Simplicity on the Other Side of Complexity

Wednesday, July 9, 2014 - 5:26am
Photo by Jesus Solana

Simplicity on the Other Side of Complexity

Oliver Wendell Holmes said, "For the simplicity that lies this side of complexity, I would not give a fig, but for the simplicity that lies on the other side of complexity, I would give my life."

One of the many things I love about Mary Oliver's poetry is that she faces squarely into the complexity of our lives on "this side" of things — and then points us toward the simplicity that lies on the other side of our confusions and illusions.

Here's a beautiful poem in which she says that she is "so distant from the hope of myself" as she wants to be — me too! — but then listens to the trees explain why "It's simple."

So I'm going to go out and listen to the trees for a while this afternoon.

When I Am Among the Trees
from Mary Oliver's Thirst: Poems

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
   but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, "Stay awhile."
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, "It's simple," they say,
"and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine."

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Parker J. Palmer

is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Wednesday.

He is a Quaker elder, educator, activist, and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal. His books include Healing the Heart of Democracy, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, and Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.

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perfect timing ... thank you.

That's what I was going to say.

Each day as I walk our dog Louie I'm struck buy the beauty that can be found in our own backyard, here is one of the many poems I've written about our adventures together.

Staying Home Tonight
As we drift into the driveway I exclaim “there's no way I'm walking Louie tonight,
it's two am, eighteen degrees and I'm tired”
we enter the house and there he is, filled with tail waggin anticipation,
“not tonight buddy” I say...................then
I reach for my hat and gloves, harness up Louie and we're off,
greeted by crystaline moonshine we drink it in, aaah.......
this sparkling beverage runs cold across the palate
quickly warming as we take nip after nip, I'm starting to feel just a bit giddy,
It's ok, Louie's leading the way, we move along a silvery moonlit path
criss crossed by leafless, shadowy branches,
having dropped the curtain of leaves the woods sparkle
in a backdrop filled with stars,
take us home Louie and thanks for the drink

Thank you for sharing lovely poem! Though I live in a city right now, and without many trees nearby, I feel similarly about my walks with my dog, Huey.

ahhh my soul sits beneath the shade of the tree

I love that poem! I went to a Quaker college so perhaps that is why I am so in tune with Parker Palmer. My new book, 'Heaven is a Garden' (St Lynns Press 2014) has a chapter, Calling on the Trees...It talks about the qualities certain trees add to a garden....and it talks about the light flowing from the branches!

Yesterday amidst all my business, I loaded the dogs into the canoe and headed for the beach on the other side of the wetland lagoon. Under the willows I fell asleep with a good book in hand. How absolutely restful and pleasant. The swallows came out for their evening catch of bugs. We paddled back at sunset. What's that I hear??? Oh yes - it's the rustle of the aspen trees - they sounded like a gentle mist of rain falling . Trees - yes they are my refuge - thanks for the Mary Oliver poem !

For six years my husband and I lived on the seventh floor of a high rise apartment with a view of downtown St. Louis and the Arch. It was lovely for awhile, but then it became just a view. Something was wrong...
We are now back on the ground, first floor condo with a rickety old back porch, home again...AMONG the trees! Humans were not meant to live above the trees.