In my last post I named the ways in which we have transmuted being small into our very DNA. This is not the kind of small that Holly Whitaker is talking about. Not even close. It plagues us, sits with us, stays with us, and is the very thing that prevents us from being big. It’s complicated.
We must learn to be big in a way we’ve never been big – we must claim our right to take up space, to say our words, to claim our desires. We must also learn to be small in a way we’ve never been small – to be in service, led not by our egos or by our desire for material goods or by our fears and aversions, but by our desire to be liberated from these things. And we must do both at the same time. ~ Holly Whitaker, from Quit Like a Woman
Whitaker also wisely says this:
Perhaps before we can learn to be both big and small at the same time, we first have to learn to be big…I’ve had to learn to get big, in order to practice being small.
What’s that how-to? How do we learn to get big so that we can practice being small? Well, using her quote above, it consists of three things:
We must claim our right to take up space.
We must say our words.
We must claim our desires.
Done and done, yes?
No surprise: I immediately go to Eve when I see this list. It’s why I talk about her – again and again and again. Her story has been told as the cautionary tale to prevent all three of these things! Look what happens when you get (too) big! Banishment. Downfall. Disaster. And a lifetime of separation from all that is good and perfect. No pressure. But that’s ONLY because that’s how her story has been told! If we want to learn to be big, we must blow it up and start again. (I’d probably go so far as to say we need to do the same thing with our own story, but that may yet be another post…)
Eve says, “Take up space! It’s your right and destiny! You are created in the image of the divine, for goodness sakes; the pinnacle of all creation!! Walk through your world as the regal, sovereign, and amazing being that you are!”
Eve says, “Say your words! Those that are disruptive. Those that go against the grain. Those that call into question every structure of power, every rule that needs breaking, every line that needs crossing. Speak what is healing, what is authentic, what is deep, and what is true. Your voice ushers the divine right into our midst, and brings a woman’s clarity, strength, and yes, her desire, to the fore – where it belongs, where it is desperately needed, where you belong and where you are needed!”
Eve says, “Claim your desires! Listen to the voice within (remembering that the snake was always seen as a symbol of wisdom) and follow it – no matter what, no matter where. Take. Eat. Devour. Be nourished by. Wipe the juice from your chin – or don’t. And look at yourself in the mirror, through my eyes, as you deserve to be seen and experienced: fully sated, rightfully fed, awake to and alive in all your desire, all your beauty, all your strength!”
Eve also says, “I get it. The costs, the consequences, the fallout: all of these are real when you choose to be big.”
PERFECT! That apple cart you are afraid to upset, the Pandora’s Box you are hesitant to open, the s*** that will inevitably hit the fan – this is the very evidence you need to affirm and confirm that you are moving in the right direction, making the right choice(s), doing the right thing(s).
Too often we see the ledger of what “big” will cost and, from an ROI standpoint, determine it’s not worth it. I believe it’s just the opposite. That ledger is an Excel sheet of data that tells you to step forward, to show up, to follow Eve’s lead, and to be as big as you possibly can be.
I am not naive – nor are you. None of this is easy. Costs are, well, costs. Consequences are real. And fallout happens. But I would be remiss if I didn’t invite you to name how hard it is to not be big, what that costs you – day after day after day, what those consequences are.
A story: By the time I was in pretty deep to the retelling of these ancient, sacred stories of women, I was also in relationship pretty deep with a man I loved. Though there was much that was good and lovely between us, he did not like the way I told these stories. He found it to be disrespectful of the original text and intention and far too disruptive. No matter my efforts to talk through textual interpretation, the ongoing evolution of theology, even the patriarchal stronghold on religion, the argument continued. And my stance? I’m not happy to admit it, but ‘here goes:
- I would not take up space – either in the conversation itself or on behalf of these women who deserved my advocacy and care.
- I would use my words, yes, but in twisty and maneuver-y ways that maybe-just-maybe would be acceptable to him.
- I would not claim my desires in out-loud or powerful ways because I was convinced that I desired him more than my own integrity.
Over and over again, every time the topic came up, I would ultimately downplay the significance of my own work, my own wisdom, the value of the women themselves and their stories, and my very self. I got smaller and smaller. And that ledger? Well, the list was long of what I would lose if I couldn’t/wouldn’t somehow fit myself into his image of who I should be – and should not be. And I didn’t want to lose those things. I didn’t want to lose him. They mattered to me: laughter, companionship, his relationship with my daughters, the time we spent together, the memories we’d made, the future we could share. I was willing to lose myself. And “small” seemed a small price to pay.
Until it wasn’t small anymore; until it became way too big a price to pay.
On the other side of the ledger, revealed over time, in both tiny glimpses and dramatic-but-excruciating exposure, was my compromise and compliance, the well-learned practice of holding my tongue, the ever-present awareness that I was not being honest, not being my (big) self, not living my external life in alignment with my inner one. And at the end of the day, when I took a good, long look at the spreadsheet, I couldn’t reconcile them. Painful to acknowledge (I can feel it even still – though years have passed) . Heart-breaking to walk away from. And ultimately a simple (though not easy) choice between being big or staying small.
I wish I could tell you that seeing these costs and consequences offered me an immediate spike in adrenalin, strength, and courage; that I was able to simply. walk. away. Nope. It was messy. It took far too long. Not a bit of it went as I might have wished. Here’s what I will tell you, though: every bit of it, even (and maybe especially) the messy parts, have helped me learn what to do next time – far faster and with much more capacity and confidence – in relationships, in my work, in leaving my most recent job, and in response to the insipid and endless cultural demand to conform.
We become big – not all at once, but because we practice….and fail.
We become big because we let a story like Eve’s remind us of who we actually are: here to take up space, to say our words, and to claim our desires. We become big because we choose, day-by-day, hour-by-hour, and sometimes, necessarily, minute-by-minute, to be sovereign – to trust our wisdom, to use our strength, and to soak in the grace that is inherently, always ours to receive and to give. And good news: there is so much more bigness yet to be experienced and expressed within and through us; it’s limitless, expansive, and infinite.
We are here to be big, bigger, ginormous! No matter the cost, the consequences, the fallout. Maybe and especially because of them!
Back to Holly Whitaker’s point, once we’ve learned to be big, then we can learn to be small (in the best ways); we can learn to be both at the very same time. Because we are that amazing, that complex, that brilliant, that wise, that strong. All that and then some.
May it be so.