Write to Heal, a writing circle, came to me as an idea after several traumatic and life-changing experiences. In the 1980’s, within a three-year period, I experienced the death of my father, the long-buried emotions and grief of my mother’s death, a cerebral hemorrhage, the complexities and stresses of intense personal relationships, and breast cancer.
I recalled reading about the well-known poet and journalist May Sarton who, when asked why she journaled, replied “In order to know myself.” And, so my writing to heal became my rite, as a practice, to heal. That I also had a right to heal was abundantly clear to me. I would write as a way to get to know myself, understand what was buried underneath the anxiety and depression, and explore ways that I wanted to become more of what I aspired to feel.
I had been living a stress-filled life fueled with the repressing of my emotions and feelings. The only feelings I was aware of having were perpetual anxiety and depression, which didn’t contribute toward living a contented and even life. Many times I said, “In no way, May Sarton, do I know myself, and will I ever?”
I had never dealt with the grief of losing my mother a few weeks before my sixth birthday. My family rarely talked about her or her death unless I brought her up with my many questions. When I was about 15, my father, who was a metaphysical minister, suggested kindly that I begin to write about what I was feeling about missing her. I snapped back, “What good is writing? It won’t bring her back.” I avoided both dealing with my emotions about her death and writing about her until I was in my forties.
Both the cerebral hemorrhage and cancer began my journey into writing, as did the unrecognized grief that I’d felt my entire life over losing my mother. I reasoned that, if I was too anxious to speak my feelings, I would begin journaling about them. It felt safe to put down on paper what I grappled with inside. It was a beginning, and soon I was filling large journal after large journal.
The writing was more than a report of what I experienced each day. Rather, it was a way to mark where I began and, in particular, what parts of me I was identifying along with what parts of my body I was feeling and experiencing.
Through my writing, and from many readings (along with therapy), I began to explore metaphors, synchronicity, dreams, Jung, body symbology, unhealed grieving, and I engaged in dialogs with my body and various body parts.
I imagined the possibility that my body had its own intelligence and that it could communicate through pain, metaphor, and symbolism. The question was: Could I simply be still and listen to a language that was brand new to me? This part of my journey entailed diving deep into long-repressed feelings and emotions and eventually surfacing to a knowing of myself, accepting and appreciating who I had become, and igniting a sense of what I wanted to do with my life that made my heart happy.
After this long foray into and through journaling, I began to listen more and more to my counseling clients, colleagues, and friends. I wanted to form a writing circle for others in a safe place where participants could write about whatever they wanted to resolve, understand, and be at peace with.
Write to Heal started as sessions at the public library, not as a therapy group or teaching workshop that entailed critique or feedback. We were there to write and listen, and to witness what was often vulnerable, courageous, and heartfelt as participants went into their own realities to bring forth what wanted to be addressed and, at times, what was too painful and raw to address. This included various health-related issues, disease, death, and loss.
Write to Heal is now a circle at Healing Circles Langley. We (my co-host Susanne Fest and I) see Write to Heal first as a sacred container. It’s a place of confidentiality, acceptance, kindness, and respect for each participant who wants to be a part of this circle. We meet twice a month, and we begin with an informal check-in followed by a few moments of silence, and a reading to take us deeper into our sacred time together.
We free-write for 10 minutes. Author Julia Cameron in The Artist Way calls these “morning pages,” but I call them “empty-out pages.” We empty out all that is buzzing around in our heads; the many lists, remembered conversations, tasks, responsibilities, and jumbled feelings that have not been let go. We note any kernels that come from the empty-out pages that we can use for our serious writings. We don’t read or share our empty-out pages, but write them to free us to enter into the sacred art of creative writing—hopefully more attuned to what our creative self wants to fulfill on paper.
Then, we move into our prompts, which may be an entire poem, line of a poem, or a soul-filled question that invites us to go deeper into ourselves. Participants are also free to continue writing something they began previously, or to work on a poem.
Afterward, participants (including Susanne and me) are free to read what they’ve written or to pass. As participants share their writing, I often jot down a key word or thought that they touched on. At the close of the circle I take all that I’ve noted and begin to tell a story that begins with:
“Once upon a time, there was a person, who________.” Then I insert a reference to what each writer shared to form a closing circle story.
I believe that all of us have the right to heal in whatever way we decide. The rite to heal is how we set up our writing as a sacred art that becomes a practice that nourishes us. One of the ways we can write is by coming together in a healing circle to Write to Heal together. As so many have reminded us, healing occurs in community and in circles too.
Header photo by David Welton