You Don’t Have to Walk On Your Knees

Today I bought a little notebook. It’s about four inches tall with pale cream pages, lined. It’s got a hard cover that is made to look like leather, with fake silver embossing so it looks like a miniature version of a classic old book.

At the very front of this book I wrote: “You are creative, thoughtful, and conscious in the choices you make for your life.” And then I wrote “–John Galles”.

John Galles is the publisher of a magazine I’ve been writing for for more than ten years. He’s also a kind man, and he said that to me today.

If it seems silly to you that I wrote that in a notebook, then I really have to tell you that I completely understand. It seems a little silly to part of me, too. That same part of me also does not understand this, which I wrote on page 3 of my book:

You don’t have to be good.
You don’t have to walk on your knees
A thousand miles through the desert, repenting

Which is a not-quite-accurate quote from Mary Oliver, and which reminded me that whatever it is, it’s okay.

I’m not being entirely clear.

Here’s the thing about me. I am many. I am a multitude. Inside my head are many, many voices. For large portions of my life, two or three of those voices have busily told me everything I “should” and “ought” to be doing and how silly and wrong and shameful were so many of the things that I think and say and do. They were quite, quite loud.

I’ve managed to calm those voices down considerably in recent months, but they still speak to me, sometimes even repeating back to me the very things I’ve been learning, and using my new tools against me. For instance, here is the conversation I had with myself after the call in which my friend said that nice thing I wrote down:

Me 1 (Dreamily): “Wow, that was nice. I feel all glowy. What a nice thing to say. And it’s so true, which is what makes it so nice. I like that.”

Me 2 (Kindly and mildy condescending): “Okay, Heather, I know that feels nice, but why should it matter to you what someone else has to say about you? Don’t you already know you’re awesome?”

Me 3 (Sigh. Eye roll.): “A-yup. We’ve been doing all this work to teach ourselves how awesome we are… so what on earth do you need someone else to tell you that for? When will you learn?” (You see how I throw my own hard work back in my face?? Who does this?)

Me 1 (Resigned): “Yeah, you’re right. Even though it feels really good to hear that, I should probably just let it go, so I can focus on appreciating myself more. Silly me.”

Do you see what I do to myself? Because it’s taken me 39 years to see it myself. How even when things are beautiful, when I’m having a beautiful moment, I step in and talk myself down.

But this morning I had spent 30 minutes in a walking meditation by the lake, while the dog ran loose (why didn’t he run off? Every day I focus almost exclusively on him during our walk, training him and keeping him close and sometimes he runs off anyway, but today I was meditating and he stayed with me. This is a rabbit trail but it feels like it means something important so I’m leaving it in). And I spent the entire meditation repeating Mary Oliver’s lines over and over in my head, and then out loud.

I’m all about letting you in on my inner weirdness here, so I will also tell you that I was imagining myself saying these lines in an oral poetry competition. I imagined how I’d start out looking directly at a young girl in the audience (it would definitely be a girl to start with, because girls especially need to know this), right into her eyes as I said, in a throaty and half-laughing voice: “You don’t have to be good.”

And then I would move my gaze to a boy, a young boy, in the room, “You don’t have to walk on your knees”

And then, my voice going deeper and more serious, I’d transition to lock eyes with one of the judges (because only a grown-up can understand fully what it is to walk a thousand miles on your knees, metaphorically speaking of course–not sure WHO would understand it literally, certainly not me): “A thousand miles … through the desert” and my gaze would intensify as I said in a throaty stage whisper (throatiness, I imagine, is very important in oral poetry competitions): “repenting!”

So I was doing this over and over again, and then also adding the next line (like the previous bit, it’s garbled–look up the real poem if you want the words exactly):

“You only have to love!” (looking right at that young girl again, laughing throatily–see how important throatiness is? … then a pause, and shifting to look lovingly down at my own body) “What your soft animal body loves.” Then I stood with the sunshine on my face and felt what it is to feel the sunshine and think of nothing but loving how the sunshine feels on my face.

Performance Art By the Lake. I refuse to be embarrassed by this. Okay, maybe a TEENSY bit embarrased, but that’s okay too. (Of course I won the┬ácompetition and everybody said how it was so clear that I really *felt* the poem, deeply in my body, how it made them FEEL it to hear me say it like that, and then I got to go on to regional and national championships where my video went viral which, you can clearly see, explains why I had to say it over and over again for 30 minutes.)

The net effect of this meditation cum performance art is that by the time I spoke with John this morning, I had convinced myself to just LOVE whatever it is that I love, not judging, flagellating, punishing, repenting for it.

And so, at the end of the conversation with myself in which I criticized myself for caring so much what someone else thinks of me, I decided to stop repenting for caring so much what someone else thinks of me.

I took my husband out to lunch walking arm and arm in the brittle November sunshine (how I LOVE November sunshine!), and I told him about the little book I would buy to write these things down in.

Because it’s okay that approval from friends and acquaintances and strangers and ANYONE matters to me. It’s okay that words of affirmation are what give me that glowy sensation. It’s better than okay. It’s awesome. It’s what my soft animal body loves and I WILL LET IT LOVE.

So I wrote it down, with the date. And then I wrote down on the next page:

“I am Holy” –Me

“One door at a time” –Me

“It’s not yours, let it go” –Glennon Melton (You can read more of her awesomeness here: Momastery)

And then I wrote down that little scrap of incorrectly memorized Mary Oliver poem on page 3.

Because those are also things that give me a glowy sensation, that make me cry, that make me feel relieved, that give me clarity. Some of them are also written on scraps of paper and taped to my laptop where my clients see them and get distracted by them when I’m trying to show them something they need to see. Especially the one positioned just where I rest my hand so that it covers up the “ly” in “Holy” and confuses people. Look back at that line and remove the “ly.” You’ll see why it confuses them. And that’s okay too.

I’m just a little bit crazy and these are the things that give order and meaning to my craziness and make me just a little bit less crazy.

And, just so you know, the next time you say something to me that makes me feel all glowy, I’m going to write it down in my book, with the date at the top. I will have my little book because it will stay with me, in my purse.

And then when I start talking to myself about how incompetent I am, how I can’t even feed the cats properly so how can I expect to take care of kids, and what is wrong with me that I am staying up past 11 when I know my body is tired, and WHY CAN’T I KEEP UP WITH EVERYTHING… then I am going to open up my little book and I am going to read.

Because I am done walking on my knees. This little book and the words inside–this is what makes my little soft animal body feel good. It’s what I love. And I’m going to let myself love it.


  1. Jaimie says:

    This was beautiful. I paused a moment after reading it to bask in it. I tracked with you the whole time too; you are not weird. Okay so maybe I’ve never done that sort of imaginative meditation, but it sounds very effective. Of course I have voices too. :)

    I used to keep a sheet of paper where I wrote down all the encouraging things people said about my first novel. It makes sense that, if it’s okay to do that about one’s novel, it’s okay to do that about oneself. Ugh, something about religion or the Puritans or maybe just the human impulse tells us it’s wrong to treat ourselves as kindly as we ought to treat other people (and to treat other people as kindly as we ought to treat ourselves). You know in Latin they put the “I/me” first. They say “I and he went to the store” instead of “He and I went to the store.” This sort of self-degrading mentality is embedded in our very language.

    Okay, so that last thing doesn’t quite hold water because someone has to go first where language is concerned and the point is it should be equal. (We do have a very strong sense of “something preceding something else is better”… why is that? Rabbit trail.)

  2. Ben says:

    That conversation you had with yourself sounds very familiar. I wonder why it’s so hard for some people to accept praise when others feel entitled to it… wife would have answered, “I know,” and gone on with her She doesn’t second guess anything, which is probably one of the things that drew me to her. I, on the other hand, still think about conversations I had when I was 5 years old and wonder if it sounded stupid or if I offended someone. I’ve had to devise a sort of trump card for when it spirals out of control. I try to remember to ask myself “will it matter in 200 years?” So far the answer has always been no and I’ve been able to let it go. I’ve tried telling myself to just “be entitled” but that never works…lol..I suppose it’s just not in my nature, and in one or two hundred years it won’t make a damn

  3. Curiosity Cat says:

    (Quickly scribbles in The Book: “I paused a moment after reading it to bask in it.” heehee)

    Ugh religion Puritans and so on, yeah. The irony of the whole thing is that Jesus says the most important thing, second only to loving God, is to love your neighbor AS yourself… so, can one assume that means you need to love yourself? Because it doesn’t say to love her MORE than yourself. It says AS.

    Why is loving ourselves so hard? I don’t know, and it’s a big part of my job in life to learn to do it well.

  4. Mom (but I won't tell if you don't) says:

    If God loves you, you must be worth loving. Why second guess God?

    Bask in this, Hedder: Without a shred of prejudice, I can honestly say you have a brilliant mind and an uncanny talent to express yourself. Thanks for writing your thoughts with humor and sensitivity and relevance for others to experience. I’ve often sent clients to your blogs to help them learn to deal with their own shortcomings. You’re a jewel and a wonderful gift from God.

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