When life becomes busy to the point when I am no longer able to make or take the time to reflect, a sense of being unmoored sets in. If I go too long without putting pen to paper, a feeling of malaise actually sets in. I begin to feel involuntarily swept up in life, denied the chance to trim my sails, or correct and change course, according to my goals and desires. It begins to feel like I am living someone else's life and not my own.
Gratefully, an inner alarm of self-preservation gets trip-wired and sweeps in to save the day, shaking me into action - or more precisely, slows me down so that I can look at my life.
As a lifelong writer it is hard for me to know if reflection is as important and necessary to the rest of humanity as it for us - I just know for us it is like oxygen.
Reflecting for Creativity
In Natalie Goldberg's landmark book on the craft Writing Down the Bones, she explains:
"Writers live twice. They go along with their regular life, are as fast as anyone in the grocery store, crossing the street, getting dressed for work in the morning. But there's another part of them that they have been training. The one that lives everything a second time. That sits down and sees their life again and goes over it. Looks at the texture and detail."
Otherwise, how would we ever be able to come up with all those juicy plots, descriptive details and larger-than-life characters who say and do the crazy things they do and keep readers turning the pages. How would we ever be able to look through the lens of our personal life and make sense of it - to forgive the human frailties that have tripped us up, our own and those of others, and for the first time visibly see the capes that have made us all the heroes of our own sagas?
Writing requires a magician's sleight of hand in that we can be doing our craft in broad daylight, yet go unnoticed. First we must train ourselves to be keen observers. And then we must learn not to speak our observations - this can lead to big trouble, or at least the moniker of being known as a gossip.
Instead, we take our observations home, where we stare into space, reflect, consider and if we are deft enough, create. One just never knows when an everyday trip to the post office to mail a letter becomes the seed for a bestseller.
Cultivating a regular writing practice, or keeping a journal, is a good way to help us sort the wheat from the chaff. The problem is we can discard something too soon, thinking it is chaff when it proves more valuable, which is a good argument for throwing a wider net than we think is necessary.
Just try to be discreet while doing so. The new physics is proving that the mere act of observing something, changes it. More surprisingly, there is the idea that objects do not become reality until they are observed.
Spirit Warrior as Detached Observer
Many spiritual paths coax us to live in the present moment and strive to become the detached observer so that we are not only living in the moment but evolving with every breath.
The idea is that if we can get out of our own way, we can identify patterns and habits that trip us up, that we often adopted early on for protection. Continuing to employ them is sort of like driving with the emergency brake on. If we can detach enough to not react to the words and actions of others in the moment, we can live a happier life and perhaps help others see and break their own sabotaging habits.
Denied a Space of Her Own
Recently, I went to a screening of Amy, a documentary of sorts on the brief, tortured and talented life of British vocalist Amy Winehouse. As I sat watching this young woman's life unravel before me on the screen I was truly saddened for her. Her upbringing and personality denied her ability for self-care. Add on the pressures of fame, combined with mind-altering drug and alcohol abuse and she did not stand a chance to weather the storm of a big life that her talent was outfitted for. Perhaps she could have thrived had she chosen a small, quiet life. Impossible to know.
What did get her through, to some extent, was her ability to reflect on and record the happenings of her life and document it in her art. Her raw, candid words and big Bluesy voice became her trademark. And when she was able to briefly take the opportunity to step back and consider her life free of chemicals, as she did at least during one phase, you began to have hope that she could transcend her fate.
But it was not to be. She certainly had enough money, in fact she had too much money, but she never really made a room of her own, to shelter the artist and lock out trouble.
Striking a Balance
When I read Ann Patchett's commencement speech turned book What Now?I really got her assumption that she would not marry. After all she wondered, who would marry someone whose profession necessitated sitting on the couch and staring into space for hours at a time? But she did marry. She found her person who got that.
Those big reflectors among us can get mired in the muck. Sometimes we need to find the right person who pulls us up from the couch when we have lingered too long and takes us by the hand to go out in the world and get life all over us. You know so we actually have something to write about. Sometimes we need to be that person for ourselves.
If we were fully enlightened maybe we could live life totally in the moment 24/7 but for most of us, that would be exhausting and feel like being stuck in the desert, our vehicle on empty with more than 100 miles to before the next service station.
For us mere mortals it is only by looking at the road we have just traveled that we can make sense of our larger life journey by connecting the episodes of our experience into a cohesive tapestry that tells a human story. One we want to tell again and again and sometimes set to words that will be read again and again.