The following post is a Q&A with Lorraine Ash, author of “Self and Soul: On Creating a Meaningful Life.”
Q. Why did you write the book Self and Soul: On Creating a Meaningful Life, and how is it different than your first book Life Touches Life: A Mother’s Story of Stillbirth and Healing?
A. Life Touches Life is about making my way through a particular crisis — the stillbirth of my only child, Victoria Helen. To be sure, it is an all-encompassing crisis. Nevertheless, it has a singular focus — survival. It takes on questions such as: What survives when a loved one dies? How must we change in order to endure and survive the death?
Self and Soul is about personhood: it encompasses the stillbirth as one part of a larger journey. I wrote Self and Soul to show the larger arc of my journey and tell, first to myself, how to keep my personal faith alive in a world that is uncertain and often cruel.
Along the journey I realized I am responsible for keeping the divine flame inside me tended. It was not the responsibility of any religious institution to do that, though a religious institution may help some people in that endeavor. Neither is it the responsibility of a family or any other group. Indeed our institutions and our families need individuals to imbue them with the strong faiths we each can bring — faiths born of experience, faiths deeply lived and individually grown.
Q. In Self and Soul you talk a lot about God, and the difference between God and religion. Do you see this as a growing trend and is it sustainable?
A. More precisely, I talk about how I learn more and more about God from the various insights offered in different religions and experiences. I do see this ability to share among all of us as an inevitable growing trend because we know more and more about each other through the wonders of technological connection.
Q. Has separating God from religion brought you any closer to God?
A. I grew up Catholic and was close to Jesus in my girlhood and it was a wonderful thing to grow around that standard of goodness, service, and wisdom. I left formal observance of a single religion in order to keep that closeness. In some religious observances, a middleman is required to keep a dialogue with God going. Some middlemen are wonderfully wise and help people apply holy and wholesome religious principles to their lives. But others are less so.
Besides, as I describe in Self and Soul, I was hurled into a direct experience of God as I lay in a hospital bed, after delivering my stillborn daughter. My survival was not assured. I then realized that direct experience is what we all want and the one for which we are all destined. Frankly, it’s what I wish for everyone.
Q. The recession has certainly hit people hard. In Self and Soul you talk about what defines success. Can you tell us more about this?
A. I present success in the context of the inner life. The recession is forcing this conversation for many hard-working people who’d been climbing the ladder of material and corporate success and then found, despite their effort and devotion, that the very ladders were being dismantled. That reality can lead to more than lack of livelihood. It can lead to questions about failure, meaning, and the nature of the endeavors to which we give our precious life energy. When the outer world shakes and quakes, the journey turns inward to questions of self-essence and self-worth.
A key point is that we all get to define success for ourselves. It’s time to leave behind the tyranny of having it defined for us, particularly in terms of money. Mostly, success has to do with freedom. A person may be financially challenged but happy in that he has freed himself to spend his days pursuing his true passions and living in healthful balance.
On the other hand, it’s possible to be hamstrung by expectations of financial success to the point that one loses the freedom to be oneself. There’s nothing worse than succeeding and realizing you’ve failed.
Lorraine Ash, MA, is an author and journalist whose feature articles and special series have won awards and appeared in Gannett newspapers, including USA Today. In addition to two books, she has written shorter memoiric works that have appeared in anthologies, including Steeped in the World of Tea, and various journals and webzines such as Cairn, Journeys, Ducts and Recovering the Self: A Journal of Hope and Healing. In her workshops and writing retreats Lorraine fuses rigorous original and classical literary techniques with a wide range of spiritual and philosophical thought. Participants learn to find their strongest writing voice, structure their stories in compelling ways and see their lives from surprising and useful new angles. Lorraine lives in Allendale, New Jersey, with her husband Bill. For more about her, visit www.LorraineAsh.com. Self and Soul: On Creating a Meaningful Life is available in many formats and can be purchased here, www.capehousebooks.com/selfandsoul.htm