By David Seybert, Teacher & IT Services at Laurelwood
One constant in my daily rhythm at Laurelwood is the intern circle. Every morning except Sunday, our interns (who stay with us from two weeks to three months) meet for half an hour with some of the full-time residents to discuss a topic or participate in an activity. Last week, the theme was writing and introspection, spurred by the arrival of Meera Grace Hoon, who leads workshops and classes on using writing as a tool to raise consciousness.
One day last week, we were asked to write the chapter of our life that we are currently living. My first reaction was to cringe, because it’s been a turbulent year for me, and my chapter could too easily turn into a self-indulgent rehashing of everything I’ve been through. But then an interesting thought occurred to me – why not write my life chapter as an allegory instead of an autobiography?
Immediately, the mental film started rolling. Imagine a melodramatic B-movie that’s a mish-mash of cliched scenes from “Moby Dick,” “Mutiny on the Bounty,” “Lost Horizons,” and other old warhorses you might have watched late nights on AMC. The brooding captain…adrift on the sea…shipwrecked on the beach of a tropical paradise…nursed back to health by the natives…discovering a mysterious temple and the secret of the natives’ harmonious existence…the captain transformed…you get the picture.
After writing, what struck me about the exercise was how making my life experience into a story taught several important lessons.
First, telling my story in third person made the drama impersonal. It’s easy to get so absorbed in your own first person drama that you become your story. That identification can become a self-limiting definition that inhibits your growth and transformation. We all know that voice in our head that tells us, I could never do that, I’m not that kind of person. But in truth, that’s not who you are; that’s just what’s happened so far in your story.
Which leads to the second lesson – I can be the author of my story. My story is a work in progress and I can write new chapters. I can’t go back and completely rewrite the story, although I might recount the same events from a new perspective. But I can take the story in a new direction. It would be unrealistic to make a sudden and arbitrary break with the past, but I can consciously redirect the unfolding of the story towards a more uplifting, enlightening conclusion.
And finally, my story isn’t as unique as I thought. The details may be specific to my personal history, but in many ways, it’s full of universal themes. It reminds me of when I was a self-absorbed, moody teenager. I believed nobody (at least no adult) could possibly understand what I was going through. Looking back, I realize that my troubles weren’t nearly a special as I thought, and had I been more humble and self-aware, I could have learned from the wisdom of those who had consciously lived through similar challenges.
I am reminded of the work of Joseph Campbell. We need to look for the universal themes in our personal stories, overcome our limitations, live our own hero’s journey, follow our bliss, find the source and share it with others.