New Year’s Eve with Mary Oliver

This is the night when everyone feels pressured to create for themselves a set of New Year’s Resolutions.




Checklists and ticky-boxes

Every system has its rhyme and reason, but who really thinks this way? No one that I know. Who among us actually crosses the finish line for every pledge and promise? No one–or at least, not me. That’s why I’ve long-since abandoned New Year’s Resolutions altogether, in favor of the increasingly popular Word Of The Year. Hashtag:  #OneWord365.

Hey, it works for me! But I have to say, I also like the simple elegance of Mary Oliver’s Instructions for Living a Life.* 

Instructions for living a life: 
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

Quick example: I woke up this morning feeling sluggish. Am I the only one who’s feeling the need to untether myself from my laptop, and to shrug off the holiday indulgences? After long stretches of inertia, our bodies crave exercise. And while they’re certainly seductive, tech devices can stifle our creativity. Same goes for daily planners. Truth is, I can’t think of better way to get back to basics (aka reassess our priorities) than to take ourselves on long walks–allowing our thoughts to drift where they will, as we breathe deep the fresh air and stretch our limbs.

And so it was that at daybreak, I tucked a pen and notepad into my pocket, draped my camera around my neck, and headed down to the beach. Faster’n you can say flip-flops, I was feeling more like myself. My heart quickened; tight muscles were loosened.  Clarity returned with the incoming tide, and fresh ideas presented themselves like pearls, shimmering in the muted light of early morning. There was an ease to it all, an innate sense that the best things in life come of trusting your instincts. You’ll put your own spin on things, of course, but here’s how Mary Oliver’s Instructions for Living a Life played out for me this morning.

Instructions for living a life:

Pay attention.



Be astonished.



Tell about it.



A caution, if I may:  You can’t just go through the motions. No copy-catting, either. Visual metaphors speak to me, but they won’t resonate with everyone. Do you, because that’s what you do best, while following these simple steps.

Step One (Pay attention) invites us to breathe into every moment, and pay attention to every detail. No blurring past the finer points in life; you have to engage all of your senses.

Step Two (Be astonished) is all about recapturing the wide-eyed wonderment of our childhood, wrapping ourselves in awe and letting go of our egos. Here’s our new motto: More wheee than whoa. And voilà, the ahhhhhs and ahas will come our way!

And here’s the big secret (Tell About It): Once we’ve completed Steps One and Two, we get to use our outside voices! More about that next time, when I reveal my Word of the Year for 2017.


*Instructions for Living a Life is excerpted from Mary Oliver’s poem, “Sometimes.”