A wise and gifted writer friend recently reminded me of an exercise designed to provide new perspective on one’s life. I have used variations of this exercise in my workshops. I find it especially useful when a writer wants to attain some breathing space around a particular subject or some distance from a particularly challenging experience. It can also be useful in developing a fictional character. The following has been adapted from the book Cancer as a Turning Point.
Part One: Imagine you are a child again, you at age ten or eleven, and you receive a special letter. This letter tells you what you will need to know and do to lead a rich and fulfilling life while avoiding emotional and lifestyle traps–especially those traps you as an adult have experienced. What does this letter say? Write it formally to your young self now. Begin with a salutation from your heart. Perhaps something like, “My Dear Little One…” You have one chance to tell your young self everything she needs to know.
Part Two: Reread the letter. Let the child-you-were truly and fully receive your message. Now let her reply to your letter with one of her own filled with youthful optimism and love and practical advice. She has one chance to tell you what you need to do to renew and improve your life.
Part Three: With an open mind and heart read the letter from the child-you-were. Do you think you will be able to follow her advice? What advice will be most challenging? What will be easiest?
Part Four: Ask your adult self what you need in order to embrace the advice more fully. What, if anything, is holding you back? What changes can you make, what actions can you take to follow the advice more fully?
In addition, I ask myself (and writers in my workshops) to set down their pens, close their eyes, and imagine they have one minute to “be” with their young self. Not a time for words but a moment to sit with, to embrace, to breathe together, then and now. What emotions arise? Is there room for more compassion?