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 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.

I can hear the first line of this poem reverberate through the hearts and minds of mothers everywhere. This poem has particular resonance for me at this time, when I feel hyper aware of our left brain, disembodied culture.

I love the way Mary Oliver encourages us to see the natural world as our guru, our source, and a continual reminder of our cyclical natures. She reminds me to come home to my own animal body. To be intimate with and connected to all things!

Be The Witness

Mary Oliver describes herself as an intense observer of life. “I consider myself a kind of reporter- one who uses words that are more like music and that have a choreography. I never think of myself as a poet; I just get up and write.” In her poem Mindful, she gives us another way to see our meditation practice:

I see or hear
that more or less

kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle

in the haystack
of light.
It was what I was born for —
to look, to listen,

to lose myself
inside this soft world —
to instruct myself
over and over

in joy,
and acclamation.
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant —
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help

but grow wise
with such teachings
as these —
the untrimmable light

of the world,
the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?

“Mindful” by Mary Oliver from Why I Wake Early. © Beacon Press, 2005.

Doesn’t that just get you?! As a yoga teacher and life coach, I have often seen my students soften and drop deeper into themselves through the encouragement of her words.

My question to you today, dearest mama, is: how does she do this? And my answer is also what I wish to cultivate right now in my life: simplicity and dedication. Mary abhors fluff, excess, and anything that gets in the way. She is a ruthless editor. Most of the time she avoids being very personal and at the same time encourages US to be intimate with ourselves.


As mothers and householders, we often are required to do work that may not be very inspiring. In fact, it might be problematic if your job is super interesting, but you also want to be a present mother. Mary’s clarity around the potency of the early morning and her protection of that time is the same energy most of us need to bring to our own lives.


But life wasn’t always safe for Mary. There was a time in the 80s when she admits how her personal challenges directly influenced her work. She was abused as a child and the poem “The Journey” was, in part, a result of processing her trauma. I personally feel that this era of her poetry is the most powerful and feels very relevant during these times of #METOO!

Ebb and flow

Mary Oliver has been a close friend to me when I am struggling to remember what is “true.” (Although I have of course no personal relationship with her!) She gives just enough, to drink in through my senses a more tender way of being. I love her constant reminders of who I am

I’d love to hear who inspires you

Below I will share my most favorite poem of Mary Oliver’s:

“The Journey” Text

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice –
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do –
determined to save
the only life you could save.


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