Mary Oliver

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

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 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.

These photos are pretty risqué, I know. I hope no one is offended or off-put. I've stalled photographing the newest addition to my skin because I wanted to take my time with the photos; I wanted to show a more vulnerable and stripped bare side of myself.  This poem is everything to me. When it was first read to me, fall quarter of my junior year, it was life changing. I know that sounds beyond cliché, and that's ok, because it's truthful to my core. And I know I have some sort of blip about body image every time I post an intimates type post, but I figured it was about time to do more than just scratch the service. So here goes:

I grew up in a pretty religious household. Now, it most certainly wasn't hardcore religious in any way, but we went to church on Sundays and participated in church oriented activities. Now, I have no problem with people being religious, to each his own, but I do know that my own personal experience with religion and the church left me stunted and ashamed for so many years. Anything involving sex or sexuality, of women, felt filthy and taboo, at best. Men were allowed to make mistakes and that's just what they were: mistakes. Meanwhile, if a woman did something sexual or "wrong" or whatever you want to qualify it as, she was tarnished. Soiled like a dirty sheet. Personally, this caused me to develop huge self-esteem issues, self-loathing habits, and mass amounts of inner turmoil. I struggled with this for years, and a combination of mentally abusive boyfriends did not help the growing problem. Things got better near the end of my sophomore year of college, after making some amazing friends, breaking up with my boyfriend of four years, and meeting Michael. Then, junior year began and I found myself sitting by one of my closest friends as my brilliant professor read the class, "Wild Geese," by Mary Oliver. The soft words hit me like waves, stunning me and somehow erasing years of shame. So much truth found itself living in two sentences within a poem. "You do not have to be good." "You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves." These words set me free. What were once my past "digressions," for lack of a better term, became human moments, nothing but stepping stones along my journey. Things once associated with great shame that would lead my mind into sleepless conflict became beautiful expressions of the human experience. I was empowered, as I think all women should be. Whatever you believe in, or don't, whatever you choose to do with yourself, with your body, your mind, your heart; do so boldly, and without shame. Never let a person, people, or institution tell you how to feel about your actions or desires, for they are yours alone, and, in the end of it all it's your life to live. Live for yourself.

I hope this wasn't too much for anyone, as I normally try to keep it much lighter here in this little corner of mine, but I just couldn't share my new tattoo with you without going into detail about what it means to me. I think love and lust, vulnerability and pain, are some of the most beautiful things we can share with one another. Stories and experiences make us human, and even if we don't agree or don't relate to what someone is saying, we are better and more understanding for having heard, and listened, to it. I love you all so much. I hope that wherever you are on your path in life, that it is treating you well. I hope that you give yourself love and let yourself breathe without guilt or limitations. I hope that you take time for beautiful poetry, art, or music. I hope that you allow yourself to feel just how amazing you are.


  1. Gorgeous, gorgeous photos, Rya! I adore them, and the meaning behind your tattoo as well! I am always so saddened that people who grew up in religious households didn't grow up in one like mine; we never really talked about sex/sexuality/etc, but it was NEVER painted as a shameful thing -- it was just a thing to be saved for marriage and that special person who you could trust your all with. It was something you wanted to guard, because it was a precious thing, but if you made a mistake it wasn't unforgivable, and just as much was put on my brothers as it was on me to keep up with those rules. Modesty wasn't about keeping men from sinning, but about keeping your own heart in check as to why you wore what you were wearing (aka, did you want to wear that low-cut blouse because you were trying to garner attention in a selfish/prideful way?), and being considerate of others. But I've seen so many people who grew up shamed and told they were tarnished and burdened with the sins of others and it just... I'm so sad about that. Jesus seriously never, ever taught via using shame, degradation, or put-downs (hello, picketers); He taught with love. He hung out with the broken. The people He DID yell at were people who thought they were oh-so-righteous, goody-two-shoes, doing all the things the law said but for the wrong reasons.

    I think it's so fantastic that your tattoos have meaning; that makes them all the more beautiful! My husband and I were passing back and forth the idea of getting secret (well, hidden) tattoos as a couple, but it's so hard to figure out what we'd actually get, so who knows if it'll ever happen! It would be such a special thing between us, though, so maybe someday!

    Thank you for sharing these pictures, and the story behind your tattoos! <3

    1. Kristna, you always bring such light and happiness to my blog posts! I'm so thankful for the way you were raised since you can now share that with me and all those around you. It is such a beautiful thing when modesty, etc. is taught with love and understanding instead of negativity and shame. And you are so completely right, Jesus did only teach with love, something that is all too quickly forgotten.

      It would be so amazing if you and your husband got little secret tattoos! I love the idea of it! It's so sweet and romantic!

      Thank you so much for your support and love, always. It truly means the world to me.
      ♡Mariah Alysz

  2. I just want to say thank you for being brave and sharing this beautiful and empowering post. I had never read that poem before, and it truly touched me. I was about to submit a very long (and very personal) comment, but it may have been too personal and I'm not as brave as you at this moment to share it. So I just wanted to say thank you. Your tattoo is beautiful, and the photos are so inspiring. Thank you so much for sharing

    1. I am so happy that the poem spoke to you, it is my all time favorite piece. Sometimes it's strange to me to be so open and raw on the giant world of the internet, but hearing from people like you make it all worth while. If you ever want to talk about anything at all that may be a little much for comments, feel free to email me at I love to talk and know long comments can feel so impersonal. Thanks so much for commenting, it really made my day.
      ♡Mariah Alysz

  3. I can relate to this post so much that half way through I actually stopped reading and went back to study your face... I thought that perhaps you and I knew each other, or even at one point attended the same school.

    I too grew up in the church, and I too have a post like this. Only I haven't shared mine. I grew up in a religious household, one that became more and more conservative as I got older. Our church hired a pastor from a school so conservative that our Church Conference didn't officially recognize it as part of the religion. Suddenly everything changed: diet, the form of dress, and sleeping patterns. I gave up half of my senior year of high school, missed my best friends' birthday parties and graduation parties all because my church found the events to be too secular.

    I decided to work for my church as a Bible Worker. My program leader would call me out of bed at 11pm, rest his hand on my knee and tell me how 'special' I was to him.When my father came to remove me from the program, I ran away...afraid that my salvation lost should I leave. I thought that I loved the leader, and even followed him out to California...enrolling myself in a school where women were not allowed to wear pants, and skirts had to be worn even with a foot of snow on the ground.

    My sophomore year of college I had a break down. The program leader had cut me off in a very public way, at the pastor's wedding. My university while still run by my religion was not a popular choice with my conservative church family back home. My pastor did not approve.

    It's been a long road to recovery. I cannot dwell too long on the past, because I can never retell the story without breaking down into tears. The university that I attended taught me a lot about God, faith, religion, and philosophy - and I think it did exactly what my home pastor was afraid of: it broadened my horizons and opened my eyes.

    I am so happy that you shared your story. I am so sorry that you received some negative feedback (as you mentioned on your Instagram). Thank you for sharing. Your tattoo, the message, the inspiration.. It's beautiful.

    1. Amber, I am so touched that you shared such a personal story with me. I think it is so beautiful that blogs let us connect with each other in such intimate ways even though the internet may at times feel so cold.
      I cannot even begin to imagine what an ordeal all of that must have been for you, and I am so happy that you have started the journey to recovery. You are such an absolutely beautiful woman and deserve nothing but love, positivity, and respect.
      It saddens me so much that religion can be so damaging and twisted, when the main message behind it is love, honesty, and truth. I am sure that there are so many stories like ours that have not been told. I wish I could wrap us all in a warm, fuzzy blanket of love.
      I am just so overwhelmed by all the positive feedback from this post that the one negative instance doesn't even matter. It is responses like yours that give me the courage and strength to keep going and keep putting myself out there.
      Sending all my love and sunshine,
      ♡Mariah Alysz