You do not have to be good

“You do not have to be good,” writes Mary Oliver. “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.”

It’s a beautiful poem, one that resonates across generations and lands – I think in part because so many of us spend our lives trying to be good.

Good is a noble idea isn’t it? It’s wrapped into our fairytales and mythology, stories of good over evil.  That goodness is what holds communities together, that allows for the ultimate happiness, that triumphs over jealousy, rage or violence.

But what happens when our ideas of good are in conflict with what we experience as true?

When our beliefs of what it means to be a good activist, good partner, good parent, good citizen, good worker, good person clash with our desires, boundaries or needs?

Where might good and all its weighty expectations be culture’s poor substitute for wholeness? For sovereignty?

What happens – what guidance do we follow – if we do not have to be good?

I’ve been pondering these questions as I reflect on our inner guidance system, to understand what is ours to do in this time.

Many of us end up lost, at least in part, because we follow not what is true or liberating or whole, but what we consider to be good.

We become painfully afraid to say what it is that we truly want, and what it is that we truly mean.

So today, I want to offer a few love notes to liberation, small but mighty ways we can challenge the tyranny of good, and instead, start to explore what wholeness feels like, and the power that pursuing liberation over goodness may offer us.

  1. Pursue Pleasure.
    We often overlook the importance of pleasure, but as adrienne maree brown beautifully writes, “There is no way to repress pleasure and expect liberation, satisfaction, or joy.”What is pleasure to you? What does it feel like in your body, heart and mind? When did you last allow yourself to feel it in entirety, and what happened when you last closed yourself off to it?Can you enjoy the pleasure of a blueberry? A bike ride? The sun on your skin? Intimate laughter with those you love?What feels like wholeness in this moment?
  2. Speak Truth
    How is your heart doing? Check in with your body as you speak this week. When you answer the ubiquitous “how are you?”, does your response feel honest?  Can you imagine speaking the truth of your experiences right now?Liberation requires vulnerability, and is intimately tied with truth and feeling..
  3.  Make.
    Let your body put pen to paper or bowl to spoon and see what arises. It doesn’t matter what: a cake, an artwork, a poem, an action, anything. But make.Liberation is freedom.  Free yourself – for even an afternoon – from the tyranny of needing your creations to be good.See if you can notice the subtle shifts – the soft animal of your body – and what happens when it acts from desire or creativity, without the domination of control.

Love & courage,


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