Word Medicine

Writing and Healing: exploring the art of healing and the healing of art

Thanksgiving Panic November 23, 2011

Had a moment of panic in Trader Joe’s today.  By the very fact that I was in Trader Joe’s, the ultimate Bobo store, it would seem I’d have no reason to panic.  Yet I was overcome with “doing Thanksgiving.”  I want it to be lovely–the house beautiful, the food delicious, everyone relaxed.  But instead of rolling up my sleeves and getting to work, I want to crawl under a rock.  Even though Todd is a great cook, and I have help cleaning, I found myself oppressed by the distance between what I want and what I am able to do.  To add to that, I’m coming off a really tough treatment for CFIDS, which has left me dizzy and my digestive system a wreck.  How am I going to pull this off?  How am I going to be the relaxed, gracious hostess I want to be?  And then, to really crank up the misery, I think, my table will never be as elegant as my mother’s.  At my age, I will have failed Womanhood 101.  Again.

There is absolutely nothing to be done about myself in this state but to take a walk.  So I get out the leash and Maisie, my overweight labradoodle, is at the door.  We step out into an absolutely gorgeous fall day, unseasonably warm.  There is a light breeze and golden leaves eddy around me.  A Japanese maple blazes a deep red across the street.  I tell myself to just breathe, to be in the now.  Bombs aren’t falling, the earth isn’t trembling.   The holiday is supposed to be about thanks, you idiot, I tell myself.  And so I start saying thank you to the leaves, to the sky, to the clouds, to the heavy orange persimmons hanging from a neighbor’s tree (that I’d like to steal).  And it helps, a little.  Let go, I keep saying, let go.

Then I meet a grandfather strolling with his 5 month old granddaughter.  His wrinkled face is lit up like the trees.  I look at the baby, Elly, and she gazes back at me with enormous blue eyes.  She looks intently at me , and then smiles.  I feel like I’ve won the lottery. I continue on my walk, my step quickened.  I start to make my way towards a small park, and see an old friend checking her mail.  We stand and talk in the sunshine.  Her son is disabled, and has serious issues with his neck.  A former middle-school teacher, Marianne’s life now is largely that of a caretaker.  She tells me her sisters want her to have more of a life.  “But Taylor is my life,” she says.  Not the life she would have chosen, but the life she has.  I think of the book I’m reading, Radical Acceptance, and how she exemplifies the principle of accepting what is, rather than moving heaven and earth to make reality more to your liking. Marianne is funny as hell, too, and you don’t get that kind of funny when life has been a bed of roses.  “I’m convinced,” she says, “that life would be 100% better if I could lose weight.”  We laugh ruefully.  Who doesn’t believe that?

We part, fortified with hugs.  I start to make my way back.  The leaves swirl around me.  I do feel in the moment. For a moment.  I feel at peace, enjoying the sun and the breeze.  The moving leaves remind me of a movie we saw on Netflix several nights ago, Cherry Blossoms.    In it, a middle-aged man’s expectations are totally upended, but in the process, he is transformed from a grumpy, closed character, to a man with a fully human face, a face alive to the world, in all its glory and sorrow.  In the final scenes, cherry blossoms quivered and fell.  Watching this film, I felt a renewed sense of life’s beauty and mystery.

I would like to say that I have been able to maintain a sense of peace and calm and that also my house is picture perfect and my silver polished.  I have not.  I am hiding out in my study, hoping the elves will come. But as soon as I turn off this computer, I’m going in there and putting on some music and making my stuffing.  I hope I will look out at the falling leaves, and remember life is change.  Live only this moment.
I hope I remember to be grateful.

 

Miracle Cure October 7, 2011

Last week, one of the participants in my class asked me if writing really did heal.  Well, that brought me up short.  If  it did, I suppose, I should be the healthiest gal on the planet, with the amount of scribbling I do.  But I’m not, I’m really quite sick, and have been going through a “bad” patch for quite a few months now, so that the bad patch is looking like the bottom line.

“Well,” I answered her, ” it is not a magic bullet, clearly, and you need to get physical things checked out, but finding your voice really is empowering…”  I went on to quote research, etc. She looked at me a bit dubiously.  I drove home rather dispritedly.  Was I fooling myself?

I went home to find an email from a long lost friend from the back of beyond, from what my son might call my “hippie” days.  She has started a restaurant in Baja California, and sent pictures, and it looked so beautiful that I immediately wanted to hop a plane and just disappear into that lush oasis by the Pacific.  Maybe there I could be healthy.  My friend, who is deeply spiritual and deeply a free spirit, emailed me when she heard I was struggling with my health, with a “Miracle Cure.”  I absolutely had to try it, she said, and I was back to our free wheeling days as waitresses, where she often wanted me to try substances.  I knew she sent it out of love, and for a nano second, I was tempted.  But I’ve been around the block too many times, I know the chemistry of my body and what is and isn’t working, and I know there is no miracle cure.  Just a long slow process of doing the best I can with the best docs I can find, keeping up with the research and accepting the reality of my life.

The confluence of these two events together got me to thinking.  I’ve been reading Radical Acceptance, by Tara Brach.  She is a psychologist and a practicing Buddhist, and her work speaks to the same issues of healing underlying issues of self-judgement, shame, anger and fear that often surface in our classes.  No matter what the reason people come to the classes–grief, pain, suffering, these emotions are the ones that often surface.  How does writing help heal the ways in which people deal with these often overwhelming emotions?  One way can be to create an open inquiry into our feelings–both as sensations and emotions.

Emotions are a combination of physical sensations and the stories we tell ourselves….they can cause suffering until we experience them where they live in our bodies.  If we can mentally note unfolding experience, the sensations and feelings, layers of historic hurt, fear and anger may begin to play themselves out in the light of awareness.  (Adapted from Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance)

This is not an easy process, nor a one time process, but a process of learning to sit with feelings.  How can writing help?  We can begin by naming sensations and feeling them in our bodies.  Here is one way to go about doing this:

Do a body scan.  Where is the tension?  Is it in your stomach?  In your journal, can you describe the sensation?  Can you make an image of it?  Now, what emotion do you associate with that sensation?  Does it signal danger, fear or anxiety?   Now, what story do you habitually put with such a feeling?  Notice that there are three parts to this process.  After you write about the sensation/feeling/story, take a deep breath and check yourself again?  Has it intensified?  Passed?  Could you withstand it?  Are you able to perhaps address it?  Treat it as an old enemy or friend?  Ask it what it wants to tell you?

This practice of noticing, describing, befriending, can begin to slowly to quiet us.  We can gradually begin to inquire lovingly into ourselves, into our felt experience of being in the world.  We can begin to notice stories which have had a hold on us which may not be true.  We may begin to notice areas of our lives which we habitually neglect.  Our journals can be the safe arms within which we can pour out our feelings, even the emotions we are most ashamed of.  This process can free the energy we use to resist our feelings to instead move through them, and thus have more energy to meet life.

Is it a “Miracle Cure?”  No.  But it is a way, one way, to help us heal.

 

 

 

 

 
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