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Writing from the Deeper Self
By Naomi Rose | Updated November 19, 2018
Recently, someone asked me, "How can writing be healing?" To me, writing is almost all about healing* (of course, craft and such comes in there, too).
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.
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?
That experience strongly suggested to me that what we hold in the body from our accumulated emotional and interpretive experiences are energies. The stories we hold are energies, patterned in certain ways, especially with repetition (how often do we tell ourselves the self-same stories about our lives, again and again?); and that if we change the patterning, those energies held in those stories can release. Certainly, this is part of what happens in healing bodywork, where massage and other kinds of touch can often bring the recipient's suppressed or forgotten memories to the surface. This is because the body holds those memories; and when its typical patterns are interrupted ~ through healing touch, for example ~ those memories are shaken loose and rise up to be released.
It can work the other way, too: you can write into those places that are waiting to be opened up, released ~ you can write into those places because there is something to be healed, in so doing ~ and in the process, you may well experience a physiological healing as well. This tells us what holistic health has been saying all along: the body is not separate from the rest of us. It is, among other things, a touchingly receptive repository for everything we have experienced and not moved on from, as well as everything we have experienced that is so deep and beautiful (in whatever way) that we want to keep it, that it makes us who we are and want to be.
And this brings us to intentional healing through writing.
Once you have had a healing experience through writing, something in you understands that healing through writing is really possible. You can heal your body; you can heal your broken (or too-fortified) heart; you can heal your spirit; you can even heal your soul. Writers of novels, for example, often infuse their own unresolved conflicts (family relations, intra-psychic conflicts, and so on) into their characters in order to play out, in a more removed yet strangely intimate way, how else those conflicts might resolve. Some writers even write book after book to resolve the same conflict. The writer John Irving said of his last book something like, "I think I'm finally getting close to being done with this subject."
But you don't have to be famous to do it, and you don't have to write a novel unless you want to. You can simply write about your own experience ~ whether as a memoir, proper, or as part of a book on something else entirely ~ and you can do this with the conscious intention for the writing to bring forth healing.
When I first began writing Living in MotherWealth, it was from the perspective of still feeling wounded about my mothering. I wrote many pages before the feeling-tone of lack and loss began to feel obstructive ~ and maybe even a little bit untrue in light of all that lay inside me, even if not yet brought out and fully lived. So after 100 or more pages of draft writing in that direction, something else wanted to be said, to be discovered. And the book ~ and I ~ changed direction. The next version was far more of an opening than a recitation of old hurts; far more a discovery into what real presence, real mothering, might be.
And as I made room for writing about what I had been certain I knew nothing of, I found that the very qualities I was longing for began to show themselves in me through the writing. A sense of caring, protectiveness, deep listening, and more began to well up in the writing, and in me doing the writing. Instead of staying close to the limiting patternings that ran themselves automatically from within the grooves I was used to, I began to do research into "What is really good mothering?" and to notice the (many) instances of mothers and their children in the markets, on the street: how they were together, how the mothers held them, looked into their faces, supported and enjoyed who they were. As this quest opened up for me, my intention shifted from an unconscious following of the old trail to a new, deliberate desire to find what was true and beautiful in real mothering, and to open myself to internally receiving that and to being that.
I do have to say, it's made me a better mother: to my grown son, and to myself.
So although the journey of self-discovery and self-healing through writing is sometimes a challenging one, I believe that we have an enormous amount of help to heal, once we set our course for that. There are healing forces in us as well as around us; and that healing ~ that wholeness, that oneness ~ is the nature of our being. We are seeking, from our distorted, broken places, the nature of our own being. To have this intention at all is already to set certain healing forces in motion.
So if this is a path you would like to take, simply to have the intention to write about your life (whether directly as a memoir, or as part of another work ~ even nonfiction ~ that you want to write) in order to find wholeness will start the magic of healing going. You can help it along by doing a few things beforehand and afterwards, such as:
©2011 Naomi Rose. All rights reserved.
*I've maintained the place where you write from is almost always communicated to your readers. It's not just the words or even just the message: it's the energy of your own engagement with yourself as you write, what state you were in at the time. So your own healing process is not only communicable, but also a gift to others sharing this planet, this human experience, and this one (when it really comes down to it) great heart.
** Ruth Folit, "Dr. Andrew Weil's article, 'Journaling: Self-Healing through Writing'" (August, 2005) www.lifejournal.com
Naomi Rose, Book Developer and Writing Coach, has successfully used her "Writing from the Deeper Self" approach to help people with an inner-directed focus write the books of their hearts. ...