Tiny Revolutions №105: No One is Coming to Save You
come tend your fire with me ❤️🔥
Shortly before I left L.A. last summer, a friend of mine who is a poet, a therapist in training, and a wonderfully creative human being hosted an event she called a “Casual Family Exorcism.” Part seance, part writing workshop, the intention was to help attendees “let go of unwanted family stuff and make room for goodness.”
Through a series of writing prompts and group exercises, she had us conjure up an ancestor to see what they had to say to us. Mine was a woman from my mother’s Irish side of the family who wore a drab dress and the face of someone who knows suffering. She struck me as a weary soul who’d been had by men, and by life, and by doing the things the women of my line tend to do, which involve putting everyone else’s needs before their own.
Here’s what I wrote about her:
“She wants to warn me that there is no one coming to save me. It sounds like a cautionary tale. Get what you want from this life, she says, and don’t depend on anyone else to do it for you. You are your own jewel. Being connected to others doesn’t mean being their servant — it’s about being in relationship to them. There is a give and take, energetically. Question your relationships. Take care that they serve you. She has borne so much for so long. She didn’t have a choice. No one can do it for you, she says. She loves me.”
I’ve been thinking about this ever since, because boy have I spent a lot of time wishing to be rescued. For many years I held a completely unquestioned belief that if I could just land the right man/job/house/etc., my life would fall fully into place. A happily ever after.
Life gradually broke me of that belief after I got some of the things I wanted and realized I still felt lost. I could make the case that the turning point of my life was realizing that the real “success” in life had much less to do with attaining the external markings of success as we define it in American culture and more with learning to listen to myself and pursue the things that truly felt meaningful to me. (Which sometimes align with the external markers and other times do not.) Pretty standard spiritual awakening stuff!
But that doesn’t mean I’m not still learning this lesson. I don’t play the lottery but I do run my own business and contribute to some other entrepreneurial projects. Do I fantasize about a big payout or patron or no-strings-attached investor or — GASP — a rich husband to drop out of the sky to fund me and all the cool things I’d like to do in this life? Hell yes. Would it be ideal if that got handed to me with minimum effort? Also yes. Embarrassing but true.
That said, I know I’m not alone here. Is it weird in this economic and cultural climate to harbor a secret, desperate wish to be saved? For that matter, is it weird in any climate? No, I’d argue. The work of being human has never been easy.
Is it realistic to want to be saved? Alas, also no. It’s just another fantasy we might spend our life chasing at the expense of the here and now, which, while often brutally difficult, is also a miracle.
If I’ve learned anything, it’s that we can only work with things as they are, not as we wish them to be. There’s no way around doing the work it takes to create the world we want to live in, and that’s as true on the individual level as it is for society. My ancestor was right: when it comes to the real work, no one can do it for you.
As I mentioned in my last issue, over the last few years I have gotten progressively clearer about what I’m doing here, which is to help people become more themselves. I’ve been trying to do this with my writing for years, but I’m also working more and more as a facilitator and coach.
I’m preparing to launch a group program in the new year called The Fire Inside, which is for women who want to become the fiercest, truest versions of themselves. I want to help them stop self-sabotaging and learn to listen to the quiet voice inside that knows exactly what to do but is scared, or confused, or intimidated, or just doesn’t know where to begin.
The irony is that this work, which is so hyper-specific to the individual, cannot be done alone — despite all the messages we receive about “finding ourselves” or pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps, we need others to serve as our mirrors, our companions, our encouragers, and our elders on the path.
I have spent years figuring out how to navigate this work for myself, so I’m feeling called to serve as a guide for others, too. If you’ve been reading this newsletter for a while you know it’s been a long and twisty road! But I have learned over and over that we can either listen to the quiet voice and let it guide us, or we can ignore it and fall deeper into discontent. Listening is not easy is the simple truth. But I believe it is the most important work anyone can do. I want more people to do it!
And, let’s be clear, I totally have an agenda: I think a world where more women are acting from a place of deep agency and grounding in what’s true for them instead of what people want from them would be a much better world for everyone.
Here’s a quote from the Jungian analyst and scholar Marion Woodman that captures why:
“Women are, by nature, disposed to relationship and connectedness; yet true relationship cannot be embraced until a woman has a deep sense of her at-one-ment. Without this essential independence from all roles and bonds, she is a potential victim for servitude.”
We have to build our own foundation of self love, understanding, and trust, which is just not something most of us have been taught to do. And it happens from the inside out.
My ancestor never learned to do this work. My mom, despite all the wonderful things she did in her life, never really did, either. I have somehow been able to break the pattern, and that is no small thing. In fact it is probably the hardest, best thing I’ll ever do.
So! Let’s talk fire, shall we?
I’ve been playing with the idea that tending a fire is a perfect metaphor for cultivating a great relationship with yourself. You can’t turn your back on a fire — it can die out or it can rage out of control or any number of unfortunate things in between. You have to pay attention to it and give it what it needs to burn steadily, and discern what you need to shield it from.
Plus, fire? FIRE. Primal, elemental, eternally changing. Working with fire has been a key theme of so many of humanity’s myths and spiritual practices — we need it to survive, yes, but it’s also a source of endless fascination. I’m not the only one who’s had the lightbulb moment that our inner fire is something to cultivate. I’m just a recent link in a chain of humans and cultures who’ve come to the same conclusion over millennia.
Now onto the fun part!
I’m hosting a free workshop on Zoom Thursday, January 4th to introduce The Fire Inside program. This will be my first time talking about it outside of friends and family, and I’m really excited!
This will be a 60 minute workshop where we’ll talk about what it means to listen to your quiet inner voice and how to hear it. We’ll also talk about building your inner fire and some practices to support you. And — maybe the most important part — you’ll be in the company of some badass women who want to lay the foundation for a 2024 on their terms.
If this calls to you, you can register here. I’d love to see you there.
Man, what a year, eh? For me personally it’s been a big one. Lost my mom, moved out of the Zen house, left Los Angeles after 18 years, started setting up shop in Minneapolis, finally kicked booze for good. Among other things. I’m intending to write another issue next week with some stuff that helped make my year more bearable — beautiful, even — but in the meantime, I have one request.
The Angel City Zen Center is running our annual fundraiser, and if you have any cash to spare, we would sure appreciate your donations. Offering Zen teachings and providing a space for anyone to practice meditation is a true community service, and we rely entirely on donor support.
The center has given me so much over the years, and while I give as much time and energy and money as I can, we can always use a little more. Even if you don’t practice with us, I like to think you are in some way benefiting from the dharma shared at our little center. It is truly a light in this often dark world. Plus we have some really cute tote bags and a funny calendar!
Another year and we’re still here! What a blessing. Thanks for reading, as ever.
p.s. Tiny Revolutions is free to read but if you’d like to support my work, please share this with someone who’d appreciate it, or just like this post!
p.p.s. Enjoy some infinite flowers.