You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese”
I love this poem.
So much of my life, for years, felt like that whole walking-on-my-knees-for-a-hundred-miles-through-the-desert thing.
Not that it was that bad. Of course it wasn’t! I had people who loved me and lots of fun times.
But it felt like walking on my knees through the desert because I was disconnected from my authentic self. I did things because I felt like I “should,” because I was “supposed” to get good grades in every subject, be the leader in groups, get a good job.
Whenever the soft animal of my body reared its head, I mostly tried to get it to shut up by working more or exercising.
And my body retaliated by throwing my eating out of whack.
It was only once I declared a truce, once I acknowledged that my eating might be telling me something about what I truly wanted in life, that I started listening to that soft animal.
It was scary.
And so interesting.
Because, really, she mostly wanted to veg.
Wait, what is vegging?
You know: moodling. Puttering. Loafing. Hanging around your house and doing something of absolutely no value.
Except that you are letting the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
Except that you are connecting to your authentic self, and saying, “Hey, it’s okay to be a sludge today. I love you.”
She wanted to lie on my bed, alone, and read novels all afternoon.
She wanted to take baths.
She wanted to spend hours looking at random websites, wearing old stained sweatshirts.
She didn’t care at all about accomplishing things.
She didn’t care about “doing fun things” in New York.
She didn’t care at all about having an “impressive” job.
This was scary to me, because I spent so much of my life trying to “achieve” things – a fancy job, success in my hobbies, etc.
But then it seemed that the only thing that mattered to my deepest self was time to be soft and squishy.
Of course, I still needed to have a job, and do other adult human things (e.g., laundry).
So eventually I reached a truce.
I realized that there was only a limited amount that I could ask of her in a day, or my eating and my feeling would be out of whack.
The rest of the time, I just had to listen.
I had to spend way more time than I thought I “should” alone.
I had to spend way more time than I thought I “should” vegging, doing nothing productive at all.
And as a result of that, I started making better decisions.
I started entering relationships that made me feel more whole, and not investing time in ones that didn’t.
I started choosing career paths that felt connected to deeper meaning, and ignoring ones that would drain me.
And my eating became natural, intuitively, easier. Binging subsided. When I had time to veg, eating wasn’t an issue.
So my challenge for you this week is to take a moment to soften, and to really speak to the soft animal of your body. What does she want?
And see if you can give it to her.