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Using Mindfulness to Write Your Life

by Vonnie about a year ago in advice
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Objectively View Your Experiences to Keep Negative Emotions from Taking Over Your Memoir

Using Mindfulness to Write Your Life
Photo by Dingzeyu Li on Unsplash

Writing memoir poses a challenge for many writers—especially new writers—because it demands that you view your life objectively. As easily doled out is this advice, it is not so readily applied in practice because we are often emotionally connected to our life’s experiences even years after an event transpired. The emotional connection can be due to all sorts of things: lack of distance, unresolved trauma, recently addressed causation for trauma, etc.

For example, I struggled with eating disorders in my 20s. I used the material as subject for my thesis project believing that the cause for my issue was unknown but ultimately choosing to resolve it. I hinted at possible reasons—my dad’s emotional absenteeism and my professional dance ambitions, but ultimately, the rationale for the disorder wasn’t there, but I chose recovery none the less and could tell a story.

Just over a decade later, a few short months after my husband’s death, I relapsed in my eating disorder and subsequently attended therapy where I learned the reasons for my issues. Learning the reasons hurt me deeply, and it put my emotions in a tailspin. I couldn’t write without becoming enraged, without wanting to assign blame, but of course, in memoir and creative nonfiction, this isn’t tenable. it’s a golden rule that you don’t tell your audience how to feel, and in writing my rage, I was dictating the events, the scene.

While…sure, yes, you can literally do this and may even find representation (or self-publish with some success), you are sacrificing one of the most vital parts of a truly successful memoir, which is the value of perspective.

By writing your story through a lens objective equity, you give your audience the full dimension of your characters and allow them to connect more deeply with you and your characters. You give them autonomy over your story.

But…how do you do this? How do you let go? You do this with mindfulness.

First, let me preface…I am a mindfulness practitioner, not an expert. But as it applies to writing, the ability to examine one’s situation, emotions, expressions, etc. with quiet objectivity and as much fairness as we can as humans allows us to write our truths without influencing our readers.

RAIN and Writing

Particularly, I find Tara Brach’s RAIN method to be useful. RAIN is an acronym for:

• Recognize (what is happening)

• Allow (the experience to be there, just as it is)

• Investigate (with interest and care)

• Nurture (with self-compassion)

For example, let’s say I am writing about a recent disagreement with my dad wherein I recognized the source of past toxic relationship patterns in which I would choose men who were, like my dad, emotionally unavailable and suffered from avoidant personalities. The recent conversation uprooted a lot of buried emotions, which makes writing about that experience extremely difficult.

Without RAIN, my writing becomes a RANT (there is no acronym for that, just a lot of swear words). RAIN allows me to:

  • Recognize what is happening: Remembering this situation recalls feelings of hurt and anger. I feel hurt in my stomach and anger in my throat. My dad’s words were insulting and invalidating. Once again, I don’t feel seen. I am also experiencing cognitive dissonance writing about something unfortunate that happened with my dad. I worry he will be judged an angry even though I am writing the situation fairly, as it happened. I feel worried about upsetting a dynamic, but I also feel strongly about writing the truth.
  • Allow the experience to be there: It was an unpleasant situation to be in, and it’s unpleasant to remember. It’s okay that it was hurtful; it’s okay to still have lots of feelings. What is more important is that I am safe. Remembering the experience does trigger feelings of anxiety; though, I am also anxious about what may happen in the future if my dad ever learns that I wrote about the situation.
  • Investigate with interest and care: This situation hurts because it triggers learned fears of being unlovable. I do not believe that anymore; I know that my dad’s words and actions are a reaction to his unresolved childhood trauma and how he has chosen to manage his mental health as a result of that. I am here, and I am okay. As I investigate my fear of reaction or retribution as a result of my writing, I have to remember that the future has not happened and that I am protected by the knowledge that I am writing the truth objectively and honestly and fairly. My motive in this is not vengeful; it is in the interest of telling a larger story to a readership interested in how relationships work; it is in the interest of telling my story. This was an impacting event.
  • Nurture with self-compassion: I remind myself that it will all be okay, that I am writing my story with integrity, that this event happened to me and by that, it is mine to write about. I talk kindly to myself…I’m sorry that happened. You are lovable. It’s okay to be anxious about how others will react to your stories, but you need to trust your knowing. This is your story; don’t let fear steal your right to tell it. This is hard; you should be very proud.

How Mindfulness Helps You See the Bigger Picture

In the example above, I’m able to remember that how the situation transpired doesn’t have to do with me. It started because of a misunderstanding, as many of these things do. What meditation allows me to do is to see the big picture, which includes my father, his life, and how and why he is the way he is.

Ultimately, he’s the product of selfish and abusive parents and while we have control over how we handle what happens to us, I also know that meditative practices were infinitely less common to men of his generation, particularly in the Dirty South where you never spared the rod and where big boys didn’t cry. Objective examination of the situation and acknowledging my feelings, rather than letting them dominate me or my writing, allows me to simply write what happened and also to reveal why my dad is the way he is.

Yes, in the scene, he’s my antagonist, but like all truly great antagonists, he’s also sympathetic. What’s more, he believes that he is right. We all believe we are right in our convictions, our actions, our thoughts, etc….at least in the moment. This allows us to move forward on a daily basis. If we lacked conviction, we would stagnate. Of course, in reflection, we can amend our understandings of ourselves and our situations and experience growth. This is why, too, adopting a regular medication practice for writers is so valuable.

Not only does meditation help us to process our own experiences and overcome struggles in our writings, but meditation also helps us to better view the world through the lenses of others. We can become more empathetic. Even if we don’t agree, we can see others, particularly our antagonists, more clearly and thus treat them with compassion in our stories and in our lives.

Namaste, word-slayers.

Peace, love, and prose.

advice

About the author

Vonnie

Wildly inappropriate woman writes satire, occassionally delving into strange places with feels and all. Semicolons are the best, but em dashes are pretty sweet, too. Widow. Mother. Yogi. Life is short & weird, so let's have fun.

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