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.

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