How Personal Writing Can Save Your Life

by Christina Baldwin

Sounds True (a 6-CD set with 13 Lifeline cards), 2005. ISBN 1591792290.
Reviewed by Mary Ann Moore
Posted on 03/13/2006

Nonfiction: Creative Life; Nonfiction: Life Lessons

For many thousands of years, people have been leaving their marks to tell a story. In the caves of Lascaux, pictographs became the first journal entries. "Story is really all we have of ourselves," says Christina Baldwin, the visionary who started (or perhaps we should say restarted) the personal writing movement. Baldwin's own writing story is one that began when she picked out words she knew from the newspaper, something I remember doing myself. Later, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, she buried a metal box of precious objects "to save [her] story," including her own journal and The Diary of Anne Frank.

Recording Lifelines was an opportunity for Baldwin to define and develop her philosophy of writing and life story, which became a gift of inspiration and affirmation for listeners. If you are about to begin a writing practice, you will receive guidance from a wise teacher. If you are already writing, and even if you have been doing so for a long time, you will be reminded of how important a lifeline writing is. The wonder of a recording is it's as if the speaker is talking directly to you. Another benefit to listening to a CD is being able to hear a writing mentor's voice even while driving in the car. I remember particular stories from Lifelines with a memory of the place where I heard them.

When Baldwin published One to One: Self-Understanding through Journal Writing in 1977, the Library of Congress had to create a new category for her pioneering work. It was followed by Life's Companion: Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest, which the author wrote because she wanted to find her "tribe." You will find a review of the latter book on this site. Calling the Circle: The First and Future Culture describes the way of council where story is part of the decision-making. "The circle calls us to remember ourselves as carriers of the story," Baldwin says. This is the methodology she and partner Ann Linnea have shared around the world through their business, PeerSpirit, Inc. Baldwin's fourth book published in 2002, The Seven Whispers: A Spiritual Practice for Times Like These, invites people into exploring their relationship to the Divine. Her most recent book is Storycatcher: Making Sense of Our Lives through the Power and Practice of Story. See my review elsewhere on this site.

As I describe Baldwin's books, all of which I've read, I recall my story of writing on my own and writing in the circle. We write to organize life, guide ourselves through life's transitions, reveal parts of our unexpressed selves, and to pass stories from generation to generation like a lifeline. But "only you can discover exactly why it is that you write," according to Baldwin. "I write to leave evidence that I was here, and to make my life journey as fully conscious as I can."

Along with the stories and personal experiences the author shares is practical advice and writing exercises. The most inspiring of these are included on thirteen Lifeline cards. One of her suggestions for getting onto the page is a foundational exercise called "flow writing." Close your eyes. When you open them, let the first thing you see be your opening word. Write for five minutes. Baldwin admits her own resistance to writing and advises, "Writing is a relationship that includes our resistance to it." I was so grateful to hear that. Listing her own ten essentials for her writing relationship, the author prompts listeners to create their own. "Look at how you create the time, the space, the environment, the permission that you need. This is likely to be an evolving list as you learn more about what truly supports your writing."

As you respond to life events, you begin the "Spiral of Experience" with a "survivor's tale." Questioning and acknowledging consequences leads to "the story of integration," taking you deeper into understanding how a particular event fits into the larger story of your life. Finally, through compassion and acceptance, you enter new territory—the "story of insight and meaning."

Writing is good for your health. It boosts the immune system. It brings you into focus. And writing can help you learn to love your body, waking up the chakras of the body that is your home. As an embodied writer, you can ask yourself, "What are the five senses I can put on the page?" You can write yourself out of overwhelm and write for social healing as well as for personal healing. Baldwin suggests bringing the world onto the page. Make a collage and write commentary on what is going on in the outside world. It's okay to be opinionated on the page. As you practice on the page, you articulate your life. "Personal writing is a private process that serves as the source of significant change in our journey. We proceed from the story into action."

"Practice certainty of purpose", Baldwin advises. "Articulate your understanding of the covenant you have made with life. Write it down, read it out loud to yourself, edit and refine it, work with it. Place this message where it will guide you again and again."

Check out our interview with the author of Lifelines.

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