“In the poetic tradition the imagination is understood in very specific ways. Normally in everyday life we would use the word imagination to describe the ability to think up new things. Many poets would say that the ability to think up new things is a secondary faculty of the imagination. They would say there is a primary processional faculty of the imagination within human beings that is able to make meaningful sense of ANY level of emergent complexity, give you a place to stand at the center of that complexity, and give you a ground from which to step from that complexity into the horizons of your unfolding life. To stay close to a felt sense of and personal participation in this faculty as our own most intimate inheritance is incredibly important.” — David Whyte

You’re living a story.

The ways you act out your story — the patterns of your performance — are rooted in and emerge out of what you’ve experienced.

The ways you understand, share, and perform the story of your life make a difference in the world.

If you’re understanding, sharing, and performing your story in ways that only emphasize certain aspects of who you are and what you’ve experienced, then you’re not telling all that you could.

How do you feel about that possibility?

Do you ever ask yourself questions about the story of your life? Do you ever examine the main characters, plot and subplots, climaxes, even the soundtrack?

Using writing to gather together and explore these aspects of your story can be life-changing. You can learn to tell your tale in ways that make you more resilient, in ways that turn you into someone who can help others who have gone through tragedy, and in ways that transform the motivation for malevolence that’s within you.

One helpful way to visualize or organize aspects of your life in a form that helps you see the story, and that naturally inspires creative writing, is to envision your life as a living tree and its surrounding environment.

Trees are natural symbols of the growth and dynamism of the world we live in. They express and represent the transcendent mysteries of regeneration, and the flow of cosmic energy through time. By their form itself they’re symbols of evolution, their branches suggesting the diversity that springs out from the unity of the trunk. Across cultures they’re the axis of the world, linking the supernatural and the natural. Continually looking at your life through the form of a tree can get you thinking in axial ways that build new bridges of meaning.

The Soil

-Where do you come from?

-What places and environments have deeply shaped you?

-What’s your language, your culture?

-Who are the people who have taught you the most in life?

-What are your favorite books, music, or movies? What is it about them that gives life to your story?

-What communities do you belong to?

The Roots

-What do you choose to do during the course of a day, or a week?

-What are the typical activities that you choose to channel the energy of your life through?

The Trunk

-What do you value?

-What do you care about?

-Looking back at your roots, why do you choose to do those things?

-What abilities have you manifested in your life? What skills have you demonstrated? (don’t be afraid to think large and small)

-What would a particular friend, or someone who cares about you, say are your abilities or skills?

-What’s something that a community you belong to cares about?

-What’s something your group of friends is good at?

The Knots

-Where has your growth been cut off?

-What events in your life have left you feeling stunted?

-How have you compartmentalized the wounds in your life?

The Rot

-What is plaguing your soul?

-What is eating away at you inside?

-What about your life feels rotten?

The Branches

-What are some wishes, dreams, and hopes that you share with others?

-What dreams do you have for your own life?

-What hopes do you have for your community?

-What’s on the horizon for your life?

-Where do you want to channel your growth?

-What are some long-term and short-term wishes you’d like to see fulfilled in your life or in the lives of others?

-How long have you had these hopes? Who or where did they come from? Who has helped you hold onto them?

The Leaves

-Who are the people closest to you?

-Who has directly influenced you, fed you meaning, strengthened you, in a good way?

-Who are your heroes?

-What is significant to you about these people?

The Flowers

-What gifts have been passed on to you?

-What contributions have others made to your life? (material, spiritual, relational, emotional, you name it)

-Who or what do you find truly beautiful in life?

The Fruit

-What gifts do you want to pass on to others?

-What legacy do you want to leave behind?

-What’s something you were never offered in your life but that you’ve come to value and want to pass on to other people?

Once you’ve done this, you can continue to use writing to stitch together connections between different parts of your story.

For example, looking at your trunk, write about the history of any of the things you value or care about. Did you inherit these from someone? Where did they come from? Forming and answering questions like these can help you think more about the soil you come in a very organic way.

Repeating this for all the different parts of your story helps you see how they’re all connected in ways you might not have appreciated before.

This whole visionary process tends to get you thinking in ways that naturally make linkages between different aspects of your life; the image of a tree is a natural form that helps you see connections between different parts of your story.

It can also be inspiring to draw this tree (or represent it artistically in any other form you like), labeling the different parts of the tree with some of your answers to the questions. This can be a great way to see the structure of your story and make connections between different parts of it if you are a very visual person.

This process basically uses the image of a tree to organically generate your own personal map of meaning. It’s about using writing to bring greater clarity to where and who you’ve been, where and who you are, and where you want to go and who you want to become.

Feel free to include emotional difficulties and any other trials you’ve been through in life — every tree is gnarled and twisted in one way or another by the wind and weather. This process isn’t meant to be an exercise in glamming up your life, but in tracing your growth honestly and looking to the future with wider and deeper vision.

Don’t worry about doing all this writing perfectly or getting it done in one sitting. Try to set aside even 10–15 minutes a day for writing, if you can manage it, try to write at least 500 words for each area (soil, roots, etc.), come up with your own questions, see what connections pop out at you that inspire further writing, and you’ll be shocked at what you can accomplish in even just a month!

Imagine the effects that catalyzing your own personal growth and individual differentiation could have on you and those around you, and let that fuel you.

Using writing to articulate this type of personal map of meaning can help you understand, modify, and improve your patterns of behavior; it can reveal how the ways you’ve adapted to life are influencing how you tend to act in the world. It can help you better specify goals that aren’t prisons, but chapters in the unfolding chronicle of your life.

It can help you break down your blurry fantasies of what the future could be into a strategic plan capable of conscious realization, made up of simple, straightforward, honest actions, where the criteria for success and markers of failure are nested in a narrative showing the vast progress you’ve made in life. There are always times in life where you’ll fall short of your goals; when ambitions grow out of this type of context of progress this can help support you when you happen to fail.

This process can help you put into words strategies for meeting new challenges and voluntarily exposing yourself to what you’re afraid of. It can help you face what you haven’t learned or overcome, conquer your fear of it, and help you begin to grow more intentionally skillful, and more aware of what you can do to grow the rate at which your skills are developing.

All this is critical because it can help turn anxiety and fear into fertilizers instead of the crushing weights they often are.

It can also lead you to a deeper and more honest understanding of the motivational significance of different aspects of your story; it can grant you new insights into who and what you value, and why.

In other words, using writing to create this type of personal map of meaning can help you more clearly see the nature of your story, the most valuable ending for your story, and how you can act in order to create that ending in the world; it can show you the geography of your story from a view that helps you more clearly see how what you should do is interconnected with who it is that you are.

“To act is literally to manifest preference about one set of possibilities, contrasted with an infinite set of alternatives. If we wish to live, we must act. Acting, we value. Lacking omniscience, we must make decisions in the absence of sufficient information.” -Jordan B. Peterson

You’ve watched others act in the world, and you’ve watched yourself act in the world. You’ve learned to imitate others and yourself, and you’ve woven together information about the value of these patterns of imitation into stories that you repeat to yourself; how you act is partly steered by the stories you tell yourself about yourself.

Once you’ve done a considerable amount of the type of writing outlined above and brought the different aspects and connections of your life into higher resolution, it might be worth it to you to try synthesizing all your work into one longer and broader narrative vision by answering questions like these:

-What’s the story of my life?

-Where am I? Who am I?

-Where could I go? Who could I grow into?

-Where should I go? Who should I grow into?

-How can I act to get there? What can I do to become that person?

I don’t know the story of your life, but I know that over time it can be transformed, and that it’s worth transforming.

Are other people writing the story of your life in negative ways? Is someone else authoring your identity?

Maybe the reason you’re reading this right now is because it’s time for you to take your story into your own hands in ways you haven’t before.

People experience unimaginable tragedy and evil in life. There is an injustice and arbitrariness to the world that can make people grow bitter and resentful and turn their backs on life.

At the same time, people are constantly bearing up under the weight of existence and seeking to rewrite and retell their stories in ways that make peace in themselves and that help steer the evolution of being itself down the most positive path they can see.

What’s more meaningful than taking this responsibility seriously?

It’s true that sometimes it can take generations to change the momentum of something as complex as a human narrative.

It’s also true that sometimes all it takes is a single person deciding that it’s time to rewrite the story of their life.