Notice What Pulls You, and Love What You Love.
I once lived in a small apartment cradled between a bay and some trees, and taped to one of its walls was a poem by Mary Oliver, one that I could see whenever I walked from my bedroom to the kitchen.
One line took residence in my body and refused to leave me alone. I turned it within me for years, like a key. I longed to unlock myself.
Onward past the small apartment, every time I went on an adventure, in moments of sadness or in moments of insight, I recalled the line and I marveled at it:
“You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”
The concept rocked me. To let the true, soft, intuitive, vulnerable nature of my being love what it loved. Not to judge my inclinations toward happiness, or resist the strong, thick tug of what I was pulled to adore.
Through many rounds of trial and error, I have learned again and again that a human and the world are like two magnets. The more I trust my instincts for living, the more I become attuned to the interplay between my magnet and the magnet of the world. Conversely, the less I trust my instincts for living and ignore the pull, the more often these magnets — out of sync with their natural course — alter and trip up the frequency of my life.
Trusting and pursuing what makes you happy is not always easy. You might be targeted by joy-hating judgments, as there is a pervasive societal disdain for people who don’t work until they are utterly exhausted.
We are told, in subtle and non-subtle ways, that life is hard and you’ve got to fight to make your own way, that you pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, dammit, and if you’re not stressing about shit all the time, then you are doing something wrong.
Yes, life can be extremely hard. It is a constant fight to survive for many human beings, especially those struggling with the sharp reality of hostile circumstance and extreme poverty.
But if those of us who are not battling daily to simply stay alive could take a grander perspective and become more attuned with our own internal magnet, and less attached to the perceived clout of struggle, perhaps we could work our way toward solutions that alter the inequalities of the system we’ve created.
For the rest of the week, for today, for the moment, this is what I recommend. Notice the small things that you are drawn to. Close your eyes and ask yourself what you would do with an entire day assigned to simply following your magnet. Notice what pulls you. What are you lit on fire about, and how can you create a life that revolves around the fire instead of a life that keeps the fire at your periphery?
I am discovering how to live, day by day, in a way that works with the magnets instead of against them. I have to constantly remind myself to take off my armor so the pull can be felt. I have to break the barriers I have forged to protect myself. I have to dissolve the pretense of self-sacrifice I’ve used to fit into a society that finds God in martyrdom.
I have to melt it all into breath, into summer, into the inexplicable signals of joy that are just one turn of the key away. And then I have to believe in the value of my instincts. I have to follow these instincts steadfastly. I have to let the soft animal of my body love what it loves.
“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.” ~ Mary Oliver
Jocelyn Edelstein is a writer, filmmaker and choreographer who believes that stories activate the human code of empathy and voice our animal truths. She has been previously published in three Best Women’s Travel Writing anthologies, Conscious Dancer Magazine, 3Elements Review, Commonline Journal, The Doctor’s Review and The Huffington Post, and she has written adventure copy for Hip Camp and thegorge.com. When Jocelyn isn’t writing, she’s making documentaries in Brazil and teaching dance in the Pacific Northwest. Her film work can be found at urbanbodyproject.com and her writing can be read at her blog.