Reading poetry can become a gateway to listening for the soul. In her poem, Black Oaks, Mary Oliver beautifully describes the inner dialogue between the ambitions of the ego and the longings of the soul. With her words, she paints a picture of ambition standing over her while she sits under a tree. Ambition is tapping a foot and urging her to get moving and do something productive.
Her response to ambition’s prodding is:
“To tell the truth I don’t want to let go of the wrists
of idleness, I don’t want to sell my life for money,
I don’t even want to come in out of the rain.”
When I first read this poem, I had cracked open the book, Devotions, as preparation for my morning meditation. This stanza of the poem slipped right through the doorway to my soul and I found myself sinking into my morning meditation with the mantra, “to tell the truth…”
What would happen if we were to tell the truth about what we most want to do with our day, rather than keep allowing ambition to nudge us along? This question intrigued me. What if I was honest and allowed myself to write a list of all that I don’t want to do as a way of making space to listen for what it is I truly desire.
I found myself reaching for my journal. Across the top of the page, I wrote, “To tell the truth, I don’t want to…” I responded to this prompt until there was nothing else coming to mind.
Under this list, I wrote the words, “I would rather….” I wrote down whatever thoughts and desires bubbled up onto the page. I stopped writing when one particular response surprised me and I knew, “there it is, the deeper voice of my soul responding to what it is most longing for right now.”
It seems that some retreat-like, quiet time is what would feed my soul these days.
This activity of listening to myself tell the truth about what I would most like to be doing provided a clue about what I can build into my day or my week that would sustain my innermost self. I know how to build some quiet moments into my day. I don’t have to go away for an entire week of retreat.
Sometimes, all the soul needs is some space to be heard. When we listen for our deeper truths, we can integrate what we need into our daily/weekly rhythm.
I am grateful that the book, Devotions, fell open to this poem. These few stanzas penned by Mary Oliver have opened a gateway to a new journaling practice that supports listening for the soul. If you click on the link below, you can download a copy of this journaling practice for yourself.