sky kept whispering their comforts to me. I fell asleep to their song.
“The earth has music for those who listen.”
~ George Santayana