I was recently asked a question about how to handle grief. It reminded me of teaching at my first retreat using yoga and meditation to relax into writing. Most of the people were very wary of the writing part of the retreat and only interested in the yoga and the venue. Writing, for many, conjured up images of boring English lessons and negative feelings of not being good at the subject. So already there was resistance, but I had gently persuaded them to give it a go. An open mind, I said, and an open heart.
So first up was a warm-up, a writing exercise which I am a big fan of called the 'morning pages' – a stream of conscious writing about anything and everything, just a bunch of random thoughts. Always written in the morning because your thoughts are at their purest, well you have just woken up and the day hasn't started yet. It's basically a bunch of random thoughts written down in a carefree manner without the stress of thinking about whether it's creative or grammatically correct. Writing for 10-15 minutes in the morning (or three pages) gives me a picture of what's happening in my life (or not happening!), solving problems and basically clears my head. It gets those thoughts that might be continually swirling around in my head onto paper, move on and then create more thoughts. So of course, wouldn't this be the great way to start off our writing session after yoga and meditation?
What happened next was that three people started crying. Clearly relaxed after our morning of yoga and meditation, people seemed to have embraced an open mind open heart approach, quite literally. I knew writing was a powerful therapeutic tool but quite so soon? This was only supposed to be the warm-up, a gentle exercise, just writing three pages of randomness. People had taken their barriers down and knowing that they wouldn't have to read their writing out (as I had assured them at the beginning) laid out their thoughts on to paper. To many, it was clearly a shock and highly emotional to be faced with their thoughts unedited. just there in front of them.
At that point, it was decided to take a break and scrap what I had planned next...a reflective writing session. They were clearly not ready for that. That afternoon, I introduced (what I thought) was a 'fun' writing exercise. The idea was to write a letter to someone from the past, the future, someone famous, a superhero, a cartoon character, a childhood hero, even their pet. So absolutely anyone or anything, let there be no limits. I talk about this session more in the blog post on writing a letter to our fears
The turning point in this session was when someone jokingly said; "Can I write to my asthma?” It just shows that something said in jest can actually be a rather clever idea.
So, this retreat was the start of a journey into looking at writing in a whole different way. It showed me how deeply therapeutic writing can be. You think you're just moving your pen but in fact, you're moving your emotions, and that can lead to healing. It also showed me how vulnerable we all are and yet, we're conditioned not to show it, which is strange when you think about it because it's an emotion to be celebrated as it leads to strength.
Writing has always been a way for me to tap into my inner strength and my imagination. It's something I have always loved to do since childhood when I used to write stories. This led to training as a journalist which led to working as a travel writer and then to science. Although this style of writing also introduced me for the first time to my inner critic. That is when writing took a different turn for me as I started to over analyse, criticise and, second guess myself.
What I have come to realise from teaching is that the inner critic doesn't have that same influence when you write from the heart. Writing from the heart has shown me that thoughts can come out in all its rawness, thoughts that you never knew you were capable of thinking about in the first place. But you need to be relaxed first to allow them to surface. That is when your writing can lead you to the person you need to connect to the most...yourself.