I’ve gone to the dogs tonight. Or, rather, the dogs have gone to me. Carter is out having a sleep study done, so Mazel Tov and little Toby, whom we’re babysitting for our kids right now, decided they should take up posts on the bed and serve as my protectors this last full night of 2012. Mazel set himself up at the foot of the bed, looking outward into the hall. He’s all snuggled into the quilting like a hen in a nest. Toby was protecting my shoulders, until he decided the room was too cold and he could serve my safety better by nose-shoveling under

The Great Untrimming

The Great Untrimming

the covers down to my feet.

Tonight and tomorrow night, and continuing into New Year’s day—these are the most contemplative days of the year for me. They never incline me toward celebration and libation. These few days always call me down deep inside myself. This morning, I sat in reflective meditation at the Quaker Meeting where I’ve been spending my Sunday mornings lately. One of our reflective queries was to ask ourselves where we had felt spirit/God/mystery moving in our lives this past year. I slipped quietly out of the pews and went to sit against the wall near the floor furnace, letting the hardness of the wall press its strong hands along my cranky back.

For the next 45 minutes, I sat surrounded in the peace and deep comfort that settles over people when they pray silently together…

The Holy One has been generous with my family this year, riding shotgun in the car that carried us all safely to our new Washington home. Our health has held steady. We are making connections in this new place. We have more of everything than we need. In our little rented house, we live like royalty compared to most of the people in this world.

Into the waiting silence, I sent my questions, as I always do: “What am I to do now?”

“Forge your Self in the silence and small things.” The gas furnace hissed next to me, and pipes tlicked like an old clock. I turned the thought over in my mind—small things?

Then, suddenly, I asked the question that I’ve asked myself for years, but have never put to Spirit. I didn’t expect to ask this, because it has alway sounded ungrateful and sniveling to me. But it came tumbling out of the recesses of my brain where it has been tumbling, ceaselessly, for years: “Why did my public voice never become as large as I had wanted? Why was my voice never among the well-known, the famous ones? Spirit, you gave me the talent. Why didn’t I ‘make it’? I have so many things I wanted to share.”

It has not gone unnoticed to me that many people who are on the lecture/television/conference circuit did not have the luck I did along the way—A New York Times bestseller, two interviews with Oprah Winfrey on her radio show, speaking accolades that didn’t quit.

Yet no matter what luck and grace I had, the speaking offers were small and soon dried up. My book sales fell. My workshops canceled for lack of interest. I’ve watched my success disintegrate slowly over the years. Recently, my publisher for the first time turned down a new book manuscript of mine.

2012 memory

2012 memory

In my bones, when Animals as Teachers and Healers became a bestseller, I felt my life’s work had begun. My God, but I was fired up! My passion for my topic was huge, my energy endless. I knew with a knowing beyond faith that I had been given the task of speaking for those with no voice. I knew with total certainty that I had been gifted with the talent and the desire to do it and to do it big for animals and the Earth.

But it never happened. The big kickoff just kind of kicked sideways, and my voice became lost along the way. Oprah said to me, “Susan, you are not like most people.” I thought maybe that was my problem—that I was just too odd to be a true star in the public eye. Hear me on this, please: I was NOT looking for fame for myself. I wanted it—terribly—so that my voice and my message would be big enough to be heard, and big enough to make a difference.

None of this matters anymore, because it is really all in the past, but boy, did that question just fly out into that quiet room! How much energy I have spent turning those questions over and over in my mind: “Why? Why?”

The answer flew back at me just as fast as my brain had spit it out: “That was never your audience. The general public? That was never yours. Yours are those who feel like they don’t belong. Those who walk a different path. Those who are lost and those who grieve.”

I thought about the previous message I’d just been given: “Forge your Self in the silent and the small things.” And I realized that while I feel so drawn to the small and the silent in life, a large, lurking part of me feels that certainly bit is better, and small must mean—on some cosmic level—failure? The truth of that—that small must mean failure—settled in the pit of my stomach with an unsettling, rusty clunk.

Where do we get these foolish notions that drive us from the back seats of our lives where we never get so much as a glimpse of them, until one day when we sit and meditate with a bunch of quakers and then—suddenly—we catch a glimpse of the bastards in the rearview mirror: Small is failure.

My life is small. My writings are delivered in small bites. My house is small. My days are filled with very small activities, no grander than baking bread, or tossing balls for my dog, or breaking open an owl pellet on my back porch, or marveling at this sudden, delicate snowfall I see drifting outside my window just now.

If “my audience” is those who who grieve, who are lost, those who carry a deep love for animals and nature in their tender hearts and feel foolish for it, then I speak and write for the small, because we are most certainly a small band of compassionate dreamers living unseen and unheard beneath the radar of the grinding machine of this Western culture.

What is it to be small, sound small, live small in a big, big world? The answer flies into my heart on swift wings: “It is grace. The silent, the small things—this is grace.

My head if fairly racing tonight with more questions. Why is it that small things and small, quiet ways seem to hold so much depth? How can small mean deep? Does big always foreshadow shallowness? Why did I ever believe that small was failure? Can one live small on a big stage? And what about this word “forge”—such a strong-sounding, action word, all wrapped up in images of metal and fire and roaring bellows.

So here I sit, still as a mouse, pondering images of steel mills and alchemist’s laboratories on this so-quiet night.

What are your questions for Spirit here on the tail end of the Mayan dream year? What answers fly on bright wings to you?

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19 Responses to FORGE YOURSELF

  1. Bett Weston says:

    Dear Susan – You have touched my small life so profoundly. I knew your writings before I met you in San Francisco at those very large Kinship with All Life Conferences – I shook Jane Goodall’s hand there and sat with you in Council. I met authors and fellow spirits who inspired me and have before and since followed many threads and paths of Spirit. I cannot imagine my life without your voice and from me your voice passes on to others. Never despair that your voice is unheard. Your being on the planet matters. At this time in my life nothing is as I had imagined for myself, and I wake up each day with a sense of “failure” (using your words), but with resolve to make this day matter, if only to my 24 cats, and my brother-in-law’s sensitive dog. These fur-beings are my reason for existing on this planet. Yes, By any other “human” measure I am a dismal failure, but I don’t use that standard for myself.

    I believe there are many many many of “us” — we are meant to be somewhat isolated and “small”, but not disconnected to All That Is. My Prayers for All are needed.

    I think of Brigit and her forge – Imbolc will come soon.

    Blessings and Peace in the New Year,
    Bett Weston
    Ann Arbor, Michigan

    • Susan McElroy says:

      Bett: I think I am going to spend some considerable time pondering “failure” and small lives, and what depth may be plumbed in small deeds done for family, home, and deeds. There is much rich ground here methinks!

  2. aletheia mystea says:

    Oh yum Susan perfect for me to read on this year’s end night….the year my beloved Desi left her furry body….we who grieve deeply for all the animals. Desi and I will go for a starry walk, then do a ritual that involves lifting up the journals that hold last and this year’s passages, to 2013. To lift up the ecstasy of our last full year on earth together that was bold brilliant, beautiful AND the agony of losing her body March 16, 2012. We are facing our year anniversary very quickly. The magic and mystery that has enfolded our journey this year, is astounding!

    I am burning shed snake skins that my resident snakes leave for me in exquisite perfection, as the releasing of the pain and anything else! We are embarking on a new life together in 2013…your journey to Washington and above description, leaves me longing for something similar, which is way up on my list…simplicity in which to find freedom to move about more easily!

    When I discovered your books, they changed my life…a big HUGE game changer!!!! A kindred spirit…so this is NO SMALL THANK YOU for following your passion and being such a HUGE inspiration for me thru the years! The blogs continue to inspire and I need all of that I can get facing this new year and life.

    Bless you and family all ways from Destiny Grace and Aletheia

    • Susan McElroy says:

      Aletheia, I LOVE the image of burning the snake skins. So much fertile symbolism there! May you and Destiny dance with abandon this starry night!

  3. arlosage says:

    Small indeed. I felt for along time that to be small was like you mentioned a failure, but I am isolated and “small” there will be no brass bands playing when I pass but I realize that that is okay. I take in horses that have nowhere else to go they will spend their days with me sheep that let me scratch their heads with no one watching ,dogs who crowd around to just have a moment of my time. Small is all I need, not isolated but finding peace and comfort in each and every day.
    My life is to be lived with these wonderful critters. I guess some might ask WHY I do this?
    For the pure unadulterated grace it provides me each and every minute of each day.
    Wind to your Wings Dear Lady, Elayne

    • Susan McElroy says:

      Continued grace to you and yours, Elayne. May we stay small. Perhaps bigness passes over too many who would not be seen and not be helped.

  4. Dawn says:

    It is such an amazing thing to sit in blessed cyberspace council with so many others who love deeply across species lines.

    In retrospect, the lives we live that are small sounding to some, are tender, rich and life affirming.

    In honor of each paw, hoof, fin, wing, claw that touches us and we respond to in kind .

    Thank you, Susan, for being such an integral part of us knowing that we are not alone in this way of Being.
    And, thank you, All Beings, who grace our lives each day with your gentleness of spirit.

    For the Wild Ones,
    Dawn Casteel-Lorick
    Woodstock, NY

  5. Richard says:

    Susan – You are among a unique breed of people that have assumed a way of seeing and understanding that most of us don’t dwell on except for brief moments when we are exposed to those small things you speak of. For you these small things are the essence of your being and you speak for the rest of us so eloquently. As far as fame goes you are famous in the mind of anyone who cares and is lucky enough to be exposed to you through your writings – books and blogs. The world is in the midst of a huge struggle that is getting the attention of a wide array of NEW thinkers and is in fact evolving as a debate among many of the world’s religions – how to recapture the sacred in life. Even a few scientists are attempting to speak with a voice that speaks to the general public in terms of appealing to the sacredness and mystery that science pursues but even they are finding that the audience is so confined within their bubble of existence and distracted with survival that their voices fall on deaf ears!! That is VERY sad!!

    You are speaking to what is sacred in so many small ways to everyone who is looks beyond their bubble of existence. You speak from a personal and passionate point of view that makes you very real and worthy of the praises that are offered by those that follow you. Each of us who follow you pass on the messages you offer to those within our closest circles – those who will listen to what I say and therefore consider the messages I pass on to them. This is why your writings are read around the world and the only thing preventing a wider array of listeners is the fact that your writing is not translated into the myriad of languages that exist. You have found your niche and speak to it well.

    Keep us focused and on track – you serve many of us and humanity well for your endeavors!!

  6. kathey says:

    Susan Dear, blessings to you and to the memories of ALL those little, small creatures whose lives you have saved and made whole and healthy again.

    What great contributions to the world of the small you have made. I find it mind blowing and it makes me teary with joy when I recall your possums, and rabbits, and squirrels, and birds, and toads and turtles, raccoons, injured, lost creatures who came to your presence, your spirit world for help. What could be bigger, larger, or better than that? You have inspired me with your stories, always marvelous and your writing skills are extraordinary, which have taken me to a place of respect for and a desire to honor those little, small animals that inhabit our big world, whose natural existences in the natural world go very much unnoticed.

    Thank you for everything you do for the little ones, the small. Their world is immensely grateful and shouts out to you their love. Can’t you hear them? They are really loud!

  7. moonblessd says:

    Your book was one of the first I read when embarking on my journey with animals as my constant Soul and Spirit companions. I began learning animal communication and realized that my skills lean more to being an empath rather than a communicator. Anyway, your words in today’s blog touched me in a profund way. My love for all animals is so different than anyone else that I associate with, except maybe my mom…I believe she is likely empathic as well but isn’t wholly tuned into it.

    “Yours are those who feel like they don’t belong. Those who walk a different path. Those who are lost and those who grieve.” This is me…my love for animals runs so deep that I feel it sets me apart from my wife, my family and my friends. I earn my living as a school psychologist helping kids who also feel they don’t belong and while I’m committed 110{fe46f85cf7c5ff45e639cce4bd0b7ed47fa7c0a03ad6c7408e07815ebf6adf0a} to my career, my passion is truly with animals, particularly cats. I feel like cats are such evolved beings and can teach us so much!! I pray to St. Francis everyday to help me in my quest to be the voice for the strays I feed and try to rescue…to help me find homes for as many cats as I can!! I’m sure most who know me either think I’m strange or crazy for surrounding myself with so many critters (7 cats, 1 Chihuahua and an Amazon parrot) but, truth be told, if I had a farm, I’d have 3 times that number of furry and feathered babies. They are my salvation, my comfort, the mirror held up to guide my path….

    Thank you for what you do…thank you for helping all of us who are different have a voice to save our animal friends. It’s important work and your words matter a great deal to me!! Whenever I see an email from this blog in my inbox, I am very happy and excited to discover the wisdom you are going to impart upon me!! Thank you for that!!

    Happy New Year and bright blessings in 2013!!


  8. Patricia L LeVesque says:

    Oh Susan, you are no small force. You are an enormous voice for compassion, boundless and non-selective love, and courage. Loud and big would not suit your message; and you wouldn’t want to be one of those anyway. Many many thanks for your always cutting edge honesty—-a gift to all your readers—–it is your life force and you share it so generously. Joining me here is my cat Rose (AKA Miss Crabbikins) who is presently on a life journey of becoming nicer. She and I wish you a fine and gentle New Year.

    Pat LeVesque

    • Susan McElroy says:

      To everyone: Your words are jiggling something in my head and heart. I’m not sure what form it will take yet, but reading your words that so beautifully mirror my feelings about the Holiness of small beings and things touches me so deeply. Clearly, I must reflect much more deeply on the power of the small to achieve, to transform, to bring lasting comfort, and to provide a profound and worthy direction in life. I am so very grateful for each of you who walk along this amazing path with me.

  9. danica flores says:

    I feel the need to chime in and tell you that I am one of you all, and delight in the smallest of small moments,insects and animals alike. I have told you many times that you have inpired me and shown me that I am not alone in my thoughts and ideas of life.
    Thank you for writting and thank you for honesty!
    It seems that when pen hits paper many people idealize and paint perfect pictures, but to read the real, raw , gritty and profoundly human passages in your books, made me realize you are a true force , and burning forge. When all is done on this earth I would not be suprised to meet you in some BIG place where BIG things happen to all of us who stand up for the small and forgotten.

  10. Lynne Herlacher says:

    So many beautiful words written by these people. I want to thank all of them for all the beauty. I have spent much of my life gathering and keeping and packing and hanging onto. When I read Forge ahead the small things my heart did a jig. How wonderful to leave the big things behind. The big “have to and shoulds and must do this and that” have been big ideas and thoughts which created even bigger things in the physical. Small is a God’s gift sent to us, like a hummingbird, or the scent of the earth waking up in the morning ready to harvest the new day. Small is showing honest gratitude for what is before me instead of playing the I wish I had game. Small is living with peace inside and love inside and giving it out to all living things. Small is wonderful like your bathtub of pollywogs and frogs… Small is a dog who warms your feet on a cold night. And sharing your heart of all the wonder you see and feel around you. Small is truly seeing and feeling all the gifts Spirit is leaving for us to see and know. So my wonderful writer FORGE ahead my Dear.

    With love always.
    Lynne Herlacher
    Washington County, Oregon

  11. Deb says:

    Susan ~
    I’ve been sitting on and off with your recent post, “Forge Yourself.”
    Your post resonates with the sweet whispers of Spirit, as well as the Oneness.
    It never ceases to amaze me how our individual journeys mirror in feelings, thoughts, and experiences.
    It’s a GLORIOUS reminder, we are never alone.

    “Forge yourself in the silence of small things.”

    Wise words directly from Spirit to be added to another set of wise words…

    “We can do no great things, only small things with great Love.”
    Mother Teresa

    Small things create the path which allows us to walk in beauty.

    You, your actions, and all you share with such Grace, have Blessed All, more than you know.

    Thank you.

    • Susan McElroy says:

      Deb, thank you for sharing Mother Teresa’s quote. I’ve had it on my mind, but could not quite get the words right. She certainly lived a humble, “small” life on a world stage, and became a woman of international impact. There are times I’ve wanted the dignity and the influence of Mother Teresa. Today, I feel called to “the silent,” which I interpret to mean doing the work you do in an unobtrusive way that calls no attention to the self. I want to polish up the sheen on my small, warm love until it is “great” within me. I’m a person who has found it easy to be in front of a group, leading. I’m pondering the Medicine Wheel teachings of Sun Bear today, and read the phrase, be the leader with no followers. Such a marvelous paradox—much to reflect upon as this new year gets up and going!

  12. Nancy Kelly says:

    Susan –

    I did not read the entire post yet, I am responding only to the part about why the time of workshops etc went away.

    With considerable excitement, I am thinking your time may be coming around again. I am thinking that I may be similar to many “boomer” women – in the years from 40 to 60 my focus was on creating security for present and retirement, and many of the calls of my spirit and soul were ignored. As we all reach “cronehood” the time to go back to our inner core is here, and the call is strong, and hopefully we actually have time! My official retirement in 2 years looms as a wonderful time when I will finally have time to not just make a living, but live. With that magical combination of time and money, earned through a lot of hard work in the past 20 years, I will be able to do what I want to do. And to connect with like-minded women like you and others in a workshop would be wonderful!

    (More comments as I read to the end!)


  13. xoxo

    Being small sometimes just means having an ear closer to the ground, a belly brushing the soil and a world that is far larger than we can look down on. And how wonderful and sensual an immersion…

    • Susan McElroy says:

      Megan, sensual is a good quality that can only, I believe, become manifest it small, quiet settings. Good point!

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