What Do I Plan to Do with My One Wild and Precious Life? Well, Mary, I Plan to Take a Nap.

Listen; I love Mary Oliver. I do. The wild geese. The exhortation to Pay Attention. But I have a new plan for my one wild and precious life, Mary, and it’s to take a nap. A LONG one. 

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Mary wrote, and it’s a poignant and powerful question. THIS IS IT, after all. Our ONE SHOT. One go-around. One lifetime, for however long it lasts. So the reminder to use it well is apt, yes? To correctly value it as priceless and use it accordingly. To remember we’re creatures of the wild, born to be freely and fully ourselves because we’re the only one of us there is. And I am ON BOARD. I am here for it. I get it, and I’m all in.

Except I’ve also always read this as a call to achieve. Anyone else? I’ve always looked at this — “tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” — as a call to do more and do it better. “STOP WASTING TIME, friend; YOU WILL NEVER GET IT BACK.” You know? I’ve always viewed this as a timely call back to being driven and goal-oriented when I’ve maybe gotten off track. I’ve always read this and felt the pressure to squeeze the marrow out of life. To carpe every second of the diem. To wake up daily, ready and eager to go, Benjamin Franklin Early-Bird-Gets-the-Worm style, with a plan in place that I implement the hell out of.

But here’s the thing, Mary: I’m tired.

That’s really the crux of it.

I’m tired.

I’m constantly self-assessing and deciding I’m Behind Schedule.

I’m constantly self-judging and deciding Enough is Never Enough.

I’m constantly comparing myself to others my age and younger whom I consider “more successful” or “healthier” or “more well-adjusted” — or even just “wakes up and puts on pants every day” — and finding myself wanting.  Which means, I think, I’m under the same amount of pressure as the rest of my peers. I suffer from the same wondering whether I’m doing enough and accomplishing it on time. And what I  need, I’ve decided, is an effing break. 

Is that OK, Mary? 

Can I just plan to take a break with this one wild and precious life? 

I went back to my therapist today to talk about how my efforts at a Consistent Activity Level are going. The answer is, not horrifically. Given that I didn’t know what that was just two weeks ago, I’m giving myself an A for effort. Some days I’ve been frenetic and flustered. But most days I’ve remembered to make myself a warm beverage, light a candle, and brush my teeth like a real grown-up, and I also gave myself screen time limits like I give my children, so I’m feeling OK about my progress. Like I’m actively trying not to do everything. 

I’ve always read your question rhetorically, Mary — “tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” — where the answer, clearly, is DO BETTER, BE BETTER, and GET THERE FASTER. 

But all good art, including poetry, is meant for interpretation by its audience, and I believe you would’ve been OK with mine. I think you would’ve celebrated it, even. I think you probably didn’t mean this question rhetorically at all. I believe you meant to make us stop and think. REALLY think. The problem is that our Achievement Culture coupled with my own sense of Not Enough conspired to place this question solely in the Actions Category. The Measurable Objectives category. 

I forgot there’s always going to be something on the To Do list. That there is no destination labeled “Enough” unless I decide to name it so. My therapist reminded me of that today. There will always be more to do. Always. Which means the only way to rest is if we allow ourselves to do it before the list is complete. 

So I’m just here for a second, Mary, to let you know I know what it is I plan to do with my one wild and precious life. At least for right now. 

I plan to take a nap.

And give myself a freaking break.

The rest will wait ‘til tomorrow. 





P.S. Speaking of visiting my therapist, REJOICE WITH ME; I’m on the mend. My brain is ALMOST BACK. It’s Nirvana to be able to think and focus and not experience overwhelming dread when I see I have an appointment on my calendar. I’m not sure I can adequately express the relief. It’s like trying to explain being pain-free. What are the words for that? I can MOVE. I can BREATHE. I REMEMBER WHO I AM. I not only see the light at the end of the tunnel, I actually believe I may eventually be able to make my way there. So thanks, friends, for sitting with me and waving in the dark in the meantime. I owe you. ❤️ 

P.P.S. Did you know I run a small number of retreats each year? I do! One of my very, very favorite things to do is hang out with members of our incredible, worldwide community and offer rest and respite from our regular lives. I would LOVE to have you join me. 

{HINT: A number of previous March retreat participants have asked for that as their gift for Christmas. #GiftIdea! If you need more info, always feel free to contact our retreat registrar, Maggie Peterson, at petersonm1@spu.edu.}

Click here for general retreat information

Or, if you want to head straight to the registration pages, you can register via my farm website, CAIRNS FARM:

Don’t miss a post. Subscribe here

8 responses to “What Do I Plan to Do with My One Wild and Precious Life? Well, Mary, I Plan to Take a Nap.”

  1. Okay, I guess I’m an irreverent iconoclast. My reply to Oliver’s quote is: “I’m going to try to enjoy my life.” I’m not saying that I WILL enjoy it. The obsessive focus on enjoying life to the fullest would just become…obsessive work. And that’s so “yesterday.” (FYI that’s a joke but I embrace making it a truth) As an irreverent iconoclast I also have no interest in making the most of every moment with endless “mindfulness.” I do believe that thoughtful focus has its place and times. And I do believe in taking, yes TAKING, the time to do nothing. And naps. Naps are good too! Industry, ideas, engagement all good in moderation. Listening to other people? Helpful at times. At other times, not so much.

    The one place my irreverence meets faith is when it comes to emotional pain, depression, and mental discord. Here is were I encourage people, and myself, to have faith in the process of therapy, and medication, and time. I’m so glad you’re starting to feel a bit more connected to yourself. Not only will you get to the light at the end of the tunnel but you’ll find you get to a place where you can enjoy that light again. Where the beauty of the world is something you can again see and feel. You can get to this place again. We often don’t feel like it’s possible when we are “in the pit.” That is where faith can have real value. You are not walking that tunnel alone. My shadow hand holds yours. Your therapist holds your hand. Family and friends will hold your hand if you let them. Just keep walking the tunnel one step at a time…after your nap of course! Sending love across the miles 🙂

  2. A nap sounds blissful. I am not dealing with depression, as far as I know, but like you, I feel like I am perpetually behind and like I never do enough, both at work and in my personal life.


  3. …really? Because the poem that quote comes from is about spending a whole day just being present in nature. It’s mostly about her watching a grasshopper and marvelling at how intricate and beautiful it is. I have always thought she meant to be telling us to be fully present, and ignore the call of The Spectacle in order to seek what is real in the world. FFS, she specifically says she’s been idle all day, and defends that choice as right and precious.


  4. Now that I am older life looks so different. I look back at the younger me and see how unimportant all that rushing was, all that “accomplishment”. Be sure and stop, relax, and smell the roses, or take that walk on the beach, or sit on the patio with a cup of coffee, or enjoy a great book in peace and quiet. Quality before quantity. A good nap can count for a lot. And relax and enjoy the retreat!

  5. I had/took/snagged a nap yesterday. Needed to rest. My brain is still recovering and sometimes I forget that like you, I’ve been through a great transition so my new goal is to rest and restore—a perfect activity to honor our creator and myself. Waving…

  6. I KNOW that feeling, that blessed relief. When the medicine started doing it’s job for panic disorder and I could sleep, and eat, and think, and breathe, and eventually even return to work, all without the all-encompassing panic and anxiety and incessant crying and vomiting and hyperventilating 24/7, it was as good as hearing the angels sing. I’ve been worried about you. Love Mary, too, but prefer The Peace of Wild Things because it doesn’t make me as anxious as this quote. Here’s to peace and candles and warm drinks and self-love. And naps.

  7. I get the same gut reaction when I read that quote. There is so much emphasis on the doing (and how Other People are doing more). And, yes, doing stuff is not bad in itself. It becomes bad when it’s at the expense of our sanity or at the expense of the things which are important to us. Maybe we just put the wrong things on our to do lists. Maybe we need to add in more warm beverages, naps, candles, hanging out with our families (not always in a planned, instagrammable way).
    So glad you are starting to feel better than you have been. Build on the calmer times and make notes of what works. It will make it easier to recover from future setbacks. I speak from experience.

  8. Someone quoted that in my presence recently and I replied that I’ve always found that an extremely stressful thought. So much pressure, you know? Thanks for articulating for me AGAIN!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.