Sometimes we need permission to be ourselves. The temptation to compare ourselves to those around us is so strong. However, we will never discover our unique perspective or find the voice that is only ours, if we are concerned with being like someone else.
Award winning American writer, Mary Oliver, gives us this permission in her poem, ‘Wild Geese’. It opens with: ‘You do not have to be good’. Phew. So often our goal is to be likeable, amenable, whatever that person in our life wants us to be for us to fit in or be more loveable. If our being good compromises our values, we are selling ourselves short.
‘You only have to let the soft animal of your body loves what it loves’, Oliver encourages us. What is the thing that we love? Are we chasing it? Is it driving us forward with purpose and passion? Or have we pushed it to the side in order to pursue security or a sense of connection?
‘Meanwhile the world goes on’. Our ability to make a meaningful contribution to the world hinges on our willingness to be our true selves. The world, as Oliver so beautifully puts it, ‘offers itself to your imagination’. How we interpret this offering and share it with those around us is the gift we bring to the table. If we live what we love with courage and commitment, we will find what Oliver calls, ‘your place in the family of things’. It is a place specific to us and the abilities we have. It is not always easy to discover and often requires great sacrifice. However, true belonging can only be experienced when we are brave enough to be ourselves.
However the new chapter of 2019 has opened for us, we have opportunities to choose the direction the narrative will take from here. How can we take responsibility for our lives this year and hear the ‘harsh and exciting’ call the world is offering us?
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.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
- Mary Oliver
Read about the connection between scent, memory and emotion here.