[This post first appeared as part of an on-going series on mindful writing, on Telling HerStories, The Broad View, Story Circle Network’s blog.]
Memoirs are a strange, unpredictable beast. They cover the gamut from straightforward linear autobiographical writings, to carefully crafted works of creative non-fiction, where impressions are gently set in shimmering juxtaposition, like grace notes, suspended between intermediary paragraphs of glistening prose. Memoirs such as these necessarily border fictional re-creations of past events hardly remembered, except perhaps, in the lingering echoes of the lithographic pressings which weightless remembrances lay down, like feathers, upon the susceptible sub-conscious mind. The best memoirs, or at least those I favour, combine a sense of truthfulness not always co-extensive with actual factual events. Sometimes there is more truth to be found in the lies, or imagined re-constructions, than in the quotidian details of the happenings themselves.
Is it not precisely this which we do when we dive in deep to the subterranean depths of our murky memories? I mean, of course, that we lie, if lying it is to try and understand, to impose meaning upon the unfettered chaos of the past. The best, the most potentially fruitful of these reminiscences are the ones we cannot quite grasp or understand immediately. Before we can even begin to penetrate their meaning, we must first wipe away a little muck here, a dirty mark there. We brush and burnish, shine and polish, until the insignificant stone reveals its precious bejewelled kernel, irradiated with suggestions of symbolic significance.
Mining memories takes time, lots and lots of what Brenda Ueland called ‘moodling’, resting in the moment, sitting in silence and solitude, waiting and not-waiting, still, yet simultaneously alert to the inner rumblings of possible internal volcanoes. Mindfully mining memories demands oodles of time from its devoted practitioner, what the ancients called ‘kairos’ time, the non-ticking clock of eternal time, that ever present moment which our most assiduous words transport us towards, allowing us to hover above the chasm, an invisible border between perceived chaos and imposed order. Now and then, mindful writing simply drops us into the furnace, that place of mystical burnishing from whence we re-surface altered, a little transformed, not enough that anyone might notice, but carrying traces of another way of being, of see-ing, shifting our vision just a little off-centre. Yes, we might forget what we experienced, but never really fully. We always emerge from our pilgrimage through the meandering, labyrinthine corridors of our minds a little different from before. Bit by bit, like snails and mosses and the soft, contemplative contours of Japanese bonsai , in ever expanding circles of slow time, we begin to intuit the way back home. We follow the path we knew, and not-knew, was always there. And in our knowing, and even more in our not-knowing, we begin to understand what it means to write mindfully.