I read a beautiful book yesterday evening by Kerry Egan. It is called On Life. Kerry is a Chaplain who has spent a great deal of time with people in the end stages of their life.
The book is about her life experience with the dying but also her own life and the particularly traumatic events which occurred after Ketamine was given to her during the birth of her first child.
The drug plunged her into a dark world of post partem depression, physchosis and catatonia. To read her experience was shocking. To read the stories of those she visited when she eventually became a chaplain and how all those experiences – her own and theirs – have shaped who she has become is life affirming and truly beautiful.
My life too has been changed by certain experiences. Yours would have been as well. All lives are. A key theme in Kerry’s book is that whilst we can’t always choose what happens to us – we can choose how we allow it to shape us.
This sort of thing used to sound like a bit of a platitude. You can decide how you feel. “You decide how you feel or what action to take in response”.
I never got this despite reading a plethora of books on the subject. I understood it I just didn’t “get” it. As an emotional person I didn’t see how I could ever choose a different feeling to the one I was having whether that be anger, sadness or fear. I could choose a wiser reaction but I couldn’t rid myself of the feeling.
Then I learned a bit more and with time and distance I have gained insight and awareness into certain things that shaped me in the past. In some instances I have been able to reshape the experiences themselves and to reframe them in a more helpful way. Writing is an extraordinarily helpful tool for doing this.
Because of those insights into my past I have also been able to handle the present in a wiser fashion and therefore my feelings. Sometimes.
And it is simple enough. All tests are once you know the answers.
And I’m not a perfect Zen master now – certainly not. I can just see how it can be done and have been able to do it a number of times and with practice and awareness I have built on that and will continue to do so.
Direct personal experience is the only way that things make sense. Because we are personal creatures. Sometimes we can grasp a concept through someone else’s experience but rarely will we be able to put it effectively into practice in our own lives until we “get” the direct experience of the concept at work.
Perhaps it is easier for other people. Perhaps it is easier for you – but with Kerry’s book she did a wise thing. She did something I hope I’m doing here.
Kerry did not try and tell the reader what they should take away from her own experience or from those whose stories she shared.
Kerry simply told the reader what she has learnt – what insights she has gained and it was the same with those she counselled. She did not say she agreed with the leaps of faith and understanding about themselves and the world around them that others received through their experiences.
She simply told their stories and her own.
Writing – particularly in the personal autobiographical style that I use here on the blog is a process fraught with risk.
Writing – like painting – has a negative and positive space.
In painting the artist uses a canvas (or other blank space) and paints directly on to the surface – building an image as they go.
The positive space is the image they form – the negative space is literally the space around the image. Both are important. However I don’t paint so much anymore so I won’t get into that.
With writing the artist paints directly into another persons mind. A mind that is already full of the filters of their own experiences and knowledge about the world.
My words therefore will fall from my experience onto yours and thereby be transformed beyond my control.
Like Kerry, (and as I have mentioned in earlier posts and on my About page) I can only write from my experience and show what insights I have gained and am still arriving at.
These are my insights.
I cannot control what you may think. I cannot control your opinion or judgement of my story. I cannot control the fact that you may have a different insight or a similar one from my stories or that you think that I have in fact arrived at the wrong one.
My story may provoke great happiness or sadness or some other emotion as it gels with something in your own experience and I cannot prevent that either.
Perhaps intolerance and anger may arise. Again – out of my control. That is an experience which you are having, where the two meet is where my story becomes part of yours.
Which -no matter what happens – is one of the great blessings of being a writer. Our stories become part of other people’s lives.
We are all in this together – this thing called life – ultimately we are all in this thing called death as well. We are all living it from a personal point of view. I think that is what I loved so much about this book – it showed both the diversity of human experience but also the commonality.
We all want to be loved. We all have challenging lives in which we learn things. We all die. Our journey here, in its best form is to learn and to love – I don’t think it is for any other purpose.
But that is my personal point of view and you may have a different one – feel free to share it below.
Kerry’s beautiful book