Many women have asked me to write their stories after reading my memoir, Unbridled, and Wounded Warrior, Wounded Wife. Writing these books taught me the healing power of storytelling. While it is sometimes challenging to be honest and raw about aspects of our journey, the more we open up the better we can see our lives from a different perspective and make clearer decisions going forward. Putting our experiences into words transforms and heals.
With that in mind, I'm launching this series of posts on the power of storytelling. Every journey of 1,000 miles begins with the first step. Let’s begin writing the stories of our lives whether we publish them or not. In August, I'll be leading a writing workshop for the wives of wounded warriors in partnership with Hearts of Valor, and will dig even deeper into these themes! If you're interested in attending, you can apply here to join Hearts of Valor.
But for now, let's talk about how to create the space in your mind and life that will allow creativity to flow in.
Creativity through stillness
If you walked through a mall or school or coffee shop or park, how many people would you see who are doing nothing? Staring into space, contemplating their tea, or gazing at the clouds? With the proliferation of mobile devices and a culture that increasingly encourages us to do something — anything! — every moment of every day, we are conditioned to keep our brains constantly active. My guess is that you wouldn't see a single person on your walk who wasn't absorbed in reading or typing something.
But if we want to allow our creativity to grow and blossom, if we want our inner selves to step forward and speak, we need pockets of stillness. We need quiet time without distraction or activity, meditative moments in which we let our rational mind sleep and invite our creative mind to awaken.
We also need to allow our minds to wander without judgment. Especially when we're returning to stillness after a long time away, it can be tempting to censor or evaluate all of the untethered thoughts that flow in. It's so easy to impose learned meaning and interpretations on the images and ideas that enter the stillness … but giving them time and space to settle is essential.
Here are some mediation and journaling exercises that will help you reacquaint yourself with stillness.
Meditation and journaling exercise 1: The language of imagery
Get your journal and pen and set them to the side. Sit or lie down and focus on the sound of your breathing. Concentrate on being in your body, think about relaxing each limb from your head to your toes, bit by bit.
Allow your mind to free-associate. In all likelihood, you will be visited by a stream of images. Some will be memories, some will be fantasies, some will be things you can't explain. Let them all flow through you unimpeded.
When one that feels particularly emotional or significant arrives, try to linger there. Let it unfold, explore it as deeply as you can. Then open your eyes, grab your journal, and write as much as you can remember. If you feel moved to do so, continue the action where your mind paused it. Write fluidly and without judging yourself. Don't worry about spelling or grammar or even if what you're writing makes sense. Just let it flow from imagination to paper.
Journaling exercise 2: Becoming a conduit
Pick a topic, scene, or story that you'd like to write and hold it in your mind. Then release it and make yourself present in your body for a few long moments. Close your eyes, breathe, let your mind wander. Then pick up your pen and begin writing whatever comes out, whether its related to your original topic or not.
By doing this, you are channeling more than creating; You are letting your subconscious do the driving. The words and images that flood your mind may seem unrelated to your pre-selected idea, but if you let them come naturally you're likely to see deep connections forming. Creativity does not travel in straight lines. It flourishes in the undefined spaces in between.
Journaling exercise 3: Tapping memories
Find a photograph of family members, a past lover, or a treasured memory. Gaze at the image in quiet contemplation, allowing your mind to drift into the past. Close your eyes and try to remember the smells, textures, and sounds from this scene. Write everything you recall and feel, focusing specifically on the emotions that return to you. Let go of your busy mind, sink down into your body, and allow the image to work on you.
Meditation and journaling exercise 4: Encountering your deepest desires
Close your eyes and concentrate on the rhythm of your breathing. As you exhale, think or say aloud, “I release all fear of this inner journey.” Repeat this thought on the next two exhalations. Once you feel grounded, begin the next phase of this meditation.
Imagine yourself on a long and winding path. Perhaps it flows through the woods or across the mountains, in a place you know well or one you've never seen before. Travel the path in peace until you reach a large metal gate, sturdily locked and wound through with vines. Reach into your pocket and you will find a key, also metal, sturdy, and heavy. Insert the key in the gate's lock, turn it, and watch as the gate swings open. Breathe again, and release your fears. Walk through the gate.
Inside, you'll find a garden brimming with vibrant plants and flowers. Imagine the garden's layout and design in a way that feels welcoming to you; Perhaps it's an Asian garden with still pools and flowing bamboo, or a rambly English garden filled of bright blossoms.
Now imagine a house within the garden. This house holds your dreams, so create it as a place that is beautiful and comfortable to you. You approach the door and find it locked, but again find the necessary key in your pocket. Unlock the door, and enter.
Stand inside the house and breathe into the feeling of having come home. Find a spot, your favorite spot in the house, to settle and imagine a physical manifestation of your soul in the room with you. Many people envision an animal or bird, but you might see a flower or jewel or other precious object. Sit with your soul for a few moments and commune. Then ask it, gently, “What do you want most of all?”
Don't expect a simple or singular answer, but instead open a dialogue. What you hear and learn will not be the only or final answer for all time, simply the one your soul offers to you today.
Open your eyes, and write down anything that floods into your mind and heart. It often works best to begin by writing the question, “What do you want most of all?” Then write everything that comes to your mind, without thinking or judgment.
Many of us turn to meaningless busy-ness because we don't feel comfortable letting our minds wander. We fear what might emerge if we allow formlessness to take over. But re-learning to trust ourselves and our imaginations is essential to unlocking our deepest desires and essential stories. I hope some of these exercises help you begin to rebuild that trust yourself.
And if you are the wife of a wounded warrior yourself and would like to share your story in person with other spouses, I would love for you to apply here to attend SPA Day in April! By opening up to others you will heal yourself, connect with others to feel less alone, and help those around you begin the healing process.
Can't wait to share more on the power of storytelling with you next week!