Body-Mind-Spirit - Inspiration for Writers, Dreamers, and Seekers of Health & Happiness
Last week I had the honor of speaking to Marlene Cullen’s Writers Forum as we celebrated her new anthology, The Write Spot: Writing as a Path to Healing. I spoke to the intersection of writing and healing, which is my passion, and realized, while reflecting on my talk, that much of what heals in life also heals in writing.
Several people who attended the event asked if I could send them my “8 Essential Healing Insights for Life and Writing,” and also my “Self-inquiry, Healing Questions,” so I thought I’d share this information more widely, along with a brief recap of my talk.
I began my talk by taking a stand for anyone interested in using writing as a tool for healing, transformation, growth, relief, or even joy. This is not only possible, but also inevitable, when you trust yourself and your creative process—and have the right support.
What Needs Healing?
Healing takes place on many levels—body, mind, and spirit. Take a moment to look within and consider what might need healing.
• Maybe you’re in physical pain, your doctors can’t help, and you’re looking for relief.
• Maybe you’re struggling with depression or a lack of energy or inspiration.
• Maybe you’re stressed to the max and can’t figure out how to connect with your inner calm.
• Maybe you think some part of you is broken. This is a misunderstanding. No human being’s essence can ever be broken. You are intact, whole, complete, and resilient.
• Maybe you’re afraid or anxious. (I can relate. Been there, done that.)
• Maybe you feel unsafe in today’s rapidly changing world.
• Maybe you’re looking for a sense of belonging. A community. A tribe. Somewhere you’ll been seen and heard.
• Maybe you’re antsy and impatient and sick of social distancing.
• Maybe you’d like to be more productive or prolific or creative.
• Maybe you’d like to write, but never seem to get around to it.
• Maybe you’d like to have more clarity about your life’s meaning or purpose.
• Maybe you’re wondering how to be service, especially now.
• Maybe you’d like to leave behind a legacy for your loved ones, but you’re not sure how to go about it.
• Maybe you’re looking for a loving relationship, or trying to sustain one.
• Maybe you’re looking for something to feel excited about.
• Maybe you’d like to see a bit of grace show up in your life.
• Maybe you just want to have a good time. Feel some sense of normalcy.
• Maybe you’d like to relax deeply. Enjoy your life. Maybe even experience bliss.
What’s in Your Way?
Below I’ve listed some common “obstacles” I hear from students and clients. I put obstacles in quotation marks because often what we think of as obstacles are just ideas we have about why we can’t do something, or limiting thinking around what’s wrong with us. We unknowingly create narratives that keep us from living fully and free. In dramatic writing, obstacles challenge the protagonist to rise to new levels of action. It shows what your character is made of. In fiction, as in life, it’s not what happens to a character that counts, as much as how they react to it. That’s where they (and we) have autonomy and power.
Objections/Opportunities (for Writing and Healing)
• I don’t know what I’m doing.
• My life is too busy.
• I have too many responsibilities.
• No one cares if I don’t write.
• Nothing I have to say matters.
• I’m not creative.
• My writing is crap.
• I’m afraid if I speak up I’ll hurt people I love.
• I’m undisciplined and don’t have a regular writing practice.
• I feel hopeless, isolated, and disconnected.
• I’m broke. My finances are a mess.
These objections are only impediments for writers to the extent that they believe that they are. Thinking can interfere with writing and healing. Our minds reel with judgments, expectations, self-criticism, and fear.
Navigating a Path Forward:
8 Essential Healing Insights for Life and Writing
1. Slow down
2. Stop fighting
3. Let go
4. Trust the process
5. Authentic self-expression
I will elaborate on each of these here:
1. Slow down. Have you ever noticed that the speed of life is a lot slower than your thinking? See if you can slow down to the speed of life. Be present in the moment. Focus on what you’re doing. Bring your attention to the task at hand. If you’re walking, feel your feet on the ground. If you’re washing dishes, feel the glass in your hand. Be aware of what it feels like to move through space, and see if you can become aware of your breath.
2. Stop fighting. See if you can quit fighting your own experience. This is especially useful when you’re in a situation you don’t like. Most of us want to immediately hit the eject button when things become uncomfortable. For many people, uncertainty triggers this. But writing is a journey into the unknown—and so is life. Lean into, rather than away from, your discomfort.
3. Let go. I can’t count the number of times I’ve detected a small, inner voice within whispering the word “surrender.” This is related to “stop fighting,” but neither directive has anything to do with giving up. They have to do with accepting things beyond my control, and allowing them to exist as they are, even if I don’t like them.
4. Trust the process. Your best teacher is you. You have everything you need inside to play the hand you’ve been dealt. We all do. Trust yourself. In my memoir, Raw, I talk about a recurring dream I’ve had in which my house is larger than I thought (it’s a mansion) and filled with treasure I didn’t know I had. I awaken from the dream certain that I’m “richer” than I’ve imagined, that my “treasure” is within.
5. Authentic self-expression. This has to do with speaking from the heart, rather than the head, which means no self-editing, planning, or judging. It’s a way of writing in which you have direct access to your essence, rather than your conditioned mind. Years ago, a student turned up in my class who was a professional screenwriter. She’d recently lost her young husband to West Nile Virus and was grieving. For the first few weeks she wrote fiction, but on the night she wrote about her husband’s death (with the disclaimer that it wasn’t very good) we were stunned by the beauty of her authentic self-expression. Her memoir, Widowish, chronicles this journey, and will be out early next year.
6. Connection. Relationships can be organized into three categories: relationship with others, relationships with yourself, and relationship with a higher power. We are all connected and made of the same stuff. It helps to intentionally nourish all three relationships. Journal writing is a great way to nurture your relationship with yourself and your higher power. Which brings me to . . .
7. Listen. We tend to look outside ourselves for answers, but, as I’ve said, we have wisdom within. Sometimes we just need to get out of our own way. Two-thirds of the way through writing my memoir, the shit hit the fan in my life (five family deaths in three years, being executor of a contentious estate, and confronting an anxiety disorder that left be afraid to leave my house), I had to stop working on my memoir. I’d write in my journal and then beat myself up for not working on my book. But much of the writing I did in my journal was listening. And healing. And later became the last part of my memoir. During that time I had a few profound mystical experiences. One happened at the end of a breathwork session. An ancient being spoke through me in a language I didn’t understand. But I understood the message: Do not waste another second of your life in doubt or fear. I wish I could say I’ve mastered this lesson. I try. I fall short. But I realize that this too is a practice.
8. Love. This is probably the most important practice of them all. My teacher, Dr. Ron Hulnick, used to say that healing is the application of love to what hurts. The older I get the more I see the truth in these words. Writers in my classes release shame while sharing secrets. We hold things in when we judge them and are fearful of what others may think. But it’s what we think about ourselves that matters most. And loving ourselves doesn’t come easily or naturally in a competitive, materialistic world. But love is here. We just need to get quiet, tune in, and be aware.
After my talk we did a two-part exercise. The first was to take out a piece of paper and respond to self-inquiry healing questions. I invite you to do the same, and to give yourself a minute or two to answer each question.
Self-Inquiry Healing Questions
1. What would you write if you knew you didn’t have to prove anything to anyone and if you believed that there was no such thing as failure?
2. What’s calling out to be healed right now?
3. List your three biggest fears. Write next to each fear: “This is a story. I’m making it up. The truth is—”
4. What’s the fight going on within you right now? What can’t you accept? How might you soften around this? What might it look and feel like to stop fighting with yourself?
5. What activities make you feel like you’re opening a valve on a pressure cooker? What helps you release pent up emotions? What brings ease and helps you feel creative?
6. List moments in your life when time stood still. What were you doing? Who was with you?
7. What are you ready to let go of?
Choose one situation from your list and write about it. Tell the story of what happened. Use sensory details. If it makes sense to do so, combine stories or moments. Be mindful of slowing down, of showing us the small moments that are present and alive. Write without thinking. Let the words come through you.