A Story About Dogsledding + Four Ways Writing Your Lifestory Will Transform You
When I was 10 my parents got two purebred Akita puppies, a breeding pair.
We named them Umi and Ki. Now, if you’ve got some knowledge of Japanese culture and language, you might, at this point, be wondering why we got Japanese bear dogs and named them Japanese words – Umi for sea, and Ki for spirit. The shortish answer is that I grew up in a karate-club family, run by my parents, who were both black belts in karate and because of that, they, especially my father, revered all things Japanese, including Japanese architecture, food, aesthetics and Samurai culture (oh, the black and white movies we watched!!).
The longer answer includes both of my parents being mentored by my mom’s eldest brother into the local far-north karate club, which, in many ways, saved them from their tumultuous upbringings, so they kept with it well into adulthood (at one point both my father and my uncle were both on the Canadian National Karate Team.)
It became my responsibility to train these two dogs once they grew out of their puppy-hood, so I took them to obedience classes.
I became particularly close to our male Akita, Ki, and loved him in that poignant, fierce and devoted way that 10-13 year olds love everything that enters their sphere. Like all Akitas, he had a classic bear-shaped face, thick fluffy fur and a coiling tail that, on him, always hung at halfmast, a little embarassingly droopy, never becoming as precisely perky as it was ‘supposed’ to be.
Every dogbreed is known for certain traits and characteristics, and, particularly when they’re purebreds, these traits are very predictable. Sleddogs are known for an insatiable desire to pull and run, Newfoundland dogs are known for their docile nature as well as their love of swimming and water rescue abilities, and Akitas, who were bred for guarding Japanese nobility, are known for their loyalty, dislike of strangers and skills in tracking and hunting boar and bear.
When I was 12, a traditional dogsled showed up in our yard in it’s light, bentwood glory, and then we got two dog harnesses, with a gangline (the line from the sled) and tuglines (the lines attaching the dogs to the gangline.) I took the hint and decided to give it a try.
Now, despite being born and raised in the north (Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada) I hadn’t really dog-sledded before. Even thought it was a thing plenty of folks did, it wasn’t a thing folks who lived in town, especially downtown, did, mostly because a true dogteam usually has 4-12 sled-dogs and requires space and a commitment to their welfare – sled-dogs require so much of exercise! However. I had the gear, two dogs and plenty of siblings to pile into the sled.
Even though we lived downtown, we lived in a neighbourhood that was quiet, with roads covered in snow – at that time the streets were still dirt, with no sidewalks – and we had a lot of freedom to play outside on the streets.
It must be noted – this was also before the internet and smartphones and social media and all the modern distractions, and I was a ‘deprived’ child – my parents were strict about TV – we had no cable, just the one public and free channel (CBC North), and could only watch four shows per week (each of us kids got to pick one show each, which we were all allowed to watch.) This gave us plenty of time to be ‘bored’ and figure out how to entertain ourselves.
So, knowing nothing, I geared up my two Akitas, attached them to the sled, then stood on the runners at the back of the sled (they look like long cross country skiis) and urged them on. To no effect. Umi and Ki just wagged their tails, sat down and craned their heads back at me, sharp pointy ears perked, tongues out, smiling.
So I walked back over and grabbed one of their collars and got them going by running alongside them, the dogsled bouncing along behind. Once we picked up our pace I let go (hoping, kind of like teaching a kid to ride a bike, that the momentum would carry forward), ran back and jumped on the sled runners, and, hollering at them to ‘go, go, go!!!’ slowed to a swift stop. Umi and Ki sat down, ears perked, and craned their heads back at me, grinning.
And repeat. Repeat. Repeat again. The only time we got any forward movement was when I’d run alongside them.
Akitas are not sled-dogs. They’re not motivated to run. They’re motivated to accompany and protect, so they’d run with me, but not ahead of me.
Around that same time we got an actual husky sled-dog, a rescue dog from the local animal shelter. Simba (remember Disney’s The Lion King? It had just come out and we departed from our tradition of Japanese words because Simba was us kids’ choice!)
When I’d hook Simba up we’d fly! Nonstop, running and pulling and running and pulling. She’d never pulled a sled before, but the second she leaned forward into the harness, her drive to pull kicked in, and she was off, no urging needed.
You might be wondering where I’m going with this story, and what it has to do writing down your lifestories and transformation.
Picture yourself and your lifestory, before doing any (or much) writing, as the two Akitas, harnessed to the dogsled, not knowing, and not being interested, in pulling the sled forward, or anywhere at all. Picture you/your lifestories, hanging out, sitting on the snow, each looking at the other, hooked up to the tools that will provide movement, momentum and transformation, but going nowhere. Picture you, getting frustrated, being aware of this lack of movement, absence of momentum. One part of you might start yelling at the other. Pleading, attempting trickery, as you try to get those dogs/other parts of you to move in tandem and in the same forward direction.
To no avail. Inertia prevails. Frustration develops. Everything stays rather stuck, in a loop, immobile.
Now, picture yourself and your lifestory, during and after the writing process, as Simba, the husky, leaning her shoulders into the harness, digging her paws/claws into the snow and pulling, while you stand on the runners at the back of the sled, and directing Simba you move as a unit, forward. You move! Movement takes over. Flow starts to happen and your direction and destination emerges, sometimes predictable, and sometimes a complete surprise.
“I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”
~ Carl Jung
Before we examine our lives, we often feel like I did at the age of 12, with my dogsled and my dogs that wouldn’t pull. The transformational process is different than the thinking process, different even than having self-awareness. It’s possible to think a lot about your life and have awareness, but still be trapped in loops of inertia. To long for change but feel stuck.
Sitting in the snow with your gear and your dogs, going nowhere.
But once we invite certain tools into our lives (like writing, story and our bodies) we take flight. We stop feeling ruled by what-has-happened and become astonished by how writing about our stories not only supports healing and movement, but it also supports revelation – new ways of understanding our past, and what-has-happened. We get to rewrite our stories. We get to transform ourselves.
4 Ways Writing Your Lifestory Will Transform You
1. Writing your lifestory will free up any energy currently devoted to just-coping and protective inertia.
Much like my experience of trying to run a dogsled team down Jarvis Street with dogs that aren’t bred to pull, when we’re living an unexamined life, we’re caught in loops of coping and thought-patterns that keep us stuck in habitual ways of understanding ourselves and the world. We’re trapped in old, often unhelpful narratives that keep us spinning in place, using all of our energy to simply cope with life rather than feel alive with flow.
With the right combination of elements (like a dog that actually has the desire to pull and run) we shift out of inertia and we start to transform. Our transformational elements are our lifestories, our bodies, our desire and the writing process.
2. Writing your lifestory will heal any pain and confusion you have have about who you are and who and what you come from.
There is a tremendous kind of synergy that happens when we start writing down our thoughts, memories and stories. The act of writing is like an enchanted key, unlocking the door behind which stories, memories, insights and a kind of otherworldly wisdom awaits us. The act of writing offers us a way to get out of our own way and trust that there is a creative process and an unconscious process living within us.
Because it takes so much effort to keep the door locked, to stay in a state of coping, and to stay spinning in our habitual ways of understanding ourselves, there is a tremendous kind of relief to finally turning the key in the lock, opening the door, and letting it all flow out in our writing.
When we allow our writing to flow, healing also flows. Insight flows – we learn more about who we are, and who and what we come from, and which of our inherited stories we’ll keep and which of those inherited stories we’ll discard or alchemize.
As we become more capable of letting go of what does not serve us we are able to rewrite our stories so they do serve us.
3. Writing your lifestory removes debris so your life’s purpose is revealed. Your meaning in life becomes clear and your life’s path makes itself visible.
When you write your experiences and stories down, it’s like you’re removing debris from a small but strong stream. All the litter, garbage, plastic bags, twigs, logs, backlogged leaves that have fallen in and gotten jammed up – story by story, 15 minutes of writing by 15 minutes of writing, you’re pulling the plastic out, the litter, the logs and twigs and mulchy soggy debris, and removing it from the stream.
The stream’s current becomes more visible, more obvious, more clear. The stream’s direction and movement becomes obvious. You become more clear.
With writing, you don’t have to strive to ‘figure-it-out.’ There is no mental energy required. No great efforts. Because the meaning has been there all along, the only problem has been that it was hidden by all the junk in the way.
When you keep showing up, writing about your life, clarity shows up for you. Stories show up for you. Your life-force, for that’s what that clear strong current really is, it strengthens too, and alongside it – all the meaning that’s been muddied up and covered over. No searching and no figuring-it-out required.
4. Writing your lifestory becomes a gift to yourself and to others – a legacy to loved ones, descendants and community.
When you write your lifestories down, you free up energy previously devoted to tending tiresome old thought-patterns, narratives and loops that keep you stuck in inertia like my beloved Akita dogs, not wanting to run or pull.
When you write your lifestories down, you turn the key in the lock of the door to your unconscious, the door to your creative energy, the door to your memories, and you open the door to healing. You open the door to choice, and to transformation.
When you write your lifestories down, you remove the debris, you clear the gunk out of the way, and you reclaim your life purpose, your path and your meaning.
By doing all of these things, you and your lifestories become a gift to yourself and to others.
You become the gift.
No longer spinning in circles, feeling overwhelmed or stuck or creatively blocked, your presence grows and you, really and truly, offer your gifts.
By writing your stories down, you have the chance to offer that gift forward, through the legacy of meaning to your loved ones, your descendants (if you choose to have them) and to your community.
Writing your lifestories down transforms. The process goes like this:
I knew I wanted to write this letter. About these topics. But I didn’t know how to start it.
I said to myself: I want to write about how writing your lifestory can transform you.
Then I asked myself: but how will I start writing about this?
Then I paused. I took a steady breath in, then out. I waited. And the image of myself with Ki at a dogtraining class, on the lawn of the S.S. Klondike National Historic Site, in front of the sternwheeler, encircled by the Yukon River, showed up. And the image of myself with Umi and Ki in winter with the dogsled showed up. The Memory of breathless wintry running while holding Ki’s collar in my right hand showed up.
So, despite no idea of how my childhood dogs, a dogsled, and the top of transformation and memoir-writing would connect, I started to write.
So I called to mind my beloved dogs, Umi, Ki and Simba. I called to mind my hometown, and the dogsled, and as the story unspooled itself I started writing. My personal story turned into a metaphor for the act of writing your lifestories down. My memory of trying run a dogsled team at the age of 12 down Jarvis Street in my hometown of Whitehorse – I had no idea it would turn itself into this specific story.
But I trusted the process. I turned the key in the lock, opened the door, started, and kept going.
The rest – this letter – arrived.
Give this process a try. See what arrives for you. You’ll be delighted. You’ll be surprised. Absolutely no overthinking or figuring-it-out energy required.
P.S. If you want to start writing your lifestories down now just download this PDF with 10 impactful memoir-writing prompt. And, if you want to get started, but are worried about how to write through painful memories and/or trauma without getting overwhelmed or distressed, I made another PDF with 10 gentle but effective ways to do so.
P.P.S. THE ART OF PERSONAL MYTHMAKING: the transformational memoir-writing course – which shows you how to write the first draft of your memoir, reconnect with your body, and transform your relationship with your lifestories – how to reclaim yourself… available as a self-study and a once-yearly live online class experience. Sign up for my newsletter to stay tuned.