In her poem “Wild Geese” Mary Oliver writes:

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…

To be a modern human being is to be bombarded constantly with images of what we should be doing, or wearing, or thinking — even what we should be being. It gets loud out there, but sometimes I think we tend to magnify that noise in our own heads. Most of us can recognize that the constant distractions of not-enough can wreak havoc on our being.

Mary Oliver often writes poems of animals and nature, of creatures that do not question their being — the desires and needs of their bodies, the passage of time and season just another part of their bone-deep knowledge. Mary Oliver’s poem “The Turtle” is about, in part, a female turtle laying her eggs, but, of course, it’s also not about that at all. It’s a poem about being. Animal being, yes, but what we can take from that in the midst of all our human awareness and worrying. Oliver writes in this poem:

…you think

of her patience, her fortitude,

her determination to complete

what she was born to do —

and then you realize a greater thing —

she doesn’t consider

what she was born to do.

She’s only filled

with an old blind wish.

It isn’t even hers but came to her

in the rain or the soft wind,

which is a gate through which her life keeps walking.

Poetry has long helped me as a trigger, or, rather, a reminder to work towards remaining present to moments in my life. But I’ve found that practicing yoga regularly is what can actually get me there. Yoga tends to push us towards that animal place. It forces us to inhabit our own unique body with physical curiosity rather than thought, to live within the measure of our own breath. Often, after a good class, I feel settled in my bones.

And so I do my best to make it to yoga.  Even when I don’t want to go.  Even when my family pulls at me to not go. I go. Sometimes it isn’t the teacher or the class I am expecting but, almost always, it pushes me, stretches me.  I sweat on my mat; forget to breathe a few times; catch my breath back up; feel intense gratitude when the teacher calls for down dog to rest a bit and then leads us into child’s pose. With my mind quiet, I rest my body, warm from its work, on the mat. My muscles feel strong and my shoulder blades feel tangible and present, like I imagine it might feel if I were a bird aware of it’s wings.

— Rebecca Brock





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