Writing this blog has introduced me to some wonderful people. Shirley Showalter is one whose inspiring site is filled with fascinating information and practical tips for memoir writers. Recently she requested an interview, and what began as fodder for one post quickly grew into material for a few more! Here’s my answer to her first question.
Q: You say on your website: “My life is a dream; my dreams are my life.”Also, you’ve recorded over 4,000 dreams since 1989 if I remember correctly. I can see how helpful it would be to be guided by dreams as a writer. But many of us, myself included, do not remember our dreams very often. Can you provide suggestions on how to become more conscious?
A: As of today, the number of recorded dreams is 4,355! I know it sounds like a mind-boggling undertaking, but really it’s just been a day-by-day, step-by-step thing that I did several times a week when I had the time and energy, or when I felt the need, or when I remembered enough of a dream to be curious about it. Of course, I didn’t work on every one of these, and I’ve had several in between that I never even recorded, plus lots more I simply couldn’t remember.
At first I was worried about not capturing them all in writing so I could keep coming back to them. But our psyches are always trying to communicate our soul’s purpose and desire to us via our dreams, and I learned to trust that if the messages were important enough, they’d return in other dreams until I “got” them.
All my books but the first, which was an outgrowth of my dissertation, are essentially memoirs, and dreamwork has been invaluable to me in this endeavor. Writing has always been a deeply satisfying means of expression for me, and when it’s combined with working on my dreams it’s my fundamental “practice” that brings enormous meaning to my life and helps me tie up all the disconnected threads of my personal history.
Especially helpful in this regard is the fact that since my college days I’ve had a habit of jotting down my day-to-day activities and appointments on calendars, and I’ve kept them all. Likewise, when I started working on my dreams I dated and numbered them. Having this dual, inner world/outer world record of my life to return to when writing my books has been invaluable.
So my first suggestion to memoir writers about how to become more conscious would be to keep some kind of written record of what’s going on with you both inside and out, including a dream whenever you remember one. It may not feel important now, but years from now having this information could add powerful layers of meaning to your writing.
Having a regular practice of some sort is also essential to becoming more conscious. You’ve simply got to take time every day to pay attention to your inner life, even if it’s only a few moments a day. The major obstacle to this, of course, is the extreme busyness of life in today’s world, so it’s imperative to carve out at least 20 or 30 minutes every day when you won’t be distracted by kids, telephones, music, computers, or television so you can write undisturbed, or do whatever else you’re drawn to: writing, of course, but also body work like dancing, massages or yoga, or regular talks with a wise friend or psychotherapist.
But as far as I’m concerned, regular meditation is the Queen of consciousness-raising. Initially, I was reluctant to take the time to meditate so I made a deal with myself. I could only start writing if I meditated for at least 20 minutes every weekday morning first! This worked wonders and also brought more balance to my life, because I left evenings and weekends free for my husband and children. More next time.
The photograph is of two perfect peonies from my mountain garden!
Order my new book, Healing the Sacred Divide, at www.larsonpublications.com