My Studio Guest is intrigued by memoir as a way to discover the more hopeful aspects of “life story.” In her guest post, Kathleen Pooler shares insights about the process: how she works through the stop-and-go nature of writing; why she continues to forge ahead.
7 Reasons Why I Think Memoir Writing is a Spiritual Journey
BY Kathy Pooler
“Embarking on the spiritual journey is like getting into a very small boat
and setting out on the ocean to search for unknown lands.” ~ Pema Chodron
When I look back on my own memoir writer’s journey, I think of it as a spiritual journey that started out with a quest to find the heart of my story when all I had was a deep desire to tell it. I found it through the writing, after years of struggle, setbacks and doubts. Where does this desire come from? Why would anyone want to relive life events then spend endless hours shaping them into a story that someone else would want to read? A desire to share my belief that no matter how far down you may go—for whatever reason—there is always hope for a better life, was all I had.
One day, years after the events had occurred and several years after cancer treatment, I looked around and had a deep awareness of how fortunate I was to be living such a fulfilling and happy life. That’s it, I thought. I will share my story to give others in similar circumstances hope. I became deeply connected to my purpose for writing my story. But I kept asking myself what was my real story? Was it the cancer survivor, the domestic abuse survivor, the mother of an alcoholic son? And what was my point?
The journey from idea to published memoir was a long, winding one. It took me down paths I didn’t want to go. It made me face mistakes and flaws, the dark night of the soul. Joseph Campbell calls it the Hero’s Journey where these steps lead to transformation:
- A Call to Adventure…a personal crisis occurs when you feel life has changed. For me it was the moment after my second divorce when I realized that if I didn’t change, I would not survive.
- Refusal of the Call…denial may set in due to fear of the unknown. I continually denied the red flags and clung to the hope that my marriages would work.
- In the Belly of the Whale…the dark night of the soul when we find ourselves in darkness. This is where we find wisdom, and self-discovery occurs if we are willing to pursue the journey. I was able to muscle my way through the pain of realizing my mistakes, my inner critic, my denial that life did not turn out like I wanted it to. I was driven by my question: How does a young woman from a loving, stable family, make so many wise choices about career, but so many poor choices about love that she ends up escaping in broad daylight from her second husband for fear of physical abuse?
We are already on a spiritual journey called life. We set out in search of the answers to the meaning of our lives. We often balk at the things we don’t want to look at but if we persist, we find our way back into the light.
In the process, we discover what was always there—our strength, courage, and faith.
7 Reasons Why I Think Memoir Writing is Like a Spiritual Journey:
1. At some point in life we begin to question: “what is the meaning of my life” With memoir writing, we go on a quest to find the answer “what is the purpose for telling my story” ; “what is the narrative question I will answer through my story?
2. A personal crisis becomes a turning point that calls us to change. In memoir writing we need to identify the defining moment when we start our story. When did everything change?
3. We initially balk at the need to change. Denial is a powerful defense mechanism to protect ourselves from facing the pain. In writing our memoir, we often want to skim the surface, play it safe. It’s very uncomfortable to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and expose our flaws and frailties. I think of how often I put my manuscript aside because it was too painful to face head-on.
4. If we keep persisting in our quest for meaning, we keep digging deeper until we find ourselves in the darkness of the unknown. In memoir writing, we often feel stuck, not knowing how to proceed.
5. If we’re willing to keep digging, we often find the treasures—self-discovery, path to soul, truths that have been covered up and safely tucked away. In memoir writing, we often write our way into these treasures by letting the story reveal itself to us.
6. A spiritual journey is an adventure that can lead to wisdom, acceptance, self-discovery, healing. Writing a memoir will lead to the same rewards, providing valuable lessons for self and others.
7. A spiritual journey, though fraught with difficulties, can be transformational. Writing a memoir is fraught with roadblocks and detours but, in the end, also can be transformational for both the writer and the reader.
For me, I started out in search of answers to my questions, and in the end discovered far more than expected. My story revealed itself to me over time and with surprises along the way. I not only found the answer to my question but I also found self-forgiveness and the inner strength that was there all along. I only needed to persist in the journey and trust in the process. I found my voice and am hopeful that my story will help others find their voices and inner strength.
How about you? What has your spiritual journey been like? Do you think writing or reading a memoir has been a spiritual journey? How so?
I’d love to hear your story. – KP
Here’s Kathy’s book … more on her Amazon author page.
Kathleen Pooler is an author and a retired Family Nurse Practitioner whose memoir, Ever Faithful to His Lead: My Journey Away From Emotional Abuse, was published on July 28,2014. Her work-in-progress, a sequel, is Hope Matters: A Memoir. Both books are about the power of hope, and how her faith in God helped her to transform, heal, and transcend life’s obstacles and disappointments.
You can find Kathy on Twitter @kathypooler, on Facebook (personal and book pages), or here Memoir Writer’s Journey blog. Thank you, Kathy, for sharing your creative light in this sunny space for kindred spirits. Good luck on your journey!
- See you next Friday, August 28th, when I’ll continue to focus on memoir — the genre, the path, the point of it all.
- Always Returning: The Wisdom of Place is a book about digging into our surroundings to unearth an organic, timeless wisdom. If you’re looking for inspiration or want to lean more about a landscape, a place, that helped me unearth my spiritual roots, this may be a book for you. We are ALL much wiser than we think; it’s just a matter of tapping into what we already know. Enjoy!
When we value the journey itself, new realities are revealed amidst the old.