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The Poetry of Leadership: Embracing Hollow Space

Hollow space lies where so much activity used to rush and rumble.

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Leadership Life Coaching

What feels like the longest summer ever is coming to an end.

With the pandemic forcing a slowdown, our family swapped cross-country travel plans and sleep-away camps with late morning coffees on the deck, lazy kayak floats down the river, and s’mores roasted over our newly built firepit.

Hollow space lies where so much activity used to rush and rumble.

Last week I spotted a new fern species in my backyard. This was big news here, on our little lane. I invited my neighbor over to see. Living in the woods with roaming herds of deer, there is not much else we can grow that they won’t eat. Over the years, she has gifted me many varieties of ferns and we have purchased some of our own. But this is a new and unusual one, “a gift from the birds,” she tells me. We gather some stones and mark a protective bed around it.

Yet something inside me knows that this fern has been here all along, peeping up through the underbrush as we mowed it over, season after season, in our haste and distraction, thwarting its chances of survival.

This is the gift of hollow space. Attention that was once scattershot across kids practices, daily commutes, and multiple engagements now has time to rest and expand and land on a fern rebirthing itself in my backyard.

I wonder how much else I’ve mowed over in my lifetime.

As I’ve been rounding the same loop for months on my neighborhood walks I’ve been thinking about the poet Mary Oliver. Through her poetry, she’s been a teacher and guide in my life and leadership journey. This week would have been her 85th birthday.

I’ve wondered what new wisdom she’d bring to these times? When our physical reach has receded, when our sense of connection grows fragile, when restlessness rattles in our bones.

Mary Oliver had a gift for slowing down and embracing the possibilities inherent in hollow space as she does in her poem “The Summer Day,”

showing us how to pay attention,

how to connect to what’s right in front of us,

to what’s essential,

right here

and right now.

Embracing hollow space can open pathways to what’s essential in your leadership and your life. As you’ve marinated in this summer of less rush and rumble, what possibilities have emerged for you? How does this point to what kind of leader you long to be?

— –

“The Summer Day”
by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?


Originally published at https://www.trueformleadership.com on September 8, 2020.

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