Mary Oliver Says You Do Not Have to be Good… But Do You?

by | Oct 2, 2022 | Uncategorized | 11 comments

“You do not have to be good.”

What does this line from Mary Oliver’s poem evoke for you? When Victoria and I brought it into our last Patreon Zoom gathering, it led us into a rich and multi-textured discussion about goodness and perfection, which we then explore more deeply in our recent Gathering Gold episode.

We consider questions like: What if being “good” has been a key part of our identity for years? What does it mean to not be good? Is it an excuse to be selfish?

And what does it mean to “let the soft animal of your body love what it loves”? What might that have to do with self-trust and finding our own voice?

…And what if we are the wild geese?

All this, and much more, in today’s episode, which you can find here. You can also find it here on Apple Podcasts.

As always, we look forward to hearing where this episode lands with you. Thank you for listening ❤️🙏🏽.



  1. This sounds like a fertile topic! I’ve deeply loved and resonated with your blog for years (since 2016). As a millennial who gets unfashionably frazzled by decision fatigue on websites (but I’m accepting that, ha), I would find it helpful if there were a direct link to it here. (It’s still unclear to me where to find your podcast…) Perhaps others would also, and it would expand your listening space? 🙂

    • Done! You can also find the link in the intro to my newsletter, in case that’s helpful.

      • 🙂 Thank you.

  2. Just what I needed to read. I have a professor who has a different approach to our work than I do. I have reflected and still feel in my bones that my approach is the right one for me, but I’ve been struggling with not being “good” in his eyes. In terms of your question, “ What might that have to do with self-trust and finding our own voice?” my answer is “Everything.” ❤️

  3. I’m struggling with not being good in general. I’ve got a very rebellious, mischievous side that has recently come out of the shadows and I want to commit crimes and break down institutions. I’m struggling to work through this without actually stealing and doing something truly evil. I no longer know what “side” I’m on. I’ve broken down so many beliefs and now I’m super lost on what to do next. But killing and battles have always been a part of our history. How do I let the warrior out without becoming a monster? I got into this work to be more peaceful, loving, and happy but I’ve found so much anger and darkness inside of me.

    • Philip: It would be very helpful to talk through these urges with a therapist so that you can work them out and address what’s at the root. We all have anger and darkness inside of us, but when we learn to work consciously and responsibly with our shadow we don’t have to act it out in harmful ways.

      • Thank you for your reply Sheryl. I have been working through these things with a coach and a therapist. I believe it’s my parents at the root of all of it as well as me not giving myself permission to live out an exciting life. I have a very angry inner child who wants to lash out because I’m not listening to what he needs. I’m really scared to listen to him/myself. I’m trying to take it slow but there’s a strong feeling of urgency. I’m learning how to parent myself for the first time.

        • I’m so glad you’re in therapy, Philip, and your insights into the sources of the fantasies make perfect sense.

  4. I haven’t quite finished the podcast episode (about halfway through), but I wanted to share what I was journaling last night about it (thought I am suddenly REALLY nervous to do it cause it’s really, really vulnerable):

    “‘let your soft animal body love what it loves’

    But what if I like my thoughts (i. e. hurting people)?

    I step back and for a split second I am able to know and feel what it loves and it is not what I fear.

    It’s his soft Cancerian* body, warm and barrel-chested, pressed against mine, his strong, protective arms around me.

    It’s the soft, gentle kisses, and the caress of his hands on my face- his soft hair.

    It’s his twinkly, almost cheeky eyes that make my brain short-circuit.

    It’s his sheer adorableness and sense of humor that make my insides fluttery and my chest warm and fuzzy.

    There are many things of course, like yummy food, a dog in your lap, a cuddle from Mom, a sweater and a mug of hot chocolate coffee, and episode with my TV grandmas (The Golden Girls), and a list I could probably go on and on about.

    But I write about him because it’s the one above all else that I feel is wrong for me to have now that I’ve had intrusive thoughts. I want to make it clear that any “interaction” with him is all fantasy and always will be. But that fantasy made me feel safe, and in a particularly volatile time. It was why sleeping in my own room was never an issue until four years ago. It was my safe space to escape to. But because I’ve had such vicious intrusive thoughts about him and regarding sexuality in general- to even want the fantasy back feels wrong, but certainly engaging in it does. But I want it so bad that I skirt the fantasy often- if I leave out the more sensual parts- if I don’t see or hear him animated it’s fine, sometimes. Like I can keep the way my body and my mind react under some degree of control.

    Why did it have to attack my safest, personal, most protected place?”

    I tried to journal in more detail how that line of the poem actually made me feel rather than simply saying “this was triggering because XYZ.” Trying to remember to not journal about thoughts themselves.

    *Cancerian referring to softness, nurturing, moon energy, and rounder physical features.

    • Riley: I’m not exactly sure what or who you’re referring to when you write about “him”, but yes, I encourage you to journal with the underlayers – not the top layer fears – and access your loving inner parent to address the intrusive thoughts as they arise. You know how to do this!


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