I have been meditating on the poem “Wild Geese” for many months now after listening to a rebroadcast of an On Being Podcast from 2015 where Krista Tippet interviews the poet, Mary Oliver. It was a powerful and uplifting interview. I have loved Mary Oliver’s poems for a long time and was saddened by her death in January 2019. I didn’t know much of her story – listening to the podcast gave me a deeper glimpse into her life. I cried as she read this poem, Wild Geese, relating so deeply to its theme of self-acceptance.
by Mary Oliver
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.
Self-acceptance is something that has always eluded me
As I have had significantly more time to ponder life during this time of COVID-19, I have come to understand that a lack of self-acceptance is a deep and abiding part of me. I will not overcome it, but I can choose to not allow it to defeat me.
Reading these words of Mary’s, and remembering her voice as she read the poem, draws me to the place where we all are despairing and in need of hearing and being heard. We do not have to punish ourselves for our sins, ”walking a hundred miles on our knees in the desert repenting.” We “only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” It is okay to be ourselves and love what we love. Hope washes over me as I draw the words into myself over and over.
My brothers and I were taught repeatedly that we were not enough – and no matter what we did or how hard we worked to be enough, the bar was always moving, and thus, impossible to reach. We also were not allowed to have our own minds: thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams, personhood. We learned to silence our voice and replace it instead with an inner critic, finding fault in our entire being. We learned not to trust our instincts or stand up for ourselves. The result of this “training” has been immensely damaging to my marriage, my family, my career, and my friendships.
Sadly, this idea of not being enough was also often reinforced in the religious circles I was a part of during my childhood and much of my adult life. Although I have worked for years on these issues, I seemed only to make a few steps upward before I would fall back down the stairs.
Connecting with The Resilient Activist
I met Sami Aaron, the founder of The Resilient Activist, a few years ago through the Green Business Network in Kansas City. However, until April of 2020, I had not participated in the programming of The Resilient Activist. Sami offered a meditation class on Zoom each evening to celebrate Earth Month and provide support during the initial days of the pandemic lockdown. I participated almost every night. I have also become a part of the weekly Sunday morning meditation class offered by The Resilient Activist. Before last April, I had a meditation practice, but it was inconsistent and rudimentary.
Through Sami and The Resilient Activist, I am learning to implement a regular meditation practice in my life, and I have found a safe space in the group to share my struggles.Anne Melia
Sami teaches a number of breathing practices that help to quiet my mind. One of my favorite practices is Alternate Nostril Breathing. The focus required to engage in the practice allows my mind to settle and prepare for a deeper meditation.
Time in nature and visualizing time in nature also have become an important part of my meditation practice. Nature connection is a foundational part of resilience and is ever-present in Mary Oliver’s poems. In my hectic life, I have not made spending time in nature a priority. I am working on changing this in small ways by spending more time in my yard and going to local parks and nature areas.
Meditation and moving forward
I have a long path ahead, and as I said earlier, self-acceptance is not something I believe I will wholly achieve. However, I am continuing to learn new tools to provide support and resilience as I continue the journey. Meditation is allowing me to feel the pain of the past while also encouraging me to move forward, slowly changing the narrative that I am not enough, silencing my inner critic, and finding my place in the “family of things.”