Memoir Writing Prompts on the Subject of Transcendence

by Nynke Passi


KATSUSHIKA Hokusai(葛飾北斎 Japanese, 1760-1849 Goldfinch and Cherry Tree 鶯 垂桜 1834

Here a list of writing prompts particularly tailored to this course. Please use any that are useful in your journal explorations. Read them all through at least once:

1) Write about a time you felt completely and utterly happy. Use sensory description–where were you, what did you see, hear, smell, touch, or taste? What did it feel like? Was there a metaphor for this experience? Describe.

2) Write about Light.

3) Write about Time and Timelessness.

4) Write about a time you felt completely creatively inspired and on fire.

5) Write about your relationship with religion. What religion did you grow up with? What did you love or hate about it? Describe some rituals and details.

6) What were your impressions of God, angels, heaven or hell when you were growing up? What are your impressions now?

7) What fills you with devotion? What does this word mean to you? How does it make you feel? What do you really want to surrender to in life, and what is worth something to you, and why? Describe.

8) Describe a moment of oneness in nature–a moment of exaltation. Be very specific in terms of the senses.

9) Concretely describe someone or something beautiful to you, using the senses. Use the “terrific energy of your eyes,” as poet Robert Bly calls it. Really observe. What makes something beautiful in your eyes? Perhaps connect the description to a musing about beauty?

10) Describe a time when a mundane moment felt holy. Be specific.

11) Describe an activity that has a zen quality for you–dishwashing, walking, cleaning, writing, a sport, driving, biking. Any repeated action will do. Describe. See if you can weave this into a piece of writing that reveals something about the importance of being in the moment, or how hard it is to be present with the daily moment? What does this incident or activity mean to you?

12) Describe a moment you felt you had a gift or super power. If you could have a super power, what would it be?

13) Go back in time and describe the first time you remember realizing that life was finite and that some day you would die, or that others you loved would some day die. Describe your rleationship to death. Weave in a concrete story or anecdote.

14) Go back in time and describe the first time you questioned your own identity consciously. Who did you feel you were? What did you feel you were? What was real or not real about it? Describe anything that comes up for you on this topic.

15) What does the word “reality” mean to you now? Describe? Weave in one or two concrete incidents that reveal your thoughts, one very abstract and subtle about an inner experience, and one outward and concrete, about an experience in the world, using the senses.

16) Describe someone who taught you something important that you still remember. It can be a grandparent or parent, a teacher, really anyone. What was the lesson and how did you learn? How did you hear it at the time, and how do you hear it now?


17) Describe an instance of subtle, refined perception. What did you see? Did you talk about it to anyone?

18) Do you believe things you never talk about because other people may think something is wrong with you? Make a list of your secret beliefs.

19) Talk about a time you were giddy and delirious with an ecstatic experience of some kind, whether it was love, dancing, staying out all night with friends, writing, painting, or anything else.

20) Talk about a time when you, your activity, and the product of this activity seemed almost as one–and there was no separation between you and what you were perceiving or creating, nor between you and the process of creation or perception. Describe a time you felt one with the flow of creation and entirely in “the zone.”

21) Write about a time you laughed until you cried. Describe the story in detail.

22) Write about a time you cried without being sad. Describe the story in detail.

23) Write about a time you felt happy without any cause or reason. Describe the story in detail.

24) Write about a time you gave something away that you cared about deeply.

25) Write about a time you received a gift that meant more than you could say.

26) Describe a moment in which you truly loved. What happened?

27) Describe an early memory of being read to. How did you relate to stories when you were young? When you were a child, how did you perceive the relationship between “reality” and “make-believe”?

28) Write a detailed and specific portrait of an older person in your life whom you truly love or loved. Describe what the person wore/wears, how he/she talks, habits, favorite objects and sayings, anecdotes. Be as specific as you can be. Evoke the person through your stories.

29) Write down a secret. Let it come out as rawly as it wants to, without editing. You don’t ever have to look at the page again, you can even burn it if you wish, but allow yourself to write down all of it, also the parts you most want to hide.

30) What kind of person do you want to be in your life? What great things do you want to accomplish? Envision yourself as if you are at the end of your life, describing to someone whom you have been. Imagine freely. Allow yourself to inhabit the person you want to become. You can take on an all-knowing perspective and voice.


William Morris

The soul has been given

its own ears to hear

things mind does not understand