Friday, June 3, 2011

The Truth of a Man (or Woman)

The truth about a man is, first of all, what it is that he keeps hidden.”
—André Malraux       000000
I owe a big thank you to Kathy Pooler for calling this quotation to my attention in her blog post Writing From Our Soul—Journey into Self. Kathy makes the important point that it can be downright painful to write deeply into your story, but good things can come of it if you persist past the superficial pain elements and explore their deeper meaning.

She mentions a specific individual and her thoughts on writing about that relationship bring a similar one to my mind. The thought of writing about that person, that relationship, is daunting because of its complexity. My mind skids around like a dachshund on ice as I ponder where to begin.

I’ve found that the most effective way to approach a complex and baffling topic like this, whether it’s a relationship or an esoteric concept, is to pick up a pen and paper. Fingers on keyboard just don’t do it for this particular need. I work best with fingers flowing rather than pounding. That motion seems the most effective way to tap into the part of the brain that manages language, as well as the part that organizes and makes sense of things.

So I’ll sit down, maybe out on the sun porch on a warm summer morning, coffee beside me, journal on lap desk, with favorite pen in hand and simply begin. I’ll probably write about how I met this person. What my first impressions were. How we became better acquainted, and the path he set me on. I’ll write about the lessons I learned, some intentional, others inadvertent.

Some of the lessons are, well, humiliating. That’s where the journal comes in. It’s safe. It’s private. It’s just for my eyes. If things were dicier, I might resort to scrap paper destined for the shredder, but I won’t need that in this case. I’ll want to keep it to refer back to later.
As I write about this plan for writing and describe my personal procedure for processing memories like this, I feel comforted, almost as much so as if I’d already written. Just knowing that safety net is there, that I’ll see the light at the end of that tunnel, makes it much easier to contemplate writing the tough stuff.

It wasn’t always this way. I used to write about confusion and dark memories only out of desperation, never from simple curiosity. That I’ve come to understand the proactive power of writing is one more confirmation that writing is a practice with striking parallels to meditation. Few people meditate deeply and comfortably in early weeks and months. It takes … practice. Meditation is a practice. In her memoir, Long Quiet Highway, Natalie Goldberg explains that her Zen Roshi encouraged her to shift to writing as her practice after years of sitting meditation. For many years writing was her only form of meditation. Now she does both.

Whatever we practice becomes comfortable and familiar. It works magic for us. In this case, the magic is transforming confusion and uncertainty into inner peace. Circling back to that quotation, if we are going to write our truth, the truth that sets us free, we must write (for self first and perhaps also others later) those things we keep hidden. Perhaps once we write them, we’ll find they no longer need to remain hidden.

Write now: pick up your pen and paper, find a comfortable, quiet spot, and write about something you’ve never told a soul. Burn it or shred it when you finish, if that will make you feel safer, but do write it. Be brave. Tell that story.

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