On this site I'll be sharing a journalling technique that will allow you to give words to the inner voice of wisdom that is sometimes called "That still small voice within." Whose voice is it really: a wise part of your own mind, pure imagination? Or is it a beloved family member or friend speaking to you from beyond the grave, a spirit guide, a guardian angel, maybe even the voice of God or Goddess? I can't answer that question. I only know that if you learn to listen to it carefully, you'll have a mentor, a counselor and a friend who will never forsake you.
If you are worried about whose voice it is that is really speaking, this site may not be for you. It is important to approach the advice you receive from your mentor the same way you would approach any advice you get from anyone. Run it past what one of my friends calls your "BS detector". Consider it carefully and use your common sense. There is more than one voice inside you, and it's important to listen to the right ones. We all have inner critics and nags that drag us down, as well as those soothing voices that tell us it's OK to do things that we know are really harmful. We also have enough sense to know bad advice when we hear it. If you listen with good intent and honesty, I believe you will listen to the right voice. In the end, you are responsible for your own actions and your own conscience.
If you choose an imaginary person like a character from a novel as your mentor, then clearly the conversation will be imaginary. And yet it's very real and powerful. You'll be amazed at the depths of wisdom you'll find. The important thing is to step outside yourself. It's easier for us to give advice to friends than to ourselves.
This is probably a good place to insert an important caveat. If your problems seem overwhelming, if you are considering suicide or having trouble functioning, please, please get professional help. But try the exercises and writing suggestions too.
I am certainly not the first to discover this kind of writing. The suggestion that led me to it came from a therapist I saw briefly for anxiety and depression. I'm sure her suggestion must have been a standard therapy technique. But it was new to me, and changed my life dramatically. After I followed her suggestion I was able to leave her and find healing at my typewriter. This was after our second meeting. I will always be grateful to her.
I field-tested some of these exercises in workshops I gave at Foothills Unitarian Church in Colorado. The response was amazing. People received imaginary letters from deceased parents and grandparents, from gods and goddesses, from famous Unitarian Universalists both real and fictional.
Before we begin: a word about journals:
Occasionally at a workshop someone will ask, "Is it important to use a certain kind of journal? I read that you must always write by hand. Is it OK to type your journal?" My answer is that whatever is most comfortable for you is what you should do. I do most of my writing while reclining on two pillows in bed, with a laptop computer and my cats vying for lap space (that's what I'm doing right now.) But I have also written on a desktop computer, by hand on scraps of paper that I later transcribe, or sometimes in nicely bound journals.
I know people who only feel they are doing proper journalling if they are sitting in a cafe with a bound journal and a fountain pen. That sounds lovely and romantic, but I prefer to be at home when I write to the Lady, because it's such an emotional process. And I find that only a computer keyboard can keep up with my thoughts. Handwriting is often too slow for me. But you may find handwriting easier or more aesthetic than typing, and that's fine too.
It may be satisfying to keep your correspondence in book form. There are beautiful bound journals available at most bookstores. Sometimes they can be a little intimidating, so you may prefer to use an inexpensive spiral notebook or composition book. Bookstores often sell reusable book covers of leather or quilted cloth. You could use one on an inexpensive notebook to give it a yummy feel without the intimidation factor.
If you use a computer, you could print your entries in a font you like and put them in a nice binder. Or when you feel you have enough pages for a volume, you could take them to a print shop and have them bound.
You may prefer not to print your entries at all, but to store them electronically. You may even find that you don't want to write your entries at all. The writing suggestions in this book can certainly be approached as guided meditations.
Another question people sometimes ask is "Do you make it a practice to write every single day?" My answer is that I do not. I go to the Lady when I feel the need to talk to her. That may be several days in a row, or only once or twice a month. She knows I love her, no matter how often I may or may not write. Don't make it a chore.
Similarly, don't feel that you have to follow every writing suggestion I present. This is not a class, and you are not being graded. The suggestions are there as guidelines, to give you ideas. Use the ones that seem useful to you, and don't worry about the others. It's entirely possible that once you begin this type of writing, you won't need any guidelines at all. Go where your heart leads you.
Choosing a Mentor
The first step in writing a correspondence with your inner voice is to choose a name and a face for that voice. This is not absolutely essential: some people find that they can write to themselves without ever picturing the person who replying. If you have trouble forming mental images, or if you find yourself paralyzed trying to choose a correspondent, you may want to skip this step.
Many people, however, have found it intriguing to choose a particular correspondent. This choice is not irrevocable or permanent. You may have more than one, or change from one to another as your needs change.
I will refer to this correspondent as a "mentor", because the voice will be guiding and helping you. Because of the way I stumbled across this kind of writing, my mentor is an image or symbol for God, and my journal-writing is a form of prayer. But if you are uncomfortable putting words in God's mouth, you can get the same benefits by choosing another kind of mentor. This chapter is designed to give you some ideas.
To set the stage, let me tell you a little of my own background. I was raised in both the Methodist and the Unitarian denominations.
As a teen in the 1970s, I became a serious Christian, just as my parents were returning to the Unitarian Universalist church. I desperately wanted Jesus to speak to me, but it often felt as though my prayers were going out into a void.
At about age 20, I began to admit to myself that despite my wishes, I didn't really believe in Christian dogma like Atonement and the Trinity, or miracles like the Resurrection. Gritting my teeth and trying to believe was becoming intellectual dishonesty.
With great sadness I let it all go. I didn't become an atheist, but I stopped praying. I didn't know yet how to pray outside the Christian framework. And I couldn't relate to an abstract God. When I tried to think of God, I pictured something like the image presented by the Christian writer C.S. Lewis, when he said that a God without form was like "an endless sea of tapioca." Lewis' point was that we needed the concrete image of Jesus to relate to. When I had let Jesus go, I had lost God too.
My twenties were busy years, getting married, going to graduate school, having children. I didn't miss God too much.
But by the time I was thirty the hunger returned. I wanted to pray, but I didn't have anyone to pray to.
One night I realized that maybe I could make up an image, something as concrete as Jesus, but out of my own imagination. It would be only a symbol, an analogy. It wouldn't be completely accurate, but it would help aid understanding anyway. While it would be very presumptuous to make up a mental image and call it God, it might be all right to make up a mental image and say, "Maybe God's a little like that in some way, and maybe I can relate to God through that image."
The image I chose was of an angelic woman with wide comforting wings. At the time, I had never heard of "feminist thealogy" or the Goddess. I only picked an image I thought I could pray to. I called her "the Lady", and began collecting pictures and statues of angels.
It was many years before I learned to hear her words. I'll tell you that story in the next chapter. And yet she comforted me when I needed her, even before she spoke. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I was in a car wreck. As I lay in the ambulance, praying for my baby to be all right, I pictured the Lady above me, spreading her wings.
Of the people who contributed to my book, some did as I did and chose a mentor who was God or the Goddess or a particular divine figure. Others chose human mentors: deceased relatives, historical figures, characters from books. One even chose an animal mentor. One of the most moving experiences I had in my workshops was when a woman said that she had lost her mother at an early age, and had always missed having a mother to confide in. Now, fifty years later, my workshop had allowed her to hear her mother's voice.
Click here for exercises to help you choose a mentor.
This is the Goddess Speaking
In this chapter you will begin to give words to that "still small voice within." The technique is fairly simple and well-known; some people call it "automatic writing", though in my experience that there's nothing automatic about it. If you really listen hard to that inner voice, you will have to be focused and alert, and use your mind as well as your heart.
The basic idea is this. You write a letter to the mentor you chose in the last chapter. Then use your imagination. If you were the mentor, what would you say in response to such a letter? The writing suggestions at the end of this chapter will lead you through that process. I've also included some art and crafts suggestions: I've found that it helps me to visualize my mentor if I have a representation of her, a picture or a statue. And I've included a few suggestions for rituals too. Some people find that a ritual sets the mood for the focus this kind of writing can take.
Are the responses you will get "real"? In the end, I don't believe that matters. A more important question is, Are the responses helpful to you? In my case, they have been a lifeline sometimes. As I did in the last chapter, I'll tell you a little of my own story to get started.
The phrase "Still Small Voice" has its origin in the story of Elijah, in 1 Kings 19:11-12.
And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great
and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke
in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the
LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind
an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the
earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire,
but the LORD was not in the fire; and after
the fire a still small voice.
I haven't been able to discover who first characterized that voice as an inner voice, a "still small voice within." Maybe it's always been understood as such. At any rate, I used to listen for it during my prayers as a child and teen and young adult, but I never could hear it. All I ever found in the silence of meditation was loneliness. I wanted the voice to use words. In 1992, eight years after I first described the Lady to myself, I finally heard her speak. Here's how it happened.
One day, as I sat at my desk in my office grading calculus papers, my head started to spin. I found myself on the floor, unable to get up. I'm having a stroke! I thought. Maybe I'm dying! I crawled across the floor to the telephone and blindly dialed the extension of the division office. The security guard, who was also a paramedic, came and examined me, and couldn't find anything physically wrong with me.
All my life I'd struggled to be strong. Spunky, that was me. After my car wreck I'd taught my classes on crutches and pregnant, and never asked for help or pity. A panic attack was a sign of weakness, of failure.
Over the next few months I went from doctor to doctor, desperate to find a physical cause for what had happened. I went to cardiologists, neurologists, allergists, and endocrinologists. Every one of them gave me the encouraging and yet incredibly frustrating opinion that I was extraordinarily healthy.
At last, I sat in yet another examining room. The physician's assistant was a very kind young woman. "I think you might be suffering from anxiety," she said gently. "I suggest that you see a counselor."
I burst into tears. My greatest fear was coming true! What this sweet young woman didn't know was that my grandmother and great-grandmother had struggled with mental illness all their lives, and that my great-great grandfather had died of what was called "melancholia" a hundred years ago. Was the family curse coming for me?
But finally, with nowhere else to go, I faced my fear and made an appointment with a therapist. In a way, it wasn't a good fit. She seemed young and nervous to me. She admitted she was intimidated by having a math professor for a client.
She asked me, at our first meeting, to keep a journal of my every waking moment, recording what I ate, how much I slept, what I did, and how I felt about it all. It was a hideous, grueling assignment, but I plugged away at it for a week or more. Then one night, exhausted and in tears, I left off writing about what I was doing and burst into an impassioned prayer to the Goddess. This is what I wrote:
Oh, sweet Lady hold my hand, you're so tall and beautiful, so dark and elusive, you whisper in the night and watch from behind the moonlight, I see you in the tall vanilla-scented pine tree, I see you in the long white waterfall, in the golden moon-sparkles on the dark water, in the dark green moss and the black earth. I long and hunger for something I can't name, so I name you Lady. . .
Dear Lady, the dark is coming. Cold and winter and darkness. Where did the summer go? . . .
Sweet Lady, when I hold out my hand to you, I can't reach you, though I know you're there, trying to reach me. Wrap your soft wings around me; I'm so lonely. Why should I be lonely, when so many people love me?
When I showed it to my therapist at our second and last meeting, she looked up at me with wonder in her eyes. "You're not at all what I expected." She looked down at the paper again. "Now you need to write what it is that the Lady says to you."
It was probably standard therapy practice. But since the Lady was my image of God, I was stunned. Can you do that? I thought. How presumptuous! And yet, wasn't that what those Old Testament prophets did all the time? "Thus sayeth the Lord!"
I went home and turned on my word processor. I closed my eyes, and thought hard. If I were the Lady, and someone came to me for help, what would I say? I put my hands on the keyboard and began to type.
This is the Goddess speaking, so listen up. One reason you feel you can't reach me is a purely logical one. I'm only a symbol for the ultimate transcendent mystery of the universe. You made me in your image because you couldn't relate directly to such an abstraction. What do you want, that I should appear to you with a flash of lightning? Some sort of mystic vision? Isn't the seeing of visions what you fear most?
But I am not only the creator of the universe. I am also you, in the deepest depths of your soul. When you poured out your grief and despair, didn't you feel me there? When you prayed for my comforting wings to embrace you, didn't you feel that your prayer was answered? The times when you reach into your soul are the times you will find me, because that's where I am. . .
When I hold your hand, you will not feel my strong fingers in your own. You will feel the hands of other dancers, or of people you love, or the keys of the typewriter, or the strings of the harp.
When I realized what had happened, I started to cry. For the first time in my life, my prayers had been answered! I wrote back.
My humble thanks for your long-awaited answer to my prayer. All my life I've been praying, and longing for an answer. But you've always been mute. I suppose I expected a voice out of the whirlwind or something.
Religious thinkers I admire have talked about listening for that 'still small voice within.' How silly of me not to have realized that if you're a voice within me, then of course you speak with my words.
That nervous young therapist gave me the key to the greatest secret of my life. After my second session I was able to leave her, because I didn't need her anymore. She had helped me discover my inner therapist, my own personal counselor. In the years since then, the Lady has continued to heal me and support me and hold my hand.
Here I want to repeat the caveat that I gave in the introduction. If your problems are overwhelming, if you are thinking of suicide, if you are having trouble functioning at work or in your family life, please get professional help. But use this journal-writing technique too.
Click here for exercises to help you begin your correspondence with your mentor.