Mindful by Mary Oliver

Lake Peten Itza, Flores (Guatemala)

Every day
I see or hear
that more or less
kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle
in the haystack
of light.
It is what I was born for --
to look, to listen,
to lose myself
inside this soft world --
to instruct myself
over and over
in joy,
and acclamation.
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,
the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant --
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,
the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help
but grow wise
with such teachings
as these --
the untrimmable light
of the world,
the ocean's shine,
the prayers that are made
our of grass?

Mary Oliver


The “Four” Basic Needs

A tree in the French Pyrenees
When you strip life down to its bare necessities, it starts to reveal glimpses of its true nature -- very much like rubbing the dust off of a stone exposes its ever-present sparkle. 

The path is clear. I wake up and follow the signs (quite literally). I know exactly where I’m going. There are no conflicts in the mind. No real decisions to be made. I just need to keep walking. And in between those steps, somehow, things become clearer and less complex. All of a sudden, everything seems simple. 

Once the mind accepts whatever situation it comes across with an unwavering steadfastness and equanimity, everything is in the flow. Majority of the thoughts now revolve around the three basic needs: food, shelter, and enough warm clothing. 

After walking for hours, there’s a relief when I finally spot a cafĂ©.  I can go in and get a sandwich and a coffee to nurture the body and walk the rest of the day. Hopefully, I'll make it in time to my destination and get a bed for the night. Most days end with me lying completely exhausted in a warm sleeping bag, with a sense of accomplishment and gratefulness for the day. Day after day, the same situation transpires. I wake up, work hard physically, and search for food and shelter. As a custodian of this body, my mind anticipates its needs and quickly steps in to protect and provide -- it does the job it’s meant to do. 

On exploring and inspecting the three basic needs, another need arises.  While I’m constantly receiving -- from the air that fills my lungs to the food that satisfies my tummy to the sun that warms my body -- there is also a natural impulse to complete the circle and start giving.  That's the fourth basic need: to give.

This one is not so obvious at first and it can easily go below the radar for an entire lifetime.  Still, if we are to learn to thrive, and not just survive, this is the most important one.  The patterns of receiving tend to set in from our birth since Nature provides for us so effortlessly.  We almost take it for granted.  As a result, it is no surprise that we seek out relationships where we will receive; relationships that will fulfill our needs and cover up our voids. Like many others, I’ve often taken pride in being independent without recognizing the extent of our interconnection with all that lives around us. If science tells us that a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil can cause a tornado in Texas, what about our impact? We are deeply connected not just with people but with all of nature.

The only way that we can complete this circle is by becoming aware of the magnitude of gifts we've received, feeling a deep sense of gratitude, and paying it forward. Just like food, shelter and clothing, if we truly recognize the importance of “giving” as a vital need, it would be difficult not to meet life at its doorstep every moment with one question: how can I serve?