Wild Geese 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 your 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.”
Strength is one of my favorite Major Arcana cards in the Tarot, because it calls for us to anchor in love and embody our truest selves. The Strength card is a reminder that when we know the our power, it cannot be bought, sold, given, or taken away from us. The healing of humanity and the planet is dependent on dismantling and recreating the systems that have taught us that our power lies everywhere but inside of us. True strength requires the risk of arriving at the door of our own heart and recognizing it as the heart of the world. We will see how our lives weave into every life, understanding the greater risk of ignoring the deepening pull of owning who we truly are. We are living in times of great upheaval, calling for us to be fully present in our bodies and connected to our souls, so we can move as gracefully as possible through the changes afoot. Strength reminds us that transformation is an inside job, and that we are courageous, resilient, and creative enough to do it. We cannot force change, but we can become it. We are seeing old structures fall within and around us, bearing witness to the unearthing of old beliefs, identities, and ways of being that thrive on the “power-over” dynamic that has wounded us all. When we are grounded in our strength, we move with more ease and confidence through our lives, no matter what outer circumstances are; we understand that there is enough, and that we are abundant beings with immense potential to create and share from the heart. There is a gentleness in this card that brings us back to love and connection. We live in a society that encourages a disconnection from nature, our bodies, our hearts, our needs, our desires, and from each other. In order to learn how to own our power and direct it in ways that are nourishing, uplifting, and life-affirming, we must first understand that we carry in our bones and our energy fields the imprints of a culture that is based on an imbalance of power. We are fully capable of clearing the old to make way for the new, beginning from within. In fact, we were made for these times.
We learn to outsource our power from an early age, grasping outside of ourselves for a sense of validation, safety, and belonging; of course as small children this makes sense. We are made to exist in relationship; problems arise when we do not have the tools for healing as we develop, and continue searching for self worth and security anywhere but within. The depth of our capacity to truly connect, is impacted by how true we are being to ourselves, and by knowing our inherent worthiness. As women, we are trained to find our value in how pleasing we can be—whether that means repressing our true expression, desires, and sexuality in order to “keep the peace” or not appear threatening, or whether that means using our power in unhealthy ways, because we have learned that we must do whatever it takes to gain ground and get our needs met. But we do not have to play that game. In fact, we can no longer afford to. The new paradigm, and one I have worked for in my own life, is one of community, collaboration, self-care, slowing down, reconnecting to the body, the earth, emotions, and creative energy. We are healing thousands of years of patriarchal programming that creates an environment where competitive, dominant, and conquering behavior is the way to finding power. Paradoxically, we are taught to repress ourselves and stay small and quiet. We can see the harmful effects of this paradigm in racism, sexism, rape culture, destruction and pollution of the planet, and unequal distribution of wealth. We are also inundated with media that sells to us that impossible standards of beauty, the message that we have to “do it all” in order to be powerful women; and in order to be powerful women, we have to compete with each other. Men too are deeply wounded in the cultural messaging to disconnect from their emotional selves, perpetuating the seeking of power outside of themselves while devaluing a vital part of their humanity. The Strength card reminds you that your heart and creative spirit are unrepeatable, there is enough for us all, there is room for us to be who we are, and once you have touched your light, it can only grow. We all need each other to be doing the inner healing work of returning to ourselves, and choosing to heal and find strength in our vulnerability.
True power is understanding that we have a choice to be and express from a place of wholeness, where all facets of ourselves are loved and given space to exist, and where we support each other’s growth. Acting from strength means our yes’s are full on yes’s and our no’s are clear as day. We also must realize that we are a part of a greater whole whose health and well being depends on everyone’s well being, with everyone granted access to the tools and resources they need to thrive. We are not bound to any way of being that is harmful to us, and when we feel rooted and strong enough in ourselves, we realize we have a choice as to what we participate in, becoming more aware of the places where we have given our power away. When we can begin to unravel the ways we are complicit in oppressive systems, we disentangle the whole mess. This is the work of generations, but it will always begin within each one of us, and we can choose to access our strength in healthy ways right now. Setting fire to any and all remnants of self betrayal. Setting fire to the memories still alive in our bodies of what humans have done to themselves and each other in order to survive. Setting fire to self judgement. Setting fire to self abandonment. True power does not take. True power does not harm. True power does not manipulate to gain. True power burns for what is real. True power burns for the pieces of ourselves still in hiding, in service to healing and love and justice for every being and inner fragment who never had a chance to thrive. True power burns for our softness and our freezing, our confusion and our clarity, our anger and our joy. True power burns for exposing untruths and setting the course for freedom of expression, a right to exist however we are. True power burns for choice. True power burns for nourishment, feeding the flames for what must go, so what is to come alive has room to grow. Anything less than that dissolves here now. May the ashes make a gorgeous bed for new dreams to take root for humanity.
Because of the disconnect in our culture, reconnecting with our wildness is a courageous and rebellious act of tuning in to the deepest parts of our beings and loving ourselves through the process. When we reject the pieces of ourselves that are seen as unacceptable by the social norms, we inevitably see those pieces “out there” and point fingers, blame, or seek to control. Reclaiming the pieces of ourselves we have been taught to feel shame for and fear—sadness, grief, anger, needing help—are keys to knowing our wholeness. Mindfulness and embodiment practices (which can be as simple as walking, journaling, meditation, and movement) are essential for connecting with our primal states of being. Engaging in our imagination and creativity also causes a glorious ruckus in the status quo because it tunes us into the complexity of who we are. Old systems don’t function too well with soulful people expressing themselves fully and supporting each other in their unique magic.
Once we have access to our deeper layers, can move through the world in full responsibility and compassion for our feelings, thoughts, perceptions, and actions. This presence with our bodies and emotions fosters clear-seeing and clear-knowing. Being gentle, kind, and loving with ourselves is key to being loving with others; not judging things as good or bad, right or wrong, and instead just being honest, aware, and open to shifting. Our strength is inside of our softness. Our strength is inside our willingness to hold the entirety of who we are, and commit to knowing, accepting, and loving ourselves and each other completely.
Outsourcing light only makes it darker, and wings burn too close to the sun we keep outside ourselves. Turning to the heat of our own hearth and inner sanctuary, we will remember who we are. This is how we strengthen the web of connection to each other. To express the light of our true hearts, we must continually turn inward and offer love to those pieces of ourselves who may still be in hiding, waiting for a sensation of safety until they come into view. The crux of heart-work is to listen to these fears, this grief, these human stories we carry in our cells, and to let them exist, so they can change form. We may watch aspects of self die, and watch others blossom— allowing these facets to be however they need to be is the crucial alchemical ingredient for transmutation.
Often the most powerful transformation is a shift in perception; there is much we cannot change, and contending with this requires feeling deeply, and holding ourselves and each other through this process of often brutal surrender. Surrender can feel like softness too; it can feel like vast empty space, and it can feel like a portal of infinite possibility. The practice of compassion during uncertainty deepens self trust, and is vital as we come into stronger resonance with the magic of our life force; we are creator beings, and we are beings who must face letting go. Without devotion to the inner anchor, we remain complicit in the systems that do not honor individual power and expression, nor do they honor the mystery, or feeling, or connection. Without access to tools and practices to strengthen inner connection, so that we can become intimate with our true desires and needs as we grow and change, our relationships to self, earth, and each other suffer.
Strength does not seek domination but rather to be expressed with such fullness that it empowers all beings to be free to express the fullness of who they are. We can practice graceful engagement with the parts of us we are afraid to meet and walk with; these are the ones of us that need tenderness, who hold the light of our passions, and our capacity to create new ways forward. Creating new ways forward is what we are here to do.
Stay tuned for Strength, Part Two: Practices for Reconnecting with Your Inner Strength, where I will share grounding exercises, creative exercises, and other ways to connect with your body, intuition and imagination in nature.
Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés
The Moon and The Virgin: Reflections on the Archetypal Feminine by Nor Hall