One woman’s primal and poetic reclaiming of her feminine self in all of its glorious connection to Mother Earth and her own animal nature
Last week, I reached for Mary Oliver’s poem Wild Geese — you know the line, “Let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” Something in me just needed to read it again.
For the last six weeks, since the disappearance of my beloved cat Mila upon moving in with my partner, I’ve been contemplating what I am calling ‘animal nature’. And it’s not just that my mind is trying to grok this concept as it did in the beginning, rather the contemplation is more an experiential exploration. An embodied remembering of my own animal nature. One long overdue.
I just moved to an alive and wild piece of land to live with a man.
A piece of land that is presumably just fine without humans, but since we’re here, I get the sense that She would prefer we engage with Her. (Yes, the choice to use and capitalize feminine pronouns here is purposeful. I like to remember that the Earth is associated with the feminine archetype. How we — each of us — engage with Her, therefore, is telling on many levels.)
My first intuition when Mila left sounded like, “cultivate Life here.” So, trying to show I was listening, I planted some local tomato starts in pots on the deck, made sure all the indoor plants had fresh soil and plenty of light, and I worked on creating a freshness in and around the house. Then, I also became obsessed with trying to ‘listen’ to what the next intuition would instruct me to do. What did the land want? What did this new life want of me? What did my cat need in order to want to come back and make this home with us?
Honestly, I was no longer in the flow with life, I was trying to perform. Trying to be a good little woman, as we sometimes do, in order to please — what? My cat? The land? Nature? God?
See what I did there? I began to treat what were sacred invitations to return to my animal nature like it was something I could earn.
We do this so often as women. We think, “If I am good, maybe I will be deemed worthy.” So we stay quiet, and tidy until something jolts us awake. Like a missing animal. Or a man’s body. Or a welcome change of scenery reveals to us the tightness of how we’ve been living in our own body.
Animals are not quiet and tidy. This ‘good girl’ way of thinking is an old trap — the oldest — and we know it deep within us. Something in each of us wants to revolt. It’s why women everywhere are leaning in close to one another and announcing, “I am a goddamned cheetah.” (To quote Glennon Doyle’s recent book Untamed.)
We are brainwashed from the beginning that our animal nature is dirty. That a woman is to be obedient. That if she is too wild, too sexual, too in her body, too alluring, she will actually repel God and her worthiness from her.
We are taught that in order to be worthy, we must tame our animal nature. Which is horse shit. Actually, horse shit is holier than whatever that is.
The Sacred, however, is not outside of us, judging us, waiting for us to clean up our act before we can be worthy. Of our cat, our pleasure, of the ability to take a full and deep breath inside our free and undulating bodies. The Sacred, and you can call it God or Nature or Universe or whatever, actually exists inside of all of the places of embodied pleasure. Embodied animal nature.
When I say that I’ve been contemplating animal nature, what I really should say is that I’ve been invited in the last few weeks into an even-deeper remembering.
Invited to let, as Mary Oliver says, “the soft animal of my body love what it loves.”
Invited to recognize the layers of healing available to me now. (And to you — this is your invitation too.)
Invited to remember the ways my body wants to move, in big movements. It wants to sweat and heave and breathe bigger than I’ve been allowing myself to breathe. It wants to remember all of the sounds it knows to make — the sounds I always look around, even on this mountain top, to see who would hear me if I made them. So I generally don’t. Taming my animal nature from erupting from my own throat.
And it’s not my partner’s fault that upon moving in, I had subconsciously decided to quiet myself around certain issues, to temper my vocals, to stop my breath somewhere around my diaphragm. This man will talk to me about anything.
I know that unfortunately, I am not the only woman to have ever quieted herself.
Indeed, I help women to liberate their own silences and there I was, doing it again, calling it a ‘feminine’ consideration, calling it patience, waiting for things to work out over time. But leaving things unspoken. Which is really just a recipe for an eventual eruption. Because animal nature, even in the throat, is not to be tamed.
Then last weekend, we were standing in the morning sun, dripping sweat for the second day, clearing a garden plot at my animal-nature-reclaiming request, each doing more physical labor than we were used to doing, and the wheelbarrow handle snapped when we still had plenty of sod to move.
Looking back, that snap was divine.
I made a suggestive request (instead of saying outright what I desired), he did another thing entirely, and then the energy snapped too. I realized that sometimes he can’t hear me because I am not in my true voice when I say them. And we had to shovel these heavy piles of sod and throw — in fact heave — them over the edge of the yard, and as we did, I let my animal body take over. To make sounds. I let my stomach take in the full breaths. I let myself yell in frustration. I let myself say another layer of my own, previously-quieted truth.
All that was deep and transformative medicine for my animal nature.
This man will go to all of the natural, sweaty, embodied, dark, real places with me. It is not his job to understand what a woman’s original taming feels like, because I don’t really think a man can. He tries to understand as I explain parts of it to him. And I can’t help but to think that it is also his invitation. If I, as a woman, allow my deep, erotic, animal passion to fully emerge, it is good for him.
I am letting my animal body get used to stretching out again in full permission.
To be me.
This nature is not separate from me, though to some extent, it has been. In ways, my separation from these wild parts has caused closures in places I did not ever want to see close — it just happened over time. It has caused, over time, years of performance and holding myself up in society’s confines. I break plenty of rules, and I’ll be damned if it still doesn’t have me somewhat tied.
Over these last six weeks, lost parts have been returning — all somehow connected to this theme. After Mila left, my body stopped eating meat and I was more attuned to what it actually needed. My son and I are digging in the garden and I’m teaching him the structure of it all as I remember it. My first college degree was in sustainable agriculture, but I let that go as I had climbed a career ladder. I just started to compost again, collecting scraps to recycle into nutrients that feel too precious to waste now. I’m digging dirt in the mornings and evenings, when my breath has habitually been tightest, and now I’m standing on that mountain as the sun goes up and down, attuning to rhythms that I had tuned out.
I bought a box of clay and my son and I have been engaged in the tactile nature of molding it, unattached to outcome, while music plays in the background and our brains create. He paints quietly on the porch in the air and the shade. I take time to read fiction while my body sways in a hammock. I have taken hours to simply sit with the other cat on my lap, her animal body, nuzzling in, making contact.
I’ve made love to my partner many times, many ways, finding my breath and my heart in richer and richer ways. Calling parts of my woman-self back in this primal space.
I’m writing in the mornings. I have decided that I will put the foods in my mouth that feed my pleasure. Nothing else. I’m listening to the land, not with an anxious pressure that I hear everything She’s trying to tell me, but with a new sense of gratitude. She has a lot to say.
She, Mother Earth, is sending us a very clear invitation, to come home to our own bodies and activate our remembering of what we know.
I’m breathing it in as I’m able and sharing wisdom with other women. I’m watching as women are gathering together, sharing inquiry, intuitions, and knowledge, tapping into something both old and new. I’m picking wild berries and listening to bird calls I can’t yet decipher, but maybe one day we will get to know one another better.
My muscles, today, are aching from all the heaving.
I’m remembering something ancient and new. Without rush. Coming through me as a remembering, coming through this life transition.
When I read Wild Geese this last time, it was actually the last line that stood out to me as the true medicine of these wild times. It reads, “…over and over announcing your place in the family of things.”
I’m reminded that animals know their place in the family of things.
Animals wouldn’t position themselves, like humans have, like I have, to being ‘outside’ or ‘other than’ the natural world. They wouldn’t imagine otherwise with a brain that says, “Do I belong? May I live as myself? May I take a nap now?” They don’t ask if they are worthy of their place in nature. They don’t try, as we do, to control. They don’t grieve like humans grieve, because we judge that something should not be happening. They wouldn’t ever consider that they are separate from the Sacred nature of all that is, that God is outside of them, these lies of separation that we’re spending lifetimes mending. They don’t try to be good. They don’t try to please. They are integral to life, to the whole. Of course they are.
How naturally beautiful.
To be an animal in the family of things.
And as I pick the berries, as I ponder how to make a peppermint tincture, as I shovel dirt, as my breath deepens in a certain restoration, and as I allow my soft animal body to love the soft animal body of this man, I think — this is what we are creating and remembering, both: our place in the family of things.
Note from the author:
Written in gratitude to Mary Oliver for her articulation of her close observation, to Glennon Doyle for helping modern women to awaken, to the indigenous people of this land that my hands are now touching, and to the animals, our teachers.
And to Mila. Thank you, you sweet and ancient soul, for this deep activation of Sacred Remembering.
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.
You may also enjoy reading Soul Voice, by Meggan Watterson