Speaking our truth is important. And it's also hard.
Most writing schools focus on the craft of putting words on paper. But we all know that what is hard about writing is not just the technique of writing but also the emotion of putting our truth on the page, in language for others—and even for ourself—to see.
We can hide in silence. But language clarifies. It shows the holes in our thinking and the scars in our feelings. At least honest language does this.
But because we live in a world in which we prefer to be "polite," "professional" and in which we often value surface over depth, we usually don't admit the difficulties of understanding and telling our own stories.
Even in memoir workshops, especially in university settings, where professors need to give grades, people rarely talk about the emotional challenges, and also the emotional rewards, of telling their stories.
But Melanie Brooks, a brave writer at work on her own memoir, decided to ask writers those usually unspoken questions about how they deal with the emotional challenges of writing difficult stories.
These are important questions; if we can have honest conversations about the challenges of our stories, we're more likely to be able to work through those challenges and create real transformation on the page, in our lives, and in the world.
In her book Writing Hard Stories, Melanie interviews 18 memoirists about how they told their hard stories and "shaped art from trauma."
And this week, I'm sharing with you my interview with Melanie. She has lots of great things to say about writing—and living. I hope you'll watch and share it with others.
Nadia Colburn talks with Melanie Brooks about Writing Hard Stories
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been writing about some ways in which writing can help us make sense of darkness. But it’s also important that we connect to our own and to the world’s light. Writing can help lead us to light, but for me the path to light was not primarily through the mind, but through the body.
I had been writing for many years, struggling to understand my own suffering, and I felt I was making some progress. It was when I started to practice kundalini yoga, however, that something in me began to shift.
I could go into yoga class feeling really dark, despondent even. And after even just a few minutes of breathwork and movement, I felt a connection to something greater.
It was as if a window had suddenly been opened on a hot day to a cool spring breeze. There were other ways of being, other perspectives--another story that I hadn’t even been aware of.
Marianne Williamson famously said that it is not our fear of darkness that keeps us back, but rather our fear of our own light:
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.
In those yoga classes, in opening up my own breath and body through pranayama and spinal flexes, through testing my core strength and my will, sometimes holding out my arms for eleven minutes at a time, something in me shifted.
Did I think that I was depressed because something had gone wrong in my life? I now wondered if that idea was too small. Perhaps what had been so hard was that I had simply not known how to harness my own power.
To be honest, even in yoga classes, these moments of insight were brief: star-like punctures of light coming through the dark chatter of my brain. But the insights kept me going.
And gradually over time, those pin pricks of light became more a part of my every day fabric. Of course I was still me, a human being with the full range of emotions. But there was more openness, more space, more light, more understanding of how powerful we all really are.
I could access that not from the mind, but from the connection of mind and body. And from that connection my writing also changed, became more open.
By joining yoga and writing and meditation, we can consciously redirect our attention, harness our own power, take our fears and turn them on their heads. We can re-unite mind and body, which perhaps became fragmented because we were overwhelmed by our own potential.
What if we more regularly gave ourselves the time and space and permission to trust or own light? What would we—and our world—look like?
If you’d like time to practice writing, yoga and meditation together, please join me for a full weekend retreat August 18-20thin Connecticut at the beautiful Copper Beech Institute. There will be great food, wonderful company and plenty of time for relaxation, too. Open to people with all levels of writing and yoga experience!
At the heart of my work is the belief that the stories we tell, about ourselves and about others, matter. They carry weight, and they have real world consequences.
As Trump pulls out of the Paris Agreement, what we see is one story competing, with enormous globe-changing consequences, with another story.
Trump tells a story about America First. He tells a story in which there are winners and losers, a story in which it is possible to roll back the clock to the past, a story in which “success” is measured by accumulating physical things and by economic gain.
But nothing more clearly shows the limit of that story than the global, environmental facts that now face us. These facts tell a different story:
They tell the story of a global reality in which we are all in this together, in which we are inter-dependent and one community’s or one nation’s wellbeing cannot be isolated. They tell a story in which the future is already upon us, in which the icecaps are already melting and in which our own human consciousness is already waking up to the global realities. Similarly, these facts tell a story in which success can no longer be tied to extractive practices of more and more physical things, because we live in a world with finite physical resources.
This second story offers us a new way to measure success: not in hoarding more things for a few, but in recognizing the inherent value of all life and the ways in which we all depend on one another, the very large and the very small, down to the bees and plankton, without which we could not survive.
This moment is a challenge to us all: to take charge of the narrative.
After all, we live by narrative. Narrative arranges how we make sense of our lives and how we organize our days and our societies.
In some indigenous communities in the amazon, for example, it was and still is considered heroic to give everything away and to share with others. Some communities structure their lives around a story of God. Some around stories of seasonal change.
In all our actions and in all our lives, we are living within narratives that have as their center certain assumptions about what matters and how we shape our lives.
I have seen in my work with clients and in the field of narrative medicine that if we don’t listen to and tell aligned stories about ourselves, we may get sick and not be able to heal.
The same is true of the stories we tell about the earth: if we don’t tell the correct story about it, we will all be in trouble.
We each have the power to tell the story that we believe in, the story that rings true for us. And we each have the power to find the places—on the state level, the city level, the local level, in our homes and in our hearts—where that story resonates and can find traction.
After all, stories are amazingly dynamic and democratic; though an authority figure may try to control them, stories can’t be controlled from the top down. We each have power over our own story.
And each of our own stories involves our relationship to the earth and to one another. So when we do this work of coming into our own truth, we do it not only for ourselves, but also for our collective narrative, for our values, and for the earth.
In these weeks and months and years ahead, it is all the more important that we come into our power to speak our truth and bring about real narrative shifts. Because action follows narrative.
As always, please reach out to me with your thoughts, questions, observations!
And check out my upcoming programs. On Friday June 16th, I’ll be leading a three hour workshop at Grub Street “Writing With Courage” where we’ll look at strategies authors use to speak their truth, often despite pressures to do otherwise, and where you’ll have the opportunity to strengthen your own courage and voice as a writer.
And if you’d like a deeply nourishing weekend of yoga, writing and meditation, please consider joining me at the Copper Beech Institute for a full weekend retreat August 18-20.
I blog about creativity, writing, yoga, meditation, justice, women, the environment and integrated well being for the individual and society