Naomi Rose : Writing as Healing
Writing as Healing (for Your Heart, Body, Spirit, Soul)
By Naomi Rose
Recently, one of my readers wrote to ask me, "How can writing be healing?" To me, writing is almost all about healing* (of course, craft and such comes in there, too).
Levels of Healing
Since "healing" means to make whole, there are some levels of healing through writing that may be obvious. When you focus on something through writing, you slow yourself down to give extended, often deeper attention to it, allowing an inner searchlight to comb through your unconscious and your neglected, unclaimed treasures, and bring them to the surface in your writing. In the process of giving voice to what has lingered below the surface, you have an opportunity to integrate it into the totality of your being ~ and, in that integrating act, become more whole.
Yet there are also other levels of healing that can take place through writing. Some of them "just happen," when you are drawn (some might say "driven") to exorcise difficult experiences and feelings by animating them through your writing. But others are more intentional. And these, especially, can be healing on levels that encompass not only the feeling nature, but the soul, and even the body.
I have experienced many dimensions of healing through writing, including both the unintended and the intended. What strikes me, now, is that it is almost as if ~ or perhaps, it actually is this ~ there is something already whole in us that draws us to write in a way that will bring us into an alive awareness of that inner state.
Unintentional Healing through Writing: Healing the Body
Andrew Weil, M.D. says that writing can be healing to the body. In an article called "Journaling: Self-Healing through Writing," Weil "frequently suggests to those with chronic illnesses, particularly autoimmune disorders" and "anyone, whether healthy or not [that] expressing oneself in writing can be a creative outlet and a good way to release feelings that you might otherwise hide or suppress." ** He cites cases where journal writers have healed not only their anxieties but their physiological symptoms. Perhaps it has something to do with transferring their pain onto the page, and in the process working it through energetically.
I had an unintentional body-healing experience through writing, years ago, which led me to believe that our physical state is a balance (or imbalance) of energies, and that these energies are influenced by our feelings, our memories, and our thoughts and beliefs about our feelings and memories, among other things. No one told me this; it was something I came to after having the experience, myself.
As I say, it was not an intentional healing. It was a time in my life, shortly after my divorce from my first marriage, when all sorts of old woundings were surfacing, some having nothing directly to do with the divorce. Childhood slights rose up as if still fresh, and feeling all those old hurts taking up so much room in me was painful. I did not think, "Oh, I'll write about them and bring them to light and maybe feel better." I just followed the memories that arose, and wrote about them to honor a tiny piece of the pain I was then feeling.
It was too much to tackle some of the then-current pain head-on, but these pieces from childhood seemed more manageable. (Bear in mind, however, that what has not been integrated can feel as real and stinging in present time as when it actually happened. So it took a bit of courage to address some of these memories.) So one day, I followed a memory with my pen (computer, actually), and it led me to a time when I had a part-time job in high school as a salesgirl in a department store.
I was singularly ill-suited to be a salesgirl, but at that job, even more so. As a 15-year-old, I had to be stationed along with the other salesgirls (and in some cases, women) by the elevator at our floor, ready to pounce on customers who, blinking, saw this cadre of over-eager helpers waiting, each, to claim them. This setup was decreed because the salesgirl who actually made the sale got a commission.
I was a shy teenager, hating having to turn my back on my introverted nature and put on a hearty, hand-clasping persona in order to make a living (the pay must have been around $5 an hour at the time). While I fought with myself to make myself do it, other salesgirls around me were actually doing it. So I suffered because I could not do this competition well (I likened it to sharks feeding), and because I had to be someone else in order to do it. (And I suffered, too, from the experience of people being set against each other in order to make money.)
What this memory had to do with the situation I was going through during the time of writing it ~ seeing the life I had lived for so many years disappear, and fearing that nothing good could come out of that (I was wrong, but didn't trust that then) ~ I'm still not sure. Maybe it was the sense of "How can I survive, if I can't make myself stand by the elevator of life and grab the customers as they come out?" kind of thing.
But what I do remember about it was that as I got into the writing ~ describing the setup of having to line up competitively by the elevator, ready to corral each unsuspecting customer; describing my feelings about that; describing the nearby racks of clothing, the plaid wool coats, the blouses, the dresses; the gold-bangle bracelets worn by an older saleswoman who got more commissions than anyone ~ something started to move inside me. Some energies that had been fixed in there, coagulated and crystallized over time, began ~ simply by my re-entering that old experience in feeling and in imagination, and dipping into the details and impressions and bringing them up to the surface in my writing ~ to move. To move out of that boxed-up, basement place inside me, and into the light of awareness.
When I was done (it was just a piece for myself, not meant for publication), I felt lighter. I didn't know why; it wasn't a cheerful or especially redeeming piece of writing. It didn't end with me "biting the bullet" and claiming customer after customer, or with me accepting my quieter nature and making peace with it, or even with me quitting (though I'm sure I must have, at some later point). And yet I felt lighter for having excavated this old disturbing feeling, and honoring myself by giving it that kind of room. When I was done, there seemed to be more light in the room (a spiritual and physiological event that really can happen, when inner constrictions open up; even the eyes relax and let more light in). But what I really remember is that, to my surprise, having written this piece very soon afterwards had the effect of a powerful laxative. Not to be too direct about it, but the very length of the ~ shall we say, output ~ told me that in writing this remembrance, I was releasing a great deal from the bowels of my body as well as my psyche.
Not a delicate story, but an interesting one. What is the connection between what we hold in our psyches and our bodies? And that when we can release something held in the psyche, does it take a correspondingly releasing form in the body?