Please note that this is an Archived article and may contain content that is out of date. The use of she/her/hers pronouns in some articles is not intended to be exclusionary. Eating disorders can affect people of all genders, ages, races, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, body shapes, and weights.
By Nikki Rollo, PhD, LMFT
This morning as I was setting intentions for the day, I opened a book of poetry by Mary Oliver (one of my favorites) called “Felicity” that was recently lent to me by a friend who shares my love of her work and the ways in which it touches the human experience and serves as guide for us into the world of nature. I came across this poem that stirred something in my soul and I think has something to offer those on the healing path. I will share it with you here and then offer some thoughts.
Leaves and Blossoms Along the Way
If you’re John Muir you want trees to
live among. If you’re Emily, a garden
Try to find the right place for yourself.
If you can’t find it, at least dream of it.
When one is alone and lonely, the body
gladly lingers in the wind or the rain,
or splashes into the cold river, or
pushes through the ice-crusted snow.
Anything that touches.
God, or the gods, are invisible, quite
understandable. But holiness is visible,
Some words will never leave God’s mouth,
no matter how hard you listen.
In all the works of Beethoven, you will
not find a single lie.
All important ideas must include the trees,
the mountains, and the rivers.
To understand many things you must reach out
of your own condition.
For how many years did I wander slowly
through the forest. What wonder and
glory I would have missed had I ever been
in a hurry!
Beauty can both shout and whisper, and still
it explains nothing.
The point is, you’re you, and that’s for keeps.
In a world of technology, online personas, and the false sense of intimacy that social media can bring, we can really struggle to find what is authentic. Connection and belonging are so crucial to our existence, to our survival. We need spaces where we can be ourselves, places that are just right for us. I think these are things we need both with others and in solitude. This poem emphasizes the importance of nature and the necessity of trees, mountains, and rivers in our lives. In thinking about spaces for connection and belonging, what comes to mind for me are both physical spaces in nature and emotional spaces in relationships, and that internal space inside, the inner world where dreams exist. These spaces are grounding- the physical, relational, and imaginal. These are three touchpoints for when things feel overwhelming or confusing.
My body finds rest and my mind finds clarity when I am leaning against a tree, supported by the strong trunk that is supported by an intricate and complicated root system. It is here that I can connect to my own root system and my own strength. I can contemplate big questions and see possibilities where I previously felt stuck. Consider where your physical space of peace is- a body of water? A special rock on a hiking trail? If you don’t have one, you might go exploring outside and see what moves you. Notice where you feel drawn and go that way, slowly. Wander. Let your curiosity and sense of wonder move you.
My body finds rest and my mind finds clarity when I am in the presence of a loved one who accepts me for who I am- both the light and the dark. This is not always something that comes easy for us. We may have to work at developing these connections, practice courageous vulnerability and gradually expand our capacity for sharing the parts of us that like to remain hidden. Yet, we are hardwired for connection. We need other people. Think about those in your life who you feel rejuvenated around. If you cannot think of those people, consider that this may be your work- developing connections and friendships that are accepting, loving, and hold potential for your body and mind to find rest in their presence. And this is mutual. Can you be the person someone else can find rest in?
My body finds rest and my mind finds clarity when I dream of the right place for myself and wander through it slowly in the inner world. When I can’t physically be in nature with a tree or when I can’t be spending time with someone I love, I can dream of it, imagining all the parts of it and how it feels in my body. And I can find peace in the imaginal spaces. It can be hard to be alone with ourselves sometimes, feeling and remaining present, and showing up for ourselves. We can expand our tolerance for this in the work of recovery. This might be through a breathing practice, meditation, prayer, creative expression of art, movement, or your own writing.
I offer you the thoughts that came to mind as I read this poem. For me, these are things that can help me touch authenticity and increase my own well-being and sense of meaning in life.
You may have noticed other parts of it and this poem may have stirred something different in you as you read it. That is the wonderful beauty in poetry. I encourage you to read it again, or even read it aloud, and see what stirs in you. As Mary Oliver says, “The point is, you’re you, and that’s for keeps”.