Thursday, March 22, 2012

Inspire Your Readers: Emotions

The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
-- Robert Frost

I thank my high school English teacher, Mr. Hancock, for introducing me to that poem and others by Robert Frost. I loved that poem then, because I thought I really “got” what Frost was saying about himself and making decisions. Even back then, people labeled me a decisive person, probably because I frequently went with my gut feelings. But what those people didn't see was that on the inside I was jelly - constantly questioning whether I made the right choice. Did I choose the right classes? The right extracurriculars? The right friends? The right clothing? Big decisions, little decisions, any one of them could change the course of my history. Robert Frost and I were simpatico. We had an understanding. I could relate to him standing there in the woods wondering which path to take.

But now, after a half a life of learning and reflection, I read that poem and I know Frost understood me. And you. And the neighbor down the street. And that little kid sitting on the corner begging you to buy a pack of gum in some third-world country. I know this because really great writers like Frost look inward to see outward. They have an ability to express their soul's journey and relate it to the journey of all souls.

The challenge and gift of talented writing is to let the reader know they're not alone in their emotional experience of a challenge or conflict, whether it's making a decision that might lead to regret or working through a conflict. Inspirational writing, blatant or subtle, has the additional task of helping us clear our emotional wounds. It's my belief that this holds true for both fiction and non-fiction writing.

Whether the author is conscious of it or not, great writing (a character driven novel, for example) is doing just that - clearing emotional wounds. For some writers, this journey from conflict to resolution is intuitive. For others, it's not so easy. Why? Because most of us have never been taught how to clear negative emotions from our bodies, and it's no easy task to write about something we don't know how to do ourselves in our daily lives.

Why is it important to clear negative emotions? I'm going to take advantage of my winding paths of education to impart some hard-earned knowledge that solidified during my three-year training as a Certified Energy Medicine Practitioner. When a conflict is left unresolved, we harbor negative emotions and create imbalances in our energetic layers. In our physical bodies, imbalances can lead to illness and disease. In our mental bodies, imbalances can create frustration, anxiety, depression, and associated disturbances. Emotionally, imbalances can result in acting out destructively, directly by becoming enraged, or indirectly through passive-aggressive behaviors. All of these imbalances can challenge and even be destructive in our relationships, both with ourselves and with others. And frankly, negative emotions can be plain exhausting if they're not cleared.

Your mind might be trying to block this information right now. There are certainly times when mine does. My internal voice (aka, my inner child) is fond of whining. And when I write and I'm trying to dig deep into my characters, they whine even more loudly, "You want me to face my emotions? It's too hard! Why do the process work when I've already learned to ignore and bury all that pain?" Hearing that voice is when I remember this nugget of wisdom that came to me in story form during meditation....

Simply dressed in a white robe and sandals, balancing sacks of clothing strung on either end of a thick bamboo pole, I was a washerwoman standing at the bottom of a vast stairway in Tibet yearning for the wisdom of the cleric above. I started to climb. 

At first, I could easily balance the weight across across my shoulders. I was used to long days of shouldering other people's dirty laundry. As I climbed further though, my neck and shoulders grew hot and sore. Further still, I found my steps slowing and now even my legs and feet ached. Half-way up, I rested. I sat on a wide plateau, wiping the sweat from my brow and considering whether to continue my climb. 

The cleric in his saffron and brick-red robes smiled at me. Encouraged, I once again shouldered my burden and forced myself to continue. Now the pole dug into my neck and my back hunched over. I pushed myself to continue even though I hurt and my burden was almost more than I could bear. I was a washerwoman. These dirty clothes were my responsibility. I would not leave them behind. 

But almost at the top, I found I was too weary to take another step. I un-shouldered the pole and let the clothing drop, but even without the extra weight, I was so worn out that I struggled to continue the few remaining steps. 

At last, I faced the cleric, who was at once old and young, male and female. He laughed at me. Why would he laugh at my efforts? I was confused. I became indignant. My anger turned inward. I admonished myself for wasting my time and effort on the climb and for abandoning the baggage that other people had entrusted me with. Then I felt angry toward the cleric.

"You present me with a difficult task and then laugh at the foolishness of my undertaking? I came for your wisdom."

The cleric's eyes twinkled. "I will tell you what you already know. You could have left your burdens at the bottom of the stairs." 

Only then, looking back at the pile of laundry I had abandoned below, did I feel the burden truly lift from my shoulders. Only then, could I look back and laugh.