When I am in pain, I turn to books. When I am lost, I turn to books. When I am confused, need to feel less alone, long to be inspired, need help with relationships, or want to change the world or myself, I turn to books.
I turn to books. A lot.
Yes, I also seek support from my community – my family and dearest friends – and I do a lot of journalling, wandering, praying, and art-making, but almost always, when there is a gap in my life, I first look for books (or blog posts, articles, song lyrics – anything that’s well written) that will help me understand something deeper about myself and the world I live in.
Good writing cracks my heart wide open. It changes my perspective. It opens me to new possibilities. It challenges me to be a better person. Sometimes it frightens me. And sometimes it makes me weep. But it always leaves me wiser and more openhearted than before.
When I was lost and losing my faith and wanted to know that my confusion was human and that there was a different way of experiencing God than the way I’d grown up believing, Anne Lamott’s courageous, vulnerable, and breathtaking words let me know that it was okay to lie broken on the floor, and trust that God would be down there on the floor with me.
“Hope is not about proving anything. It’s about choosing to believe this one thing, that love is bigger than any grim, bleak shit anyone can throw at us.” – Anne Lamott
When I was in a difficult place, facing the fear of conflict and yet knowing that I, as a non-profit manager, needed to address the difficult things that my team was facing instead of hiding and pretending it wasn’t there, I hung Ranier Maria Rilke’s words on my wall.
“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.” – Rainer Maria Rilke
When I was preparing to travel to Ethiopia, where I knew I would see the kind of intense poverty and injustice that would tear my heart apart, I turned to Viktor Frankl.
“For the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth – that Love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.” – Viktor Frankl
When I longed to follow my dreams, and not simply follow the accepted path that would make the least waves, I clung to Mary Oliver’s words.
“You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” – Mary Oliver
When my inner wild woman kept whispering in my ear, Clarrisa Pinkola Estes helped me recognize her.
“If you have yet to be called an incorrigible, defiant woman, don’t worry, there is still time.” – Clarissa Pinkola Estés
When I longed to understand myself better so that I could understand others, David Whyte served as a guide.
“Making room for our own fears, we suddenly have room for the fears of others. Once we have renounced the need to live without suffering, to be special, to be exempt from the losses and doubts that have afflicted all people since the beginning of time, we can see the difficulties of others without being afraid ourselves. Our fearful, disappointed surface face starts to fall away. We can welcome other people into our lives because no matter their fears, they do not make us afraid. Suffering is the natural cyclical visitation that comes from being alive.” – David Whyte
When I couldn’t understand why my journey was often so difficult while others seemed to have much easier paths, Parker Palmer saved me.
“Most of us arrive at a sense of self and vocation only after a long journey through alien lands. But this journey bears no resemblance to the trouble-free “travel packages” sold by the tourism industry. It is more akin to the ancient tradition of pilgrimage – a transformative journey to a sacred centre’ full of hardships, darkness, and peril.” Parker Palmer
When I was lost in grief over the deaths of my mother, father, and son, C.S. Lewis shared his own story and left me feeling less alone.
“Grief … gives life a permanently provisional feeling. It doesn’t seem worth starting anything. I can’t settle down. I yawn, I fidget, I smoke too much. Up till this I always had too little time. Now there is nothing but time. Almost pure time, empty successiveness.” – C.S. Lewis
When I tried to follow my passion, but faced fear and resistance, Steven Pressfield held my hand and coaxed me forward.
“Remember our rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.” – Steven Pressfield
When I needed to learn how to trust again, Martyn Joseph’s songs were my companions.
“So turn me tender again Fold me into you Turn me tender again And mould me to new Faith lost its promise And bruised me deep blue Turn me tender again Through union with you”– Martyn Joseph
When my creative heart called me forward into a deeper and deeper journey, John O’Donohue was there beside me.
“The call to the creative life is a call to dignity, to a life of vulnerability and adventure and the call to a life that exquisite excitement and indeed ecstasy will often visit.” – John O’Donohue
When chaos terrified me and I didn’t know how I would lead my team forward, Margaret Wheatley calmed my nerves.
“Change always involves a dark night when everything falls apart. Yet if this period of dissolution is used to create new meaning, then chaos ends and new order emerges.” – Margaret Wheatley
When I looked around me and saw only flawed paradigms for leadership, Christina Baldwin was my guide to a new way of seeing.
“As much as we may think we know about the nature of being human, the circle knows more. The circle is a form that has been able to withstand the imperfections of human interaction and survive tremendous social shifts. I believe this on both experience and faith: experience, because I have been in circles at moments of searing vulnerability and high confrontation and the circles have held me; faith, because the circle once held human society together for over thirty thousand years.” – Christina Baldwin
When I recognized that part of my calling was to help people build community, Peter Block showed me how.
“Leadership is about rearranging the chairs, getting the questions right, putting citizens in front of each other and then knowing what’s worth focusing on. The leadership I’m longing for is the leadership that says my number one job is to bring people together out of exile, out of isolation, and into connection.” – Peter Block
These writers and so many more have kept me company in my darkest days and inspired me in my brightest days. I owe them a deep, deep gratitude for the many ways in which they have touched my life.
All of my life, I have strived to be the kind of openhearted writer that these writers have been. It has been my daily practice to put my words onto the page in vulnerable, truth-seeking ways. Sometimes I share those words, and sometimes I keep them close to my heart… but always I write. Always.
One of the greatest blessings of my life has been the many, many times that someone has left a comment on my blog, sent me an email, or phoned to tell me “your words touched/changed/challenged/enlightened/inspired me.” When I share with an open heart – whether that heart is broken in the grief of the death of my mother, cowering in fear over challenges that feel too big for me, stumbling through the daily struggle of life, or in awe of the grace that appears out of nowhere – people respond.
Open hearts touch other open hearts.
Out of my own practice of openhearted writing has emerged a new offering. I want to invite you into a small, intimate online circle where we will spend a day practicing and learning about openhearted writing.
Won’t you join me on February 14th in opening our hearts to what wants to be written? Your words may not leave the pages of your own journal, but even if you are the only person who is changed, the practice is worth every moment you spend on it.