I write because I need to.
I spent two years studying world religions in interfaith seminary school, where Reverend Stephanie Rutt advised us that a daily spiritual practice was the most important element in the program.
Through my daily spiritual practice (similar to mindfulness meditation and includes some Sikh chanting and Centering Prayer) I’ve learned to cultivate the courage to claim my spirituality in the world, and I’ve learned to cultivate the courage to share my writing in the world.
I write because reading has sustained me.
I feel forever grateful to the wise souls who cultivate the courage to share their writing and who persist in practicing their craft and getting their work published and available—who serve the reader—and of whom I have been one of many happy beneficiaries.
I write because I’m time-rich.
Retiring from a nine-to-five work existence in New York City to living a more sustainable lifestyle in the woods of New Hampshire is a gift we gave to ourselves in our late forties, after my husband and partner of twenty-four years recovered from cancer.
Yet I still want to work, and preferably work that will serve the evolution of human consciousness. Working and writing to serve the Divine that exists in each of us, adds meaning and purpose to my life. I’m inspired by the Eckhart Tolle quote:
“Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at this moment.”
I write because when I write, I’m living my dharma, and it lights me up.
And I’m using the Hindu (not Buddhist) meaning of dharma—to do our “sacred duty” or “the great work of our life,” or as the poet Mary Oliver wrote, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
I read and write to learn and to understand. As the Sikh guru Yogi Bhajan said:
“If you want to learn something, read about it.
If you want to understand something, write about it.
If you want to master something, teach it.”
I write to share the truth of my own experience.
I had an “aha” moment when I learned the difference between giving advice (especially unsolicited) versus sharing the truth of my own experience. If I offer advice to my two younger sisters, they get annoyed and feel resistant to whatever I may be trying to impart. But if I simply share the truth of my own experience, offering it on the table while remaining detached from outcomes, it gives them the space to take what they need and to learn from my experience. It’s no longer about my ego.
The ancient Hindu sacred text, the Bhagavad Gita, shows us how if we are invested in outcomes, a positive outcome will mean we’re elated, but a negative outcome will cause us to suffer. If we can have a preference, but we’re okay with either outcome, we minimize our suffering. We can still enjoy our success, but our ego is no longer dependent on it.
I write to practice holding my ego like a beloved pet and laughing at it when it tries to run the show.
I’ve learned that I am not my ego. My spiritual practice has given me a spaciousness around my ego, where I can be in the awareness behind my ego and observe the tricky little thing.
“Blessed are we who can laugh at ourselves, for we shall be endlessly amused.” ~ Anonymous
I write to tune-in and listen to my own soul.
Who knew my soul wanted me to write? On some level I’m sure I always knew, but I lacked the courage to share my voice in the world. Instead, I worked in the publishing industry for twenty years where at least I was close to books.
I write because I have no interest in returning to a nine-to-five existence.
Even though practicing the craft of writing is a more challenging and deeper kind of work, and I work more now than I ever did in any nine-to-five job, I write because I need to. It’s an expression of my soul.
I write because I’m learning about story. About narrative arc. About themes and plots and character development. About bringing all my senses into a scene I transcribe: seeing, smelling, tasting, hearing, feeling, intuitive sensing. About how stories shape our existence, yet we are not our stories.
When we begin to write memoir, we look at the Situation and the Story (Vivian Gornick)—what story can we excavate from the situation we experienced? To write memoir requires us to distance ourselves from the situation we have lived, to climb up out of the box, and look back in to see what the story character of ourselves experienced—what she learned, and how we might make meaning from that experience.
This very act of climbing out of the box and looking back in to observe ourselves as a character in a story can be likened to the concept described in the Bhagavad Gita of observing our humanity (the story of our very human lives) from our divinity (a kind of benevolent, compassionate, and empathetic observing awareness within us).
Perhaps this is part of the reason why memoir is so popular these days; no longer satisfied with religion and its crumbling patriarchal hierarchies, dogma and rules, the Spiritual-but-not-Religious crowd is looking to learn from the meaning people make from their experiences—as recorded in memoir.
As Cheryl Strayed describes in her essay, Write Like a MotherF***er, writing is hard work. And we suffer.
But the rewards are the expression of our own soul.
We dared. We dared greatly.
And the rewards lie in the act of writing itself. (Although some financial compensation doesn’t hurt!)
Author: Camilla Sanderson
Editor: Toby Israel
Photo: Flickr/Pedro Ribeiro Simões