Memories can be tricky, and sometimes they hide, even when we’re trying to locate them! With the right kind of writing exercise, sometimes we can get past the various defense systems that block us from remembering. We may not remember simply because the memory goes so far back in time. We may not remember because there is an emotional resistance to the event. We may not remember because our reason has not been able to make sense of what happened, and so it’s easier to dismiss it.
Prepare to Write
- Set a time to do this writing. Plan a half hour sometime today and put it on your schedule as an appointment you must keep.
- Choose a place to write. It should be free of distractions; you know the conditions that work best for you, whether a home office or the corner of a bedroom or a table tucked away in a local coffee shop.
- Make the space conducive to writing. Disconnect from the Internet; turn off your phone. Get rid of clutter, such as books, calendars, or projects. Enhance the environment with what helps you: background music, a lit candle, an image or object that calms or inspires you.
- Give yourself five minutes to settle in and get ready to write. Sip your coffee or tea, if that helps. It’s probably better not to have food around because eating can become a distraction. Find a good position for sitting. Close your eyes or find a visual point of focus. Take several deep breaths.
- Consecrate the time, space, and your efforts. Accept this writing time as God’s gift to you. Offer your time, energy, and work back to God. Ask the Holy Spirit to clear the way for writing that will benefit you. Expect good work to happen.
Do the Work
Most of the time, it’s best to write quickly and not think too much about what you’re writing. This allows the flow of material to come forth. Choose one or both of the following exercises.
Bring to mind a specific room in the house where you grew up. You might need to sketch out a rough floor plan. Where were the doors and windows? What furniture do you remember? Colors of paint or wallpaper? Features that ornamented the room, such as pictures, vases, mementos? Describe every detail you can remember. Then try to remember something that happened in this room: a conversation with your mother, or you and a sibling lying around on couch and floor, reading or watching TV. Try to write this event as a scene with a beginning and an ending.
Recall an emotionally charged conversation you had once. It’s best if it involves you and only one other person rather than a group of people. Try to reconstruct it as though you’re writing a movie script. Describe the other person—his or her appearance, clothing, posture, physical movements, facial expressions. Describe all of this about yourself as well as you can. For instance, you could not see your own facial expressions but you could feel what happened in your face—the clenched jaw, the tears stinging, the sudden grin that stretched across both cheeks. You might write this scene twice—once from your point of view and then from the other person’s. Indicate if there was a high point, low point, or turning point in this conversation. Describe the emotions you felt and how your body felt because of those emotions.
Reflect on the Work
- Read what you have written during this time.
- Highlight or underline a word, phrase, or paragraph that has the most emotional pull for you as you read it now.
- Ask these questions: How did it feel to do this writing today? Was there a free flow to it? Was there resistance? Did I feel relieved to do this writing, or was the experience unsettling or negative in some way? What one bit of wisdom can I glean from today’s writing? What outcome from this exercise am I most thankful for?
- If there is some action you need to take, as indicated by this writing experience, make a note of it. If you can, plan how you will take action.
- You can take this a step further and talk to God [Jesus, Holy Spirit] or Mary or your favorite saint about this experience.
If you feel so inclined, share with the DDF community a sentence or two about this experience. I’d like to collect sentences from as many people who are willing.
I wrote the material this week especially for this online retreat—these are not book excerpts! However, if you find this material helpful and would like to pursue your writing further, you will probably enjoy my book: The Art of Spiritual Writing: How to Craft Prose That Engages and Inspires Your Readers. Use code 4535 to purchase your copy at 30% off through 10/05/14. Shipping and handling are additional.