I've been participating in a six week memoir-writing workshop at Convergence led by Nina Sichel. Well, "memoir writing" sounds affected. It's basically using leading questions to tell stories about different phases of our life. I did a one afternoon workshop with her a few weeks back, also about digging into memory for stories, and I was hooked. I think the questions she asks are fantastic, but it also has to do with being ready for it... ready for the retelling of certain things.
Today was a Day of Intense Conversations. I had lunch with Kara, whom I could probably write several blog entries about but won't right now. Kara did some career coaching for me last year (she is a certified career coach) that really turned into life coaching/therapy/friendship. She's only a few years older than me, but she is an authentic "old soul" and I never leave a conversation with her without having my mental doors blown off by at least one thing she said. I tend to think of her as having a prophetic/wisdom role in my life.
Today she told me a story about a walk in the woods she took recently. She had been intending to try to do a "Spirit Walk"... to go walking in nature and to try to really invite God into the walk with her, to try to re-connect since she's felt disconnected from him for a while. She had imagined this perfect walk, all alone without the baby or the dogs, by the beach, with several hours in front of her. So of course weeks went by and she didn't do her Spirit Walk... there was no time for this. So one day, with her baby in his stroller, her dogs on their leashes, just outside her door, she told God she wanted Him to walk with her and suddenly felt Him present right beside her. She was amazed by how close she felt Him after not praying for so long, and how it was like He was just waiting for her to acknowledge that He was there.
She described one part of the walk where she routinely left the beauty of the woods, went out into a neighboring subdivision, up to the sidewalk, and then back to the woods... like she had to touch base and then head back, like she was playing cricket or something. She had actually fought with her partner over this insistence on leaving the quiet leafy beauty of the woods every single time they walked there for this seemingly pointless detour over a bridge and into a neighborhood. This time, on this walk with God beside her, she felt freed of the need to do that, turned around on the bridge to the neighborhood and headed back into the woods.
Ok, super-profound right? Chick decides NOT to cross a bridge when walking her dogs. oh and God went on the walk with her. Whoopee, Moff. But for real, it hit me, the power of our... of MY... habitual, routinized, thoughtless reactions. Of how we deprive ourselves of pleasure, of rest, of refreshment and reward, by insisting on doing the same damn thing every single day despite how tedious we find it. I'm talking about small things and big things. Why turn on a lamp every night whose light you find slightly annoying? Why head straight for the refrigerator/TV/computer/couch... whatever it is that we do EVERY SINGLE NIGHT? Why not choose what to do while we have the ability to do so? We haven't always had the power to choose, and someday we again won't.
After lunch, I had a conversation with the guy who works for me where he talked about how he'd never blogged despite wanting to because he wanted to be at a point in his life where he pretty much had the answers and felt he had something worth sharing... which means he would never, ever do it. He had made up rules for himself that were absolutely unnecessary, and he was willing to admit that.
The first week I was in Nina's writing workshop, I wrote stories about my past in the way I'd always recalled hearing them told, and the way I had told them to myself. The emphasis was on the bad things, a long string of tragedies and hardships in my parents' lives and in their parents' lives before them. My family sounded like something off of Jerry Springer, and the looks of shock and pity on the faces of the other participants were really noticeable. Listening to the other participants, I was struck by how two of them in particular had had childhoods that had similar dynamics and even some worse events, but they didn't sound like the Life of Britney Spears. I asked aloud why this was... a question for myself asked in front of the group. Nina made an observation that our families tell us the stories of our childhoods in a certain way for certain reasons. I don't know if I can point to exactly who made my childhood sound like a Greek Tragedy, but it was certainly my interior narrative.
So I decided to retell it. Not to make anything up or gloss over the pain, the confusion and isolation I often felt. I was a lonely, intense kid and a depressed teenager... but I didn't live in a constant, unmitigated state of despair. In making a concerted effort to recall cool things about my past, I have been delighted to dust off old, whiskery memories that I hadn't thought about in years, to paint friends and family in bright colors --the heroic and beautiful ways I once saw them-- not with the layers of dull gray disappointment (with myself and them) and loss with which I had covered them in the intervening years.
My point in blogging about this is that I realized quite quickly how pervasive my sense of shame was. Shame about my past... pretty much all of it. Shame about my present, how boring my life is in comparison with other lives. and pessimism about my future. Shame leapt off the page at me --to use a threadbare metaphor. Shame at how I had failed my own expectations. Shame at how I had let fear make so many of my decisions for me. Shame at people I'd failed by not even really trying to love them. and I wondered how many other people in my life struggle with this, too... how many of us continue to coat our memories of the past with layer after layer of sticky, dull grey shame, willfully choosing to carry our sins and not to be redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. Not allowing God to show us all the flowers blooming in the cracks in the dull, grey sidewalk. Choosing not to see how this or that decision led us to greater wisdom, to more depth, more empathy... to making better decisions today.
I told Kara that it was like God was beside her on that walk saying WHY are you choosing the dull route out of the forest every single time? and showing her a list of the 10 or so other choices she could make that would be so much more enjoyable and interesting... and that this was a metaphor for me... that if I lived like God was right beside me all of the time, I would be more aware of the huge number of really great possible choices I could make, in my habits of thought and my interactions with others, as well as in my daily routine.
In my retelling of my own history, I am choosing to see the Creator's Hand in my life, and I am seeing myself redeemed in areas I didn't realize I considered lost... finding myself again like Dorothy emerging from her gray house into Oz, my life suddenly bursting into color all around me. Keep me awake to this, Jesus.