When I’m at home, I love to read a good book, usually one of the current bestsellers. When I drive, I love to listen to books on Audible, usually one of the classics. I was on my way to the grocery store a couple of weeks ago, listening to an Audible recording of “To the Lighthouse” by Virginia Wolff, and I had a surprising revelation.
A 20th Century British writer, Virginia Wolff was one of our most important modernist authors, a pioneer in the use of stream of consciousness to tell a story. But to be honest, although she wrote brilliantly, I found her book difficult to follow. It was dense and my attention kept wandering. I thought I ought to be riveted and I was annoyed with myself that I kept losing the plot and rewinding – when I suddenly understood that for my purposes, the story line didn’t matter. Neither did her turns of phrase. I didn’t need to rewind to hear it again. It was okay if I missed pieces of the narrative and I didn’t always know what was going on. What mattered was the way she enticed me to drop into the rhythm of her words and become a part of her inner experience. To feel what she felt. To learn what she was learning. To take a ride on the parts of her story that spoke to my soul.
As I continued to listen, I was stunned that after numerous bestsellers and teaching for decades, I had missed an entire level of my own writing. When I got home, I pulled up a story of one of my ghostwriting jobs and I read it through. Although I had edited it over
and over, large gaps were apparent where I could’ve dug deeper. It became painfully obvious to me and I felt inadequate. How had I missed the opportunity to draw my readers in, even though no one would ever read it because I had signed an NDA? Was I a good writer or was I kidding myself?
My self- judgments passed quickly and I got exited about making my piece better. My yearning to reach that new level of communication was pure, not at all self-serving, because I’d chosen a piece that I could never share with anyone. Redoing it was not about showing it
to anyone. It was about practicing my craft just like I did when I was in the ballet. Every morning we all stood at the barre and performed the same exercises to warm up and get ready to rehearse. And the headliners in the company were at the barre just like I was, trying to improve every day. We were all determined to keep getting better, no matter how accomplished we already were and we wanted to going deep to find our strength and personal interpretation of the steps we were doing.
In my writing classes, we write for forty-five minutes and before we read out loud, someone often says, “I’m writing about the same old thing. I hope it isn’t boring.” It isn’t. When we write for healing which is what my classes are all about, we keep on reviewing something
difficult that happened, removing layer after layer of trauma. Each attempt gives us back pieces of ourselves. The same thing happens in therapy. The safer we feel, the more we dig in and we only stop investigating something when we find some peace in our hearts and our souls feel lighter. It might take months or years to get to the core of things and reap the rewards of being so courageous.
I’m not suggesting you try to be perfect. We all know that’s impossible. I’m not talking about falsely sweetening your life story so you look better to other people. Removing layers of pain can be a challenging and personal experience, but when we tell the truth and find the courage to go dig in and be more authentic, we heal and so
do other people.
Some painters have a system of over-painting the final levels of their piece and they never really finish until they decide they’re done. Kathryn Stockett who wrote “The Help,” a bestselling novel that became a blockbuster movie, kept writing and rewriting until it was so much better, she finally got a book deal from the sixty-first
agent she tried. The point here is finding the will to keep making things better and going deeper, to not be satisfied until you know you’ve done the best that you can.
Whatever you practice in this life – meditation, golf, baking, decorating, teaching, running, and a thousand other things – if you’re diligent and keep searching for ways to go deeper and do
better, it will never get boring. The way to accomplish this may come to you in unexpected ways like the revelation I had. Or it may come with a deliberate effort to make the words on the page sing, to breathe life into a sculpture, to add a color to a painting that dazzles the viewer, or to write songs that get stuck in people’s heads.
The late Vietnamese Buddhist, Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Enlightenment, peace and joy will not be granted by someone
else. The well is within us, and if we dig deeper into the present moment, the water will spring forth.”