Spinning the Fire, Shifting the Current by Chris Ash

Christy at the beachSeventy-two hours out of every week, I carry a hotline phone. While calls come in waves and some shifts are silent, my everyday and professional lives are peppered with reminders that evil doesn’t just pierce reality through acts of power, control, and violence – it seeps through in discrediting voices and disbelieving questions. It rolls into us off the well-meaning tongues of community members who’d rather protect the status quo than hold people accountable. It wraps its tendrils around us as we walk through each system we are forced to navigate – systems that are not set up to protect our vulnerable hearts and human dignity. Evil powers the backlash wave that tries to knock down every survivor who speaks out about gender, sexual, or intimate partner violence, and it also is in the fear we swallow when we choke down our own stories, press them down deeper, grasping to avoid yet another assault on our integrity, intelligence, and truth.

Evil stains our flags with the undeniable imprints of genocide, slavery, and continuing racial injustice and then demands that we wave those flags, smiling and allegiant, as The American Dream itself is held hostage, torn from its family, held in a cage.

Sometimes I spin fire.

the author holds a hoop behind her, flaming wicks extend from the hoop
photo credit Levi Croft

I’m not that great at it, or maybe I just don’t think I am because I’ve had the privilege of seeing some incredible fire-spinners, hoopers, and circus artists, and my skills are modest by comparison. But every now and then, an empowered mood hits and I fire hoop in the evening, feeling like a cross between a mythical character and a superhero slinging fire around my body with skill, without harm. Other times, it’s rage I’m flinging as the day’s heartaches spiral out through the wicks, dissipating into the night around me, whisked away by moonlit croaks and ambient chirping.

“You have to keep moving,” I say, when people ask how I spin fire without getting hurt. “It’s when you choke and stop moving that you get burned.” This feels like a metaphor every time I say it; it felt like a metaphor when I did my first walk across hot coals last month, even as I was aware that real coals glowed beneath my real feet.

the author spins fire, surrounded by trails of flame light
photo credit Levi Croft

My therapist finds it interesting that I work with actual, literal fire as I do. She’s convinced there’s a deeper reason, an energetic reason, and I’m convinced she’s right. There’s something about an element so dangerous, so powerful and overwhelming, so inherently destructive and so potentially creative – something about taking it into your space, getting close enough to move it without getting burned. There’s power in learning how to navigate the fire, in realizing that you probably will get burned a few times as you learn, and in the discovery that those burns won’t take you down for long.

There’s growth in learning how to care for burns – your own and those of others. There’s a beauty to that. There’s healing in that.

Last month, I attended a meeting for sexual assault first responders. A panel of SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) nurses presented on what they do and how their organizations provide compassionate medical treatment and evidence collection for people who have been raped, abused, or assaulted. Another attendee in the room asked them why they do what they do, and what keeps them going in such an emotionally-challenging job. A few nurses answered with thoughtful responses about the need for support from colleagues, or about serving where you can within the boundaries of your personal limits.

When it was her turn, the final nurse fell silent for a few moments, scanning the crowd while chewing her lip.

“Honestly?” she asked. “I do this because I’m pissed off. I’m angry that this keeps happening, and I’m angry that we keep letting this happen, and if this is one small thing that I can do with that anger to make things a little better, to keep from losing my mind, then I need to be doing it.”

Hearing her words, I cried. Typing them now, at least as well as I can remember them, I cry. They hit close to home.

By the middle of last month, yet another wave of personal, national, and global stories had converged in my life in a way that left me feeling what I described to some in my circles as “helpless mother energy.” And let’s be clear: the tears of helpless mothers are fueled as much by rage as they are by sadness. The tears of helpless mothers galvanize movements and mobilize actions and power change. Water can be gentle and fluid. It can also drag manmade structures back out to sea, power communities, and rip canyons straight through the mountains in its way (amen, alleluia, and so say we all).

Many of us are feeling that overwhelm right now – that fluid convergence of rage and grief, of fire and water – that energy those in our communities with multiple marginalized identities have always carried, have always had to harness. We want to hide it from our consciousness, to figure out how to make our discomfort go away, but the truth is, as long as oppressive structures remain in place to create harm and protect the powerful, we need to stay uncomfortable (especially those of us with the kinds of privilege that might allow us to turn away). We need to take care of ourselves and each other, yes, however that looks for each person and community, but let us allow any rage we feel to fuel our actions as we each do our piece toward shifting culture and reducing harm.

One of my friends regularly invites others to join her in canvassing for political action. Another hosts monthly gatherings of queer folx for shared meals and support and organizes clothing swaps. A few are exploring mitigation strategies for housing insecurity, and another presents health education workshops in public schools. One friend makes donations to camps that create intentional diverse community and allow children’s self-expression, another leads those camps, and several others work or volunteer as teachers or counselors. Some lead support groups, some work in social services, and many of the above friends also show up regularly at protests and marches.

DO something with your anger. POUR something from your tears. Transform your overwhelm into meaningful action, however small and targeted or expansive and far-reaching. Listen to those who need support first to learn about how you might be unwittingly participating in oppressive structures and stay open to continual feedback and guidance. Let your fire bring warmth; let your tears join the river as it bends toward justice. Stay grounded; support each other.

Show up, however you’re able. Together, we are a force.

Author: Chris Ash

Chris Ash is a writer, teacher, and leader whose practice is inspired by nature, informed by science, and grounded in compassion. They have facilitated safe and sacred space for over twenty years, as a suicide hotline counselor, doula, rape crisis companion, support group facilitator, minister, mentor, parent, and friend. Their research interests include spirituality, compassion, trauma, gender, sexuality, and intimacy. They live just outside Chapel Hill, North Carolina, surrounded by academics who think they're a hippie and New Agers who think they're a nerd. They remain fully committed to being both.

15 thoughts on “Spinning the Fire, Shifting the Current by Chris Ash”

  1. Oh, Thank You So Much for this, Christy! Your call to action is perfect, and so needed right now; but for me, the opening paragraph about community members who would rather protect the status quo rather than hold people accountable has deep personal meaning–just what I need to hear this morning. I am reminded of Martin Luther King’s assertion that the people’s greatest barrier to equity is not the klansmen in his hood, but the complacent middle class who have all their needs met and do nothing to help those who suffer. Women’s anger is a call forward, and I hope we keep fanning our own flames of rage as guideposts to where our great acts of love are most needed. Bless your work!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Wonderful essay with a call to do something with our anger… I think the most frightening part for me is that these last atrocities – separating women and children – are leaving me so enervated, so numb, that I have lost touch with my anger.

    I was struck by these words because so often human darkness is hidden in the mundane”…evil doesn’t just pierce reality through acts of power, control, and violence – it seeps through in discrediting voices and disbelieving questions.”

    Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve hit on that numbness a few times myself, and pulled back out of it after a time. That’s something we frequently tell our volunteers — when you get to a point where you DON’T feel what you’re doing any more, when you don’t feel sad or angry, you’re burnt out and need to step back for a while. I’m not saying we all need to be hot messes all the time, but there’s something about staying with a feeling and seeing what action or insight it leads us to that is valuable.


  3. Brava! This is one of the most powerful posts I’ve read, especially your opening paragraph. I watched the musical 1776 last night (as I always do on July 4), and as I watched, I wondered how the Founders and Signers (all white men, some of them slave holders) would react if they met Donald Trump. I wondered how it has happened that the ideals of the United States have fallen into the Dysfunctional States of America.

    You write, “We need to take care of ourselves and each other, yes, however that looks for each person and community, but let us allow any rage we feel to fuel our actions as we each do our piece toward shifting culture and reducing harm.” And I write, YESSSSSSS. Again, brava.

    And, gee, be careful with that spinning fire. I’m not brave enough to try that.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Here’s how I deal with the state of the world, now and for the past 20 or more years. My normal standpoint is that I despair that the world will change fast enough to save most of the species now on earth, and if the human species survives most people will not know a healthy environment, nor do I expect the forces of good to overcome the forces of evil. At the same time I think it is worthwhile to work for change, because who knows, I could be wrong to despair, maybe enough of us will change in time and work together to repair what is left of the world. With this standpoint, I maintain a steady position, while doing what I can to change the world, individually and with others.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That’s pretty much what powers my movements in many areas of life, thinking specifically about my work with sexual violence (among other fields) — I can’t stop it from happening given the scale, but in doing what I can I maintain my own position and values and might effect change in small ways. Thanks, Carol!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Carol, your comment reminds me of a philosophy in the Jewish community that my actions for justice are not so much about my belief that I can change tyranny on a massive scale, but they are about how I will be changed if I do not act to stop it. Inaction is a psychic wound I could never bear, plus, I’ll reincarnate as a sea urchin…

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I felt the power of your words “evil stains the flag” – oh yes! And how it is so often in the “simply can’t commit to that right now” voices of those with hands over their ears. A profound piece I’ll share.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I love the way you tie together fire, water, rage, grief, action, and healing. You are indeed a weaver. Rock on. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

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