I just returned from a workshop at Yogaville, an ashram in Virginia called The Spiritual Art of Memoir, led by Joan Borysenko.
We discussed the invisible thread of grace that runs through memoirs. For example, spiritual awakening was the invisible thread running through Mark Matousek's memoir Sex, Death, and Enlightenment, while search for love and transformation of self was the invisible thread running through Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love. (Someone also mentioned resilience and the kindness of strangers for that book.)
Joan urged us all to take the VIA Character Strengths Test, (which is free to take) and my top five qualities were:
- Fairness (which I take to mean seeing the inherent worth of every person no matter their race, religion, ability, economic status, etc.)
- Social Intelligence (Empathy)
- Love of Learning
She then urged us to think about how those characteristics were either inherent in is or perhaps they developed due to life circumstances.
- rapids: places where we move forward
- rich deltas: the soil is rich, slow waters, things are growing and healing
- whirlpools: trauma, getting stuck
- crystal pools: rest a while, sweet time, rest and renewal
- narrow places: where life feels squeezed
- marooned - thrown out of the river completely
She also asked us to split our lives up into 7 year increments and think of/write down:
- the most important stories of the time
- what strengths did we use or develop, what insights or wisdom
- main characters: angels, mentors, sacred enemies
- choice points: path changes: when we made a decision which changed the path
They handed out paper, crayons and colored pencils for us to work on our rivers. I was not able to get into it too much in class, where we only had small chunks of time to write, but talking to and seeing what others had done inspired me, and I've been working on mine since getting home.
Then we briefly discussed ways to organize our memoirs: around whirlpools, characters, etc, and broke up into groups again to share any "aha" moments, which again was inspiring and helpful.
In addition to this wonderful workshop, I participated in ashram activities over the weekend: meditation, yoga, simple vegetarian meals, Satsang, ashram tour, everything was amazing. I can't wait to go back.
I need to thank Pittsburgh Greater Arts Council for the grant which gave me the opportunity to experience this amazing place and take this enriching workshop, which will definitely help me move out of the whirlpool I was stuck in with my memoir back into the rapids.
I will try to write another post about the Satchidananda Ashram. But for now, I will leave you with a picture of the LOTUS Shrine (Light of Truth Universal Shrine), where I meditated on Saturday: