Writing
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Why I Write

More than two years ago, I posted this in my other blog:

writing for meMore than a year after, I expounded on this new-found purpose for writing in a post for this blog.

Determining the reason for writing during the various phases of my life was always important. Knowing the purpose for writing gave me direction: Because I knew why I was writing, no matter what I read or what other people told me, I knew what to write about.  I also knew where to seek help. When I was a journalist, I bought books on journalism. When I decided to focus on feature writing, I bought books on feature writing. When I wanted to use journaling as a healing tool, I sought guidance from other journal keepers.

I left my career as a journalist to hearken to the call to heal myself and help others heal. Now that I earn a living by giving therapy sessions, I no longer depend on writing as a means to earn money. Yet, I continue to write and have created three blogs through the past four years. And even as I know I had reached a level of healing that I never thought was possible in this lifetime, I continue to journal.

Since I wrote the short post about the connection between writing and my spiritual life, I never doubted if I should continue journaling and blogging.  I knew that both activities are necessary because they nurture my soul. I have bought books on spiritual writing and on writing as a spiritual journey.

This month, after listening to Mark Matousek’s teleseminar, “Freeing Your Soul Through Writing,” I knew I had to be participate in Mark Matouseks 7-week online course, “Writing as a Spiritual Practice, 7 Essential Steps to Personal Freedom,” which promises to be a 7-week transformational journey.  I am so grateful to the Shift Network, and especially to Stephen Dinan, founder of the Shift Network, for their generosity and help in facilitating my participation in this powerful e-course.

You still have time to join – “Writing as a Spiritual Practice, 7 Essential Steps to Personal Freedom,” begins today, January 29.  You may also want to go through the list of courses offered by The Shift Network. The network has an impressive list of courses offered by well-known experts in their respective fields.

In his newsletters, Stephen Dinan serialized the life story of Mark Matousek, where he related the role of journaling in his survival and healing. Here is the complete story as written by Mark Matousek. I hope that reading this story will ingrain in you the importance of journaling, and its vital role in every writer’s life.

I GREW UP IN A HOUSE FULL OF SECRETS

by Mark Matousek

I grew up in a house full of secrets. After my father tried to kidnap me and failed, disappearing when I was four, leaving us destitute and on Welfare, I became the man of the house, my mother’s Rock of Gibraltar — that’s what she called me, though I was just a confused little kid, troubled by questions that no one would answer, scared by the things going on around me, and filled with a desperate need to find meaning in my strange, impoverished childhood world. Even as a very young boy, I had the sense that life could MEAN something; that the cynical, angry, pain-driven view of things that the people in my family held was not the whole picture; that life could be better than this.

I didn’t want the stories going on around me — some funny, some bizarre, many heartbreakingly sad — to go to waste. I felt that, by writing them down, I could make them count for something. By being the witness to what was happening, by recording it, I could redeem the experience somehow, pay homage to these people I loved, and sort out my crazy feelings on the written page. This turned me into a compulsive journal keeper by the second grade. I wrote every chance I got and found that when I was writing, describing what I felt and saw, I felt stronger and clearer. My voice on paper was more substantial, clear, and ‘knowing’ than I actually felt on a day-to-day basis, as if there were two of me: the skinny, moody kid in the world who felt powerless, clueless, and vulnerable; and this witness-writer self who sensed – without knowing quite how this could be – that who I truly was inside (who we all are) was bigger than my circumstances.

If I could write, I could live, regardless of what happened to me. There would always be this zone of freedom to which I could retreat. I would be able to find my center there no matter how confusing life became.

LIFE DID BECOME CONFUSING, INDEED

Life did become confusing, indeed. After graduating from college with an M.A. in literature, I moved from California to New York to pursue my dream of becoming a writer. In those days before the Internet, Skype, and other methods of self-teleportation, you had to be in New York City (we thought) if you wanted to be near the heart of publishing. I started out as a journalist, first working for “Reuters Intl.” as a stringer critic at $90 an article, then as an editor at “Newsweek Magazine,” answering letters from disgruntled readers, and finally as a proof reader at “Interview Magazine.”

This job came to me as a fluke – most of the big things in life seem to happen as ‘flukes’ don’t you find? — ‘accidents’ you’re not expecting that take you where you’re meant to go? That has certainly been my experience. Anyway, a friend happened to know a guy who taught aerobics to the editor of “Interview Magazine,” who hired me as a proofreader at $75 a day.

“Interview” had been started by the Pop artist Andy Warhol, who became my boss.  Every day, I watched Andy waft around the Factory in his platinum fright wig, a wraith of a thing in head to toe black, from my place in the secretarial pool. In those days, Andy and the Factory were ground zero for the Pop movement and celebrity central for anyone who wanted his or her reputation burnished by association with Andy. Movie stars, politicians, scientists, writers, porn stars, musicians, and other famous painters were trotted through the office on a daily basis. Andy loved four things: fame, money, beauty, and breeding (with art a distant fifth). Even as I rose on the magazine masthead, I questioned this superficial ethos. By the time I became Senior Editor (after two years), I was miserable, dropped in a place where I didn’t belong and suffocating for meaning.

I still wrote in my journal constantly, which helped to remind me that I was more than this job, and when AIDS struck in the early 80s – killing my boss, the editor, and pushing me into his office even as he lay dying in the hospital – I felt both lucky and terrified, as if I was marked and I would be next. My best friend from college died in three months; people began to fall like flies.

And it was just at this time when, “accidentally,” I met someone who told me that I was having a spiritual crisis and needed to get out of New York right away. I quit my job, gave up my apartment, and followed this friend to Germany – where I met the first bona fide saint I’d ever seen, Mother Meera – then to India, where my real spiritual journey began…

WE BEGAN OUR JOURNEY IN LADAKHWe began our journey in Ladakh, the northernmost province of India, a strange, lunar place at the foot of the Himalayas that used to be a part of Tibet. The Tibetan Buddhist culture was still prevalent there. Women with waist long braids roamed the streets with pots on their head, dressed in coarse burgundy-colored skirts. Om Mani Padme Hum, the ancient mantra of Tibetan Buddhism, was etched into rocks, scrawled on bathroom walls, and restaurant menus; it was the spiritual soundtrack of this place, humming underneath everything else, lending Ladakh a holy feeling that both intrigued and terrified me.

I had brought a suitcase full of books to India, everything I’d wanted to read but never had time to in New York City, literary classics as well as spiritual literature acquired for me by my friends. I began to meditate (using Ecknath Easwaran’s book Meditation) and my writing took a different turn. Now, I was compelled by existential questions prompted by my HIV diagnosis: was there such a thing as God? Did life hold a sacred meaning? Was faith necessary? Did such a thing as an afterlife really exist? I became a ravenous seeker, determined to find some answers to what this all meant before my number was up. In those days, we were told we’d be dead within a year, which made finding these answers urgent for me. Mortality became the great catalyst in my life. I came to learn in my practice that many spiritual traditions use death as the great awakener – Buddhist monks meditating in charnel grounds for example – and I was determined to use this experience for some kind of good. If I couldn’t live, I used to reason, as least I wouldn’t have to die in total ignorance, like a sleepwalker stepping off a cliff.

But I didn’t die. Instead, for over a decade, I waited for the axe to fall but it never did. I buried over 50 friends and acquaintances, sat at hospital bedsides back in the States, volunteered at hospice, and watched my T-cells dwindle to zero. But I never got sick. I never spent a day in a hospital and when the first treatments for HIV came along in 1993, my doctor got me on the first trials. Within months, my blood work was back to normal and here I sit, 20 years later, perfectly healthy and in a perpetual state of awe that I was given this reprieve. Once again, writing remained a big reason for being.

Now that I’d been through this extraordinary, terrifying experience, I didn’t want to waste what I’d learned in death’s shadow. I wanted to tell the story of a skeptical, cynical, New York yuppie who crashes into the mystery (through a diagnosis) and wakes up a different person. I worked for years to put this story down on paper, through MANY trials and errors, until finally I managed to write the book. This was “Sex Death Enlightenment,” and it gave me my authentic career as a writer. The memoir connected me to readers of all ages, genders, and orientations, people interested in waking up, starting over, exploring matters of life and death, and the depths of their faith (or lack of it).  And these connections led me, eventually, to another story still …

Now that I’d been through this extraordinary, terrifying experience, I didn’t want to waste what I’d learned in death’s shadow. I wanted to tell the story of a skeptical, cynical, New York yuppie who crashes into the mystery (through a diagnosis) and wakes up a different person. I worked for years to put this story down on paper, through MANY trials and errors, until finally I managed to write the book. This was “Sex Death Enlightenment,” and it gave me my authentic career as a writer. The memoir connected me to readers of all ages, genders, and orientations, people interested in waking up, starting over, exploring matters of life and death, and the depths of their faith (or lack of it).  And these connections led me, eventually, to another story still …

I WANTED TO TEACH

I wanted to teach. Although writing was and is my first love, I sensed that teaching about what I knew – how to tell a personal story; how writing can used as a tool for insight and transformation; how it’s possible to be an agnostic skeptic and still have spiritual experiences; how death is connected to transpersonal awareness; how the bottom line of life is AWE and wonder at our very existence — was what I wanted to do next. NOT as a spiritual teacher (I’m not one), but as a writer, mentor, and spiritual friend.

Seven years ago, I was asked “accidentally” to teach a weeklong writing course at a nearby college (when a friend got sick) and I instantly loved this new kind of work. Students began to appear, teaching opportunities presented themselves, and soon I found that half of my life was spent connecting with others through courses, workshops, and online classes. The through line of everything I taught was writing; even after all these years, writing continued to be my precious friend and ally.

To this day, I write in my journal every morning, just like I did as a confused little boy, and it still works its magic on me, untangling the knots of my mind, centering me in my own deep truth, and helping me to capture what I see, and care about, in language and stories. If a day goes by without writing, I feel unbalanced, unclear, at odds with myself; unprepared for the day as if I’d left the house without getting dressed or sorting myself out in the mirror. I can’t imagine life without the ability to reflect what I see and know on the page. It continues to be my greatest joy.

I just want to thank Mark for generously sharing his heartfelt story with us. He could have completely shut down when faced with the extreme difficulties in his life, such as his HIV diagnosis. Instead, he utilized writing as a powerful tool to reposition his narrative — transforming his tragedies into triumphs. And then chose to share his insights and gifts with the world.

You, too, have this ability — if you learn how to access it. So many of the stories we tell ourselves about our experiences aren’t actually based on facts — but rather fiction. In the first session of Writing as a Spiritual Path, entitled, “Who am I?” Mark will help you explore the authenticity gaps in your life, and learn how to examine them through deep self-inquiry. I sincerely hope you’ll join us for this remarkable course, as the skills you’ll learn will reap a lifetime of unimaginable benefits.

In spirit,
Stephen Dinan

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Feature Writer from the Philippines

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