Whatever It Is You Want, Start With Your Body

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.

- Mary Oliver, excerpt from Wild Geese, in New & Selected Poems, Volume One

Perhaps you're tired of seeing this passage, or maybe it's your first time. It has crossed my paths many times as women discuss our collective martyrdom, but I wanted to bring it up one more time, specifically as it applies to us ... The Mothers.

How are callused are your knees?

Who has walking on them served?

How has it felt, all this time, to be this particular brand of 'good'?

How terrifying and relieving is it to imagine surrendering, lying down, and letting your body love what it loves?

But is that a privilege we have as mothers?

Are we not entitled to be soft animals?

Do we not still believe, collectively, this lie that when a mother stops walking on her knees her child is inevitably damaged?

I believe we are still terrified of trading in martyrdom for vitality.

Martyrdom still feels like love. Like Adrienne Rich captures in her poem, To A Poet:

...you are not a suicide

but no-one calls this murder

Small mouths, needy, suck you: This is love

But children do not want martyrs for mothers. Children do not want to feel like they have sucked their mothers to death.

That is too much power. As terrifying as it is for you to let go of martyrdom, it is more terrifying for your child to feel like he or she has taken your life from you.

So how do you come back to life? How do you reclaim ownership of your own vitality, happiness, fulfillment?

Start With The Soft Animal Of Your Body.

Let it love what it loves.

When I work with mothers on their big life goals - rekindling passion in their marriage, finding work they love, etc - we start with the body.

Just as you watch your child's beautiful soft awkward graceful body and surge with love and awe, you must get back to love and awe for your own body.

You can respect it again - with how you give it rest and nourishment and sunlight.

You can give it pleasure again - with what clothes you put on it and how you touch it and how it moves.

You can find awe within it again - Hallelujah! You have this thing that carries you and holds you and lets you live! Thank you thank you.

Let Today Be the Day You Get Up Off Your Knees.

Start with these questions:

What does your body feel excited to do today?

What does your body want you to let go of?

What does your body need FIRST in order for you to move forward in creating a life inspired by vitality and love and joy?

Let Today Be The Day You Love Your Body Well.

It is enough of a reason that you need and want to feel more alive and fulfilled and joyous.

But it is also a gift to your children, as they have a chance to live each day with a woman who is animated, forgiving, supple, robust, relaxed, and energized. You give them the faith that one does not need to suffer in order to be good.

With love and optimism,

Dr. J

Dr. Jessica Michaelson is a psychologist, mother of two, and fierce ally for women who want to find deep fulfillment and happiness during motherhood. Her work is serious as a heart-attack, but rich with laughter and four letter words.