How many times in the course of your life have you felt like you lost your groove? The ups and downs of the pandemic have many of us yearning to feel like our old selves. It’s a common thread among humans on life’s journey (they even made a whole movie about it starring Angela Bassett).
Darnell Walker has been thinking about groove reclamation (can we call it that?) quite a bit. In fact, he’s been teaching how to get your groove back — through writing — as the current teacher in residence. A former writer for Blues Clues on Nickelodeon, Walker discovered, in part during his time at Esalen, that his life calling is to create content that allows all children to see themselves. He’s expressed that as a writer, a filmmaker, and an artist.
We asked him to give us a peek at what’s been happening in his campus writing sessions. It turns out, that groove reclamation and good stories come in threes.
By Darnell Lamont Walker
Without lowering our heads, looking away, fiddling with pen caps, or grinding our teeth, let’s all admit together that we can’t find some of our groove – for some, a smidgen. For others, the whole enchilada. Perhaps, we think, it’s somewhere in the back of that comfy couch, mixing with the loose change, or perhaps we left it in that bathroom stall at work in which we find ourselves hiding for a breather. We look for that missing groove like batteries or tools or bulbs we know we’ve just seen; and, like those sunglasses we eventually find sitting on the top of our heads, or the cell phone that’s been in our hands throughout the entire search, we realize it wasn’t lost. We’ve simply forgotten how to look.
Leading the Rituals Writing Workshop as a teacher in residence, I’m reminding guests how to look, which often begins with reaffirming ourselves as creatives, as artists, as writers, and as good people. So often, we remember the lights that used to shine so brightly – before the rat race, before the high demands of the world, before someone told us our lofty and mercurial dreams seemed silly – and we wonder how long it’s been since they blew out. We wonder how long we’ve been listening to that voice that pops in our heads when we think about our old groove to say “yeah, but you’re not that good,” or “how dare you think positively of your talents?”
I’ve challenged those who’ve come into the workshop to have the audacity to call themselves a writer. Magic begins there, and we find that the lights haven’t blown out, they’ve merely been dimmed a little. It’s now time to pull out the journal. Next, I challenge them to reaffirm themselves by writing what it is they need to hear to get that flame even higher. Here is where we see smiles begin, returning to so many of the faces who had no idea what to expect out of an hour-long workshop. And hey! We’re only 10 minutes in at this point, swaying a little, but not fully in the groove just yet.
“Tell me your story in three sentences,” I say. Think about your past and who you are today. Think about how you arrived at this point. Maybe there’s been a theme, maybe a relationship brought you here. Maybe it was a beautiful journey, but maybe it was painful. What was it?
“My kids have grown and flown the coop. My dog’s spending more time at the neighbor’s. My bed is empty.”
“I’ve found sobriety, but now I’m extremely exhausted. These regrets are finding me hard to live with. And I hate them equally.”
In the next five minutes, in those three sentences, and no more, write your life story. Those smiles fade a little as the pens hit the paper, but the flame is growing. There’s something in those heads that’s been wanting to get out and now the opportunity’s come. So many need more time, and that’s fine, because it often means they’ve gotten into that zone… that groove.
“Those three sentences are where we will begin,” I say. Knowing where to start is the hardest part of getting back into that groove and maintaining it. This exercise forces us to start with self, the thing we, perhaps, know most about. Or maybe we know the least, and that's why we're on this journey.
In those journals, we carry on:
With that three-sentence life story in mind, choose one of the following to begin this 20-30 minute journaling exercise.
For some, this exercise comes years after their last piece or writing, for others, just a few hours, but for all, it’s an exercise that shows them the importance of writing our own story – the past and the present which absolutely inform our futures. We’re even able to use this journaling and this writing to change the narrative if we feel. We’ve found a groove.
The feedback with this has been tearful, but incredibly beautiful. I’ve been stopped by guests who want to share their works after class and others who want to tell me how I’ve helped them turn up the brightness. Some have even uncovered a path toward healing. That’s what journaling can do. It helps us heal. Even if it’s just for 10 minutes at the top of the morning. It unblocks us and moves us forward.
If you’ve done the life story prompt, I encourage you to try these next:
Write a letter to your imagination. Write!
Join Darnell in his next self-guided program and write your story: Rituals of Esalen, August 23-27, 2021.