• Tricia Karp

On responsibility

The poet Mary Oliver is famous for saying you don't have to be good.

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.

For some of us - all of us at times - responsibility and the meanings and lineages it carries can be fraught with burden and heaviness.

We tend to think of responsibility in terms of what we should do. We look to what we were told and taught about the world, brimming over with right, good and proper, and wrong, sinful and evil. We believed it, even became it ourselves with every step we took, and it worked pretty well for us and we fitted right in and everything was fine - until it wasn't anymore.

Until the time something happened that turned our world as we knew it upside down,

and separated us from it in an undeniable way, taking us to a place where we asked lots of questions but there were no answers. As we wandered far from the linear path laid out for us, we were tasked with having to find our own way home, to ourselves, to our truth, to the life we knew deep down we were called to live even though we were terrified and had no clue how to create it.

We kept going because we knew our responsibility to ourselves, our values, our meaning, the heart and core of our very truth, the call of our soul, was what mattered most, even though it was often painful - devastatingly so at times. We kept going.

Responsibility so often it requires stepping up without knowing what the impact or result of our actions will be. Responsibility tasks us with doing it anyway. And we do.

The key to knowing the difference between responsibility as we were taught by those who raised us as children and the world, and true responsibility, lies in our values and how it feels in our body.

True responsibility isn't filled with burden and heaviness, nor feelings of resentment. It isn't created from a sticky, lumpy recipe of shoulds.

It is made of truth, it's aligned with our values, and we own it and meet it because we know, deep down, who we truly are, who we're here to be, and what we're here to do with our time, made up of so many fleeting moments and important crossroads, in this life.

There comes a time when the wild soul emerges from its rusty cage and can't stand to be "good" anymore.

"Good" is so often harmful. We only have to let the soft animal of our body love what it loves.

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Photo by Niklas Weiss

Poem excerpt: Wild Geese by Mary Oliver