October 27, 2012|
Heal Yourself with Writing
From the Heal Yourself with Writing On-Line Course
by Catherine Ann Jones
The following is an excerpt from the "Heal Yourself with Writing" on-line course. If you would like to take the entire course, click here.
I first launched this course at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California as The Power of Story: Healing Trauma Through Writing,
and was amazed at the response. During the three-day experiential
workshop next to a restless Pacific, participants who had spent years in
traditional therapy with little result had actually healed a split
within themselves. One woman who was very successful in Silicon Valley
had been sexually assaulted by her brother and his friend when she was
only fifteen. Now thirty-four, she continued to feel split, separated
from herself. After the Esalen Institute workshop, she wrote to me that
she had returned to herself for the first time since the trauma
experienced at age fifteen. What had occurred in this short period of
time to achieve such a life-changing result? One thing was crystal
clear. I was not the cause - only the catalyst. She had chosen to do the
inner work necessary to heal the split within, and she had done this
through specific w!
riting exercises combined with courage and a deep resolve to change.
We all know the value of psychology in uncovering our deepest feelings
and the importance of catharsis in temporarily releasing our pain. Yet
while psychological techniques may help prepare us for the journey of
healing, they often are not enough to lead us through the deeper way of
transformation. Healing without transformation risks re-living negative
patterns over and over -sometimes even reinforcing them by repetition -,
rather than truly putting them behind us.
What psychology does well is help us understand how we feel. What
psychology doesn't always do is provide the way through. Einstein once
remarked that significant problems cannot be solved at the same level of
the thinking which created them. Only by rising to a higher or deeper
level can an ultimate solution to psychological problems be found.
Our lives may be determined less by past events than by the way we
remember them. Memory can be either disabling or enabling. Dr. Viktor
Frankl, holocaust survivor and author of Man's Search for Meaning
wrote that "…everything can be taken away from a man but one thing: the
last of the human freedoms: to choose one's attitude in any given set
of circumstances, to choose one's own way." What we think or imagine in
fact is our reality, both individually and collectively. Healing and transformation is possible only through changing one's perspective from within.
It is by making meaning out of memory that true healing and empowerment
can occur. What story are you living? How do you choose to remember
your story? The following allegory offers a clue.
Two Wolves: A Native American grandfather is talking to his grandson
about how he feels about a tragedy in their village. "I feel as if I
have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is the vengeful, angry,
violent one. The other wolf is the loving, compassionate one." The
grandson asks, "Grandfather, which wolf will win the fight in your
heart?" The grandfather places his hand on his heart and replies, "The
one I feed."
How do we learn to "feed" the stories that heal?
How do we put together the pieces of the past? How can we rewrite our
life story so that pain becomes meaningful and actually promotes growth
One answer lies in focused journaling. This course offers a step by step journey of discovery and re-visioning through focused journaling.
Throughout this course, the reader will be presented with writing
exercises designed to facilitate healing and transformation. In this
way, global healing takes place one individual, one tribe, at a time.
Negative patterns sometimes evolve for a reason. A child growing up in
an alcoholic and/or abusive environment may create a wall around him or
her for protection. Such defensive methods may actually ensure surviving
emotionally and physically through challenging and threatening times in
our lives. Years pass, however, and though now safe, these walls and
other defensive mechanisms may sabotage our personal and professional
lives. The wall is no longer needed yet it remains. It has become
habitual. The first step is to become aware of what we have built around
us. What stories we continue to tell ourselves to fortify the wall.
Stories from the past live on in us long after the cause or effect is
gone. Here's one small example. I recently taught a workshop at Esalen
in Big Sur, CA. A woman had broken up with a man who also happened to be
taking the workshop at the same time. Sitting in the circle with this
former lover made the woman increasingly uncomfortable. And though she !
had looked forward to taking the workshop, she now felt unable to
focus. I spoke with her privately for a few minutes then asked if she
could for a moment separate the perception of the man from the inner
story she was telling and re-telling within. She closed her eyes and was
able to discriminate between seeing him and listening to the story she
was keeping alive within herself. I asked her, "So who is telling the
story?" She laughed, took a deep breath, and was able to release the old
track from her mind – at least enough to return and focus on the
remaining days of the workshop. This is not to say that her work was
done in this moment, but she had acquired a new tool in lessening the
trauma she had experienced from the break up with her partner. With a
small shift in perspective, she had gained an insight into a deeper self
enabling her to step back and witness a life event that had stalled her
moving forward into a new life.
So what exactly happened here? A woman felt powerless because she was
unable to let go of a story she was holding onto which made her a
victim. Even though she no longer saw this man, her former lover, she
carried him within, and over and over again inside was keeping this
version of the story alive. Thus, in doing so, she made herself more and
more powerless. All she did now was to step back and take
responsibility for the story she was telling and re-telling. She could
see herself as separate from what she was doing. She became a witness to
her own creation of her daily life.
Think of a difficult event in your life, now past. Feel within the
emotions associated with the person or event. Now visualize stepping
back and see yourself telling the old story. Ask who is telling the
story? Now choose to write a new version from where you are now
standing, some distance away. Take all the time you need for this
As we grow these negative, protective patterns outlive their use. Then
as maturity comes, we seek to create new, healthier patterns. It's not
that the negative patterns leave, they simply go dormant, and the new
healthier patterns take over, as it were. We learn, as the old
grandfather did, to feed the good wolf. It makes sense to accept this
and have compassion for not only the old negative patterns but for the
child or young adult who needed them at the time.
Only when old patterns which no longer serve are released can new ones
emerge. Sometimes new, healthier habits must be in place before
releasing the old ones.
Feed or visualize positive thoughts as the fuel that powers your goals.
Make a list of two columns with two headings: Negative and Positive.
Under Negative, list any negative thoughts or feelings you have lived
with and are now willing to release. Under Positive, list a new version
transposed from the Negative version. After completing the list of both,
read them and decide which ones you will adopt.
When traumatic or disturbing events either personal or collective
happened to us when young, we may not have possessed the words to speak
out then? The words would come later as we look squarely at our own
lives and the world we live in, at how we got here from there. What in
your history, both positive & negative, made you who you are today?
By going through and beyond your own story, you will connect to the
great universal story of us all.
Personal events are not the only forces that darken our psyches.
Sometimes the soul's way is diametrically opposed to the collective
tune, and we must find the courage to march to our own drum. It is
possible peacefully to separate yourself from the dysfunctional
collective whose message is that we are helpless and must accept the
world as it is, that we are powerless to change it or our own lives. If
we wait for only the perfect people to change the world, it will be too
late. If speaking out can help one other person, how can we remain
silent? How can I make a difference, be it ever so small? How do I
choose to spend my free time? As Gandhi said, "Become the change you
wish to see."
To be most effective, it is best if the movement towards change comes
from within, that deeper part of our being. There is no greater force
than being true to one's self and finding the courage to move forward in
a centered way. How many times have allies –visible and invisible –
come to our aid when we walk our true walk.
Writing or focused journaling can be a powerful tool for healing wounds
and furthering our own growth as a human being. Writing is the best
therapy I know. An only child, I began at age twelve writing in
journals. The journal became my best friend, my confidante, and began,
for me, a path of self-discovery.
Later earning my living as an actor then playwright in New York followed
by a career as a television and screenwriter in Hollywood, I have
experienced writing as a way of understanding the world and others.
Writing for the popular television series, Touched by an Angel, I
learned how important it is to tell the story from the character's
Point of View or perspective. It is so in life as well. How we see our
past is how our present will be imprinted. All we have are our thoughts,
feelings, and sensations. These are what we remember, these become the
memories good or bad which constitute a life. How we view our life
matters tremendously. If we go deep enough, have the courage to let go
the negative past, and allow a shift to occur, we can free ourselves of
negative patterns which imprison by recreating negative feelings and
One example of a shift in seeing is this. Something occurs with a family
member, friend, or business associate which causes us to become
frustrated. You might habitually pronounce, "I'm frustrated." In this
way, you become identified with frustration. You are walking
frustration. Develop a practice of stepping back and just become aware
of the frustration – without judgment or resistance. Instead of saying
to yourself or others, I am frustrated, try saying instead, "Frustration
is there." See it as something separate from you, as an uninvited guest
who has dropped by. In this way, you may grow to see that you have no
problems, only challenges. Remember you can only govern your reactions
to what happens to you, not what happens.
Consider an unpleasant occurrence either recent or past. Write it down.
Now close your eyes, breathe deeply and release, then visualize stepping
back from this incident, seeing it from another point of view. Now
write down your reactions to what happened to you – not the incident
itself – only your reaction. Lastly, write down these words: "I take
responsibility for my reactions."
Paul Reps in his wonderful collection, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones gives us the Zen story, Is That So?
The Zen master Hakuin was praised by one and all as one living a pure
life. A beautiful Japanese girl whose parents owned a food store lived
near him. One day her parents discovered she was with child. At first,
the girl refused to name the father yet after much harassment at last
named Hakuin. In great anger, the parents marched over to the Zen
master, and Hakuin responded by saying, "Is that so?"
After the child was born, it was brought to Hakuin. Now, his reputation
lost, he did not seem troubled, and took very good care of the child. A
year later the girl's mother could stand it no longer and told her
parents the truth: that the real father was a young man who worked in
the fish market. The parents rushed to Hakuin to beg his forgiveness and
to get the child back again. Hakuin simply gave the child back to them,
saying, "Is that so?
What if we adopted a welcoming attitude to life, letting go of a
habitual defensive or controlling attitude? What would we attract then?
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