The Ponder Effect | If you have not been enchanted by this adventure—your life—what would do for you?
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If you have not been enchanted by this adventure—your life—what would do for you?

I have a morning ritual that includes reading a poem from Mary Oliver’s collection Devotions. Each poem brings me to God everywhere. You, too, I assume. Aren’t we grateful that she walked the earth, literally, with notebook in hand? Aren’t we all the better individually and collectively because of her?

Mary Oliver passed away on January 17. Where she is, what she is, now, is an exquisite mystery. What we have of her, joyfully, are her words and how they impact us. What we have of her is this impatient demand to become enchanted by life while we have it. The poem is “To Begin With, The Sweet Grass,” which cracks open everything.

I share this, too, as best I can. Inside me—inside all of us, I presume—is a happening nearly impossible to describe. I experience it as a formidable infinitesimal fluttering and also a swelling. It is triggered when I near the radiant edge of what it means to be alive. Clearly, it is not a thing I can describe, but she can, in her characteristically unfussy, ever-wise way: the witchery of living.

The witchery of living
is my whole conversation
with you, my darlings.

Yes. Yes! She makes it seem so easy. It is the whole conversation. It is the whole of everything. It is what we experience when the self is sizzled by magic. It is what we experience when we read her poetry. It is what we experience when we allow ourselves to become enchanted by this adventure, our life.

Ms. Oliver’s question is a rhetorical one to ponder. If we aren’t bewitched, why not? What would it take?


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5 Ponderings
  • Anonymous

    January 27, 2019 at 10:18 pm

    Taking a moment to be in awe in some of the best mindfulness work I’ve experienced. Thank you for sharing this beautiful poem. So uplifting!

  • Anonymous

    January 30, 2019 at 7:16 pm

    I don’t think I feel bewitched by my entire life – or that anyone, ever, possibly can. But I do find moments bewitching, particularly in retrospect. A photo of one of my kids as a baby will surface and take my breath away. A memory from a trip with my husband takes on a glow that, maybe, I didn’t entirely feel in that present moment, but that comes back to me as pure magic. It’s easier for me to appreciate the past because I’ve already had time to process it – and all the big thoughts and feelings along the way – but I think what Mary Oliver, and all great poets, encourage is not to wait for retrospect. She asks us to be bewitched by that moment, every morning, when the dog jumps on the bed and presses her face against mine in absolute joy; by the moment when my fifth grader kisses me on the lips and yells that she loves me as she hops out of the car in front of her middle school; by the ease of a long walk on a cold day. Those little things really are worth celebrating, and I’m so grateful for the reminder to look for the magic. That is often all it takes for me to realize that there really is beauty all around us.

  • Anonymous

    January 31, 2019 at 3:09 pm

    This might sound morbid but when I remember how short this life is, it makes me want to soak up each moment and find the joy even in those periods that seem stagnant. When I found myself feeling dull or wanting to numb out the noise, it’s a reality check that I need a break. The best place for me to become enchanted with life again is through nature. How can you stare at a night sky full of stars without being overwhelmed by the glory of it all? Or even looking at a flower and seeing in those petals the texture, the color and the composition more beautiful that anything I could ever dream up.

  • Anonymous

    February 1, 2019 at 12:05 pm

    The measurement of enchantment should be at a broad scale. Did I have consistent moments of enchantment this year? Walks in the woods, a great music show, a stimulating dinner event, a new hobby, a terrific book?

    Did a I have a few super-highlights of enchantment? Flying down a ski-slope, snorkeling under blue water, launching a new project at work, completing a marathon, climbing a mountain, finding a partner?

    It’s easy to lose sight of the enchantment among the grind of the day. Enchantment requires effort and trade-offs. Signing kids up for multiple extra-curricular activities at once likely will reduce enchantment. Working late nights or checking email all weekend likely will reduce enchantment. Burying ourselves in TV or phones will likely reduce our enchantment.

    Enchantment can be everywhere. Light a candle and lie on the grass in your back yard with someone special and look at the stars for 10 minutes.

  • Varina Willse

    February 3, 2019 at 2:46 pm

    I love what that person shared about enchantment being measured by a long view and according to different metrics: super highlights and consistent simpler moments of magic. Thank you for sharing a framework by which to consider this question. It helps me.