Frederick Buechner has a book of devotional writing entitled Listening to Your Life. That phrase has been on heavy rotation in my mind recently. I’ve joined hope*writers this month in an attempt to hone my writing skills and focus my efforts a bit (see more here). Emily P. Freeman, one of the founders, frequently quotes author and teacher Jan Johnson saying, “It’s not the experience that brings transformation, it’s our reflection upon our experience.” This theme of reflection in order to know or expression in order to transform is something I’ve been trying to practice more consistently and, for me, the practice is summed up in Buechner’s title. How do you listen to your life?
I want to experience my own life. I want to actually see what is happening around me. I want to learn from my own life. Writing is about listening to your life. Writing is a form of self-care, a way to process and digest your experience. But does that mean that everyone needs to be a writer in order to experience transformation from the events of their life? Of course not. Expression takes many forms; the key is listening. Expression only counts if you know that you are expressing something. Expression is obvious with writing, painting, and the rest of the arts. However, a carpenter can be no less an artist, but only if he pays attention. If he builds with purpose and heart, processing life as he goes, coaxing the wood from a lovely block into a table for friendship or a cabinet for blanket storage.
But listening to your life is even broader than the act of creating something. Listening to your life means being present. Paying attention. The verb pay infers that you give something, and indeed your attention is a gift. Give it to your own life. Pay attention to your life so that you can give your life back to the world in a gift of yourself—your words, your art, your craft, your transformed life. Dorothy Sayers writes that you haven’t really experienced anything unless “you can express it—however haltingly—to your own mind.” Expression doesn’t have to be verbal or even logical. It can be a mental image, a feeling, an event, or symbol. But express your experience. Listen to your life, and you just might be transformed.