This post excerpts the introduction to Heal Your Self with Writing (Divine Arts, Aug/Sept 2013) by Catherine Ann Jones.
It's all right, it's over. It's just a memory.
-- J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Our lives may be determined less by past events than by the way we remember them. If we learn how to reframe the pieces of our past and re-vision our life story so that suffering becomes meaningful, we can radically boost our chances of healing, empowerment, growth, and transformation. Focused journaling -- short writing exercises designed to facilitate self-healing -- is an extremely powerful tool to achieve this aim.
Expressing and listening to one's story is an ancient mode of healing. There is an overwhelming need today for people to be heard, to tell their stories, to learn and grow from their experience both individually and collectively. It is crucial that we offer constructive and transformative methodology for this process. It may mean the difference between deep, transformative healing and some form of "acting out" or self-destruction -- both personally and collectively.
My first book, The Way of Story: The Craft and Soul of Writing, is for creative writers of all forms of narrative (plays, screenplays, fiction, and nonfiction including memoir). It began as a series of workshops for creative writers, and these workshops in some way mirrored my lifelong journey from actor to playwright to screenwriter to professor. The Way of Story uses short exercises to illustrate and develop self-understanding and also sometimes incorporates elements of memoir, i.e., examples and insights from my own life's journey.
Teaching these workshops for over three decades now, I have seen hundreds of students perfect their craft by using highly personal, traumatic events as a catalyst for creative expression. Yet during the process of perfecting their writing craft, something else occurred. Many of these participants shared with me how the workshop experience unexpectedly helped them to break free of the trauma itself -- even after many years. Witnessing these dramatic personal triumphs firsthand inspired me to teach workshops to both writers and non-writers as a catalyst in order that the primal creative process could heal as well as instruct. Not just to understand the psychology of the trauma and suffering, but to transform the pain and the memory of the pain itself. Again, I was enriched and humbled to see the participants in these workshops transform their personal demons and deepen their own life journey toward balance and wholeness.
During a twenty-year period teaching graduate school first in New York at The New School and later at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, I discovered the value of using short writing exercises to quickly teach certain principles. I also studied ancient shamanic practices during a Fulbright research year in India, which has stimulated certain alternative approaches in my work. Later on, I went back to school for a graduate degree in Depth Psychology and Archetypal Mythology, and now consciously incorporate an understanding of psychological processes into my teaching and writing, as well.
The culmination of all these experiences has led organically to the book you are holding now.
I first taught Heal Your Self with Writing (Healing Trauma Through Writing) as a seminar at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, several years ago, and was amazed at the response. Several participants felt that they were able to heal a split within themselves that had not been healed with years of traditional therapy. One woman later wrote to me that she had felt separated from herself since being victimized by a sexual assault at the age of fifteen. After the Esalen experiential workshop, she felt reconnected to both her body and her mind through the focused journaling exercises. She later wrote to me that she had "returned to herself."
What had occurred in this short period of time to achieve this life-changing result? One thing was crystal clear. I was not the cause, only the catalyst. She had herself done the inner work necessary to heal the split within, and she had done this through specific writing exercises combined with a fierce courage and resolve to change.
We all know the value of psychology in uncovering our deepest feelings, and the importance of catharsis in temporarily releasing our pain. Yet while psychological techniques may help prepare us for the magical journey of healing, they sometimes are not enough to lead us through the deeper journey of transformation. Catharsis without transcendence risks reliving negative patterns over and over, even reinforcing them, rather than truly putting them behind us.
What psychology does well is help us understand how we feel. What traditional psychology doesn't always do is provide the way through. Einstein remarked that you can never discover a solution on the same level as the problem. Similarly, only by rising to a higher level of consciousness can an ultimate solution to psychological problems be found. Healing and transformation are possible only through changing one's perspective from within.
There is a Native American parable about a grandfather who says to his grandson, "I feel as if I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is vengeful and angry; the other is loving and compassionate." When his grandson asks him which wolf will win the fight in his heart, the old man replies, "The one I feed."
How do we learn to "feed" the stories that heal? How do we put together the pieces of our past? How can we re-vision our life story so that pain becomes meaningful and actually promotes growth and transformation?
Heal Your Self with Writing offers a step-by-step journey of discovery and re-visioning through focused journaling. This serves as a basic survival safeguard and adds to global health by offering a creative tool for individuals, therapists, and teachers in dealing with grief and trauma in today's world as well as providing a means for deeper self-inquiry. In this way, global healing takes place one individual, one tribe at a time.
Telling stories about our past through this approach can help change our perspectives, enabling both healing and empowerment. In this way, we are able to make meaning out of memory and put the past where it belongs -- behind us.
If it is time to heal the past and glean meaning from what you have experienced, this book may serve. If you are a creative person looking for an inspired way to live your life or someone who long ago laid aside your dream of creating and feel instinctively that it is time to recover the creative within, read on. Or if you are someone who has been a professional creative yet seeks to replenish the well, needing a stimulus to pick up the pen or brush, this book may serve as a catalyst to return home, an invitation to the muse, a bridge back to your creativity and Self.
Writing has been, for me, the greatest therapy I know. It is my hope that this book and its exercises will provide the same for you.
Catherine Ann Jones
Ojai, CA, 2013