Recently I had the opportunity to help a woman whose need was not heard by most people. She was sitting on a doorstep on a street in Providence (where I live) and asking people who passed by for change. It’s difficult for me to write about this for fear that whatever I write will sound like an attempt to tell you about how virtuous I am. What I want to tell you is that in stopping to talk to this woman, I realized in a big way what I offer to the world. She gave me a huge gift just by asking me for help and letting me see her need.
I have seen a lot of people holding up signs on street corners lately, signs that indicate that the person is homeless and seeking a job or food. Many more than when I first moved to Rhode Island six years ago. I think about the difference between the needs that can be named and the needs that cannot be so easily named. Hunger and lack of money can be named in the hopes that another person will see and understand that a person cannot survive without these, in the hopes that someone will help. Not knowing how to move out of a desperate situation, needing support and validation: these needs are implicitly present too but are not written on the signs.
Last fall I was driving at night and a woman ran out in front of my car, causing me to stop and giving her an opportunity to come to my window and ask for money. It was not the most ideal circumstance in which to stop and listen to another person. My stopped car was blocking traffic. I told the woman something along the lines of needing to keep driving, and I moved on. Most of my experiences with people asking for help in this way have been with the barrier of my car’s plastic and metal in between me and the other (it doesn’t help that my driver’s side window is currently broken and will not roll down). My heart responds, but I have also been taught to ignore that response (to be suspicious, to avoid becoming entangled in scams), and the barrier my car creates helps make the choice for me to not do anything but pass by.
It was different on the street last week. I stopped and sat with this woman for a bit as she alternately told me parts of her story and continued to ask those passing by for change. Two things still stand out to me from this encounter. One is that as part of our conversation I asked her what she most needed (and thus realized that asking this question is important to me). The other is that I realized that most people passing by were not going to be able to hear her need, and because of that it felt more important to me that I hear it.
These realizations apply not only to this one encounter, but to my work as a whole. Knowing these things about myself helped ignite the fire I have inside me, the fire of my heart that needs to be present and burning in this world.
In circumstances where needs become largely invisible, in those places where you feel most unseen and are most unsure how to move through, I ask: what do you most need?
This is at the core of why I offer my work. Transitions are many times not pretty. Even when they are celebrated and wanted, there are often aspects to them that are not easily talked about. Transitions involve huge shifts of energy internally and often involve big shifts externally too. I offer my ritual work as a way of bringing pattern and stability to a process that will probably involve lots of mystery and may require physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual maneuvers that are unfamiliar and perhaps intimidating.
The pattern and stability of ritual will not erase the mystery, nor should it. Instead, they provide a way to move with the mystery, to deliberately invite it in, to be challenged by it to respond with words and actions that are authentic and that will move you and your transition forward. Ultimately, this forward movement is a movement into greater capacity and wholeness.
Who isn’t in transition these days? Instead of seeing our needs as obstacles, let us see them as the beginning movement of a process, an indication that something in us is ready to become clearer and more embodied, deeper.