The Transformative Power of Writing Your Life Stories
Writes of Passage Retreats is founded on the conviction that something symbiotic occurs when the following elements combine:
- A sabbatical, or moratorium from the treadmill existence
- Time in nature and quiet spaces
- Writing and reflection aimed at de-scripting & clarifying core values and passions
- Mentoring, collaboration and the importance of a fresh set of eyes
- Rites of passage which explore key milestone periods
As a joint endeavour, I see my role as providing you with the impetus of writing material, a conducive space to write and reflect, as well as insights, feedback and encouragement. Your task is simply to bring your stories, possess a willingness to write about them, explore the patterns that emerge and allow your greater narrative to step forward.
Mulling Over One's Milestone Moments
The midlife crisis is experienced universally as a time of life where we are compelled to re-evaluate our lives and undergo a great deal of soul-searching.
Developmental psychologist Erik Erikson first coined the phrase identity crisis.
His research into adult development stages led him to regard the midlife crisis as only one of a multitude we encounter through life.
Understanding that we have clearly demarcated life passages to navigate helps us view change as natural and an opportunity for growth.
When we write about the phase of life we are wrestling with, rather than simply talking it over with someone, we can give it greater consideration. Chronicling our life stories allows us to notice the recurring patterns in our life and more clearly see the narrative thread which connects our life events. Take the following example.
May-Lee Chai grew up with a Chinese father and a Caucasian mother. She and her brother had a happy upbringing, raised by a loving family. Everything changed during the unsettling teenage years after her father accepted a position in South Dakota in the 1980s.
One day she was living in metropolitan New York, the next being in rural America which was rife with racial tension and prejudice. Being outsiders who were darker-skinned, the locals mistook her for being either Native American or Japanese, both who were regarded with suspicion and terrorised. With her parents unwilling or unable to talk to her about what she was experiencing, May-Lee took to writing:
“And so I began to write about things I thought I would never tell another soul as long as I lived.”
After graduating she organised overseas study, work and internships so as to not have to go back to South Dakota. During a visit to her father’s homeland of China, she saw a riot take place. Writing about it sparked a realisation within her. The dynamic behind the riot was essentially the same as what she had had experienced in South Dakota:
”fears of change, of economic uncertainty, of racial anxiety, of the unknowable future compared to the known past were the same as China's. And I realized finally that it had not been my fault."
Writing about her life experiences enabled May-Lee to reconcile with the painful passage of her youth. What also emerged was a vocation to write and she went on to create a number of novels and memoirs.
Where might life story writing take you?
Rites of Passage
Most of us understand the importance of time away from busyness or following the same day to day routines but the notion of an intentional rite of passage is rather foreign.
Ancient cultures recognised that the survival and health of their tribe depended on each member contributing in the most suitable way. Trying to make a warrior out of someone with an affinity for working with plant medicine served neither the individual nor the community.
Native Americans believed that each person had a unique gift to offer. One’s task in life was to determine what that gift was and how best to develop it.
To find their life’s purpose, Native American adolescents embarked on a vision quest. This rite of passage involved solitary immersion into the wilderness, which one Native American described as “an arduous journey into the core of our being.”
Deprived of ordinary social supports, these adolescents could focus on discovering their calling. Success depended on how diligently they had prepared for their quest and how dedicated they were once it commenced. The reward for those who embraced it was to be granted a vision indicating what they should do with their life. This vision would guide their development for the rest of their life.
Formal rites of passage no longer present themselves from within the culture.
The iconic Australian author Tim Winton recently expressed his dismay over the impact of this:
“Too often, in my experience, the ways of men to boys lack all conviction, they lack a sense of responsibility and gravity. And I think they lack the solidity and coherence of tradition. Sadly, modernity has failed to replace traditional codes with anything explicit, or coherent or benign. We’ve scraped our culture bare of ritual pathways to adulthood. We’ve left our young people to fend for themselves...the poverty of mainstream modern Australian rituals is astounding.
In the absence of explicit, widely-shared and enriching rites of passage, young people are forced to make themselves up as they go along. Which usually means they put themselves together from spare parts, and the stuff closest to hand tends to be cheap and defective.
Liberation – a process of disarmament, reflection and renewal – isn’t just desirable, it’s desperately necessary. In our homes, in business, and in our politics.”
At school in science class, we learned that nature abhors a vacuum, while agriculture class revealed that nature abhors a monoculture.
Living in an all-encompassing media era we now experience both.
The act of liberation requires cultivating our mental diet in the same way that we would tend to a garden by removing weeds and controlling pests while nourishing the soil and plants.
The act of writing inverts our relationship with the media from being mere spectators and consumers to creators and participants.
As we foster a more life-giving mental diet and find an outlet for our self-expression we shuck off the accretions of social conditioning to discover our more authentic self.
With a passion for writing, Tim Winton graduated high school and began formally studying creative writing. What led to his success was his ability to draw on his everyday experiences and the conversations he overheard eavesdropping on his parents. Weaving them into fictional settings he has proven to be one of our most popular and successful writers.
What starts with life story writing frequently morphs into many other forms of creative expression.
Anh Do branched out from his role as a comedian to undertake life story writing, which led to his bestselling autobiography, The Happiest Refugee. He then drew on the material to design a stage show where he utilised his stand-up abilities, real-life stories, photos and film footage to provide a more visceral experience.
Modern Day Maladies
Humankind constantly evolves and so it is unlikely that society is going to return to a tribal way of living. This doesn’t mean that we can’t adopt one of its best principles - that when an individual is encouraged to discover and utilise their gifts then it is to the betterment of everyone. For too long we have taken a wholly different approach. Any sense of being part of a community has become discounted, while the role of elders has been usurped by corporations’ intent on enfeebling young people and moulding them into compliant consumers.
“Arrested personal growth serves industrial ‘growth.’ By suppressing the nature dimension of human development (through educational systems, social values, advertising, nature-eclipsing vocations and pastimes, city and suburb design, denatured medical and psychological practices, and other means), industrial growth society engenders an immature citizenry unable to imagine a life beyond consumerism and soul-suppressing jobs.
True adulthood, or psychological maturity, has become an uncommon achievement in Western and Westernized societies, and genuine elderhood nearly nonexistent…This neglect of our human nature constitutes an even greater impediment to personal maturation than our modern loss of effective rites of passage, and it has led to the tragedy we face today: most humans are alienated from their vital individuality.”
Writes of Passage
The Writes of Passage approach endeavours to deliver a meaningful rite of passage in areas that I have both personally worked through and developed a real passion for - birthing your business(es), writing your life story and navigating the middle passage of life.
It draws on the research of mainstream psychology such as adult development stages while going beyond merely an intellectual understanding to take in more imaginative or soulful ideas like those found in Jungian archetypal concepts.
So why not gift yourself with your time and try something different.
For as Jay Deacon asserted:
It is not given us to live lives of undisrupted calm, boredom, and mediocrity. It is given us to be edge-dwellers.