I had a therapist once who, in an act of great kindness, told me, “You’re only little.” She meant me to know that the slings and arrows I’d suffered — and the fact that they’d drawn actual blood — did not make me a failure. I was not supposed to be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, or to transcend the ancestral wounds that had been handed down to me, my mother from her mother and back unto however many generations, my father from the generations that came before him, and both of them carrying the psychic imprint, I imagine, of the African-American slaves and Native Americans from which we are descended. I was only little, so I could be forgiven if I sometimes found myself balled up in a fetal position on the floor, arms wrapped around my belly, as if I’d received some new punch to the gut. It was normal, she wanted me to know, to carry our wounds in our bodies, to not be able to single-handedly vanquish all suffering. It was something I needed to know, I who had imagined that I might save the world or at least my family, and who came to know the hard way that the only person I could ever save was myself.
The good news is that saving yourself is how you save the world.
I once heard someone say — I’ve long since forgotten who — that we give from our overflow, not from our lack. In other words, what you don’t have for yourself, you cannot hope to give to the world. And so, cast down your net where you are. Fish in the depths of your own ocean. And what you will discover there is that you are not a tiny drop in some vast ocean, you are the entire ocean expressed in a single drop.
Deep Rumi wisdom, but when I read it I thought, “What in the world did it mean?”
Rumi, the great Sufi mystic was undoubtedly speaking in mystical terms. He wanted us to understand that we are not separate, tiny beings. He wanted us to know not that we were only little, but that we were vast and deep and extraordinary. He wanted us to know (and though Rumi was a mystic, these are also secular teachings) that we are more than we appear to me, more than we sometimes know. He wanted us to know that we come from vastness, and that we carry that vastness with us, in our beings, our bodies, our personalities as we move through the world. We have come then to do great things — on a big or small scale, it doesn’t matter. Some of us will play on the world stage and influence the collective narrative in big, splashy ways. Others of us will influence the people and communities that immediately surround us and, through the individual lives we touch, transform the larger human narrative as well.