There's a place inside you…

This month, one of my dearest friends invited me to participate in a full-moon fire ceremony. I said yes, not only because I love both her and fire ceremonies to pieces, but because I had been struggling with something for a long time, and I had just decided (literally the day before) that what I really needed to do was let go of it. So when my friend called out of the blue to suggest a fire ceremony, I took it as a sign.

I’ve held fire ceremonies myself before. My boys and I hold a ceremony every New Year’s Eve to release our inner shit and embrace the clean-slatedness of a brand new year, and last summer I held a fire ceremony to break free of my past by burning my old journals. My fire ceremonies (which, until this month, were the only ones I’d ever attended) are always loose, unstructured affairs, heavy on good intentions, light on ritual.

The full-moon fire ceremony at my friend’s house was a whole other beautiful thing.

There were six of us there, three couples. Out of the six, three had been trained as healers and had learned a very specific ritual for fire ceremonies… which we didn’t do, because it’s more elaborate and serious than any of us are, but we did take time at the beginning and end to connect consciously – aloud – with the four directions, and with the earth and the sky and each other. It was very moving, and when the time came for me to approach the fire, I felt that the ritual had imbued the moment with a certain sort of weight. The consequent release, when I dropped my handwritten note into the flames, was a whole-body experience. I shed some tears. I felt lighter.

But all of that, as deeply affecting as it was to me, is not what this post is about. This post is about something that one of the healers said when he was explaining the purpose of a fire ceremony. He said:

The goal is to get to the place inside you

that isn’t clever or ashamed.

I love that. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since he said it. For me, it’s a hard place to get to, an unself-conscious, completely authentic, vulnerable, brave place where I’m neither worried what others think, nor acutely aware of my own flaws and weaknesses. I get there sometimes – when I’m fully present with someone I love, or when I’m fully engaged in the creative process, but it’s a fleeting thing. My inner neurotic performer-critic never stays down for long.

I was in that place as I approached the fire though, note in my hand. I’d found that place inside me that isn’t clever or ashamed, and what I felt in that moment was grounded, open, reverent, and sure.

I want to feel that way much, much more often. So it’s my mantra now. I whisper it every morning before I start my day. “Whatever happens,” I tell myself softly, “the goal is to get to the place inside you that isn’t clever or ashamed.”

I haven’t mastered it yet (not even close), but like all the best things in life, it’s a practice.


(This is how I picture the place inside me. Feel free to share how you picture yours.)


  1. Nina Badzin on March 28, 2014 at 3:25 am

    That is such a worthy mantra. I recognize myself there too– either trying to be clever (aka, smart, funny, insightful, etc.) or somehow ashamed. I loved this line: “My inner neurotic performer-critic never stays down for long.”

    • j on March 28, 2014 at 8:23 am

      Thanks, Nina! Yes, I loved the word “clever” for all that it implies, and I thought the two together, “clever” and “ashamed,” perfectly sum up the inner crap that often gets in the way of my being able to connect meaningfully with others.

      • alriske on March 28, 2014 at 10:31 am

        Yes, perfectly.

        • j on March 28, 2014 at 12:05 pm

          Ha, Al. I hope you mean my sentiment applies to you too, and you’re not just wholeheartedly agreeing that I have this problem. (Though I do.) 🙂

          • alriske on March 28, 2014 at 12:35 pm

            Yes, I mean me, too, and perhaps all of us.

          • j on March 28, 2014 at 5:58 pm

            Phew! 🙂

  2. Lyn Girdler on March 28, 2014 at 8:02 am

    Whoa! Wow. My mind is scurrying around inside right now, looking for that place! Like a mouse on the hunt for cheese…..I know it’s there. I love that distinction; clever or ashamed…Yeah, they cover the gamut of places I stand. I remember something Benjamin Smythe said; “Whenever I struggle, it’s because I’m trying to be more clever than I am” This reminds me of that quote a little…maybe just because it has the word clever… I wonder if I’m in my ‘clever’ place….shit! I’m all confused… Great post!

    • j on March 28, 2014 at 8:26 am

      Ha! You crack me up, Lyn. Well if you’re being clever, it’s working because I love that quote and it seems perfectly apt for you to use it here. Good job! 😉

  3. jb on March 28, 2014 at 8:06 am

    Wow. Really, really wow. What a wonderful experience; thank you for sharing. That quote is now hanging where I will see it every day, so I can memorize and internalize it (and eventually, live it). Thank you. (And that picture? Perfect.)

  4. j on March 28, 2014 at 8:29 am

    Thanks, jb. I think I’m going to have to make some art around the quote. I wonder if the man who said it even remembers saying it. It wasn’t a prepared thing. In fact he hesitated, having said “clever,” and then searched for the other word he wanted. I’ve always loved the idea that sometimes we are completely unaware of the positive impact we’re having.

  5. Nancy on March 28, 2014 at 8:33 am

    Amen to “Wow. Really, really wow.” WOW. Love this. I’ve had an amazing experience of finding that inner space for myself this week, just with different words (“I’m numinous, i’m luminous, i’m scandalous, i’m fabulous”). Now I must say that probably sounds like I’m being “clever” but in my heart it’s simply way of saying let me be me, as I am, and I’m enough.

    In my head and heart, I’m going to be around a fire with you and Chad all day long!


    • j on March 28, 2014 at 12:07 pm

      It sounded lovingly badass to me, which is an entirely different thing than clever.

      And seriously, we need to get that image out of your head and into my backyard, girlfriend. Our fire is your fire. xo

  6. Alarna Rose Gray on March 28, 2014 at 3:53 pm

    Wow. I’ve been thinking of you and your fire burning ritual this week. I actually got to the place, unusual for me, where I wondered if that’s something I really should be doing, after all. Then here you are, with this simple, brilliant post. Turning me inside out, again, with your words, and the magic of that moment. I really, really love that picture you chose as your place inside. I hope it’s on your wall somewhere you can see it everyday.

    • j on March 28, 2014 at 6:05 pm

      Thank you so much! I’m so glad those words and the circumstances under which they were spoken are resonating with you too. I felt the same way, turned inside out by the whole experience.

      The picture is one that I’ve had in my computer for years; I can’t remember now where I originally found it. For a long, long time, it was my laptop’s background. Maybe I’ll put it back up now that I’ve designated it “the place inside me.” 🙂

  7. karencaterson on March 28, 2014 at 4:30 pm

    Oh! Just Oh! and Ohhhhhhhhhhh! I love everything you said!! Thank you, Judy!!! (ok, a bit more than just Oh)

    • j on March 28, 2014 at 6:05 pm

      Big smile! Thank you back, Karen!

  8. lunajune on March 28, 2014 at 6:46 pm

    where do I start…

    4 years ago my little sister, was diagnosed with a rare Leukemia and
    for some reason she converted is Islam, we were raised Catholic and while
    we never were big believers in anything when she converted I was kind of blown away
    never understood, and to be truthful I didn’t care to, i don’t believe in any dogma
    and found it truly bizarre that someone who never embraced anything would choose of all
    things that religion and lifestyle.
    Well she died 2 weeks ago, and I had to go to her service… the moment I walked into the mosque I was recognized as her sister, some things I can not hide LOL these women enveloped me and pulled me into their private room, shared openly what they were about to do and were very happy to have me there with them.
    I’ve been to so many funerals it’s not funny, having already lost 3 other siblings , both my parents and numerous friends… this was the most intimate ceremony I ever had been apart of
    With a truly gentle touch they brought her out, there were 8 women, me, my others sisters and my sisters best friend joined closer to the end.
    a few of the women muttered soft prayers, as one of the youngest members explained each part and why they did it, we washed her, dried her, anointed her with perfume and camphor, and swaddled her in a plain cotton shroud, exposing her face at the end to kiss her goodbye
    It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever been apart of…the caring comfort that this community gave effortlessly warmed my heart in the love they poured upon my sister.and how they accepted us and shared and comforted us
    It has left me with this beautiful feeling that for my sister who walked a hard path in the end was surrounded by a loving community, and I see know that she found what she wanted all along

    so now I know beyond a shadow of a doubt, so many paths through life, so many ways to get there

    • j on March 28, 2014 at 7:12 pm

      Wow, June, I’m so, so happy that you had a chance to reach that conclusion and experience on some level the belonging your sister must have felt. I’m sure I would have reacted the same way you did, since I have an aversion to organized religion and its general treatment of women. (Not all religions, but most.) I’m grateful you wrote about your experience here so I could read it.

      In my email to subscribers I talked about how I think we all, me included, spend too much time focused on our differences, ignoring people with whom we disagree because doing otherwise requires too much effort. Your story is yet another reminder that at our cores, we have more in common than we think, and common ground is always worth searching for.

      I could not agree more that there are many paths to the same love-filled, accepting place. xoxo

      • lunajune on March 29, 2014 at 7:37 am

        thank you J xo
        I know that I had a very hard time wrapping my head around it
        but as I watched them from a distance these past few years
        I truly got to see it from her point of view.

  9. Pam on March 30, 2014 at 9:32 am

    That’s a wonderful expression of an excellent goal.

    I’m glad you had a profound experience.

    I’m not ceremonially inclined & sometimes I think it’s a real deficit. Generally the parts of ceremonies that move me are the segments afterward when everyone hugs and is kind and attentive.

    • j on April 2, 2014 at 10:27 am

      I would definitely say that I’m not ceremonially inclined either, hence the surprise at my own reaction. I guess for me I’m thinking circumstances might matter. What I let go of this time was very important to me (or at least I’d thought it was for a very long time). The extra gravity of ritual made the letting go feel as significant on the outside as it did on the inside if that makes sense.

  10. Annie Neugebauer (@AnnieNeugebauer) on March 31, 2014 at 8:00 am

    When I read that line (The goal is to get to the place inside you that isn’t clever or ashamed), I teared up. It was instant; that’s how true that feels. I will be turning that over and over in my head for a while — I can feel it. Thank you for sharing that with us. And strangely, lately I’ve become kind of obsessed with making fires (in my back yard, mostly). This feels very timely to me.

    • j on April 2, 2014 at 10:32 am

      I felt the same way when he uttered the words – the instant inner shift, something clicking into place. I don’t think anyone else heard it the way I did (my friend didn’t remember he said it until I mentioned it) and I don’t even think the person saying the words was trying to be profound. We were already through the ceremony when he said it, an off-handed remark about what he thinks fire ceremonies are about.

      As for fires, I think there’s something very instinctual in the way we’re often drawn to them. In the spring and summer nights, Chad and I (and whatever friends come over) often sit outside with a fire. I find the fire, and the talk (and, often, the wine and the good food) are all very meditative and well-filling.

  11. Karin on April 2, 2014 at 5:37 am

    I’ve never heard of a fire ceremony. It sounds like a bonfire but with much more…soul and peace.
    It’s so hard to find that inner self because we often think it’s the meek part of ourselves (or at least I do most of the time). But if we’re trying to get to the part of ourselves that isn’t clever or ashamed, then all that’s left is love.

    In a way, it’s a lot like a fire works. The flames are our shield to all the things of the outside world; if they come too close, sometimes we burn them–whether it’s family, friends, coworkers, or other people–when we really don’t mean to.
    In the end, though, all that is left are the ashes. This doesn’t mean it’s the end–in fact, ashes are just the beginning. And through those ashes we can rise like the phoenix (a symbol I absolutely love) and there is our real self–fresh, new, open to the world, ready to take flight wherever the wind may blow.

    • j on April 2, 2014 at 10:34 am

      I love the phoenix symbol too and firmly believe that sometimes the best things in our lives come from the most humble, broken, ruined places. There’s a poem in here for you somewhere, Karin. I’m sure of it. xo

      • Karin on April 2, 2014 at 11:58 am

        Already wrote one 😉 I think every one of your posts tends to inspire a poem.

  12. Chris Edgar on April 10, 2014 at 8:33 am

    Yes, that is a place I would like to be in for as much of each day as possible. One of the ways I access it is to try communicating without the use of words, which in my experience are often used to obscure what’s genuinely going on. I’m blessed enough to have lots of people in my life who will tolerate and even celebrate the weird noises I like to make.

  13. j on April 10, 2014 at 10:34 pm

    You made me laugh. I was assuming you meant you communicate with a smile or a touch, or by intensely listening. I love that you really meant “weird noises.” Probably musical, and probably not weird at all. : )

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