Saturday, September 24, 2011

The value of late life journeys into memoir and life review

I no longer remember the exact day I began an archeological expedition whose purpose was to delve into my life history in order to understand it better. I was in my mid 50s and I was living in a rustic house at the foot of Tashi Choling, a wonderful Tibetan Buddhist temple I had helped to found years before.

I am a person who relishes an occasional riotous discard of papers due to the misplaced hope that their destruction will bring freedom from onerous details of self and mundane life. Because of that habit, I have no notebooks from that time.

Fortunately, that habit has not reached my computer records so I do have a chronological set of files that describe the scope of my themes and how I approached them over time. Writing this particular book Songs of the Inner Life has occupied my imagination for the past 15 years. I've worked on it intensely for months at a time, then set it aside and taken it up again, over and over. I've written three quite different drafts. When one has spent that much time on a project, it assumes a dreamlike quality. Will it ever emerge as a finished book? That's certainly my firm intention. And now at 70, I finally feel mature enough to do it.

There is a marvelous exhilarating energy about setting off on a voyage, though that excitement may be mixed with certain misgivings and fears. That was my mood as I began exploring my psyche and personal history, intending to dig as deeply as needed to unearth new insights and healing artifacts. I had no idea when I started that I had plunged into the process of life review, which is considered an important developmental task of later life.

I began the first draft of the first chapter by contemplating the mysteries of how a singular human being precipitates from light into matter.

"A baby is still close to the angels. Its newness melts us. Its skin soft as a flower petal, its sweet breath, tiny hands and feet move us to wonder. Babies sometimes seem as if they are not quite in their bodies yet. We suspect that they may be lingering in luminous realms which have become invisible to us. Perhaps that's why being with a baby brings us back to the state of beginners’ mind, beginners’ eyes, beginners’ smile. And when we look into a baby's eyes, we feel that we are gazing out into the spacious reaches of the universe, or deep inside the secret wisdom of the uncreated.. A baby brings us into the ecstasy of the present moment."

I was working up to exploring some difficult terrain, and it helped to start by remembering original grace. After that, I spent months exploring and writing about my deepest childhood wounds, the beliefs and experiences that led me to feel worthless, isolated and deformed. It was hard going, but I kept on slogging through it, infusing the process with breaks for meditation and walks in Nature.

I agreed to engage in a continued encounter the Shadow because I wanted to heal. As they used to say in that old radio show about The Shadow, "The Shadow knows!" It's true. Digging into those layers was not an easy job, but I am very glad I did it.

"Writing memoir is not for the meek," a fellow writer wrote recently on Facebook, that beautiful mandala of offerings from other humans (whose management manipulations are sometimes terribly annoying.)

Of course, there were times on the journey when I felt as if I had become lost in a labyrinth. Not a labyrinth as beautifully green as this one but a forlorn rocky confusion of dead ends, isolation and being walled off from the rest of life.

I endured the hopeless confinement of one who felt she would never find the way out.

Is the way out, or in--or just relaxing and sitting still in the moment?

I am looking forward to returning to this book during the reflective months of winter. I am about to publish an excerpt preview of the Introduction and first three chapters of Songs of the Inner Life soon. I will let you know when it is available on

My recent article on memoir and life review (mentioned in my previous post) was mentioned in the September News Briefs of the National Center for Creative Aging!I am pretty pleased about that.

Because I believe so much in the powerful integrative and healing qualities of memoir and life review, I will be offering workshops devoted to that exploration through poetry, movement, deep relaxation, storytelling, voice and prose. A one-day workshop is coming up in Ashland, Oregon on October 16th. Please email me at or call me at 541-535-3084 if you would like to register. Fee is $50.

I plan to develop an online version as well so that friends in far places can participate.

Interested in walking through fire, discovering forgotten talismans in long forgotten sites, finding understanding and resolution that provides release from old issues, coming face to face with original grace, recognizing and engaging your deepest gifts? Memoir and life review is a way to do all of that and more.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Happiness is The Old Magic

One has to start somewhere after a blog absence of over a month (or even of a day), so I will start with happiness and with these lines by Jane Kenyon, who is one of my favorite poets.

"There’s just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away."

Kenyon suffered from bouts of serious depression and that certainly colored her view of happiness as a prodigal returning home at last. I can relate to the prodigal returning image. The appearance of happiness sometimes feel like that.

This morning I'm musing about what makes me happy. I find pleasure and happiness in creating beauty. This vista at my kitchen window gives me an inner smile. I feel happy looking at this beautiful image taken one day in late summer at the Umpqua River on a beautiful summer day with dear Frannie and her family. Nature makes me very happy. It's rejuvenating and endlessly fascinating. Meditating makes me very happy. Dancing, gardening, cooking, singing and writing make me happy. Being with good friends makes me happy. Helping others with healing work makes me happy. I generally feel happier now that I did earlier in life. People say that happens as we age. It's paradoxical. Is it the keen edge of mortality? Is it letting go of many things that troubled us when young? Is it slowing down and enjoying the moments more fully? Seems to me it's all of those elements. Humans have an innate capacity for happiness and contentment no matter what the circumstances. Pursuing happiness sounds terribly tiring but I like relaxing into it. It's always there in the awareness of the present moment. Drinking the coffee. A hummingbird zooms past the window. The leaves on the birch tree twinkle in the breeze. Oh my, summer is nearly over already.

We are headed into the season of harvest. Today I head over to Dave Scoggin's studio again to lie on the couch as a very interested but musically unschooled observer while my composer colleague Laura Rich and Dave continue their fascinating work to mix the song tracks for the promo CD for A New Wrinkle, our musical revue about aging.

This beautiful photo of Jonnie Z is one of a series that photographer Helga Motley took. One of those images will grace the CD jacket very soon. Yes, that CD project will come to completion.

Tomorrow I will host the first Sage's Play salon of 2011. I did not do very marvelous publicity for it, and so I have no idea who will show up for it. The topic is "Is Aging a Terrible Disease or a Valuable Stage of Life? The salons are a way for elders to talk about how they think and feel about aging and will naturally support a more vigorous community of elders. This is a flyer that Christer Rowan designed for Sage's Play's fall programs.

It's rewarding to move forward with these projects and to see them come to a successful conclusion. Even if not many people show up tomorrow for the salon, I have the opportunity to do a better job next time.

And today my essay on The Healing Power of Memoir and Life Review appears in Inner Peace column of the Daily Tidings, Ashland's paper. I am going to be offering a on-day workshop on that topic on October 16th.

It is satisfying to harvest--whether it's creative projects or garden bounty. After seeding, cultivating and nurturing for months, there's a lot of pleasure from reaping the bounty. Hope that your harvest, whether inner or outer, is a beautiful one.