Fearless Memoir

How to overcome fear, unworthiness, and self-doubt and finally write a memoir. By Brad Wetzler, award-winning author, editor, and book writing coach.

How a Daily Writing Practice Can Lead Us Back to Our True Self

Writing is more like yoga than you might think.

Both disciplines require learning specific rules and vocabularies. Yoga has its 8 Limbs, one of which is asana, or the physical poses that most Westerners consider to be yoga. Each asana asks the yogi to hold the body in a specific and precise way. By focusing on the mechanics of the pose and sitting in the uncomfortableness, we see ourselves in a mirror. We learn things about ourselves.

Writing–crafting sentences out of symbols composed of curved and straight lines–is similar. When we write, we see ourselves in a mirror and learn things about ourselves. Things that we couldn’t see before we did the writing.

Both disciplines can lead to waking up from the trance that afflicts us all when we get consumed by the demands of work, home, and society. When we do yoga or write, we experience ourselves in deeper and more subtle way. This isn’t spiritual mumbo jumbo. We actually become more human.

Both...

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Short Memoir: How to Stop Being a Spiritual Seeker and Become a Spiritual Finder

Transformation is hard. It takes work to break old habits and create new ones. We must stay diligent at "doing the work." Yoga, meditation, self-inquiry, and therapy are methods that, when practiced regularly, can lead us back to our true selves. But I've learned that there are pitfalls to focusing too much on "the work." Sometimes I catch myself being too diligent at doing the work. I forget about the other path to transformation: self-acceptance. When we focus too much on "the work," we can easily become self-aggressive and escapist. As important as the work is, we must accept, maybe love, the person we already are.  We are all we have, right. And wanting to be different is a trap that keeps us separate from our true selves. 

For example, I am a lifelong seeker. I seek knowledge, wisdom, connection, even God. I read books about spirituality and self-growth. I travel to experience new places and new people. But I suspect seeking is...

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Yoga and My Quest for True Self

A consistent yoga practice can be powerful. It’s like standing in front of a mirror and staring at your reflection. This can be frightening for anybody, but for a middle-aged man it is especially so.

First, you see things that surprise or shock you. Is my belly really that lumpy? Is my hair that gray? With time, these judgments soften some. But then it can be easy to swing too far in the opposite direction. “On second thought, I don’t look too bad for 52. My stomach may not be a six-pack, but look at those arms! They’re coming along! All those chaturangas I’ve been doing have yielded some nice deltoids. I don’t look half-bad. I can add some sit-ups, but otherwise, Brad, you’re looking good!”

But if you stand at the mirror longer still, your feel-good thoughts fade, too. If you’re lucky, you land, finally, in self-acceptance. You accept the good with the bad and the handsome with the ugly. But more likely, you will overshoot...

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Short Memoir: How Yoga Brings Us Closer to Ourselves and a Higher Power

For years, I've sought a connection with the divine. The problem has been that, as much as I desire to believe in something greater than myself, I have a rational side to my mind that requires empirical proof. I was a journalist for years, after all. I excelled at fact-finding and writing from a logical, fact-based perspective. So, as soon as I decide I can believe in a Higher Power, I deconstruct my faith, and I find myself afflicted by doubt again. It's never-ending, torturous even. 

Building on altar was a watershed moment in my spiritual life. It was sweet if chaotic arrangement of statuettes, prayer flags, framed photographs picturing Indian gurus, incense holders, candles, and the precious collar that belonged to my deceased dog Blue.  As I stepped away from it and viewed it from a distance, I saw it as a signal to myself that I had entered a new phase in my spiritual life. By representing my inner life with statues on my...

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How to Cultivate a Bigger View in Writing and Life

Seeing our planet–the entire misty blue sphere–from outer space changes one’s perspective. Astronauts who’ve experienced this say it’s like a mystical experience. It changed them.

This big shift in consciousness is called The Overview Effect. The term was coined by astronaut Frank White. He wrote that he was profoundly changed from seeing the earth as a fragile ball of life hanging in the void and nourished by a thin atmosphere. From space, the conflicts that divide people seemed unimportant. International borders are a fiction. White was overcome by feelings that we humans should unite and cooperate. We are all interconnected.

I heard similar stories from the cosmonauts I met years ago in Star City, Russia, while reporting a magazine feature story about Space Station Mir. The men and women who lived on that spacecraft were orbiting earth, so they didn’t see the full “pale blue dot.” But they, too, were changed. They spoke with...

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Yoga of Writing

Years ago, I committed to a daily yoga practice after two decades of casual three-days-per-week practice.  Within months, I saw tangible results. I became more fit, more flexible, a little happier, a little less reactive, and even more connected to my spiritual self, which I’d abandoned years earlier. All good stuff. I kept at it. The boons continued. And there was another, less anticipated result: daily yoga lit a fire within me to learn more about this ancient practice that promoted health, healing, and deeper spiritual connection.

What happened next?

I was a journalist and the author of a book about nature. I did what a journalist/author would do. I read everything I could get my hands on about yoga. It soon struck me that there was no end to what I could learn about yoga. I kept at it. My bookshelf became a yoga library.  But I realized that reading about yoga was woefully inadequate. I needed to learn about yoga in-person from a teacher or teachers. Next, I...

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Short Memoir: Reflections on a Mystical Experience in India

At the age of twelve I had a brush with mortality that changed me. On the first day of a weekend father-son canoe trip in the Ozarks, the canoe carrying my dad and I capsized, and we were both sent overboard into the cold, fast-moving water. In the chaotic next seconds, my lifejacket snagged on a submerged tree, and I was trapped there. Though my mouth remained above water, the rest of me felt the fury of thousands of gallons of water running through a narrow channel. The upriver current flung my torso violently into the log at the same time that the downriver current seemed to claw at my spindly limbs, enticing me to be free. I was terrified, and, for ten minutes, I believed I would die. Eventually, I was rescued, but the event terrified me. It shook my sense of safety in nature, and it instilled in me, at a very young age, a deep knowing of how temporary this life is. In the next years, I became a very spiritual kid, and I latched onto Christianity, the dominant faith of my Kansas...

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Short Memoir: How Yoga Shows Us What Faith Means

I wake to a cold winter morning. I crawl out of bed and peer through the frosted window into dark. The weatherman was correct: a thick coat of white covers the ground. It's deep. No walk this morning, I think. I make coffee and sit upright on a sheepskin rug at the center of my living room. I sip. I strike a match and light a thick white candle resting on a dresser in front of me. The room glows yellow. I hold a stick of sandalwood incense to the candle's flame until it glows yellow too. Then I blow out the flame and place the smoldering incense into the small blue vase that once held my mother's ashes. I watch the column of smoke rise, curl, and then dissipate, filling the room with a smoky fragrance.


"Hey, Google, play ‘Puja’ by Krishna Das," I say to a small speaker resting on my dresser.

"Braaaaaah-ma. Viiiiiiish-nu. Shiiiiii-va," the speaker groans the Hindu names for God. I sit up straight and hum with the spare melody. The room's soft glow, distinct...

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How to Turn Your Writing into a Spiritual Practice

I once wrote a feature story for The New York Times Magazine about “the real Indiana Jones.” His name was Gene Savoy, and I met him at a seaside bar on Oahu’s North Shore. I was riveted by his tales about his swashbuckling days searching Peru’s jungles for forgotten ruins of ancient civilizations. All of his stories were memorable, but one in particular lodged in my mind, and only recently did I grok what he meant. The story was about the time he and his support team became hopelessly lost in remote jungle, and he became convinced they would all die.

 

The Solution: Paying Attention to the Present Moment

“The jungle was impenetrable. During the day, we’d hack our way a few hundred yards, and at night, the jungle would grow back in. One morning, as I was drinking coffee and looking over my maps, I heard a loud ringing sound, like a bell. Curious, I got up and went to where I heard the ringing. I found a team member hacking at...

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Short Memoir: How Pilgrimage Shows Us the Way Back to True Self, Part 2

Something changed in me that day on Mount Arunachala. I glimpsed something I’d never seen before. At least, not since I was a boy.

It was only a glimpse, so I can’t say for certain what I saw. But during and after my circumambulation, I peered deeper inside myself than I had done before. Deeper than during the most focused yoga or meditation session. Deeper than during any adventure to a far-flung natural place. Deeper than during the most reverent, prayerful visit to a sacred site or Indian temple. Arunachala shattered me. Opened me. And through the broken shell of myself I glimpsed something bright, essential, true. Was it my soul?

But as transformative and beautiful as that experience was, I was in no condition to return to “normal” life. During the next few days, my final days in India, I cried often. On the flight home to the States, I teared up every time my mind wandered back to Arunachala. Back at my apartment in Boulder, I turned the key in the lock...

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