If you've tried to extract your story before, but it seemed too overwhelming, you might want to try trimming the fat.
Everyone remembers that Eat Pray Love scene where Elizabeth Gilbert gets intimate with God on the bathroom floor. It's a parcel of her epic memoir, but it's unforgettable. More than that, it unearths a nugget of truth, a life changing moment that signaled the end of her marriage, but the beginning of her relationship with herself. If you've tried to extract your story before, but it seemed too overwhelming, you might want to try trimming the fat.
It's understandable that you got lost in the details, drowned in how your ex stampeded on your heart or how that diagnosis became the impetus to quit your job, move and pursue your dreams. These are all important, necessary chapters in your life story. But it's also the minuscule moments that can be revealing. Here's how to sift through those milestone memories to find the silver stones of truth.
Rip into the details. Forgo the big events. Zoom into the minutiae of the moment when the doctor called you in his office. Report on the way it looked when you removed your wedding band or that awkward silence you couldn’t fill. Do this to get to the underbelly, the place you might have overlooked. When you dig into those raw, vulnerable scenes, you’ll discover a more meaningful way to view your life.
To find your moment, scour your mind for a memory you can’t shake. In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott says, “You couldn’t have had any way of knowing what this piece of work would look like when you first started. You just knew that there was something about these people that compelled you, and you stayed with that something long enough for it to show you what it was about.” Search for something that gutted you, even if seems insignificant. In fact, it’s not just the crisis or grandiose event. It’s often the quiet stories that expose hidden kernels of truth.
When Lammott was assigned an article on the Special Olympics, it was a basketball game that inspired her final piece. “I imagined describing the game for my article and then for my students: the loudness, the joy. I kept replaying the scene of the girl on crutches making her way up the track to the finish line—and all of a sudden my article began to appear out of the grayish green murk. And I could see that it was about tragedy transformed over the years into joy. It was about the beauty of sheer effort.”
You can use writing this way, as a spiritual tool reaping lessons that would otherwise be inaccessible at a conscious level. It’s the magic of writing. Wisdom comes from reflecting on ordinary moments.
Take a look at this passage from Glennon Doyle Melton’s memoir Carry On, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life:
“Smelly Coughy Guy walks in the door. I know it’s him right away because I hear him and I smell him. Smelly Coughy Guy smells and coughs. That’s all he does. And so every time he walks into class, I panic and I pray silently and ferociously: pleasenopleasenopleasenodontsitnexttome. And every single time, he sets up his mat right next to mine. Every single time. Sometimes he even moves my water bottle to get closer to me. And he smells and coughs throughout the entire class.”
Who among us has not known a Smelly Coughy Guy? It’s a relatable and humorous anecdote, but it’s also transformative. Initially she sees him as an obstruction to the peace she so desperately desires. But peace, she learns isn’t supposed to be void of distraction and annoyance. Peace is something you strive for amidst life’s difficulties. Smelly Coughy Guy was the best teacher for that.
Every moment is ridden with potential. Reflection is what brings forth meaning. It’s the reason why the argument you had with your husband about the trash is not about the trash. Small moments allude to underlying issues and opportunities for self-growth.
Whether it’s a basketball game or an annoying yoga partner, give yourself permission to divulge in an experience that wants to be told. Jot it down as if it were a movie. Note the leaves crunching underfoot, that weird damp smell, the texture of your velvet skirt, and the pit in the stomach moment when you knew things were about to change. Forever. Let it flow and then go back. What was the significance of that moment? What did it teach you about who you are and will become? What is the truth that’s imprinted in that memory? How is this small slice of life representing your life story? Allow that memory to be your guru and it will generously confess its truth in return.