Turning the Page

Building a New Confidence from the Ash

November 5, 2020

There was no self-confidence. It was gone like vapour from ash. But something reignited when we looked at the pebbles and not the mountain.

It was like I was looking at an empty shell. They were there in the room with me but there was very little confidence within them to do anything at all.

It had gone. Any self-belief they had seemed to have been sucked right out of them.

How did this happen? Well, they had been hammered on.

What does that mean?

Well, it was like someone had come, with a large hammer and pounded against the very fabric of who they were. The hammer was words.

‘You’re wrong, that’s not right, why are you doing that, your stupid’

It was loud, persistent, and kept on coming much like a dripping tap.

Eventually, that constant dripping wore an indentation out of the soft-hearted place of their soul.

The indentation became a hole. The hole became a chasm. The chasm became a vacuumous empty shell.

Being a shell there was a fragility and the possibility of it being completely crushed.

It was soul abuse.

Sitting in the ashes

I have found that there is much healing and hope to be found in simply being with the other. What this does is that it establishes the person as having significance.

They matter. Not for what they do but for who they are.

When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly,
God is the electricity that surges between them. Martin Buber

One of the familiar images we have in the Bible is that of broken people sitting in ashes. Job 2:8; Esther 4:1; Jonah 3:5–7.

We find people, much like ourselves, covering themselves with ashes at times of grief, loss, and brokenness.

What’s leftover is mere ash.

As I write this I am looking at a fireplace. The fire Has long been extinguished and all that is left is the remnants of what was. The heat has gone, the bulk of wood has been consumed, and now only fragments of what was being left behind.

I sit with the ashes of what was and wait to see what comes forth.

Strawberries from ashes 

Last night I had my very first spring strawberries for dessert. I went out into the garden to the strawberry bed, lifted up the bird net, and plucked six ripe large berries.

A few months earlier I had taken ashes from the fire and spread them around the strawberries.

You see there is something quite useful in wood ash. It’s called Potassium (K). In fact, wood ash contains 10% potassium which is very high for any natural substance that is used as a fertilizer.

Ash is also full of trace elements.

Potassium is vitally important for reproduction – flowering, setting seeds, fruiting.

Ash contains the potency of new life.

Please stop talking at me

I’ve sat in the ashes where there is burnout, depression, anxiety, confusion, loss. Confidence gone like a vapoury smoke.

People suggest things to do. They make recommendations, set out plans and prescribe what needs to happen. At times you just want to put them out of the room – your mental health room.

But no one dares to sit in the ashes with them. No one is sharing breathe over the embers hoping something will reignite.

No one is holding them in an embrace of love.

Reigniting the soul

I like to look and listen for the smallest of the small and in the pile of ashes, there is a problem.

How do we reignite the soul?

There is a felt emotion of being crushed under a mountain.

I so want to see the breath come back into the dry bones of this fellow traveler.

This person who can’t get out of bed, brush their teeth, or cook a simple meal.

How do I empower the soul to move?

I look at the pebbles under the mountain.

The pebble

We all have problems. They can feel like mountains.

It’s important to understand that it is a feeling. For one person that mountain will seem inconsequential, a mere speck, but for the one in ashes, it may feel like a  towering dark citadel of doom.

They look at it and they are crushed. Any confidence vanishes.

Feelings only report what is familiar.

But under every mountain is a pebble that can be shifted. It could even be the size of a mustard seed.

We find that pebble and empower the moving.

Building a new confidence

I simply love seeing someone list out their problems in a very pragmatic way without any emotional attachment.

First, we see the mountains. The obvious problems. Powerful, intimidating, and confidence-sapping.

Then we break those mountains down a bit and discover other problems. Not quite so daunting but they are still there.

Under those medium-sized ‘problem’ rocks will be smaller and smaller rocks until we find a pebble.

To this pebble, we begin problem-solving and looking for a highly achievable solution. We create a S.T.A.N. plan and move forward.

It’s here that a new confidence can grow from. Empowering those little steps.

It could be the little steps needed to brush your teeth once a day. To get out of bed. To make a simple meal.

Building a new confidence is looking for little achievements. Praising, celebrating, and affirming their worth.

In the brain, new pathways are forming. There is healing and repair.

Out of the ash a seed germinates, puts down roots, and begins to flourish through the ash of the past.

There is still a fragility to the new emerging confidence. So we need others to continue to praise and affirm any new steps made.

Remember that mountains are shifted one stone at a time. Focus on the pebble in front of you, not the mountain.

Quotes to consider

  • I arise today
    Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
    Through a belief in the Threeness,
    Through confession of the Oneness
    Of the Creator of creation. Prayer of St. Patrick
  • When I believe my feelings, and those feelings misrepresent reality, I am headed for a self-referential pit that will get deeper and darker as I dig myself into my home-made delusion. David Riddell
  • Your feelings are not a reliable guide to what you should and shouldn’t do. They merely reflect sub-conscious beliefs, which may need to be examined. David Riddell
  • Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity. Pema Chödrön
  • Real encouragement occurs when words are spoken from a heart of love to another’s recognized fear. Larry Crabb

Questions to answer

  1. Have you ever had a time when all confidence seemed to have disappeared? What reignited it?
  2. Why do we rush to problem solve the big mountain problems rather than the pebbles?
  3. What is a pebble problem in your life that if addressed could ignite a new confidence in yourself?

Further Reading

Barry Pearman

Photo by Somia DCosta on Unsplash

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