Sunday, March 11, 2012

What We Don’t Always Talk About When We Talk About Transformative Writing

My definition of transformative writing is writing that seeks to connect, understand, and illuminate. Although transformative writing is therapeutic, it’s not just that. Transformative writing strives for a level of artistry that, to borrow from Faulkner, uplifts our souls. Transformative writing may inform, it may entertain, and it may heal, but it also does something more. It connects to and transmits something of our human/divine nature.

Writer Moira Notargiacomo said it beautifully in a recent workshop:

Writing is what speaks to my soul, what cries out from my soul. Writing gives me sustenance, a raison d’etre. When I am sad or lonely, I write it down and the feelings pour out of me and onto the page. When I am joyful, I write. I write about what inspires me. Writing is a pathway to the divine and from the divine. Writing is the blessing that was given to me. I find out who I am by what I write. I find out what I care about by writing. I transform my soul. Rather the words and images transform my soul. I expand and grow from writing. I communicate my thoughts and feelings to others. Writing allows me to communicate with the silence, with that which cannot be seen or even be known. Writing is as necessary as life, as breath, as love. With writing I have everything.

I realized when I first led a writing workshop in a women’s prison that we were doing something different from ordinary workshops. This work was not about getting published in The New Yorker. It was not about fame or fortune. Rather It was about unlocking something within ourselves that had been locked up. It was about freeing these women (and myself) from our internal prisons.

And so I began approaching workshops differently. I realized that helping people become better writers was actually a side effect, not so much the purpose. But of course I never said this out loud. By introducing participants to the principles that would make their work more artistic, these workshops also became laboratories in spiritual transformation. For years I couldn’t exactly articulate what was happening, but I knew it was profound.

Recently I found a book that had been sent to me by a publicist several years ago. At the time I had no interest in the book and it sat untouched on my book shelf. Then the right moment came and I plucked the book off the shelf. The title is Alchemy of Light, and the author is a Sufi teacher named Llewelllyn Vaughn-Lee. He writes, “Through our human consciousness, new forms, images, and ideas can come into being; through us the intelligence of the world can be more creative.”

Aha! I thought when I read that. This is what it is going on when we write from our deepest selves. We are, as Vaughn-Lee points out, connecting to a light deep inside us, and this light is God. To get to that light though we must first travel through darkness. In transformative writing, we confront the shadow. We embrace it, dance with it, and sometimes make love to it.

Another book I have picked up recently is Fear No Evil by Eva Pierrakos and Donovan Thesenga. This book contains lectures that Eva channeled in the 1970s. I remember reading some of those lecture around 1985 and being launched on a spiritual journey that continues to this day.

The lectures are filled with great wisdom. In one lecture, the guide says, “To face life’s reality means to be able to face yourself as you are with all your imperfections.” Life tends to numb us. We are constantly distracted by our work, our entertainments, and our addictions. But writing, especially transformative writing, requires that we un-numb ourselves, that we focus, that we face our imperfections because that’s where the gold is. If we want to create an interesting, compelling, three-dimensional character, we look to our own imperfections. If we want to write an honest memoir, we unveil the dark parts of our hearts. If we want to wake up the world, we sift through the collective unconscious to find the fears and prejudices that keep it entranced.

Vaughn-Lee says in his book that we must transform ourselves and then the light of the divine will be able to enter the world. We cannot change the external structures. They are too entrenched. But we can go deep within ourselves and connect to that light within us. He connects this to writing and art when he says, “Through the mediating power of symbols, we can reawaken to the mystery of life as a continual relationship with the divine, a constant communion.”

Symbols, shadows, light. Creation. Becoming a better writer is a by-product.

This week’s inspirations:

1.Write your own answer to the prompt: Writing is . . .

2. Think of the most meaningful symbols in your life. What does your house symbolize to you? What about nature? What are your current personal struggles? What “thing” symbolizes those struggles, and conversely what do your outward obstacles tell us about your inner struggles?

3. Kill your ego. Write a scene where your alter-ego dies. What is left behind?

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