Wild & Rooted
Journaling my way through trauma recovery last year, I periodically found myself halted by writer's block. Not the typical kind in which you sit, pen in hand, unsure of what to say or how to say it.
This was writer's block of the heart, not head.
I avoided my journal for days, even weeks, refusing to put to paper any of the things flowing through me. I wouldn't even go near my desk or my favorite pen.
Inevitably, a breakthrough would come and I'd rush to find a pen and paper, so eager to write that everything else had to wait.
Trudging through one such lingering period of avoidance, I read Cheryl Strayed's Tiny Beautiful Things, a compilation of her wittiest and wisest responses as an anonymous online advice columnist.
As I lay in bed one night enjoying her down to earth sense of humor and matter of fact manner, I came to a letter written to her by a father whose son had died young in a tragic accident. His question was essentially, "How do I go on?" Her response was empathetic and affirming, and it ended with these three words: "Make it beautiful."
I turned the page and read on, but something halted me. I went back and stared at those words, transfixed. I let them pass through my lips, first in a whisper, then a faint utterance.
Make it beautiful.
There they sat, three words that encompassed everything I was fighting through recovery for, everything I've felt calling to me and driving me forward my whole life.
Make it beautiful.
I've come to realize that, in our infinite inner wisdom, we leave clues for ourselves—in our own words, our behaviors, our environment, the circumstances and people we draw into our lives. I knew my inability to journal was one such clue, and in that moment I recognized what I was showing myself by rigidly resisting my most powerful and personal method of self-expression.
I couldn't write about what I was experiencing or remembering or feeling. Not until it was transformed. Not until I was ready to allow the alchemy of love to make it beautiful.
I refused to record my suffering unless it was also a record of my healing.
Since that day, there have been no journaling strikes. When I sense avoidance creeping in, I ask myself where I'm withholding love and what is crying out to be made beautiful within me, then let my pen lead the way.
After amassing a pile of filled notebooks, that still, small voice within issued a new challenge. Reaching beyond the private confines of my journal to write on the pages of this blog helped me to reclaim a part of my voice that was silenced by trauma.
As expected, crossing that threshold was liberating, and it confirmed that developing the craft of writing and turning my personal experiences into creative expressions was not an optional assignment for me, but an essential spiritual practice. Painters gotta paint, sculptors gotta sculpt, and wouldn't you know, writers gotta write.
I hit a comfortable stride with an open love letter to my husband. Letting emotion unfold so authentically onto the page felt like coming home.
And then a new kind of writer's block arose.
In the time between then and now, I've drafted over a dozen essays. Though they were artfully crafted and sprinkled with insights that continue to speak to me as I round back to read them, not one reached its conclusion. I always stopped short of the finish, unsatisfied and unable to wrap it up and send it out into the world.
As I considered this pattern, it spoke to me of something missing. Something incomplete that couldn't just be overlooked, polished up, and published. And that something has now emerged to guide me toward the next right step on this quest for freedom.
I am refusing to openly record my healing unless I also record the tragedy from which it arose.
My soul won't settle for the expression of anything less than the whole truth; the crushing weight of what's left unspoken tells me that I must allow the whole truth to live outside of me.
It was vital that I first shine the light of redemption into the darkest corners of my life. And it's of utmost importance to me that I give voice to my unshakable faith in the power of redemptive love. This will continue to be the central place from which I live and write.
But my inability to continue sharing my experience from that place alone shows me that it's not enough. It's only part of a story that must be told in its entirety. Paralysis is compelling me to openly reckon with the darkness that has been transformed but not erased. Because the reality of human life is that we exist as both body and soul. Our experience is both spiritual and material, and for as long as we inhabit a physical world, the two are inseparable.
Even the most agonizing experiences can be made spiritually beautiful through the revolutionary power of love and forgiveness. There are no exceptions to this, and that beauty is, on the deepest level, entirely true.
Yet those same experiences remain what they always were in our material world—ugly. A thing can be forgiven and used to beget immense beauty and it is still not made less true or less tragic.
Exposing this requires an honest and fearless approach and, most of all, profound trust that the redemptive potential I found within myself also resides within every other person who might witness the unpalatable truth through me.
I'm finding that the only way to let the whole, healed-but-ugly truth live outside of me is to birth it into the world with as much tangible beauty as I can muster. To mold the unsightly remains into some form of heart-rending artistic expression that neither conceals nor alters the intolerable reality but nonetheless transforms it as alchemical love is coaxed to life in the brave souls who open themselves to the emotion it evokes and the fundamentally human place it touches.
Art does with the dark side of humanity what nothing else can—it manifests material beauty from it in a way that gives rise to spiritual beauty.
I was only able to transform pain into power in my life—to make it beautiful—as I was willing to courageously see and feel and breathe in every ugly detail, without pretending it was anything less or different than what it was.
Healing follows acceptance and acceptance requires that we bear witness to the whole truth.
Restoring my whole voice, my whole self, requires that I honor both shadow and light in writing the way I have in meditation and journaling. And if my writing is to arouse transformation—to inspire others make beauty in their own lives—I must have the courage to let the whole truth speak for itself through me.
I'm not so fragile, and I don't believe you are either, that we're unable to survive the truth. I reject the notion that we need to turn away from darkness to maintain our faith in the light, and I refuse to accept that we are foolish enough to believe that darkness disappears when we look the other way.
I know we are all brave enough and wise enough and full of enough faith to allow the heavy burden of reality to remain both unchanged and transformed, and to carry these paradoxical truths through the duration of our human experience. We must be, because it is the only place we will ever find healing and peace.
So I'll continue to show up and write until I reach the simultaneous end of an essay (which I suppose this is) and this bout of writer's block, trusting that nothing is ever wasted and everything comes in its time, and hoping that the magic of declaring a thing out loud will propel me forward.
Writing is a way of being, for me. It's how I explore the wild unknown within and make sense of the world around me. It's also what keeps me firmly rooted in the rich soil of my experience and who I am beyond it. I'd love for you to discover more of your own wild and rooted self along with me.