Your Wild and Precious Life: It’s Okay to be Uncertain
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.
Oliver’s words have been quoted on so many websites and blogs during the past decade that I’ve lost track. In fact, my most potent memory of it is the day when a friend confessed that every time she saw the quote, she felt overwhelmed.
My friend was so overwhelmed that she didn’t ever want to see the quote again.
Without a doubt there’s an urgency in the question about your wild and precious life.
The minutes, hours, days, months, and years of your one wild and precious life are ticking by even as you read this.
So it makes sense that you might feel an overwhelming urge to figure out what you’re going to do with the rest of your life.
In pondering this question, I have to admit that right now I’m noticing that simply writing those last two sentences brought my body and nervous system into alert mode.
Yet there’s another deeper part of me that knows another truth.
It wants me to tell you that I’ve spent a lot of my wild and precious life being uncertain about my future.
For example, it took me about seven years (from my initial spark of interest) to finally enroll in graduate school to study counseling.
I’ve also wavered consistently, for decades, about where I really want to live. As a result I’ve lived in a lot of different places (and don’t regret it).
Even now, I’m sometimes unsure about how I want to spend my days. And you know what? That’s okay.
Have you considered that your one wild and precious life isn’t asking you to know or do?
Perhaps, instead, it’s asking you to step aside from all the conscious knowing and striving that we humans are so good at.
Perhaps it’s encouraging you to take the time to drop down into the parts of you that are deep and wise and want your attention.
And then, letting them seep into your life and your days. Stepping into them and letting them influence you to spend more time:
- noticing and engaging with what you’re pulled towards in the moment
- listening on a deeper level to yourself and others
- embracing yourself as you are and practicing self-acceptance
- being with what is rather than needing to fix or figure things out
- practicing the self-care of naming and claiming your own needs
- experiencing the freedom of not having to know everything
- opening up to more playfulness, flow and joy
- believing that it’s okay to begin again each day
In other words, the urgency of your one wild and precious life may be more about starting conversations with the parts of you that you don’t always listen to. And then, paying attention to and honoring their wisdom.
At the heart of Mary Oliver’s beautiful poem is a plea to pay attention.
When you immerse yourself in the poem you see that the urgency of your wild and precious life is in your experience of this moment, right now.
It’s not so much about the urgency of knowing the future arc of your life and taking action. I believe it’s more about relishing the good that is here for you, just a few steps ahead.
Here’s how the poem ends:
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idled and blessed, how to stroll through the fields
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?
What a relief…you can revel in your wild and precious life even if you’re uncertain.
In fact, it’s normal to be uncertain about 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 often wait quite awhile before you have to make a final decision.
You can be wishy-washy and confused and ambivalent and resistant. (Which characterizes most human beings in transition).
Remember: you’re not expected to have a grand plan for your life.
But if someone tells you that you should, question their wisdom.
Because being uncertain about what you’re doing and where you’re going is the story of many 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, try to pay attention to what is here for you right now.
Practice showing up for your life each day, in your own imperfect way. Listen to your deeper wisdom about the next small step. Let it unfold.
Trust that it’s not your last chance and time isn’t running out.
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.