"It’s never too late for a happy childhood." –A popular bumper sticker
We are always writing from the past. Everything but this very moment is memory. In fiction and nonfiction alike we create stories from what we remember. Just so with life, we live off our past . . . everything we thought, chose, did and ignored got us to here. Pretty powerful really, when you think about it.
Think about it.
"Everything," as John Muir said, "is connected to everything else." For the writer we want to make sure that our narrative and all the dramas and events connect. In memoir we can't just report what happened. We have to have many entry points and narratives to help the reader stay with our story. We have to show them the connections (not tell them). We have to trust ourselves as we listen in on our past.
Many nonfiction writers ask about what Voice and perspective to use: the one from the past or the one writing the story in the present? My answer is: both!
You have two voices and perspectives when writing memoir or autobiographical pieces -- the one who had the experience and the one I refer to as the Wisdom Keeper. The one having the experience is written from what you knew or didn't know then, what you experienced then. The past voice will be almost all show and no tell . . . though, you will have thoughts to share as your past self. The Wisdom Keeper Voice gets to slip in that wisdom from the present -- something you know now that you didn't know then (likely a hell of a lot!). The Wisdom Keeper Voice holds the hand of the reader, they feel you there as they read. They know you are likely going to make it through most your troubles but the reader doesn't know how. You don't point out to the reader these two distinct voices, you simply hold them in your consciousness as you write. You know when you are writing from the past; and, you know when you are writing using the wisdom accumulated from all your experiences. The reader will hear the difference. Sometimes you will refer to this present day wisdom, but don't hit the reader over the head with this.
In fiction, your characters may have these two perspectives as well, and as the writer you will distinguish these for the reader.
A good practice is to contemplate the present scene of your life or the life of a fictional character in lieu of the past. What did it take to get here?
Go ahead, take a look. I have a hold of your hand.
Your beliefs become your thoughts,
your thoughts become your words,
your words become your actions,
your actions become your habits,
your habits become your values,
your values become your destiny. –Mahatma Gandhi
Want to buy this Writing Sherpa a cup of coffee? Here's how: Click here: A Cuppa Java for Julie. (So, I'm trying this out. My All Write Wednesday blogs will always be free. And I will always offer up free consultations at various times and places. I so enjoy helping and inspiring writers, like you. I also believe that everything I do as a writer, educator and counselor (as well as parent and citizen) sets an example. I believe writers should get paid for their work. So thank you for your support, in all its manifestations.)
bare foot sets down
on soft ground.
familiar ring the bells that called
you and you
to come wander again
through the rough
looking always for the Word. –Rebecca Cecchini
The following practice may seem counter-intuitive to helping you get your narratives down on paper. However, when you build this skill of witnessing not repressing or ignoring difficult emotions, you are able to return to these edges, or imagine them as a way to host and harvest stories. First, I give you a practice to use in your daily life, followed by one to improve your showing and not telling in your writing!
Want to buy this Writing Sherpa a cup of coffee? Here's how: A Cuppa Java for Julie.
Hosting Your Edges
First let me invite you to approach “hosting the edge” as an experiment. This gives you permission to simply learn; to see what happens for yourself. I can tell you that this practice has worked for me as well as for countless clients (and indeed it has!) but the proof will be in your own personal experience. And here is a caveat: Just this willingness to experiment will bring some relief from negative emotional states. Trying this will be like giving yourself a bigger view out a larger window.
When you are at some edge and feeling an edge of negative emotion, bring awareness to the emotional/habitual state. Imagine stepping back and just letting the emotion be, without adding any story line to it. Be a witness to this emotion.
With this technique we ignore the routine thoughts that arise. Instead we go with the sensations; we host the edge and witness all of the different sensations that arise in the emotional and physical continuum. This practice is much like watching the breath and other sensations in a mindfulness meditation practice. You host the inner experience and don’t lose yourself in the appearance of the outer story, or build on any narrative. Do your best not to name it, label it, or build any kind of story around it. Let yourself just experience the various states surrounding it without responding to the inner experience in any way. Witness from the body. Most internal edges are triggered by some outside circumstance, some which are known, some not. Here, we are willing to just be with the inner experience and their attendant sensations, whatever they are.
• Whatever sensations are felt, we stop “talking to ourselves about it.” We realize that it is “just an emotion.” “Just a sensation.” “Just” in that it is not proof of anything, our emotions are not in themselves a call to action—it is simply an emotion or physical sensation. Let yourself be with this emotion “just” as it is, even though your ego (and habitual self) will tell you to do something, now!
• Don’t act on this emotion (or the outer edge) while the intensity is present. You will find that the intensity and negativity are (like everything else), ephemeral. And emotions shorten and decrease every time we approach the same negative state in this way. Along with the decrease in the intensity of emotions, the narrative winds down too. They are in many ways attached to each other—the narrative keeps the emotion going, while holding onto the emotion keeps the story going. As you are thus passive and not invested while hosting the edge in this way, the edge begins to round out; you turn this sharp edge into a passable corner. This is a way not to repress or suppress emotion. And this allows one to feel intense emotions such as regret or grief while not letting them develop into chronicsadness or regret. Also, we then can respond to circumstances with being reactive.
• Next bring your attention to the edge, which has now been transformed into a turning point. Your mind and heart are opennow to this present point where an antidote presents itself or you naturally just move on to something else (you turn the corner). What often happens is that you reach the end of the negative state and find yourself in something else. After the emotion is released through presence (and even though you know it will return or that it hasn’t entirely been released), you can choose to draw your attention to an intention or spiritual principle, or return your awareness to the present experience. What principle or practice would help you take the next step? Or if you are at work, or having lunch with a friend, or simply hanging out at home––return your awareness to the present experience. But every time the emotion of fear, hostility, regret, or loss arises, you can again, be with the experience in this way. (This is an excerpt from my upcoming book: The Red Thread, released April, 2020)
"The ego conceals, whereas awareness reveals." David Hawkins, Letting Go: The Pathway To Surrender (a book I recommend to all my writerly clients).
Hosting Your Stories: Writing From the Edge
Our willingness to hold space with difficult circumstances and emotions gives us the capacity to write about these edges and other experiences into our narratives. Start with practicing the above exercise with hosting the edges that arise in your daily life. This increases your emotional intelligence, and ability to enter or reenter any scene and harvest its content into story.
Remember to host your edges and your stories from your body. Listen to the physical, emotional and energetic sensations that are present within a situation.
When hosting a story, close your eyes and enter that fictional or real situation (memory). Just like hosting the edge, you now host this story, scene or memory. Again, experience this without telling yourself "what this is all about." (When we start telling ourselves "what this is about," we then "tell" the reader instead of showing the reader)! Don't have a narrative here, just like in the hosting the edges, be attentive to the experience -- notice.
Then open your eyes and hand write what you witnessed in your hosting this scene or memory. While you write some narrative, various story lines may naturally appear. That's great! Always allow your writing to take you where it wants.
Host and Write from your body: Mind•Body•Word: 3 Days of Yoga & Writing at Holy Wisdom Monastery YOGA & Writing Retreat this August, 2019. August 27, 28, and 29. Explore True Self on the mat and page with yoga teacher (and blogger) Molly Chanson and writing sherpa and counselor, Julie Tallard Johnson Three days of attending to mind, body and word in a beautiful, natural setting. Includes meals, writing prompts, retreat time, time to write, yoga for any level, inspiration. $150.00 To register contact: Molly Chanson at email@example.com. 773-259-1202
Join me for free consultations and writing time at Sjolinds in Mount Horeb every Friday morning in June (except June 21st, when I will be at Write-by-the-Lake).
I don’t agree with Marianne Williamson (though I appreciate her work!) who famously speaks in a poem how it often is our greatness, our "light", that most frighten us, and that we keep hidden from ourselves: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.” -Marianne Williamson, Return to Love
We just haven’t learned how to let it all out; we hold the capacity and even inherent desire to be heroic and great (though it may show up in a more shadowy form of wanting to prove ourselves.) We are born to be creative in some unique way. We are frightened not by our light or our greatness but are held back by how we perceive ourselves or believe others perceive us. Also we may not know how to reveal these qualities. We simply need to claim all of ourselves and learn not to be concerned about how this all looks to others.
I believe some of our light went into hiding through training. We were discouraged to show our most creative and truest selves for some reason or another. We were told to not brag, or not to “show off” when we were simply showing ourselves. We were simply declaring, “hey look I can do this!” and the adults around us shunned or even belittled us. Any childhood trauma affects our ability to feel and share our inner light. When our loveliness is not mirrored back to us we often forget we have it.
When we don’t claim our assets (our heroism or creative expression), we tend to let others in positions of authority tell us who and what we are and what we want. This is such a great loss, a waste, really, for the individual and for the world. “As adults, we must achieve a complex integration that spans the contradictions between inner and outer reality, that supports both personal integrity and the common good. No, it is not easy work. But by doing it we offer what is sacred within us to the life of the world.” (Parker J. Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness)
So, get back to that creative project. Pump out that poem and send it out. Write that idea down in your journal. Speak up. Write that book! Share what you got. Let your Light shine.
whatever you have to say, leave
the roots on, let them
And the dirt
Just to make clear
where they come from –Charles Olson, “These Days”
THIS JUNE On FRIDAY's from 10:00 till 2:00 (except June 21st), find me at Sjolind's in Mount Horeb, writing. Come join other writers. Get some free consultation time with me.
Our subtle body exists deep underneath our physical form and our ego mind. It holds secrets and wisdom, pain and truth. This emotional and soulful part of us is our True Self. To explore it through our yoga practice, we quiet our thoughts, lead with our heart, and observe the sensations.
But then what? I’ve draped my body over my leg in Pigeon Pose, when tears emerge and start falling from my eyes. I allow, and I try to make sense of it after class. But how, and what does it mean?
It’s a process, but with practice, listening to your body through yoga and interpreting the subtle aspects gets easier and more intuitive. After a while, your awareness of the subtle body spills into your daily life and even into your dreams. You receive messages all around you. You learn to trust yourself. You learn to stay, rather than run. You learn to accept your emotions and your pain. You learn that you don’t need to hide. You learn that you actually CAN.
Digging deep during your yoga practice takes strength, bravery, and compassion. Twisting out grief and opening Chakras requires endurance and forgiveness. Getting your thoughts out, by writing them down, is yet another form of listening to your body. And a great next step to exploring your true self through yoga. Writing validates and gives voice to your experience and your sensations. It’s a great tool to open, and make sense of it all.
I started writing around the time I felt my marriage coming apart. I had no idea what was happening, or what would soon unfold, but I’m so glad I listened to my body’s call to write. The page is a space to heal, a space to explore, a nonjudgmental space to “speak” your truth.
Writing and yoga go so well together because they both grant access to the same hidden space in our body, but they unearth the blocks through very different processes. While yoga brings us to awareness, an up-close and personal look at reality, writing illuminates that awareness, and creates a tangible word on the page that articulates how we feel. Voicing our emotions, writing them down, heals. It’s like opening our throat chakra in Fish Pose or confiding in a friend over coffee.
Any pain you are holding, any struggle you are facing, any new venture you are embarking, all can be explored and understood through writing.
But I’m not a writer!?
When you write, you do not need to be an expert. Like a yoga practice, it does not matter if you are flexible or seasoned. It does not matter if you write eloquently - you benefit from the PRACTICE regardless.
The myth of the artist and the writer prevents those who feel they are not “creative” enough to write. Writing is merely a form of self-expression which means it’s inside of all of us. It’s a way to create an impact with our voice - whether that impact is professional or personal. If your writing impacts you and your awareness of Self, that is enough, and your practice is worthwhile.
I’m so impressed with where my yoga and writing practices have taken me - through my divorce, through my addiction, through my anxiety and depression, through my loneliness, my confusion, my triumphs, my motherhood, and my womanhood. Man or woman, writing and yoga can do the same for you.
I’m joining forces with my amazing writing sherpa, Julie Tallard Johnson, a transpersonal counselor, teacher, and author of 11 books, to offer our first retreat, Mind, Body, Word: 3 Days of Yoga and Writing in beautiful Madison, WI. With daily yoga, meditation, writing prompts, and personal time for reflection, we’ll explore the subtle body and hidden self and allow our intuitive and creative spirit to access our soul. Come open and leave inspired and renewed. I’m excited to share all I learn from my teacher training, as well as my 25 years of yoga experience, in order to guide you through whatever it is your body needs.
Here is more info on the retreat and the link to sign up: Mind•Body•Word: 3 Day Yoga & Writing Retreat.
In the meantime, continue on, dear Yogi, and consider keeping a journal next to your mat - you’ll be surprised at what comes up.
Give your self the time.
Where did the time go?
Whose clock are you on?
You're on my time.
Time is an illusion.
Time is all you have.
Finding the time.
What time is it?
How much time do I have left?
Time takes it all, whether you want it to or not. Stephen King
The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once. –Albert Einstein
We must use time as a tool, not as a crutch. –John F. Kennedy
A worthy use of your time:
Mind•Body•Word: 3 Days of Yoga & Writing at Holy Wisdom Monastery
YOGA & Writing Retreat this August, 2019.August 27, 28, and 29: Includes all meals and classes.
Explore True Self on the mat and page with yoga teacher (and blogger) Molly Chanson and writing sherpa and counselor, Julie Tallard Johnson Three days of attending to mind, body and word in a beautiful, natural setting. Includes meals and classes. $150.00 To register contact: Molly Chanson at firstname.lastname@example.org. 773-259-1202
From Journal to Reader
4 Evenings of Turning Your Ideas, Experiences & Journals into Blogs, Articles, Essays, or Books
Create something meaningful for readers from your JOURNALS and NOTES. Or learn how to USE YOUR JOURNALS and notes to make a great written piece. From Journal to Reader: 4 Evenings of Turning Your Ideas and Journals into Blogs, Articles, Essays, or Book for Readers. 4 Thursday nights, two in June and two in July at Healing Services on the Riverin Prairie du Sac. June 13th and 27th; July 11th and 25th. 5:30 pm till 9:00. Room for 10. Register soon, as this will fill up fast. Your investment is $220.00, includes personal attention and consultation and critique of 10 pages. You will leave with a solid template and path to sharing your ideas with the world. Contact me at email@example.com.
All Write Wednesdays: World into Word
All Write Wednesdays is a blog about living the writer's life. Everything in our lives is material. Read all of the All Write Wednesdays posts.
Zero Point Blog
The Zero Point blog shares my teachings about living your life from the inside out and becoming the cause rather than the effect of your life. Read all of the Zero Point posts.
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Julie lives in Mount Horeb WI where she walks her dog through Stewart Park, gardens her corner lot, attends yoga at Bliss Flow Yoga in Madison and waits for spring 11 months of the year. She is author of The Zero Point Agreement & ten other books. She also writes for the local Mount Horeb paper and in her free time listens in on others' conversations at Sjolinds.