Memories Are Made of This

It’s been hectic here lately, as I prepare to leave on a trip to Tucson. In my 12 years there, I met and married Ken, we survived his traumatic brain injury and my bout with breast cancer, and I began my journaling work. While I’m there, I’ll have an opportunity to visit our old home and meet the new owner. I’m looking forward to that.

The vista from our large back windows began with the Catalina Mountains off to the right and then ranged for miles, all the way across the valley to the far side of the high-desert city. From our cozy vantage point, we watched the monsoon rains roll towards us from the horizon, often leaving behind a glorious sunset, and marveled as the turkey buzzards—ugly birds up close—transformed into gorgeous gliders as they soared on the thermals, circling up and up and up until they disappeared from view. Coyotes regularly loped across the open desert of our backyard. A bobcat or two appeared over the years, more hesitant than the coyotes. Javelina, too, often barreled through, at least before the neighborhood was built up.

As I now sit here in the much greener landscape of Southwestern Indiana, remembering my time in Tucson conjures so many memories. I am aware of them as thoughts but also as physical sensations I can’t really name. Is “nostalgia” a physical thing? Sure feels like it. Our brains can’t really distinguish between what we experience and what we imagine, so when I recall the lush beauty of that harsh landscape blossoming after the heavy rains, the delicate, just-washed fragrance of the desert, and the sensation of the cool, post-rain air against my skin, my body feels much the same joyous sensations as it did then. Then there was the morning after a rare snowfall that left an inch or two of white blanketing everything from our patio for miles up to the tops of the Catalinas (the photo above)—the brilliant memory makes my breath catch nearly as much as it did on that day. I feel almost transported back there.

Searching for the exact words to communicate all of this is hard, but discovering the ones that convey what I want to say brings up a “felt sense, “ a little internal sizzle, a tiny “yes!” somewhere in physical body as a result of my thoughts. Have you ever noticed this feeling, as you write or paint or do something you love but which takes a little effort?

This inseparable linkage between mind and body—wait, it’s not a link; the two really are one entity, a bodymind is more like it—this is the reason I love the whole concept of A Living, Breathing Story. It’s because that is what we are. And we are always capable of positive change. It might not be easy, but it is possible, with the right tools (journaling sure is helpful), determination, and the belief that it is possible.

Everyone, you have a good week while I’m gone, presenting a couple of workshops and visiting with old friends in old haunts. And if you’ve a mind to try them, here are a few journaling prompts that can help you experience your bodymind.

  • Recall a pleasant vivid experience from your memory. Sit quietly for a few moments as you let it wash over you and experience the physical sensations again: What did you see, hear, smell, feel, and/or taste? When you are ready, begin writing about that experience with as much sensory detail as possible. Keep your pen moving for 10 minutes or longer, until the writing feels complete. Pay attention to the ways your memories (thoughts) affect your physical body and record that after the main write is done.
  • Sit in a favorite spot, either indoors or out, quietly observing and taking in what your senses pick up: sights, smells, tastes, sounds, touch. Write them down as you become aware of them and then explore your thoughts about them. Don’t judge or criticize: it’s all good.
  • Over several days, take a few minutes to write down your thoughts and how your body feels about them. Once you get some experience with this, it will become easier to determine what’s really going on inside during confusing times because your body always responds to your thoughts.



Expressing Doubts

“Send me someone who has doubts about it/Who has conquered their own fear and lived to tell about it.” This line from David Crosby’s song “Dangerous Night” always touches my heart—-so much pain and longing and hope there. Admitting doubt these days requires courage and, oddly enough, great conviction—-that if perhaps I am wrong after all, if I am willing to start again should that be necessary, then perhaps I can believe in and live a new Story. Those who gather up their bravery and publicly admit, however hesitantly, that they are now not quite so sure of a position are quickly pounced on, called “cowardly” or “weak” by those who, underneath all the bluster, are the real cowards and weaklings.

But how do we know what we truly believe unless we can turn it over in our mind and examine it first, poke and prod it for a while, to see if it contains mysteries—-wondrous or scary-—to be revealed? How can we make changes for the better unless we first question our experience and the meanings we have attached to it? After all, we create our Living, Breathing Story with those meanings we invent—-and that creates our experience of reality. Unless we can admit doubt and question those meanings from time to time, we remain frozen in the current reality and can never blossom into our fullest, best selves.

I understand that doubt or questioning can lead to severe consequences. We can be cast out, shunned, by those who we thought loved and supported us. We can be trolled and threatened online. Or kicked out of political office or of a job, even a family. Still, those among us who can admit they might be having second or even third thoughts are to be heard with respect and compassion. We must honor their bravery. Whether they ultimately change their beliefs or not, they did the most important thing: they asked the questions. As individuals and as a society, we cannot survive—-and most certainly cannot thrive-—without questions and doubts about what we have come to believe.

If you keep a journal, you already have a safe, private place to ask your questions. There, in its pages that quietly and without judgment accept everything you have to say, you can express all doubts, questions, fears, anxieties, whatever is on your mind. Your journal is the place where you can ask them first, formulate and revise them, work through them. Then, once you have gained clarity on your position, you can share them with others if you choose. Or not. It’s absolutely up to you.

Here are some prompts to get you started:
• I used to believe _____________, but now I’m not so sure because ….
• The question or doubt I most want to express is….
• I am doubtful….
• The scariest thing that might happen if I express my doubts….
• The best thing that can happen if I express my doubts…
• In the past, I questioned ___________ and I….
• I survived doubting ____________ and now I can survive (even thrive) when I express my doubts about….
• Imagine the best possible outcome of expressing your doubts or questions and write about it, with as much detail as possible.