“When I actually sat down and began to write … I found my mind pulled toward rockier shores. First longings lept up to brush my heart. Distant voices appeared, and ebbed, and then appeared again. I remembered the stories … of a family trying to explain itself … I strongly resisted the idea of offering my past in a book … not because that past is particularly painful or perverse but because it speaks to those aspects of myself that resist conscious choice.”
This is the voice of Barack Obama writing his memoir, “Dreams from My Father,” which increased his field of awareness and helped him make sense of his life. He’s not the only one to experience this, and that’s not the only benefit. “The scientific research on the benefits of so-called expressive writing is surprisingly vast,” wrote Tara Parker-Pope in the New York Times. “Studies have shown that writing about one’s self and personal experiences can improve mood disorders, help reduce symptoms among cancer patients, improve a person’s health after a heart attack, reduce doctor visits, boost memory … and improve happiness,” she added.
At Healing Circles Langley, we reinforce this individualized expression and healing with collective support. Our Write to Heal circle gathers for 90 minutes, embarking first on an interior journey of discovery through writing. Susanne Fest, co-host with Kathryn Stivers of the circle, writes:
“We believe that the circle holds us, gives us courage to look, remember, and name what might have escaped our conscious awareness. We put pen to paper, watch words and sentences appear: manifestations of the previously ephemeral, invisible, unknown. Finally, we read to each other out loud. This process of witnessing closes the circle. What was previously unknown has been invited into our awareness, represented in words, written on paper, spoken out loud, and integrated into community. In this way, healing becomes a possibility.”
voices joined in laughter and discovery
circling grief and love—an enso of healing
we pass our words, our sentences to each
other’s waiting hearts
and in the wake of words
Our Poetry for Grief and Sadness circle gathers around the hearth. “We have been touched by death, grief, illness, and loss, and still we laugh, we hug, we write. We are healed by love, by sharing our stories, and by writing circle poems together,” writes Lynn Nelson, a circle member for two years.
Write to Heal and Poetry for Grief and Sadness are part of Healing Circles Langley’s Discovery Circles program. Discovery circles enable people who share a common way of processing life’s challenges (but may not share a common condition) to come together in the spirit of self-discovery. The arts enable breakthroughs in our thinking and our understanding of self in crisis that our rational minds may withhold. This happens through art, words, dance, and song.
Our Circle of Song meets monthly in a collective process of quiet singing, ramping up to boisterous joy and energy, and ending with reflective, spirit-inducing song. In our most recent evening, a man who had missed a few circles returned with a bald head and a mask—evidence of the challenging cancer treatment he was going through. When we started to sing “I am alive,” I could see his eyes tear up. When the song moved to “Who is this aliveness? I am,” he broke into sobs.
“I haven’t cried yet,” he said. Singing, a deep love of his since childhood, was the pathway to his inner feelings. Spontaneously, a circle member started to sing:
While I live, I love
While I love, I sing
While I sing, I dance,
While I dance, I love,
While I love, I live.
We didn’t need to have cancer to feel that aliveness.
Diana Lindsay is co-founder and co-director of Healing Circles Langley. She is the author of the book Something More Than Hope: Surviving Despite the Odds, Thriving Because of Them, the story of her recovery from stage IV lung cancer.