Honestly, it's an honor to hold someone's story while they work through the spiritual journey of writing a book. I know what it's like. And sometimes the depth of the meaning doesn't reveal itself completely until the end.
That's how it happened for me.
My book began years ago, on a tearful evening with my husband. But I had no idea what it meant at the time. You see, in June 2005 my husband’s mother passed away after a long struggle with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). This happened before I met him.
Then, during the summer of 2015, we were relaxing at my parents’ house and my husband was in a really good mood, so he let me choose a movie. Usually he hates it when I choose the movie because I always choose chick flicks. I chose You’re Not You because it featured Hilary Swank. I had no idea that it was the story of a woman with ALS.
Within the first few minutes of the film, the main character was losing the use of her hands and Mau knew exactly what was happening. Throughout the experience I kept asking if he wanted to turn it off, repeating, “We don’t have to keep watching this, if you don’t want to.” But he said, “no,” and we kept watching.
Our son was a week away from his first birthday at the time, and has always had an eerily mature knack for human empathy. I kid you not, he wasn’t walking or talking yet, but he used the arms of his mini-rocking-chair to steady himself, as he pushed it over to where my husband was sitting and just rocked by his side.
After the movie was over, I found Mau at the kitchen table, crying. He said, “You have no idea how much strength it took not to sob in front of your parents.”
I said, “I’m sorry, I had no idea that’s what the movie would be about.”
“It’s OK. It was a good thing,” he said, and repeated, “It was a good thing.”
And I thought, “Why was that a good thing?”
In the years that followed I continued asking myself that question, “Why was that a good thing?”
My initial response was a single word: catharsis. But I kept wondering, why is catharsis a good thing?
Why, after going through a painful experience, does it actually become a relief to witness a painful experience?
In psychology, catharsis is thought to be cleansing. By allowing yourself to fully feel your emotions they can be released. Often when you experience something traumatic, your mind has its own numbing mechanisms so you don’t immediately feel the full brunt of the pain. Therefore, watching a similar event outside of yourself might be the first time you experience it (from a safer place).
In a story, it’s when the emotions arising from someone else’s experience can possess you and bring you to tears. We all know what that feels like, that heightened form of empathy, where you’re witnessing something and feeling it at the same time.
That's how I think of God. God resides within all of us, feeling everything we feel, and is simultaneously the witness, the ever-present calm that resides beyond our turmoil. When we are deeply drawn into a story, or any other art form for that matter, we are fully feeling whatever is being expressed and yet we can step outside of it and see it as beautiful at the same time.
As artists we become creators, not only because we make stuff, but also because we then acquire the witnessing capacity over the stuff we made. Think about it, in doing so, you get closer to the perspective of Spirit. Bliss.
That's the process that has brought me closer to my husband, but it's also inspired all the work I do with my clients today. One of the best things about using writing as spiritual path, even the painful things that happen in your life, become significant as stories. That's how you release them.
As an action for this week, what story are you ready to witness? What story are you ready to share? What story are you ready to release?
You have all my love as you move through this. Lord knows, I'm doing it too.