Fifty or so of us sat around the room, ready to begin a group meditation, which would be followed by a group writing session. Artists, vagabonds, spiritual warriors of all types, from all over the world, sat around me. Gongs, singing bowls, and shamanistic feathers filled the room.
The bell chimed, I closed my eyes and up our chakras we climbed as we dove inward to sit with the soul and hold hands with the inner self.
Thirty minutes later, the meditation came to a close and from there the writing session began. Those around me scribbled their thoughts on the page in haste. I sat still: frozen by my inner critic.
As soon as I would start to scribe a sentence in my notebook, I’d feel the eyes of all those behind me: judging me, criticizing me, evaluating my sanity and sense of worth. I felt ashamed to write one authentic sentence and remained clothed in my insecurity.
I didn’t know then, but now I have a closer understanding of what F. Scott Fitzgerald meant when he wrote: “What people are ashamed of usually makes a good story.” We are all full of stories that shed light on the human condition and can help empower another.
Which brings me to my own insecurity as I come closer to experiencing my actualized self. Perhaps by opening up, my story may lead you to your own discoveries. I’ve always felt a bit insecure when it comes to my own personal writing. To create anything original, writing or otherwise, I’ve always had to lock myself in a room or nuzzle into a nook in the library to be safe to write.
This is normal, of course. I see it all the time in my students who, when it comes time to write down their memoirs, lean forward in their seats as they write to make sure no one can read their prose. That’s part of the process, and even the greats like Stephen King have confessed tremendous trepidation in transferring any kind of writing to the reader: fiction, nonfiction, or personal narrative.
Because writing is an extension of the soul that leaves us bare and exposed. But it’s also a tool for discovery and communicating those discoveries with others.
Personal writing has often been looked at as the writing to keep to ourselves. What I’d like us to consider is that when we share our personal narratives, we empower others to lift the masks we are so often coerced to wear. By sharing authenticity, we spawn authenticity.
Writing roots you in deeply, and it’s in this connection that we better study the self. Yogis call this study of the self Swadhyaya. It’s the practice to answer the question: “Who Am I?” This study breaks through the masks we have come to wear and connects us all on a deeper level. Specifically, writing binds us together in a grand narrative. It’s the connective quality that makes social media addictive before the world uttered a tweet.
How I Write to Answer “Who Am I?”
I stare at a blank page, tune in, and write. I erase half of it and hoard whatever is left, offering it up to a salvage yard to discover its perceived value.
I dig into what other respected authors have said and imagine them as my posse — ready to back me up in a literary showdown should anyone call me out to a duel.
I write and edit. Write and edit. Write and edit. Persuade my wife to edit my work by making her Star Wars pancakes. Edit again.
Then I click publish and my work is out there.
I no longer own my work. What I intended through my words, the relationship I create with my words, is now up to the reader to decide on his/her own.
Now, the text lives on its own.
A reader stumbles upon my writing (perhaps because you were so kind to share it with them) and then creates a relationship with it. The reader interprets the text on his/her own — often in a way that is far different than I intended.
Not too long ago, my writing took a grand shift. I shifted from the safety of writing about what I knew academically to writing about my own journey and discovery. My source shifted from APA format to DNA.
It’s delectably terrifying: searching out truth through the self.
Because as I continue to unwrap my authentic self through means like meditation, yoga, right-brain sporadic prose, and dream journaling, I keep finding that all that I thought I had known as my self — my tectonic foundations — actually shift like currents in an ocean.
Words, however, remain fossilized through clicking “publish.” I will continue to evolve throughout my life, but the words I once penned on the Internet will remain concrete and still when in actuality they were just ripples through the tide.
Writing is the window into my heart and yes, of course, I fear the critic.
Such is the essence of what Pema Chodron may have meant when she said, “If we learn to open our hearts, anyone, including the people who drive us crazy, can be our teacher.”
A personal story I’ve written about, a personal discovery I’ve shared…they are the skin I shed and not the skin I wear today. And tomorrow will bring about a new shedding. And so on. And so on.
Such is the nature of my work. I write about the discovery of the self. That’s my journey on purpose.
Writing helps one discover the authentic self, but I’ve learned that it’s the relationship I build with others through my writing that leads to my greatest discoveries.
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