With the growing multitude of self-help books, one could easily lose a lifetime in the reading of them. Sadly, a lot of this literature tends to use the following format: I was broken but now I’m fixed; let me teach you how to become more like me. You don’t have to completely understand the problem with that statement to notice that it makes you feel icky. Icky and a little bit panicked. “Oh shit,” you think to yourself “I’d better buy that book!” It works even better if the person on the front cover has perfect hair and pearly white teeth.
There was a time when I lapped that shit up like Gingerberry Kombucha. Though my ferocious thirst was never quite satisfied, the books nevertheless gave me hope, which felt a lot better than the despair that so often threatened to consume me. What was the hope about? I suppose it was hope that I didn’t have to be broken forever, hope that my life didn’t have to continue in everlasting torment.
But what if the purpose of life is to go beyond “the self” that my mind thinks needs saving or improving? What if this “self” is just a fiction that we have created, an “optical illusion of consciousness” as Albert Einstein put it?
I’m starting to feel tired and frustrated – one sign that my writing is coming from mind and not from body. Puppy jumps onto my lap and casually chews on my nose before winding himself in between the laptop and my belly, sinking down with a sigh. I feel the breeze on my shoulders and hear birds chirping in the chestnut tree. I notice how green the garden has become. Breathing feels easier than writing and so I do that instead. Then I remember a particularly tormented day in New York and I know what wants to be written next.
That day nothing felt right. I can’t remember the details but needless to say I probably tried everything in my power to fix it: a recovery meeting, phone calls to my fellows, journaling, meditating…you name it. Finally I walked into a huge bookshop on the West Side of Manhattan and sank into a puddle on the floor of the self-help section. There I discovered a new book and, on reading its opening sentence, the peace I had been chasing all day suddenly washed over me. Now that I think about it however, that sentence was no more than an acknowledgment of the universal pain of being human. She didn’t say anything that could “fix” me; she simply reminded me that I wasn’t the only one suffering.
In a world that hides its true feelings behind the mandatory “I’m fine”, this acknowledgement can come as a huge blessing. A big reason why people go to therapy, recovery groups and rehabs is their search for a space to engage in this kind of emotional honesty. Some call this navel-gazing or self-indulgence, and indeed, it can become just that. Pain is no more “real” than happiness; both are feelings and neither defines who we are. But to place the emphasis always on the positive is to create an imbalance that denies us wholeness. To be human is to be all of the things and pain is there in the mix. It’s a piece of us, just like our legs.
At the mention of legs, I am brought back to mine; they are tight. Belly is clenched too. So is butt hole. Nature takes over and I know I must get up to go to the bathroom. Isn’t it funny how you can be writing about something “profound” and body is just telling you to go poop.
Okay, I’m back.
One of the things that I love about the Twelve Step rooms is the absence of financial motivation. Nobody ever made a profit from an AA meeting (unless they ran off with the treasury) and no one ever got rich from sponsoring. This confused me at first: surely my sponsor wanted something in return for all those hours of step work. But no: “Just promise me that once we get through the steps you will sponsor someone else,” he smiled. Such generosity bred more than a little suspicion in me, until I got to Step 12 and realized how joyful it was to offer service with no strings attached. Filled with the gratitude that only the “saved” can feel, I immediately took on several sponsees, hoping that they would find the same liberation I had experienced. It was a magical time.
Since then I have often struggled to ask for payment for doing the things I love. It was relatively easy taking money as a birth doula where there was a clear market rate (and a lot of stress involved) but as I transitioned to calling myself a “Soul Doula” I felt deeply torn about the financial piece. What price to put on witnessing a woman’s pain? How to charge for sisterhood? How to extract payment for doing the very thing that emerges from the depths of my being, without any struggle or self-sacrifice? Isn’t a job supposed to be something you hate, or at least suffer for? Isn’t that why you get paid? And if you’re a spiritual healer, shouldn’t you offer to help whether someone can pay or not?
Though answers to these questions eluded me, it was clear that the kind of marketing I so frequently saw on social media made me uncomfortable. You know, the kind that begins with a problem, offers a guaranteed-to-work solution and then slips in a price point. I just didn’t feel like it was that clear cut.
One day, a woman who had been an old bodyworker of mine asked if I wanted to chat on the phone. I hadn’t seen her in a while and so I jumped at the chance to connect. After a perfunctory greeting, she informed me that she was running a retreat in California. My heart sank; this was not a call from one sister to another, this was a sales pitch. As she detailed the itinerary, I became even less enthused: she would be leading us in ceremony, leading us in healing, leading us in walks through nature, leading us, leading us, leading us. The thought of this irked me a little: this woman doesn’t consider me an equal, I thought to myself.
Keeping my ego in check, I tried to explain how I felt increasingly drawn to gatherings where I can be with my sisters as peers, collectively holding the sacred container, not knowing what might happen next but exploring it together.
She said she heard fear in me, fear of being tied down and given a role. I replied that it was more about knowing that the answers are inside me, if I can only get quiet enough to hear them. She was silent. Feeling curious, I asked what it would cost and she said that the three-day retreat was $6,200. “Don’t worry”, she assured me. “You can pay a deposit of $800 and then the rest in installments”. She called it an investment in myself and my journey. She said she thought I deserved it.
Mind said she deserved a smack.
Telling mind to keep her thoughts to herself, I informed my friend that I was probably a “no”. She said that if I really felt called to transform and to “get activated” – if I wanted to “go to the next level” – then I should put down my deposit and trust that the Universe would provide the rest. She mentioned that she understood my reluctance and was also feeling financially stretched, having just invested in a training with her teacher that had a large sticker price. At this I inferred that she considered herself my teacher. Mind had a lot to say about that but I simply told her that I wasn’t really feeling drawn to her retreat. She wasn’t done, observing that she noticed hesitation in me and suggesting that I allow room in my life for “the next level of transformation”. Mind informed me rather loudly that if she said that one more time, we were going to get violent.
Two days later she called me again. I didn’t pick up.
This is Part 2 of my upcoming book about a new kind of earth-based, feminine leadership.
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