WRITING DOWN YOUR SOUL
How to Activate and Listen to the Extraordinary Voice Within
By Janet Conner
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC Copyright © 2008 Janet Conner
All rights reserved.
Before We Begin
THERE IS A VOICE INSIDE YOU. There is a Voice inside everyone. Whether you hear it or not, the Voice is there. Whether you acknowledge it or not, the Voice is there. Whether you ask it for help or ignore its guidance, the Voice is still there. Waiting. It is waiting for you to stop, if just for a moment, and listen. The Voice is always there, guiding you, encouraging you, loving you. This book is about connecting with that Voice.
I'll let you in on a sweet little secret right here on the very first page: connecting with that Voice is easy. And why shouldn't it be? The Voice isn't trying to hide from you—it is seeking you. It knows the rich conversation that awaits you both. It knows what you need and longs to give it to you. So it stays close at hand, in your heart, your mind, your soul. The Voice is right there, barely below the surface, waiting for you to pick up your pen and penetrate the thin wall of consciousness that keeps you apart.
But why the pen? Why writing? After all, there are other ways to connect. There are powerful spiritual and religious traditions like meditation, prayer, and ritual. There are rich body-mind-spirit practices such as massage, Reiki, yoga, and tai chi. For some, longdistance swimming or running are transcendental experiences. My son swears he finds the greatest peace and does his best thinking riding his motorcycle late at night when he's the only one on the road. All these things are good. And all of them work.
Nothing in Writing Down Your Soul is intended to supplant or alter the practices you use or the beliefs you hold. Deep soul writing doesn't replace anything; it enriches everything. Writing focuses your attention so clearly on the wisdom within that you cannot help but feel guided and loved. A young woman in a Writing Down Your Soul workshop expressed her surprise when she discovered how little effort was required to make that connection. "This is so easy," she said. "You don't have to listen to a CD or buy a program, or change your beliefs, or fix your diet, or anything. Just show up. Really that's it, just show up."
She's right. This kind of writing is easy. There's no one standing over your shoulder judging your grammar or punctuation or determining if anything you've said makes a lick of sense. But make no mistake, the practice of pouring your soul onto paper is profound, and, in the way of all things profound, it can—and will—change your life. Before you turn another page, consider this carefully: if you like your world the way it is, if you don't want to (or need to) improve your emotional, spiritual, or financial life, if you are content with your relationships, your family, your work, and your home, put this book down! Don't read another word. I mean it.
Because once you open that door in your soul, you can't quite close it again. You can't pretend that you don't know where the door is or how easy it is to walk through. Once you start engaging in rich, deep conversation with something higher, bigger, deeper, and wiser than yourself, you'll find yourself contemplating ideas you've never considered, saying things you've never said, and asking questions you've never asked. Once you open yourself to divine direction, you will receive guidance, but—fair warning—it may not be the guidance you expect. Once you start asking for more, you will start receiving more: more ideas, more intuition, more inspiration, more wisdom, more opportunities, more challenges, and more questions. Always, there are more questions. Because the answers, as you are about to discover, live deep inside the questions.
And let's not forget miracles. Ask and you shall receive. Every spiritual tradition tells us that asking and receiving is the law of the universe, and the Voice is happy to comply. Pick up a pen with the intention of connecting with that extraordinary Voice within, and your life will start rumbling, shifting, and moving. Awakening, as if from a long sleep, you will see your world differently, and you'll find yourself changing, subtly at first. Then, as your trust in the wisdom of the Voice expands, you'll find you have the inner strength and confidence to create your own brave new world.
Sound a bit scary? Well, the best ideas are. We all want safety, but safety, it turns out, is a paradox. To feel really safe, you first have to step out into the unknown, experience the fear, and discover that all is well. I can tell you for ten pages or ten hours that you are safe and loved, but until you feel it— feel it in the deepest place in your soul—you don't know it and certainly don't believe it. You have to step out into that space between here and there, between "who I am" and "who I could be," between "what I have" and "what I want." Nothing new can happen until you step into that empty space. Like Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark, you have to thrust one foot forward into empty air and put it down firmly trusting that something somehow will prevent you from falling. And something will. Something will remind you to be not afraid. Something will encourage you to explore the possibilities. Something will talk you through the scary parts, and something will definitely celebrate your joys. From here on, the Voice will guide you. It will let you know that you are safe and loved.
Are you ready to begin? Then, by virtue of intention, you are now officially the writer of your soul. Welcome to the profound practice of entering your soul and recording the messages you find there. Let the conversation begin.
How I Discovered the Voice—or Rather, How the Voice Discovered Me
IT'S A SURPRISE TO ME and everyone I know that I'm the author of a book on deep soul writing. The truth is, I was never much of a journaler. Sure, when I was upset, I'd grab a notebook and write furiously for a day or two, but never consistently and never long enough to resolve anything. Mind you, I loved the idea of having a rich spiritual life. I loved to imagine myself sipping tea and writing profound thoughts in a tooled leather journal with morning sun dappling the pages. To bring this fantasy to life, I bought The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron, but it sat on a shelf alongside all the other great spiritual books I would read as soon as I had the time. Meanwhile, I had a consulting career. I had clients and projects and reports. I had appointments and lunch dates and speaking engagements. I was a busy woman—a woman with no time to journal.
Until November 1, 1996.
I had caught my husband sleeping with his secretary the summer before. He moved out in September, but he didn't move on. On October 31, our Halloween-crazed seven-year-old begged me to invite his dad to join us for our annual Halloween extravaganza. But after trick or treating, my husband wouldn't leave. He thought we should have sex. When I refused, he shoved me out the door. He screamed that I'd never see my child again. He drank. He broke furniture. He cried. He drank some more. When he finally left at one in the morning, I collapsed into a dense, dark sleep. At dawn, my eyes shot open, five words rocketing to the surface: I am afraid of you. Those five words changed my life.
I called my husband at noon and told him I wanted a divorce. He didn't say much. Too hung over, I thought. At five, he called back. In a flat, barely audible voice he told me he had a shotgun in his mouth and was calling to say goodbye.
My mind raced. What do I do? All I could think of were those movies with the main character frantically trying to keep the other guy on the phone. Keep him talking. That's it—keep him talking.
I talked first. I talked about our son, our beautiful son. I asked questions. I asked how he felt, what he'd eaten, what was happening at work. He began to talk—just a few mumbled words, but he was saying something. Suddenly, in the middle of a sentence, he hung up. No goodbye. No grunt. No shot. No nothing. Terrifying headlines flashed across my mind: "Estranged Husband Kills Family," "Man Shoots Wife, Then Self."
I started calling friends. They all had perfectly reasonable explanations for why my son and I couldn't stay with them:I'd love to, but my husband doesn't think it's a good idea. We don't really have the room, you know. I don't think your son would be comfortable here, do you? Are you sure that's really necessary? Maybe he's just trying to scare you. Can't you stay with a neighbor?
Well, no, I couldn't stay with a neighbor. I had called my neighbor first, and he didn't want to "take sides." Desperate, I called another second grader's mother—a single mom I barely knew. Before I could finish, she stopped me. "Come straight here," she said, "I'll back my car out of the garage. Pull right in. Don't worry about clothes or food. I'll take care of everything." I grabbed my son and our Great Dane puppy and hustled them out the door.
My husband did not kill himself that night, but from then on, my family was pretty sure he was going to kill me. His rages often made it look like they were right. Overnight, my professional life disappeared. Clients have a hard time sticking around when you go into hiding every other month. Friends stop coming when they see you wearing a police emergency call button around your neck. So, did I start journaling? No, I did not. I sat and cried in the living room, with the phone unplugged so I wouldn't hear his threats, and the blinds down so he couldn't see me if he drove by.
My mother, like all good Catholic women of her time, loved to say, "God works in mysterious ways." Whenever something ludicrous happened, I'd say, "OK, Mom, how could that possibly be God's doing?" And she'd say, "Well, dear, God works in mysterious ways." I always thought that saying was a complete copout.
Until Harley, our Great Dane puppy, took things into his own hands—or rather, teeth.
I was sitting in my usual position, sniffling and dabbing my eyes, when I realized Harley was no longer resting his head on the ottoman and looking up at me with that consummate Great Dane blend of sadness and devotion. "Harley," I called, "where are you?" I could hear him in the hallway, and I got up to find him. He was loping slowly toward me, struggling to carry something too heavy for his scrawny neck. I pulled his burden out of his mouth—and laughed. It was The Artist's Way—now decorated with ripped corner, teeth marks, and Dane drool.
I wiped it off, sat down, and began to read. On page 15, I stopped cold:
Anyone who faithfully writes morning pages will be led to a connection with a source of wisdom within. When I am stuck with a painful situation or problem that I don't think I know how to handle, I will go to the pages and ask for guidance.
Julia Cameron was talking to me! I needed wisdom, I most certainly was stuck in a painful situation, and I sure didn't know how to handle it. It was pretty clear that sitting and sobbing was not solving my problems. I hunted up a cheap black notebook in my office and an old brown fountain pen. The book said to write three morning pages. Well, it was morning, and at long last, I had all the time in the world to write.
But I didn't follow the directions—that is, not The Artist's Way's directions. Something happened when I read that passage. My soul's needle, which had been careening madly around its compass for weeks, snapped to true north and picked up some silent subterranean instructions that guided me to write in a unique way.
"Dear God," I began. I have no idea why I started that way. It just felt right—necessary, actually. Whenever my parents were frightened, they threw themselves to their knees and begged God for help. I guess I was doing the same thing in my own way. Of course, they prayed rosaries. Me? I vented. Oh lord, how I vented! I fussed and fumed at God. "Are you paying any attention? Do you see what's happening here? Do you care? How are we going to live through this? How can I protect my baby? What am I going to do? Where are you?"
I didn't write three pages that morning; I wrote thirty. That was a clue that I had something to say and writing was somehow helping me say it. After an hour and a half of furious, full-speed-ahead scribbling, I didn't have any answers, but I did feel a little bit better, a little bit cleaner, a little bit lighter.
So the next morning I did it again. Day after day, I stabbed at the page in angry black ink. I told God every last little detail of every last little thing that was happening: What my husband did or threatened to do. How I cancelled my son's birthday party because his father said he'd show up with a gun. What happened when he broke into our house. How it felt to protect my son with my body. What happened when we called the police the first time, the second, the third, and the fourth. How the school insisted I drop my son off late and pick him up early to prevent scenes at school. How I moved from one coffee shop to another until it was time to pick him up. How I couldn't eat. How my son couldn't sleep. How he gnashed his teeth all night. How he crept into my bed and would not leave. How we startled in the dark at every creak and crack. How he crawled onto my lap and rocked silently for thirty minutes before he would leave for visitations with his father.
After a while, I noticed something. Not the first day or the second, but one day, there it was: a little bit of wisdom on the page. Not the answer to my life's problems, but definitely guidance for the day's. Occasionally the answer was what to do or what not to do, but most of the time, it was something smaller, something subtler, and perhaps something richer: how to shift my thinking.
The first time it happened, I stopped writing and stared at the page. Huh? That wasn't my voice. I didn't write that. I'd never even had that thought before. But there it was. And I knew, somehow just knew, that this guidance was important. This guidance was it. This guidance was my salvation. So I followed that guidance. Like Hansel in the fairy tale, I didn't know where I was or where I was going, but I followed those precious crumbs of wisdom. Step by step, day by day, journal entry by journal entry, I inched forward.
Every morning I wrote, "Dear God," and every morning the Voice answered. One Saturday morning, I wrote about how powerless I felt when I suddenly realized that the newspaper article I was reading about an unsolved road-rage crime described my exhusband and his truck perfectly—and that the crime had occurred thirty minutes after he had picked up our son the day before. The Voice wrote to me about the true nature of power. I prayed and tapped into that power and brought my son safely home without leaving my chair.
I wrote about the heartache of listening to a voicemail of my son struggling under his father's screaming command to "say it!" until his little voice squeaked, "Mom, you are a lying sack of shit." And the Voice wrote to me about size. It asked me which was bigger, this terrible thing or the divine? I knew the answer and turned my problem over to the divine.
I wrote about having an enemy—a big scary enemy. I asked the Voice what I should do about my enemy. The Voice told me to love my enemy. I didn't like that. And, I confess, I didn't do it—not for a long, long time.
I wrote about how scared and weak and helpless I felt, like a person riddled with holes. What's wrong with me? I cried. And the Voice wrote about strength—true strength.
I wrote about court. Twelve times I cried all over the pages telling the Voice that no matter what evidence I presented—the road-rage incident, the voicemail recording, four police reports, parents who testified to my ex-husband's threats, proof of guns in his house—the legal system insisted our son have regular, unsupervised visits with his father.
The Voice listened, wiped my tears, and listened some more.
I told the Voice how my son cried before visitation. "Tuesdays," he sobbed, "I hate Tuesdays, because after Tuesday comes Wednesday and on Wednesday I have to see my dad." I told the Voice to protect my baby when he was at his father's. The Voice always did.
I wrote about my ex-husband's weapons. The Voice asked about mine. "Words," I admitted, "words are my weapons." And the Voice helped me put my weapons down.
I wrote a list of all the things I didn't want to do but had to do in my marriage. The Voice talked to me about the difference between "have to" and "choose to." I wrote about how I disappeared into a secret waiting room in my heart when I couldn't bear what was happening. The Voice talked to me about the beautiful language of no.
I wrote about all the dreadful decisions I'd made and how badly they'd all turned out. The Voice talked to me about forgiving myself.
I wrote about my frustration waiting for the judge to let me move back to my family in Wisconsin. And the Voice talked about being frustrated waiting for me to become who I really am. "Help me remember," I said. "Who is this frightened woman?" And the Voice said, "Unafraid."
Excerpted from WRITING DOWN YOUR SOUL by Janet Conner. Copyright © 2008 Janet Conner. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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