When I first started developing this work of Tending the Fire Within, I was in a particular moment in my life. I had wrapped up a divorce. I was going to write a brutal divorce, but that would be redundant, right? They are all brutal in their own ways.
Mine was brutal in the “I-think-I’m-going-to-throw-up-because-I-can’t-believe-that-we-have-to-do-this” kind of way. We were both so sad and a bit incredulous that love couldn’t carry the day.
I made it through that. And more recently, I had spent several months mostly laying in my bed staring up at my unpainted ceiling. A major back injury meant that I couldn’t stand for much more than about three minutes. That injury and its recovery changed my life as much as any workshop I’ve ever been taken.
And as I emerged from that pain, as I grew in strength and purpose, a few things became clear. I needed to make some major changes in my work. And I had gained some hard-won insights into how to move through hardships and to morph them into something new and beautiful.
One morning, as I was attempting to accomplish some piece of writing that wasn’t coming together, I was giving myself a little talk. Really, one thing kept coming: “Stop f*#@ing around and be who you really are.”
I come back to this little mantra often and for a number of reasons. First of all, I can only be good if I’m being myself. And to be my true self takes a persistent awareness, acceptance, and love of what I’m seeing. When all that’s working, life flows. And who doesn’t like a life that flows?
I long-considered naming the new enterprise this mantra, but it had its obvious limitations. Still, the spirit of these words reminds me to stay clear about what is mine: to feel, to do, and to be. And what isn’t.
That’s why I’m telling you about this now. Because this past weekend, I had an opportunity to do some work that was all about flow and acceptance and awareness.
I spent the weekend working with Peter Devries and Constellation Works. This work is a powerful exploration of our legacy as handed down from our parents and our other ancestors. We, ultimately, get to decide what parts of our legacy are ours to carry and which we can hand back or set down.
In this work, there is no sitting on the fence, no dodging the issues, no waiting on the sidelines to see what happens. This stuff only works when you dive in. Either you are ready to get somewhere different, or you just don’t do this work. Peter is an amazingly skilled facilitator, and we were ready to go.
As Peter was explaining to us the first night, this isn’t work you can describe in words very well; you have to do it to understand. I found this to be true; many people have told me about this work for years. Doing the work is altogether something else. Because while the work may be based on concepts and ideas and practices, the real art of the work is in touching our innermost core, where we store our unseen impulses, our surprising longings, our doubts and anxieties that stop us. Touching, at least as importantly, the places in us where we are all connected.
So, I won’t describe the work. But I want to talk about one of the concepts that I found useful. Peter told us about the idea of “healthy shrinking.” When we consider where life comes from, we see that life comes from big people to little people. Over and over again, big people give little people life. What a gift. And yet, sometimes our parents aren’t up for the task before them. And sometimes a child grows up quickly and assumes the role of a “big person” when they are, in actual life, a small person who needs care.
There is a loss in not being allowed to be a small person. And there may be a pattern that emerges of strength and “bigness.” The one who gets things done. The one who takes care of everything. There is a some good in this, of course.
But of course, none of us can take care of everything. We all need one another. We all need help. We all need the time to “be small.” And so we consider healthy shrinking. Letting go of what isn’t ours to deal with. What never was.
We give back what isn’t ours, we set it down. Then, and only then, can we become ourselves.