Your wild and precious life: you don’t have to know

Santa Rosa therapist Patty Bechtold blogs about what it means to listen to your one wild and precious life at

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Somewhere along the way you may have come upon this question before. It’s the final line in Mary Oliver’s famous poem, The Summer Day.

I’ve seen this line quoted on so many websites and blogs during the past decade that I’ve lost track. And my most potent memory of it is the day when a friend confessed that every time she saw the quote, she felt overwhelmed. So much so, she didn’t ever want to see it again.

Without a doubt there’s an urgency embedded in the question.

The minutes, hours, days, months and years of your one wild and precious life are ticking by even as you read this, and you certainly better figure out what you’re going to do with it, right?

Wow, just writing that last paragraph brought my nervous system into high alert!

And yet, I must confess that I’ve spent a lot of my wild and precious life not knowing. It took me seven years (ok, maybe 10) from my initial spark of interest to finally go to grad school to study counseling. I’ve also wavered consistently about where I really want to live for decades. And I’m often unsure about how I want to spend my day.

But maybe our one wild and precious life isn’t asking us to know or do.

Perhaps, instead, it’s asking us to step aside from all the conscious knowing and striving that we humans are so good at, to take the time to drop down into the parts of us that are deeper and wiser.

And then, let them seep into our lives and days. Let them move us to…

  • reconnect, re-engage and notice what we’re responding to
  • listen on a deeper level to ourselves and others
  • embrace ourselves and be present to self
  • be with rather than needing to fix things
  • practice the self-care of meeting our own needs
  • experience the freedom of not having to know
  • opening up to playfulness and flow
  • begin again each day

In other words, our wild and precious lives are encouraging us to start conversations with the parts of us we don’t always listen to. And celebrate what hasn’t yet been celebrated within us.

What a relief: you don’t have to know what you’re doing or where you’re going.

The truth is most of us aren’t very good at envisioning the external arc of our wild and precious lives. And why would we want to? As much as we may yearn to know the future, the story that unfolds is ours alone. It makes us who we are.

And so, you can take your time meandering on the back roads.

You don’t have to know how things will turn out.

You don’t have to be ready.

You can usually wait quite awhile before you have to make a final decision.

You can be wishy-washy and uncertain and confused and ambivalent and resistant. (Which characterizes most human beings in transition).

This is the story of most people’s lives.

If it’s your story too, and you’ve been comparing yourself to idealized stories of how you’re supposed to be living your one wild and precious life, remember this: you’re not expected to have a grand plan for your life. And if someone tells you that you should, question their authority.

And then, begin showing up for your life each day. Learn to trust your deeper wisdom about the next small step. Let it unfold.

I think your one wild and precious life will thank you for it.

If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.

-Joseph Campbell