July 7, 2013

The Soft Animal of Your Body: Fierce & Authentic.

I like the word fierce. It means so many things: you can love fiercely, believe fiercely, live fiercely, write fiercely.

Fierce is not an angry word. It’s a courageous word and a true one. Watch a toddler at play, or a child swallowed up in the ethereal underwater world of deep concentration, or a mother holding her newborn, and you will see a kernel of fierceness. Fierceness is an essential element of our humanity, akin to what some now describe as “flow.”

As we grow and adapt to the world, putting on our outer armor, we can lose touch with our fierceness. We suppress our fierce original voice. As adolescents, we do this purposefully, in the most painfully self-conscious way. We do it to blend in with the crowd. Later on, when we grow up and become parents ourselves, we sometimes go so far as poke fun at teenagers for the way they contort themselves to seem original while at the same time taking desperate pains to be exactly like the crowd.  We poke this fun while believing, often falsely, that we’ve outgrown the habit of striving toward invisibility.

This, I believe, is the most dangerous delusion of all: the drowsy conviction that we’re expressing ourselves authentically—living life authentically—when we’re not. When we are actually sort of sleep-walking through the days and years.

The problem is we get swallowed—even hypnotized—by the habitual patterns and repetitive messages that tell us, as writer and author Laura Davis puts it, “that we don’t have what it takes, that we don’t have the time or the talent. Or that what we have to say doesn’t matter.”

None of this is true, but it is seductively safe to believe. Seeking to reclaim our fierce original voice feels much riskier, much more exposed. This is how our original voice becomes so buried within us that we’re not even sure what will happen if we try to use it.

Will your original voice crack and break after years of neglect? Will it sound out at all?

Be assured, it will. We can reject the false security of habitual patterns and repetitive messages. Your fierce original voice is your birthright, it is the shining light along the path to your truest self.

So how do you begin? What is the first step? To listen deeply to yourself, to the messages emerging from far beneath the cacophony of your everyday thoughts. To follow the advice of the wise poet Mary Oliver, who says you need only to “let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

Start there. With the soft animal of your body, with love. With miracle of breathing in and breathing out. As thoughts, compulsions, desires and obligations float through the waters of your mind, pay attention to your body. Does it expand ever so slightly, or contract? This is your message. This is your truth. This is your body’s voice, telling you the way. Every experience, every memory, every emotion of your life is stored in each cell of your body, no matter whether you consciously remember and revisit the memory or have no consciousness of it at all. Either way, it is there, knowing where you have been and what you need now.

This practice of listening to your body, hearing your inner voice takes time, but not as much time as you might think. And as you work this intuitive muscle, it will grow stronger and more sure.

More authentic and fierce.

And so then will your voice … and your life.

Wild Geese

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 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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Ed: Sara Crolick

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