We had the good fortune of connecting with Mary Oliver and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Mary, what role has risk played in your life or career?
I believe that there are times in your life when the only way to accomplish something you want involves taking a risk. From my experience, if you are listening to the calling of your soul deep within and that is the voice you are following, even if you don’t know exactly where it’s leading, things will usually work out even better than you’d expected or even hoped for. When you stay true to yourself and follow your heart, the universe has a way of lining up the right people and opportunities along the path to assist in bringing about what you desire. I lived in Southeast Kentucky my entire life and in 2016, at the age of 57, I retired from my teaching position of 34 years, packed what would fit in my car, and my son and I headed to Texas. The only people I knew in Austin at the time were my daughter and her partner, who had moved to Austin a few years earlier for work. I didn’t know how it would turn out but I knew I had to try. I just had that feeling that Austin is where I needed to be. I committed to stay at least six weeks to check it out, and I’m still here. The people that I’ve met, the doors that have opened, and the opportunities that have been presented have been more than I could have imagined. I am so grateful that I took the chance to get out of my comfort zone and start a new chapter in this latter part of my life.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
The name of my business is Spirit Rhythms. I chose this name because I thought it embodied all the different aspects of what I have to offer. My mission is to help people connect more deeply to themselves, to others, and to Spirit. I grew up in rural Kentucky on land that my great-great grandfather purchased in 1889. As an artist, I had explored a variety of different media and mostly did acrylic painting. I loved doing large paintings and for many years, as both my kids were in marching band, I painted lots of backdrops. One day in a bookstore I found some books on gourd art and fell in love. I was reminded of my childhood neighbor, Minnie Black, who was a gourd artist. In fact, I found some of her work in these books. She made all kinds of fanciful creatures and she made instruments. She had a gourd band and my great-grandmother would sometimes sing with her band. In the mid-80s Minnie was even interviewed on the Johnny Carson and David Letterman shows. I started raising my own gourds and my first instrument was a rattle – made from a dipper gourd with a willow branch handle. It had dried corn inside and was adorned with a feather – all of which I received from my garden and yard. When I played it I felt the connection with the land from which it came, with the ancestors who walked that land before me, and to the Spirit that connects us all. Then I started making drums, and then beaded rattles, rain sticks, thunder drums, guiros, ocean drums, and kalimbas. The traditions of these instruments come from a variety of cultures, but the gourd, and the use of these instruments to connect us to ourselves, to others, and to the Divine is the common bond. So making instruments is one part of my business. My instruments are made with love and infused with healing energy and are often purchased for use in ceremony and healing work. The next part of my business is the facilitation of drum circles. I am a certified HealthRHYTHMS facilitator and a graduate of Village Music Circles. Drumming reduces stress, calms the nervous system, boosts our immune system, and can actually help rewire the brain which gets us out of the fight/flight/freeze state so that the limbic system can be activated and we can build healthier relationships with ourselves and others. As a Reiki Practitioner, I do energy work for both people and animals and I incorporate the use of sound to assist with the healing. And finally, I am still teaching. Most of my art students are adults with diverse abilities and I love them very much. As a trainer for Natural Lifemanship I teach therapists, equine professionals, and coaches how to add drumming into the work they do with students and clients to help them overcome trauma. My big dream is to put all this together through retreats. People could come together to refresh their bodies, minds, and souls through visual art, drumming, and sound healing. And that possibility is what I’m most excited about.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I’ve only lived in Austin for 4 years so there’s still so much to explore but one of my favorite spots is The Oasis which overlooks Lake Travis. I have taken dozens of photos of sunsets from there. It’s a spectacular view. Of course we’d tour the capitol, museums, and galleries downtown; eat at one of the many food trucks; and watch the bats fly out in the evening from beneath the Congress Avenue Bridge. And we’d have to also eat at an Austin original, Torchy’s Tacos! And then we’d go to one of the many small towns nearby such as Wimberely. If you like shopping at little artsy boutiques, Wimberley is the place to go. I actually worked in a shop there when I first moved to Austin named The Queen Bee and it’s one that I adore. And of course San Antonio is not that far so we’d tour the Alamo and the River Walk. If they came in the fall, we would also go to the Austin Powwow and the Celtic Festival. And we’d have to get in some hiking. Stepping into Barton Springs heals body, mind, and soul. That’s another reason I love Austin – there are nature trails everywhere. It’s so easy to be in nature. I even love the parking lot at my local H.E.B – so many trees full of grackles. I love hearing the grackles. Amazing. Life is good.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I couldn’t be where I am today without the love and support of my family. My parents, grandparents, brother, and children have always been very supportive of me and all my artsy projects – from having a t-shirt business, to directing school musicals, to writing and illustrating a children’s book, to making art from gourds… I always had to have some kind of project to be working on. I also worked with a very supportive principal and staff at school that embraced the arts. I have certifications to teach both visual art and music, but I mostly taught K-5 music. I think family, friends, and the arts was key to helping me overcome difficult challenges such as divorce and cancer. I am grateful to my life coach, Jeni Shaw of Full Spectrum Energy Healing, who helped me believe in myself and my dreams, and to my teachers, Christine Stevens and Arthur Hull, for their training that has put me on the path of helping others heal through drumming. I’m grateful to Laura Tree who was my Reiki teacher, to Jerry Slayton of Art Sparks Texas for giving me opportunities to work with diverse ability groups in Central Texas, and to Tim and Bettina Jobe of Natural Lifemanship who put their trust in me to assist in adding drumming to the work they do in their model of Trauma Focused – Equine Assisted Psychotherapy.