Why write? To have a record, to avoid the pitfalls of memory? Yet I seldom ever look at what I write again. More than keeping track, the benefit of writing for me is in the process. Too often I become absorbed with the idea of a product, obsessed with the “completion” of something, and this obsession can overwhelm to the point that I don’t even begin writing for fear of being consumed in pursuit of its being perfectly finished. Instead, it is helpful to bear in mind the benefits of the process. Any product is bonus, the fruit of our labor.
Writing is a form of mental archaeology. Our minds are a lot like the earth. We can live our entire lives on the surface, unaware of how our experiences have shaped and continue to shape the geography of our world. We stumble, overturn a small rock, and to our surprise we find that a plethora of meaningful information can be uncovered with even the shallowest examination. There are many ways to excavate our minds, but writing is particularly effective at plumbing our depths. Like Jed Clampett, even a hillbilly’s errant shot can turn up that bubbling crude and give us access to an untold wealth of insight.
Ironically, the process of writing is such an effective method of self-examination precisely because of the product that results, the record of thoughts. Other tools of mental archaeology, like meditation, teach us to let go, to be in the moment, to accept the passing of thoughts without identifying with and grasping onto them. Each tool has its purpose. Paradoxically, writing too can help us let go of the attachment to memory, though in a completely different way. Knowing we will have a record allows us to surrender to the continuing stream of thought without grasping; as if once the thoughts are down on the page you can rest assured that you’ve got them.
I dance around my topic, perhaps, but writing is good for that too. Once you’ve struck oil, put pen to page, that black ink may geyser forth in unexpected trajectories.
By writing, I learn about myself. Not necessarily in the finer points of what I’ve written, but indeed in the broader strokes. Regardless of the content of my writing, personal insight boils up as the tectonic pressure of my mind crunches everything into connection.
What is this crude oil that writing uncovers in my mind, and by what means can it be refined into useful fuel? Black gold! Texas tea! Metaphor! By writing, I create mental images with personal meaning. As my mind uses metaphor to draw comparisons, the substance of my life becomes filled with significance. A dove becomes a symbol of peace; an oil derrick a symbol of the ecstatic revelation of hidden meaning; even the Beverly Hillbillies come to carry import.
As I continue to infuse meaning into the images of my life, my external and internal worlds blur into one whole reality; metaphor and experience come together in coincidence, each coincidence an explosion of connection and insight. I come to see myself reflected everywhere and everything as a reflection of myself. Things that absent further examination I would have cast aside or even disdained take on a mystical divinity, and I come to love and respect all of creation as part of one whole universe, a multitude turned into one.
This piece is part of my Throwback Thursday series, and originally appeared in April, 2016