In her extremely timely new book, Almost Everything: Notes On Hope, author Anne Lamott writes that “there is almost nothing outside you that will help in any kind of lasting way, unless you are waiting for a donor organ. You can’t buy, achieve, or date serenity. Peace of mind is an inside job, unrelated to fame, fortune, or whether your partner loves you.”
We cannot, she says wisely, arrange lasting safety or happiness for our most beloved people. They have to find their own ways, their own answers.
As someone who crippled for years by a ravaging co-dependent strain, I learned what every good parent, loving partner, and true friend knows in their heart and learned long before I did: you can’t save other people from anything but fires or onrushing cars.
They have to save themselves. And only they can save themselves, not me or you.
Lamott is obviously writing about “hope” at a time of anger and disconnection and confusion. She is peddling hope, telling us the answers are within, that’s where hope it.
She has taken the idea further for me, and perhaps more directly than I had taken it. There is a great deal of truth in Lamott’s paragraph above. I have tried to saved countless people in my life, and the truth is, I never saved a single one of them.
Some saved themselves, most didn’t or couldn’t. Most people, a therapist once told me, don’t really want to change.
I also have come to see that every bit of lasting help I got and felt and internalized came from me. Unwanted advice is not only unwanted, it is profoundly useless, because the best and most advice can only come from within.
I don’t look for other people’s solution to my problems, I want my own. I don’t want the remedies other people gave their dogs, I want to discover them for myself. Thoreau was one of the last rugged individuals in American history, he desperately wanted the freedom to think for himself. And so he did, there was no Facebook or Twitter to tell him what everybody else thought and did.
So he had no choice but to think for himself.
I sometimes have the solution to my problems, but if it is someone else’s problems, I have to say in all honestly, I doubt very much that I have the solution. I never have.
I think this is the pathway both to humility and wisdom. I have to understand what I can’t do as thoroughly as I must understand what I can do.
This is why meditation, solitude, writing and reflection are so important to me, because those are the means by which I solve my problems, and see them.
I think the drama of childhood, and thus of life, is a question of value.
Do I have value or not, and if I am made to feel I don’t have value as a child, then I am certain to spend much of my adult life trying to reassure myself that I do. It is so easy to forget that I have value, there are so many people in the world eager to tell me – and you – that I don’t.
Lamott writes that the idea that she had all the value she would ever need was hidden from her whole life. And it wasn’t “out there,” she found, it was inside of her all the time.
“It’s everywhere,” she wrote, “within and without around and above, in the most ordinary and trivial, in bread and roses a glass of water, in dawn and midnight. All you have to do is want to see.”
A couple of weeks ago, a student in my writing workshop, a bright and interesting woman told me she could not possibly start a blog, she had nothing to say and did nothing interesting enough in her life to write about, she wanted to find an agent who could tell her if she could write or not.
I wanted to scoop her up and shake her.
I wanted to tell her there is nothing outside of her, nothing any of them could say, date, buy or accomplish that will fill the hole inside of her, or help her to give birth and rebirth to her valuable self. She didn’t need an agent or publisher or editor to tell her she was valuable, she needed to hire herself for that.
She would break her own heart, again and again, to try and try and try, and after a while, she would hate them and they would hate her. And most likely, she would hate herself.
They would most likely rob her of any sense of value and she had precious little as it was.
But I didn’t say those things.
The path to wisdom is accepting my own ignorance.
I understood that this was not something I could solve from the outside, it was an inside job if it was to work at all. She would either solve the lasting problems in her life by herself, or not at all.
I let go of the old impulse.
And so for all of her talent and gifts, she risks a lifetime of regrets, forever looking for the agent-in-the-sky who would discover her, and lead her to glory. All I can do is watch and sheer her on, and wave my little white flag as the ship begins to leave the dock.
I love this lesson that I have taken to heart.
Everything I need is inside of me, there is nothing outside of me that has ever helped me in a lasting way, or ever could.
It’s an inside job, it’s my job.
As for hope, that’s inside of me also. Many people are discouraged and despairing of our world. I am not.
I have what I need to get through, no matter what they say, no matter what they do, no matter what is lost or what is found.
No matter how grey the day or dark the night, I am free to do good, to offer my small acts of great kindness, to embrace the color and the light, to write my stories and take my pictures, to pursue the love and the promise, all of which create hope, day after day.