For many years, my life followed two threads that seemed very separate and distinct. One was writing. It was something I always did in one form or another. Even at the age of three, I would tell stories that my mother would write down. I’d love to think that I was the literary equivalent of a baby Mozart, who composed brilliant piano works at four, but my first stories don’t show a genius in the making. What they do show is a lively imagination and an early love of language – two essential qualities for a writer.
The second thread had to do with spirituality. I was a very spiritually oriented child. For a time, this took the form of a deep belief in the faith of my parents, Roman Catholicism. It went beyond simply going through the ropes because my family did. I lived and breathed the faith. It meant something very profound to me, something that hasn’t entirely abandoned me even decades after I left the church.
I didn’t have the difficult experiences with Catholicism that some people tell of. I’ve heard people talk about having to heal after a Catholic childhood, but mine was very benign and full of love. The problem wasn’t that I was injured in some way by the church, simply that I stopped believing. It happened very suddenly. In fact, I can remember the day. I was thirteen. I was sitting at my desk in Mrs. James’s eighth grade class, and the thought simply came to me: What if none of it’s true? What if all the stories of the church—even God Himself—is all a fairytale? It was a horrifying thought. But I was a child who believed in searching for the truth even if it was painful, so I couldn’t force myself not to think it.
That day was the beginning of a spiritual search that lasted for many years. I read book after book about the religions of the world. At college, I took classes in the meditative practices of Asia. Then I began my traveling life. After college, I moved to Japan for two years, traveled through Siberia, spent time in Europe. Later, I spent three years in India and many months in China, the Middle East, Central America, Southeast Asia. Everywhere I went, I explored the spiritual life of the people. I spoke with all kinds of practitioners—shamans, yogis, Buddhist monks, Sufi dervishes. I read, observed, and, when appropriate, practiced the rituals and rites of the faiths I encountered.
It was a wonderful adventure, and it taught me so much. But it didn’t help me find a spiritual tradition that worked for me. Nothing fit. Then the Universe gave me a good, swift kick. And that’s what opened my eyes.
I went through a terrible spell. My marriage was crumbling. I lost my job. I’d earned a doctorate in linguistic anthropology and was discovering what a non-existent career path that was. The stress made me ill, and I was in chronic pain with a disorder that went misdiagnosed for two years. I ended up moving back in with my parents, in the small farming town I’d left two decades earlier, and sank into depression.
But, as always, I still had one, perfect thing in my life: writing. I journaled and journaled. I vented all my rage and despair on the page. I started rebuilding my life through my writing. And that’s when it dawned on me. I didn’t have to search for a spiritual path. I was already on one. Writing was my path. It was as real and fundamental, as deep and resonant as anyone’s religious faith.
That was the spark that led to my book, Writing as a Sacred Path: A Practical Guide to Writing With Passion and Purpose. It took years of work after that initial inspiration. I interviewed scores of writers. I read writers’ biographies, published letters, and journals, and many works on the writing process. I developed dozens of writing exercises—I call them “sacred tools.” But the initial impulse was that sudden weaving together of two threads—writing and spirituality—that I had been spinning for years.
Jill Jepson is a traveler, professor, and transformational life coach, and the author of three books and over 60 articles. She holds a Ph.D. in Linguistics from the University of Chicago as well as degrees in writing, psychology, social science, and Asian studies. Using her extensive travels to places as diverse as Guatemala, Syria, Siberia, and Afghanistan, her writing explores spiritual traditions, history, culture, personal growth, and the writing process. Through her business, Writing the Whirlwind, she offers coaching and online workshops for writers, activists, and others. You can visit her website at www.writingthewhirlwind.net.