Be Here Now by Writing a Memoir

by Jerry Waxler

When I first heard the phrase “Be Here Now” in the early seventies, it was from the title of a book by Ram Dass. According to the book, the best way to live a full life is to savor your direct experience, whether smelling a flower, watching a sunset, or even when experiencing the sadness of a loss. By paying close attention, you can penetrate the mysteries of the cosmos. As a hippie, I had little interest in learning from the past. And I certainly wasn’t spending much time planning for the future. So I didn’t think Ram Dass was telling me anything new.

Then I went to work for a living and staggered under the pressure. No wonder I had avoided working for so long. This was hard! I looked for tools to help me regain my poise and one of the most powerful turned out to be the one I didn’t think I needed — To Be Here Now. I started to meditate, and with practice I did occasionally spot glimpses of peace right there in the office. I was grateful to take advantage of this ancient technique from the East. But the mystics never said success was easy. It may take a life time to get it right. Meanwhile, I continued to look for additional ways to make each moment better.

One evening I complained to my therapist about feeling anxious. She said I would feel better if I brought my attention back to the moment, and she taught me a trick. Use words to describe my immediate surroundings. She said this verbal exercise would stimulate the cerebral cortex and put my conscious mind back in control. I looked around her office and noted her diploma hanging on the wall, her desk piled with papers, and her compassionate face. Her dog lying on his side slapped his tail against the floor. Sure enough, describing the office calmed me then, and when I see it now in my mind’s eye I feel reassured once again.

Despite all the valid reasons for staying in the present, however, the past plays an important role. I don’t want to forget the achievements that still give me pride, and I certainly don’t want to brush away the hard-won lessons that continue to help me find my way today.

The problem is not that memories exist but that there are so many of them, pulling me in a thousand directions. The more years I try to ignore them, the more confusing they become. As I grow older and watch some of the graces of my body fade, rather than wanting to let the memories go, I want to make sense of them.

I line my memories in order on a piece of paper and begin to notice sequences that make sense. Step by step, I increase my understanding of who I was, who I am, and who I am trying to become. Once I see myself taking shape on the page, I realize my life is turning into a story. I already know about the power of stories. Every time I read a suspenseful book or watch a movie, my attention is collected within the author’s tale. I am “Being Here Now” inside their story.

I gain that same benefit for my own life by writing about it. Writing reveals my role. I’m the hero in this story, and as the main character, I create an inner continuity that allows the past to flow into the present. Looking at the past isn’t an escape, after all. On the contrary, organizing my life into a story helps me collect my energy and apply myself with conviction to living in the world today.

More memoir writing resources

To see brief descriptions and links to all the essays on this blog, click here.

To order my short, step-by-step how-to guide to write your memoir, click here.

Note
The “Be Here Now” philosophy was expressed beautifully in William Blake’s poem “Auguries of Innocence” which starts out with the following quote. “To see a world in a grain of sand, And a heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, And eternity in an hour.” The poem is famous for its implication that all of eternity is within grasp in the moment. When reading the rest of the poem for the first time, I made the remarkable discovery that it is mostly about animal rights. It’s as if he has revealed how the Eastern notion of souls can help Westerners find a new relationship with their world, replacing domination with harmony. Within the moment lies eternity, and within the compassion for a horse lies the ocean of God’s love. Who is this man Blake, and why is he so intrigued by the souls of animals and the human responsibility to care for them? He passed along the insights he had 200 years ago. Which Now is real?

Since it’s in the public domain, I’ll copy it here in its entirety:

Auguries of Innocence
by William Blake

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

A robin redbreast in a cage
Puts all heaven in a rage.

A dove-house fill'd with doves and pigeons
Shudders hell thro' all its regions.
A dog starv'd at his master's gate
Predicts the ruin of the state.

A horse misused upon the road
Calls to heaven for human blood.
Each outcry of the hunted hare
A fibre from the brain does tear.

A skylark wounded in the wing,
A cherubim does cease to sing.
The game-cock clipt and arm'd for fight
Does the rising sun affright.

Every wolf's and lion's howl
Raises from hell a human soul.

The wild deer, wand'ring here and there,
Keeps the human soul from care.
The lamb misus'd breeds public strife,
And yet forgives the butcher's knife.

The bat that flits at close of eve
Has left the brain that won't believe.
The owl that calls upon the night
Speaks the unbeliever's fright.

He who shall hurt the little wren
Shall never be belov'd by men.
He who the ox to wrath has mov'd
Shall never be by woman lov'd.

The wanton boy that kills the fly
Shall feel the spider's enmity.
He who torments the chafer's sprite
Weaves a bower in endless night.

The caterpillar on the leaf
Repeats to thee thy mother's grief.
Kill not the moth nor butterfly,
For the last judgement draweth nigh.

He who shall train the horse to war
Shall never pass the polar bar.
The beggar's dog and widow's cat,
Feed them and thou wilt grow fat.

The gnat that sings his summer's song
Poison gets from slander's tongue.
The poison of the snake and newt
Is the sweat of envy's foot.

The poison of the honey bee
Is the artist's jealousy.

The prince's robes and beggar's rags
Are toadstools on the miser's bags.
A truth that's told with bad intent
Beats all the lies you can invent.

It is right it should be so;
Man was made for joy and woe;
And when this we rightly know,
Thro' the world we safely go.

Joy and woe are woven fine,
A clothing for the soul divine.
Under every grief and pine
Runs a joy with silken twine.

The babe is more than swaddling bands;
Every farmer understands.
Every tear from every eye
Becomes a babe in eternity;

This is caught by females bright,
And return'd to its own delight.
The bleat, the bark, bellow, and roar,
Are waves that beat on heaven's shore.

The babe that weeps the rod beneath
Writes revenge in realms of death.
The beggar's rags, fluttering in air,
Does to rags the heavens tear.

The soldier, arm'd with sword and gun,
Palsied strikes the summer's sun.
The poor man's farthing is worth more
Than all the gold on Afric's shore.

One mite wrung from the lab'rer's hands
Shall buy and sell the miser's lands;
Or, if protected from on high,
Does that whole nation sell and buy.

He who mocks the infant's faith
Shall be mock'd in age and death.
He who shall teach the child to doubt
The rotting grave shall ne'er get out.

He who respects the infant's faith
Triumphs over hell and death.
The child's toys and the old man's reasons
Are the fruits of the two seasons.

The questioner, who sits so sly,
Shall never know how to reply.
He who replies to words of doubt
Doth put the light of knowledge out.

The strongest poison ever known
Came from Caesar's laurel crown.
Nought can deform the human race
Like to the armour's iron brace.

When gold and gems adorn the plow,
To peaceful arts shall envy bow.
A riddle, or the cricket's cry,
Is to doubt a fit reply.

The emmet's inch and eagle's mile
Make lame philosophy to smile.
He who doubts from what he sees
Will ne'er believe, do what you please.

If the sun and moon should doubt,
They'd immediately go out.
To be in a passion you good may do,
But no good if a passion is in you.

The whore and gambler, by the state
Licensed, build that nation's fate.
The harlot's cry from street to street
Shall weave old England's winding-sheet.

The winner's shout, the loser's curse,
Dance before dead England's hearse.

Every night and every morn
Some to misery are born,
Every morn and every night
Some are born to sweet delight.

Some are born to sweet delight,
Some are born to endless night.

We are led to believe a lie
When we see not thro' the eye,
Which was born in a night to perish in a night,
When the soul slept in beams of light.

God appears, and God is light,
To those poor souls who dwell in night;
But does a human form display
To those who dwell in realms of day.



To listen to the podcast version click the player control below: [display_podcast]

7 thoughts on “Be Here Now by Writing a Memoir

  1. You’re right. Writing my own memoir helped me to discover where I have been, what my strengths and weaknesses are, and what I should try to do in the future. Past and present are parts of the same whole.

  2. Just stumbled on your blog and so glad I did! Your post really spoke to me. I have written a memoir based on letters my father gave to me. He’d written them during the war and over the course of a few years, truths were revealed and he was finally, at the age of 86 able to come to a place of peace. Reading your post made me think about the years he kept the terrible memories repressed (he worked for Naval intelligence and was told-during the war-that if he ever revealed what he’d done, he’d be shot). When the memories came back, they brought along with them, pain. But then there was healing. It was a beautiful thing to watch. I love your blog…I’ll be back often. Thank you!

    Karen

  3. Hi Karen,

    Thanks so much for your lovely compliments. Your kind words make it all worthwhile. Wow, what an incredible story about your dad breaking silence and healing. And you were the facilitator. Beautiful! And there are even more benefits if you inspire other people to follow your example.

    Jerry

  4. Jerry — How far along are you in your memoir? My agent is shopping my proposal around, and even though I’ve done this twice before, the waiting is still so hard. But once it’s sold, I have to re-visit the past in order to flesh out the incomplete chapters for the book. It’s kind of like making yourself dive into murky water because you know that there’s something golden down there. It’s nice to have other people to share the dive with. 🙂

  5. Dear Jerry,

    My Dad is 89 years old. My Mom is in a nursing home with advanced Alzheimer’s, and he is in assisted living where they were together until recently. He is terribly depressed, since this is virtually their first time apart in 63 years, but the one thing that can still light him up is his stories. If I give him a cue, he will be off and running. He used to write many of his stories at a writers’ group my mom organized for many years, and I have some of these stories. My husband and I have been transcribing them and reading them to him, and he loves this.

    He was invited to present one of them at a story writing workshop at Assisted Living, but since he is nearly blind, he couldn’t read it. The Activities Director offered to read it for him (a particularly wonderful, emotional story) and he said okay, but it was devastating for him. It turned out that he had rehearsed the story many times in his head in order to be able to tell it eloquently. When she read his words, he was terribly upset, even though he had agreed.

    What do you think should be done with his stories? He has a zillion of them in his head and as I’m writing to you, I’m thinking that maybe we need to create an index of them so that when someone says the title or word, he can then tell the story. It seems to give him back a big part of himself. The story that was read this weekend was called “Silent Conversation” and it was about an incident that occurred years ago with my daughter who was about 9 at the time. It was a gorgeous story. Any advice or input regarding how to use his stories to light him up would be greatly appreciated.

  6. Pingback: Answering Parents' Objections to Writing a Memoir, Part 2 | Memory Writers Network

Leave a Reply