Sunday, February 01, 2009

What is wrong with 25 things?

I am the sort of person who always fills in questionnaires so when I was tagged over on Facebook by a friend who had written 25 random things about her life, with an invitation to do the same and tag other people, I joined in straight away.

The exercise helped me focus a bit more on the family history which I have resolved to start writing this year and I got some friendly feedback. I have also enjoyed reading other people's lists and their different approach to the same request. However some of the responses were dismissive and very much opposed to the whole idea of 25 (or 30) things. People had been overwhelmed by requests, and of course Facebook can be like that, but there was also a feeling that the whole enterprise was selfish, self-absorbed and irredeemably trivial.

I have to admit that I was puzzled and a bit hurt by this but then I remembered that when I was giving workshops on spiritual autobiography some years ago in which I not only talked about the history of the form but tried to encourage people to write their own, I encountered the same kind of reaction. Any kind of examination of one's own life and certainly any attempt to share it with others was characterised as selfish and therefore wrong.

My definition of spiritual autobiography was encapsulated in the title of the workshop 'Turning Inside Out'. It is the story of a person's spiritual journey written by themselves. But it is more than that because it is written from the first not for the individual alone but for the benefit of others, both now and in the future. The extent to which it is published or shared is the author's choice but the intention to share is always there. In order to write a spiritual autobiography we first turn inwards and examine our spiritual journey and how we have got to where we are. Then we turn the inside outwards and share our experience with others in order to help them if we can.

For me writing lists of 25 random things about my life on Facebook is another way of sharing my spiritual journey and opening a window on my life. It is also, importantly, a way of listening to others who are sharing their lives with me. It is part of the process of writing my spiritual autobiography because as an exercise it helps me to focus on different aspects of what I want to share. So long as I use the lists in this way I don't believe I am being totally self-absorbed or selfish.

I am often encouraged on my way by voices from the past. One of these is Alice Hayes who published her spiritual autobiography 'A legacy or widow's mite' in 1723 partly because she wished that when she was going through the spiritual struggle that led to her becoming a Quaker she could have read about others who had had similar experiences. She says "Truly I have thought that if I had met with the like Account of any that had gone through such exercise it would have been some Help to me."

Even on Facebook!


Heather said...

As long as you want to write it, I'll read it - don't let others put you off!

Hystery said...

Oooh! I love the idea of using a Facebook meme (and I too have received the 25 things meme on many occasions) as an opportunity for spiritual autobiography. I've had to write my spiritual autobiography over and over through the years as part of my degree programs in spirituality and religion studies. Such an exercise is challenging to be sure but also very rewarding and I have found that I have developed a hunger to hear and collect others' accounts of their spiritual lives. When I hear them, my love for them always seems to spike. Beyond an new intimacy shared between two souls, each story is also an opportunity for me to view the Divine in a new and marvelous Incarnation. Each story is a little taste of revelation.

lizyeats said...

I really appreciate what you said, Gil. I really enjoyed thinking about my 25 things and got a lot out of it.
A young friend emailed to say how much she appreciated my sharing. I know she is going through hard times and I hope my 25 silly things lifted her for a time.
Another friend commented on my mention of my family's love of the Dodgers, a Brooklyn baseball team and suggested a wonderful memior by Doris Kearns Goodwin, a favorite historical journalist/author of mine. It's called "Wait Until Next Year" and surround's Goodwin's family life in Long Island, NY in the '50s and their passion for the Dodgers. I got the book and enjoyed it immensely.
I wonder when I will have time to do more spiritual autobiography. The facebook shortcut will have to do for now.