A Word About “Being Good”

The other day, Lynn said to me, “Ivy, you’re so good, going to prayers every morning.” It had never occurred to me that going to prayers qualified me as “good.” I just love going. I love the promise in the dark dawn air as we gather in the lamplight; I love the sense of connection to an all-encompassing power I feel while chanting; I love the feeling of community with others who have gotten up at that hour to think about God together. The experience is a reward in itself to me.

This morning when I came back from prayers, I watched as Lynn put on her shoes to go out for her regular walk after her hour-long yoga practice, and I felt a simultaneous wave of admiration and frustration. I am lucky to squeeze in twenty minutes of yoga asana a day. “Wow Lynn,” I said, “here I am thinking ‘Lynn is so good, being so committed to her yoga practice.’” She laughed and said, “I just enjoy it. I like the way I feel afterwards.” Right.

On Saturday, we had another surprise – a wonderful discussion with Dr. Kalpana Sampath, one of the five managing partners of Punarnava Ayurveda. Kalpana is a Ph.D. psychologist who runs a management and leadership consulting firm out of Bangalore, India. With offices in four countries, their clients include multinational companies like Ford Motor Company as well as government agencies and school systems. She was not involved with Ayurveda in any way until Dr. Ramkumar convinced her to join the leadership team of Punarnava.

She was scheduled to make a presentation on Sunday to a group of 500 physicians in nearby Coimbatore on the subject of leadership and purpose, and as she had not yet met us, she decided to re-book her ticket to arrive a day earlier in order to talk with us – us, five random students from the west who have no connection to her. Dr. Ramdas, by way of introduction, had told us, “I think it will be a good meeting for you all.” Master of the understatement.

Her topic was “vision” – or rather, “VISION.” In the last two months, we have been exposed to all sorts of teachings, delving into new subjects in Ayurveda at the Rishikesh conference, starting therapist training (we began learning oil massage last week), getting a taste of the massive scope of Ayurveda and the lifetime of learning that lies ahead of us. It has us all running in about fifty directions at once. Kalpana’s visit came at an ideal point in our training. She deftly brought our focus back to ourselves as individuals and how we will begin to put what we are gaining here into practice. And she began at the top: What is our vision of our work in the world? Not our goals or our strategy for getting there, but our higher purpose? Which activities give us high energy, she asked – which activities fill us with juice? What do we love?

Kalpana’s job is inspiration. As a motivational speaker, it is her task to tap into the diverse sources of inspiration for many individuals in order to propel them all forward. Similarly, a large piece of my work in Ayurveda is about inspiration – I don’t need merely to educate clients about Ayurveda, I need to inspire people to make (and stick to) lifestyle changes that will provide a tangible, lasting effect in their lives. It’s that “sticking to it” part that is most challenging to inspire.

Last weekend, we had a conversation with Dr. Ramkumar about moving closer to nature. It could be said that Ayurveda is about living in concert with nature’s rhythms and, in that way, discovering less need for things. He said that the key to “selling” this idea is to help people experience the happiness that arises by living without certain possessions or habits that we’ve come to take for granted.  By getting out from under our attachments, by experiencing a different way of living, we will actually feel happier, and it’s that happiness that will motivate lasting change. He said, “When people discover that these changes are actually for their own happiness, not for some theory or ideal, then maintaining the change is not a problem.”

After my last post, my dear aunt and friend Flo commented, “You’ve always made me want to be a better person Ivy, but an internet sabbatical is too much to ask,” and I thought, there it is again, that notion that by doing some laudable action we can become “good” or “better,” that by going to  prayers every morning, or taking regular exercise, sainthood will be conferred upon us – but what good is sainthood if we don’t feel better, if we aren’t more joyful, more creative, more alive?

So to be clear: don’t take an internet sabbatical to be a better person – you already are perfect. Take a sabbatical because you might actually ENOJY it. You might discover that there is something unexpectedly sweet on the other side of that sabbatical that you can’t see from here. Do it for the sake of your own happiness.

And if you try it and you don’t feel happier, scrap it.


Wild Geese

~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 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.

11 thoughts on “A Word About “Being Good”

  1. Pip Bayley says:

    Hello my dear Ivy,

    Just found my way to your blog from Facebook, and loved reading your post. You are in India! In Rishikesh I guess? I am putting together a picture from your writings!

    I love what you talk about here – I’m try to discover, or rediscover, what it is I do that makes me sing….and then to do that more! Simpler and richer is what I’m looking for.

    Spent a day with my sister today, in Bristol (where I live now) – we did qigong in my local park and then worked in my community garden. Simple and rich.

    Much love to you in your adventures. I’m heading back to Portland for 2 weeks at the end of June but don’t suppose I’ll find you there?

    Pip xx

    • ivyingram says:

      Oh PIP, how lovely to hear from you! Yes, I am in India – mostly NOT in Rishikesh, actually – we got to spend ten days there, but I am stationed for several months at a beautiful Ayurvedic healing center in the south, where I am studying Ayurveda. It is wonderful.

      Yes, simple and rich – I think those two can go together far more often than we realize. You day with your sister sounds ideal. I am getting ready to move to Austin when my adventure in India is done (in July), and I am looking forward to settling in there – so alas, I will miss you in Portland in June! I will be sending you lots of love, though.

      I hope all continues to be well in Bristol!
      Much love,

  2. ian says:

    …and how is that the notion of being “good” has come to mean doing something we hate for longer and longer duration? Do we hear echos of the flagellating inquisitors imposing such “morals”? Lets skip back down the paths of history and psyche and find those tap roots. Or perhaps just take a new turn up at the bend. Thanks for the map, sister. love love love you ‘n’ yer posts.

  3. virginia ellenberg says:

    as the snow melts and sickness passes i have new energies to “fix up” our place in anticipation of the visit of musie, jl, and ian for a month. i have just acquired a storage shed and will make the back room into a bedroom once more, moving kid things to storage. this whole move seems to fly into the face of living with less……………and i’m aware of that desire to somehow simplify even amid generational needs and joys. r. and i need to reunite with nature for heeling starting tomorrow when his dem. mardi gras fund raiser is finally over. he’s tired all the time. we need re-uniting with inspiration!! i am so excited to feel how you are living, ivy,from your center, from connectedness. i’m always loving you and being with you. mom

    • ivyingram says:

      I hope the fundraiser went well! Yes, a reunion with nature would no doubt do you both good – a good place for healing to happen. I look forward to being there with you again, not so soon though!

  4. Pam says:


    This is such a beautiful meditation on being open to and accepting of our essential selves. Mary Oliver’s poem is a wonderful companion as we each seek our own personal awareness, inspired, surely by your example.

    love, psi

  5. Flo says:

    Tell Me A Story

    [ A ]

    Long ago, in Kentucky, I, a boy, stood
    By a dirt road, in first dark, and heard
    The great geese hoot northward.

    I could not see them, there being no moon
    And the stars sparse. I heard them.

    I did not know what was happening in my heart.

    It was the season before the elderberry blooms,
    Therefore they were going north.

    The sound was passing northward.

    [ B ]

    Tell me a story.

    In this century, and moment, of mania,
    Tell me a story.

    Make it a story of great distances, and starlight.

    The name of the story will be Time,
    But you must not pronounce its name.

    Tell me a story of deep delight.

    –Robert Penn Warren

    • ivyingram says:

      Ah, my. It’s been a long time since i’ve read that poem. I forgot the whole second part. “…a story of great distances, and starlight…” feels like where I am right now. Much starlight, and much distance….and much Time too. MORE

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