Poet Mary Oliver as my yoga teacher?

With the passing of poet Mary Oliver, there were so many quotes posted on social media from her poetry as well as other great information about her life. Amy’s former colleague posted this article about her views on concentration and the creative self and couldn’t help but to see similarities between Oliver’s thoughts on creativity and what Amy’s learned of meditation:

As a yogi who has always dreamed of one day writing the great American novel, I loved reading this long article and learning from Oliver about how I can use principals from yoga to stoke my creative fire.

In the article, the first words from Oliver are “It is a silver morning like any other. I am at my desk. Then the phone rings, or someone raps at the door. I am deep in the machinery of my wits. Reluctantly I rise…”

Sounds like my meditation practice! I commit myself to sit, bring my awareness to my breath, embody a sense of gratitude, and then start my mantra practice. Inevitably, my cat, Shanti, decides this would be the perfect time to eat (noisily!), or to show the rare affection. Or one of my three rescued Golden Retrievers starts barking. Yet, I sit, notice the distraction, and go back to the mantra. These are the easy distractions.

Oliver says: “But just as often, if not more often, the interruption comes not from another but from the self itself…”

Yes! This is the more likely scenario. The mantra is there as my anchor, but my mind wants to problem solve or gets bored or simply wants attention, and its unrelenting!

Oliver talks of three different selves, with the 3rd self being where the creativity lies and, in this article at least, seems to be the “self” she was most interested in. This creative self she describes as having a “hunger for eternity.”

From a yogic perspective, the Self (capital “S”) informs our ordinary mind and is who we truly are. We operate from an ordinary place, reacting to our 10 active and inactive senses and those reactions come from survival or from a place of habit (our samskaras). Its only with the practice of meditation, of training the mind to ignore the distractions, that our bodhi (higher discerning mind) can shine through. We experience these sweet moments as moments of clarity.

My ego would love to take credit for all the great ideas I’ve had in my life, but this yogic principal shows me that creative or “great ideas” are moments of clarity where my bodhi has routed past all the distractions. Bodhi is understood to be a universal source, something we all share. So, if my great ideas aren’t coming from me, then why wouldn’t every other person have the same ideas?

Oliver argues that the creative self cannot be separated from the artist’s whole life. She wisely states “…there is little the creatively inclined person can do but to prepare himself, body and spirit, for the labor to come — for his adventures are all unknown. In truth, the work itself is the adventure. And no artist could go about this work, or would want to, with less than extraordinary energy and concentration.”

Learning from Oliver has given me a new outlook and new energy towards my meditation practice. Those moments of clarity may or may not come, but the training alone is needed. I believe that each of us has something unique to offer the world, so living our fullest lives and making connection to this higher self can facilitate our unique gift to the world. Let your own unique life color the message that you can bring from that universal source.

Her message is clear: prepare yourself for the work at hand, concentrate, practice, and don’t let distractions from yourself or others get in the way. I’ll keep meditating every day, keep sitting to write, keep being me, and perhaps one day I’ll have written that great American novel!

“Of this there can be no question — creative work requires a loyalty as complete as the loyalty of water to the force of gravity.”

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