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.
I keep coming back to this elegant little slice of Mary Oliver’s poem, Wild Geese.
You do not have to be good. You can be beautifully imperfect. You can mess up. You can fall flat on your face. You can embarrass yourself in front of your friends. You can let down someone you love.
You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles. You can let go of all of the “shoulds”, the “have-tos”, the obligations. You can lower your expectations. You don’t have to be responsible for the outcome. You can pour yourself a drink and sit down even if the sink is full of dishes.
It’s been a tough week – an emotional roller-coaster kind of week. I have beat myself up a thousand times. I have failed to meet my own expectations. I’ve been convinced that I should give up this work and go pour coffee at Starbucks. I’ve let the tape recorder run in my head that says “You’re foolish. Your ideas are stupid. People just don’t get what you’re trying to teach, so why bother?”
A week ago, I was sitting in a coffee shop in rural Manitoba after realizing that the facility I’d booked for an upcoming retreat just wasn’t going to cut it, and that little failure was letting my brain re-run all of the other failures in my life. The students in my class that weren’t engaging with what I was teaching, the failures to grow my business as much as I’d hoped, the crazy amount of work I’m doing right now for not enough pay, etc., etc. You know the tape – you’ve been there too.
In that moment, with my journal in front of me, I had a sudden awareness. “You are going to have to walk through the shadow before you can step back into the light. There is more for you to learn in the darkness, and you can’t get to that learning without another trip through.”
Sure enough, the shadow showed up big time this week, and I knew it was there for a reason. I knew it was there to teach me. I wallowed in self-doubt and self-pity, and everything that fell apart was surely my fault. By Saturday night, when my daughter Maddy’s birthday party threatened to be a flop because the pool at the hotel we were staying at was closed, I had gone so far into that deep dark place that I was sure THAT was my fault too. And when people didn’t seem to get what I was teaching at a workshop and in my regular class, I took that on as well. “Surely I am failing,” the shadow whispered to me.
It was all good, though, and important. It was all the things I needed to learn in a deeper way. It was teaching me that I can fail, I can let things fall apart, and that doesn’t mean that I am a failure. It was re-teaching me that I need to return to my spiritual practices – my touchstones – to help me stay grounded in times of darkness. It was reminding me that, no matter how far I go in this journey, I still have to be willing to risk and fail, willing to surrender to the God of my understanding, and willing to let go of the outcome.
Last night, I was reading The Three Marriages by David Whyte, where he shares a story of leading a trek in Bhutan. On the way out of the mountains, everything was falling apart. He was in conflict with their arrogant and incompetent guide, and they’d lost one of the women on the trail. He spent all night looking for the woman, in the dark, in the rain, on a mountain trail. All the while, he was beating himself up for his failings and for not having more courage to confront the incompetent guide.
Suddenly he had a moment of profound peace and he knew that the woman would show up at the camp the next morning.
Sure enough, the woman appeared just as he’d envisioned. She’d spent a remarkable, though frightening, night in an empty cabin on the trail, and the same sense of peace had come over her. A few weeks later, when she went to Cambodia to pick up the baby she’d been planning to adopt, she found that the baby that was meant for her was born on that very night she was alone on the trail. She realized that she was meant to be alone that night, walking through the darkness and the fear to a place of calm, to be part of her baby’s birthing process.
David came home from that journey with a renewed sense of understanding of how even his failings can be used for a bigger plan.
You don’t have to be good. You can screw up big time. Your failings may open a door for someone else into a place where they need to be.
You are part of a bigger plan, and you don’t have to get everything right to be part of it. You just have to show up, do your best, and TRUST.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
Aaaahhhh…. what a relief!