A BIG Idea | Ellie Harold

“Nothing is more powerful as an idea whose time has come.”

Victor Hugo

Silly me! I first of all titled this post “Resisting a BIG Idea.” Then, I changed it to “The Futility of Resisting a BIG Idea.” Then, almost immediately, “BIG Ideas & What to Do with Them” and “My BIG Idea.” But looking at those words on the screen, I had to chuckle. I can’t do anything with or to a really BIG Idea; It has a life of its own and, as it may happen, will more like do something to me, than I to It. To any ego-possessed human—and aren’t we all?—this can be a cause for a certain amount of anxiety. Looking back at various encounters I’ve had with life-changing ideas, it’s rarely been my inclination to give over to one without a fight.


When in the early 1980s I received an unmistakably clear calling to ministry, I was like Jonah who when, God dispatched him to Nineveh, went in the exact opposite direction. Famously, Jonah ended up in the belly of a whale who spat him out in the direction he’d originally been told to go. My version of this story involved the weeks-long folly of a fraught road trip. On Easter Sunday, I left Missoula, MT where I’d lived for several years, directly into a blizzard, across the mountains and onto the whited-out plains of Wyoming in a heatless VW Bug, finally ending up in sweltering Florida where, over Memorial Day weekend, I experienced three car accidents in as many days and totally smushed the Bug. After a timely rescue by my mother—an invitation to spend the summer in her newly acquired cottage on Martha’s Vineyard—I eventually returned to Missoula. There, I said Yes to the changes my life held in store and the rest is, as they say, herstory.


Looking back, however, I see how I could have continued to ignore the truth I’d discovered about myself. I might not have gone back to Montana, refused to enroll in seminary—What me? A Minister? Are you kidding?—and my life would have unfolded quite differently. (Imagine a world without The Clergygirl!) Would saying No have made my life easier? At the time, at least, my resistance to the idea of a larger life seemed to bring me nothing but trouble, so probably not. If “nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come,” resisting a BIG Idea can wear you out!


Having had the experience of such profound and painful resistance, I eventually learned to find my Yes more easily. By the time in 2002 that I was “called” on 3 sleepless nights to make art, I offered none at all. I didn’t know why or how or what this meant, but I was willing to get ready and see what happened. Twenty years later, I can see that this attitude led to the unfolding of what constituted a gentle shift into a new, unexpected career and an expanding experience of life that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.


That larger life as an artist has included the very BIG Idea that in February,2017 surprised me while I sat in gridlocked traffic on Atlanta’s 1-75/85 Connector. Again, I didn’t understand the full implication of saying Yes to the inspiration for what eventually manifested as the art installation BIRDS FLY IN: A Human Refuge. The flight of “my” birds has certainly challenged me—for example, I’d never expected to produce a CD album—and it continues to do so. I’ve learned so much about what it means to give time, talent, and treasure; in return, I’ve been rewarded with much pleasure and such unanticipated joy. My cup runneth over!

Now, however, I find myself on the cusp of another round of choices regarding the project—whether or not to take the exhibit to Mexico. So far, there’s definite interest but little tangible support for this ambitious, potentially expensive undertaking. I’m feeling rather daunted, without energy for the work that I imagine lies ahead. In light of this, I find myself wondering: Has the time for this BIG Idea has actually passed? Or is there Something More for me to give that I’m resisting? And, if so, what? Sitting with these questions, one thing seems clear: I cannot make BIRDS do more than the Idea (or God) wants It to do. So, in this space of uncertainty, I’m simply trying to pay attention to my intuition.


I watch thoughts parade into my awareness: I notice that my ego wants to hurry things along by insisting that I should already know answers I don’t. Or that I should work harder even when I don’t know what do. (I’m exhausted just trying to imagine this.) Ego also believes decisions regarding BIRDS FLY IN should be guided by considerations of right/wrong and should/ought. Certainly, I muse, a project promoting freedom wouldn’t propose my own confinement within such limiting beliefs, would it?


In my spiritual experience, I’ve realized that 1) timing is everything and 2) finding Yes does not involve the rigid mental or moral gyrations in which ego apparently claims much satisfaction. Finding Yes in the form of one’s inner, intuitive truth can be much simpler.


My teacher Marvin Anderson used to say our true direction is best revealed by doing “the next right thing.” Unlike “the only right thing,” this one-step-at-a-time approach comes about as a response to gentle urging or that something wants to happen. And when we go along with these intuitive nudges, small actions proceed to produce a desirable outcome. When we don’t follow these prompts, there’s no penalty as such. Getting our own way is not wrong; it simply acts as a diversion and may delay our receiving a benefit that would be available if we let go our agenda.  It remains forever an option to postpone whatever good the BIG Idea has come to bring us until such time when we realize it’s safe and desirable we’re to accept the as yet unknown good that awaits us.


Applying this method to my art-making I’ve have discovered this truth: There are no mistakes! In painting I have come to greatly value how the “happy accident”—the color I didn’t intend to use, the composition that didn’t come off as planned—contributes to a more beautiful painting—one far more original and interesting than the one I’d consciously aimed for. Wiping out or otherwise trying to correct a mistake almost always results in an overworked painting that doesn’t work at all!


So, too, perhaps in life. I’m told a BIG Idea, like a tree, contains within it the seeds of its own unfolding. At a certain point, just as a tree matures and no longer needs the tending necessary for a sapling, a BIG Idea can be left alone to do its own thing, smoothly and without undue effort. In the case of my project, I’ve believed that I must push BIRDS out of it nest to make it fly further to reach (and save) the world. But what if it turns out that BIRDS FLY IN—with exposure to at least 8,000 people—has already planted its seeds, already done what It came here to do? What if those seeds simply need time to grow?  


Writing this, I understand that while I’m stilling willing to fly on with BIRDS FLY IN, I may not be required for active duty and may have earned, instead, “on call” status. In practical terms this may mean I can let off running the Universe—at least for the time being—and continue to do the next right thing, even if it means, as Marvin suggested, this is feeding the cat. Speaking of which, Spotty insists its time for his next meal.


On Monday, with as much humility as I can muster, I plan to travel to San Miguel de Allende to see what –if anything—is next for BIRDS. At the very least, I’ll get to go to my favorite yoga class and eat some great food!


With many thanks for your interest and support, I say Yes to the Good God has in store for me.




Note: After writing this last week, I decided to let go and let God a bit more. With a sense of spaciousness and relief, I postponed the exhibit in Mexico for a year and canceled my trip to San Miguel. As life would have it, this week my ancient, almost 20, kitty now seems to be on his last legs and I’m very glad to be home with my little lovey guy to help him with whatever come next.