They remind me that, first and foremost, my life is entirely what I make of it. That’s right. I, alone, am responsible for my experience of this existence. No matter how much I’d like to, I can’t control the attitude or actions of anyone else. Even if I meditated several hours a day, sending out ridiculously sunny, positive vibes, people that I love would still feel pain and suffer. I can take care of my body and be in the best shape of my life at 49 years-old only to require surgery on my knee. While these happenings are beyond my power to influence, by consciously deciding my response to them, I determine my reality and the plan for my one wild and precious life.
For example, after being apart for almost a decade and many years of my being civil, heck – nice even, my ex-husband is still not amicable to me. (Well, at least he is not down right mean anymore!) My emails attempting to build camaraderie and cooperation about our teenage sons go unacknowledged. Messages thanking him for his parenting efforts go unanswered. Any olive branch I extend is not accepted. Upon relaying this to someone recently, they said to “stop sending them then!” Seems like a logical response, right?
As I explained to them, I am not going to stop being who I want to be, an appreciative person who sees the good and expresses gratitude, because of his actions. If I alter my behavior accordingly, then I am letting him, my reflexive emotions, and past conditioning determine who I am going to be instead of acting intentionally deciding this for myself. Over time, bypassing gut reactions and repeatedly choosing to act differently supports the neural networks in the brain making this behavior easier and the default. I’m not there yet, but I am continually working on it!
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” I plan to live an intentional life making conscious decisions about who I want to be and behaving accordingly.
The words of the poem inspire me to go beyond my comfort zone, to allow curiosity and passion to lead me, and to take a big breath and push through the fear each and every time. I want to look back on a life sprinkled with awkward moments, failures, and tears of pain because this would mean that I was putting myself out there, taking risks, and allowing myself to genuinely feel. I also know that interwoven among these snapshots will be giggle snorts, exhilarating triumphs, and tears of joy. Every one of these experiences synergistically completes the richly textured fabric of a full life. Without any of it, even what is considered to be the “bad” stuff, the journey would be monochromatic and shallow.
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” I plan to live an adventurous, inquisitive life so that reminiscing brings a lively sparkle to my eyes, a knowing smile to my face, and a satisfied warmth to my heart.
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle 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?
from New and Selected Poems, 1992
Beacon Press, Boston, MA
Copyright 1992 by Mary Oliver.
All rights reserved.