Who is my guru, today?

Mary Oliver
Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver writes beautiful poetry. And thanks to blogger-poet Ronald Shields, I have been enjoying her book, American Primitive

There is one poem that I can’t stop thinking about.



Like large dark


butterflies they sweep over

the glades looking

for death,

to eat it,

to make it vanish,

to make of it the miracle:

resurrection.  No one knows how many

they are who daily

minister so to the grassy

miles, no one

counts how many bodies

they discover

and descent to, demonstrating

each time the earth’s

appetite, the unending

waterfalls of change.

No one,


wants to ponder it,

how it will be

to feel the blood cool,

shapeliness dissolve.

Locked into

the blaze of our own bodies

we watch them wheeling and drifting, we

honor them and we

loathe them,

however wise the doctrine,

however magnificent the cycles,

however ultimately sweet

the huddle of death to fuel

those powerful wings.

Sometimes another person can do or say or write something that helps us to see something more clearly.  There is darkness and they shine in that illuminating flashlight and then we see something that we didn’t ever think was in that dark box. (Thank goodness I’m not trying to be the poet in this story…)  This is the definition of a guru, really.  A guru dispels darkness.  Today I give a shout out to guru Oliver.  This poem has helped me to see.

I was pondering “Vultures” as I drove Hazel to school.  Hazel usually takes the bus. But as summer approaches, a year’s worth of low-grade resentment over having to wake up early and go to school for yet another day has reached a critical mass.  Hazel and I challenge school-bus fate by leaving for the bus stop a little later and later each day.  Today, it was just too late.  For the first time this year, we actually missed the bus. So after waiting and wondering on the cul-di-sac corner longer than we needed to, we came back to the house.  We had a few minutes before I had to drive her to school so I sat on the couch to read this poem again and drink a little more tea while she worked on a Barbie mausoleum made of blocks and fabric scraps.  I was thinking about vultures and the huddle of death when we finally got into the car.  “Mr. Jones” was playing on the radio and the Counting Crows guy was singin’, “We all want something beau-ti-ful.  I wish I was beautiful.” I think he’s right even if he does have bad grammar. We do want beautiful.  Locked into the blaze of our own bodies we get wrapped up in our ideas of what that means but then a poet uses words, so useful at times, to help us to see beauty in a broad and expansive way. Oh yeah, Mary Oliver, sometimes beauty does come in the form of  Vultures. Like large, dark lazy butterflies, for example.

I have been anxious lately.  I’m a little too busy.  I have some uncertainties about some stuff.  I don’t sleep quite enough.  And then I read this poem about vultures and what it is that they do and I feel better.  Vultures and their business seem messy and grotesque and so earth-nature-reality bound.   There are equal parts repulsion and fascination that kick in when I think about vultures…kind of like rubbernecking as I pass an accident.  Reading this poem, seeing the grotesque and the power and the fascinating beauty, helps me to feel less anxious.  This is what is possible with life on this planet.  Things die. Then birds eat the death. Then the birds go on living and flying and huddling. Guru Oliver calls this a resurrection.  Isn’t that amazing?  She evokes the central sacred and spiritual act of resurrection, the miracle of resurrection, and because of it hope stirs inside of me.  It’s this vague desire for a resurrection of my own.

I think this is what keeps me coming back to this beautiful and difficult practice of yoga.  Can this Self inside of me be uncovered and brought into the light so that I can feel whole of mind, body and spirit? Can it be resurrected. I know the answer.  I know it can.  That’s why I keep practicing and teaching and connecting to this essence and this feeling inside of me.  It’s this desire to use this life to fuel the powerful wings.  Mary Oliver.  I love you.

9 thoughts on “Who is my guru, today?

  1. Sometimes I want to cut my losses and quit, but I am forever given another chance – whether I want it or not. Once you wake up on that battlefield you find that there is no way off except victory. And somehow victory involves surrender. I agree, Amanda, it is beautiful and it is hard to do. Every day a resurrection. Beautiful reflection, Amanda. Thank you. And thank you for the Mary Oliver. “Like large dark lazy butterflies…” Ahhhhh….. That one will stay with me.

  2. This is great! “Can this self inside of me be uncovered and brought into the light so that I can feel whole of mind, body and spirit? Can it be resurrected?” Thank you for bringing to mind for me the beautiful sutra’s about the inner light that we all have and how important it is to remember to keep it “dusted off”, so the veil can be lifted and it can then shine brighter. Laurie

  3. Yes the vultures have recently swooped down onto South Park Drive but the death that’s been devoured is already being resurrected into something beautiful. And I am forever grateful

  4. I am privileged to share the page with you and Mary Oliver, thank you. When I read this poem I am struck by the words,


    each time the earth’s

    appetite, the unending

    waterfalls of change.

    They remind me of another favorite of mine, The Layers by Stanley Kunitz and the admonition to,

    “Live in the layers,
    not on the litter.”
    Though I lack the art
    to decipher it,
    no doubt the next chapter
    in my book of transformations
    is already written.
    I am not done with my changes.

    Written when he was in his 70’s I believe, and he lived to 100.

    Your insight into the need/desire for resurrection is inspiring, thank you for that.

    1. “Live in the layers.” Life is rich and interesting when we dive in. I love this, and I love that you bring poetry into my life in so many ways. Thanks, Ronald. Next book of poetry to check out, “Passing through” or “The Wild Braid?

      1. wow, what a tough choice. I have read some of the poems from Passing Through and I do like them. I have not read The Wild Braid yet but it is on my list now. For pure poetry I would choose Passing Through.

        As for thanks I would like to return the favor and say thank you for the insight and wisdom with which you write.

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