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 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.
What happens inside you when you hear this poem by Mary Oliver? What is it like to let the lines wash over you? Perhaps you feel some relief like a cool breeze on a sweltering hot Brisbane day. Or perhaps it brings tension, some tightening in the stomach. Your mind might stop you at the first line and say something like “What is she talking about? Of course I need to be good”.
What would it be like to welcome your response, whatever it is, with gentle curiosity? In this way, this poem can be approached as something like a “probe”, a Hakomi psychotherapy word for an experimental statement that's offered to a person as an opportunity to mindfully study what happens inside for them when they hear it (Weiss, Johanson, & Monda, 2015). There’s no right or wrong here. Any response - whether pleasant, unpleasant or neither - is welcome in this potentially playful space of exploring your inner landscape.
For help with exploring your inner world, reducing suffering, and experiencing more joy and ease in life, contact me for more information or to book a confidential psychology session.
You can listen to Mary Oliver herself reading Wild Geese on Onbeing with Krista Tippet.
Weiss, H., Johanson, G., & Monda, L. (Eds.) (2015). Hakomi mindfulness-centred somatic psychotherapy: A comprehensive guide to theory and practice. New York: W. W. Norton & Company Ltd.