DailyOM: Heal Yourself with Writing
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October 27, 2012
Heal Yourself with Writing
From the Heal Yourself with Writing On-Line Courseby 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 and transformation?
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 process.
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 events.
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?
For more information visit Heal Yourself with Writing On-Line CourseTop 10 DailyOM Courses:1. Attracting Genuine Abundance
2. Attract Love in 21 Days
3. Heal Your Relationship Karma
4. Overcoming Self-Sabotage
5. Make Yourself a Money Magnet
6. 21 Day Yoga Body!
7. How to Work with the Spirit World
8. Combating Emotional Vampires
9. Cultivate a Strong Writing Practice
10. Be a Divine Conduit for Guides & Angels
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