Have you ever lost yourself in a thought and wondered how you got from “A” to “Holy smokes, where did that come from?” You might be scrubbing dishes in a sink full of hot, soapy water and dreamily make a mental note you have to take out the trash because it’s garbage pickup day tomorrow. A few minutes of daydreaming later and you realize you are now thinking about the life expectency of a Leatherback Sea Turtle?
I do... all the time. Please tell me I’m not the only one!
Our minds are constantly flitting from one life story to the next because everything we think about is seen through the lens of our life experiences. All we need is the right nudge, and we come alive with memory.
Here’s an example of how this works for me, from part 2 of my video workshop Guided Writing: Memory Prompts:
In a Writing From the Heart practice, this meandering is when magic happens because, we’ve quieted our chattering minds enough to write down our thoughts as they come to us. We know the details of a memory, but we are discovering the emotional truths under the surface of the words.
THE GO DEEPER QUESTION
As you are listening to your heart and writing down what it says, sometimes a word or phrase will stand out. Don’t let it go, ask yourself the Go Deeper Question: “What do I mean by _______?”
Then, follow the rabbit where it leads you.
HOW CLOSE CAN WE GET?
All those questions, sometimes foggy and uncomfortable: who was that person that was your mother? Why did you play Barbies with the girls when you longed to play football with the boys? Why does sleeping in a tent always bring a restless sleep filled with disturbing dreams?
The challenge in Writing From the Heart is to make sense of love and loss, pain and exultation. Life speeds by with such incredible momentum and our days are filled with things to do and places to be. We are so busy with doing, we’re often confused and lonely when we find a moment to just ‘be’.
That’s why we write the stories of our lives in our journals. We somehow know that all the answers are in the stories and they can save us. Writing is the act of reaching across the isolation we feel, to reflect, and then share. We are on a quest for meaning. What does our time on this earth add up to? What have we learned? Who did we mean to be and who did we become?
We can find answers to all these questions when we write from the heart — connecting our heart to our brain to our pen — by listening to what our heart has to say and writing it down.
LET GO OF COMMON SENSE
What we need to do is to let go of our common sense, because, in order to dig deep and find the answers within, we have to let go of the thinking part of our brains. Using the rational part of our brain only leads to self-criticism.
We may find ourselves thinking:
This whole idea of keeping a journal is dumb!
I should be earning a living.
I should be making dinner.
I should be taking my kids to tae-kwon-do instead of this.
I should get my head examined instead of examining what is just beneath the surface.
I should be doing anything but this.
It’s too scary to think about.
I’m not a writer, how can I possibly write my stories?
Stop “shoulding” all over yourself. Stop thinking. Let go of fear. You can. And you must.
Here’s what another writer crush of mine, Elizabeth Gilbert, has to say about fear and creativity:
REMEMBERING CAN BE AN ACT OF BRAVERY
Digging in the dark, as scary as it may be, is an incredibly powerful way to release negative energy. Bringing hurt and shame to the surface where the light touches it makes shameful memories sizzle then burst into flame. The more times we circle around the memory and write about it, the looser its grip of hurt and the more manageable its pain becomes.
I think the opposite can be said about the happy memories, or the touching memories. These stories become more epic, and more meaningful the more times we tell them. It doesn’t matter if you embellish the memory… remember, these are your stories and all the great ones are big and full and larger than life. Don’t hold back.
Let’s be the hero of our stories, for once! Remember, every hero must face her or his demons in order to triumph.
LET GO OF CONTROL
We often try to control how we remember a memory, but control leads to dull writing. Lose control. Let that which you muted long, long ago, speak. Embrace whatever comes up; examine it from a different perspective, listen to it, record what you hear. No one has ever died from writing in his or her journal what is hidden or dangerous. You might cry or laugh, or get really, really angry, but you won’t die.
Worry later about your fears: what your parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, partner, co-workers, or angels will think. Just get it on the page. You have the right to write what you need to say. You will never get anywhere if you censor your life in the one place that you can be your absolute authentic self.
WRITE WHAT MAKES YOU NERVOUS
Write about the elephant in the room that everyone remembers, but no one talks about. There is such relief in acknowledging it. Get it out, write it down, and burn the pages if you must. But if you don’t write about the elephants they’ll be stepping on your toes for the rest of your life.
Wouldn’t you rather dance with the memories?