You do not have to be good

Very quickly, when we are little, we are taught the difference between good and bad. What we should be, and what we shouldn’t, what is ok, and what isn’t. Be smart, not dumb. Skinny, not fat. Nice, not mean. Everything we encounter is split into the dichotomy of good, or  bad. But us—ourselves? How do we begin to fit, when sometimes, we may want to rip the Barbie out of our playmates hand, and sometimes, we take the stand to share our snacks with the class outcast. How are we supposed to be ‘good’ when we are human?

I was stricken by this thought, when yesterday, while enjoying a lazy morning with my best friend, I was called by my boss at the yoga studio. I picked up, and was immediately horrified—“Do you know you are supposed to be teaching right now?” I looked at my watch—it was 12:01, and was more than 30 minutes away from the studio. There was no way I could make it.  I had no clue I was supposed to be teaching (even though it was written on my calendar, my brain had chosen to ignore this piece of information!).  I felt awful, a yucky, heavy pit hit my stomach… not only did I jeopardize my job by not showing up, I thought of the students waiting outside, disappointed to not practice on such a beautiful Labor day. I had really messed up. Bad, bad, bad.

As I sunk into a small ball, my partner lovingly looks at me, and said “Kelly! Did you kill someone? Did you intentionally not show up? Is feeling awful going to make anything better? Let it go, and be more careful with your schedule in the future!”

While it was easy for him to say, I spent the rest of the afternoon fighting off that sinking feeling of guilt and shame. Every day, my ego-mind fights so desperately to stay in the ‘good’ box, saying the right things, doing the right things, etc. This blatant instance of “bad” threw me into a tailspin… it was more than hard to accept. But even while I was feeling this way, I knew he was right. I knew that as ‘good’ as I want to be, I am human—a category that defies any box. That good and bad are simple terms for the complexity of our beings, and the complexity of our world. When I’m faced with these feelings, I find solace in Mary Oliver’s Poem, Wild Geese; it’s a beautiful reminder that despite our trials and our shortcomings, the world moves on, and offers itself to us. Not as good or bad, but as a soft animal… if only we allow ourselves to feel and experience. I enjoy using this poem to start off a yoga class, and I invite you to bring it with you to your next practice. When you’re in your next practice, perhaps close your eyes. Turn off the judgment of a mirror, and what looks good, and instead tune into your body, seeing what postures it actually loves, which movements feel right. See if you can find that soft animal, and let it love what it loves.

Wild Geese—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.

———-

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