For the Week of July 31, 2016: Creating a Healing Place

This past week, I’ve written little, felled by a hefty case of bronchitis and a relentless, hacking cough.  Today is only my second day on antibiotics, and while I’m on the road to recovery, my writing routine has been temporarily upended by simply feeling awful.  I am turning, instead, to a recently published book, One Year of Writing and Healing: Writing to Transform the Experience of Illness, Grief and Other Trouble,  by Diane Morrow, a former physician and now teacher of writing, to borrow from the rich content and suggestions she offers her readers– the invitation to write, whether from illness, grief, loss or simply a difficult chapter of life, to find a place where writing and healing meet.

I became acquainted with Diane several years ago, shortly after I’d published my two books on writing and healing for cancer patients and survivors, and was constantly searching for others whose interests and practices were complementary to my own.  I first discovered Diane’s work on her website, “One Year of Writing and Healing,” and was immediately drawn to it.  We communicated, from time to time, and a month or so ago, she generously sent me a copy of her newly published book.

Morrow’s first chapter doesn’t thrust you immediately into writing your healing stories, rather, it is devoted to the creation of a healing place, a place of retreat and refuge, one that, when internalized, becomes “crucial to any kind of healing or transformation.”  Another colleague, Sara Baker, poet and author of the blog, Word Medicine, describes how Morrow begins… with an invitation: to take one year of your life and write with the express purpose of “transforming difficult experiences into something…more bearable.” Her tone throughout is one of friendly invitation. What she offers comes from her own experience as a writer, a medical doctor, a counselor in mind-body training and a teacher. And as any good teacher would, she grounds the practice she offers in both time and space. Take a year, she says, to try these things, and moreover, I am going to walk you through each month, guiding you and building a solid foundation. … 

I like the emphasis Morrow gives to the creation of one’s healing space, because, as Baker notes,  this exercise in creating, inhabiting, imagining, conjuring and holding is the foundation for everything that follows. Morrow describes her own experience of going to a retreat at Santa Sabina, where she learned the process of interactive active imagination. It was there that she realized that writing could strengthen and deepen and hold the work of healing imagery. By creating a healing place inside one’s mind, one could have a sense of “deep refuge” in a portable retreat. “When we have this deep sense of security, it becomes possible—and bearable—to look honestly at the stories of our lives.”  

“Say that we begin like this,” Morrow writes in her first chapter, “What If?”–“an invitation arriving in the mail:

You are invited

An 8 week writing and healing retreat

At a site of your choosing.

She offers the invitation to you, a time to plan the retreat—the healing place—and more, invites you to slow down and think about each small detail, because  doing so is important to the process.  She asks:

What details would you imagine?

A gravel road?

The smell of water?

A white cottage?

Climbing roses?

A blue door?

A room with a large window?

A desk beneath the windows?

A breeze?…

How would you being to describe your own ideal place?

What details would be essential?…

The concept of a healing place—a place of refuge and quiet—is something many of our greatest writers created for themselves.  In the 1995 pictorial essay, Writers’ Houses,  by Francesca Premoli-Droulens and Erica Lennard (photographer), the houses of twenty famous writers, intimate spaces where they did their creative work, are featured.  As reviewer, Kris Law, states,  A house is doubly important to a writer–not only as a home for oneself, but often as a workplace in which to write quietly and undisturbed (a concept Virginia Woolf lobbied for in her famous book A Room of One’s Own)… Many of the writers featured …led lives full of turbulence and upheaval at one time or another, and their homes marked one of the few places in which they found a place to write in solitude and comfort. 

Writing Suggestion:

How would you begin to describe your own ideal place? Morrow asks.  What details would be essential?  What sounds—or silence—do you imagine?  What about the temperature?  The color of the sky?  This week, spend some time to flesh out the sensory details, the elements you deem important, of your healing place, whether real or imagined.  A healing place, in Morrow’s words, “establishes a place from which to begin—a place that can, potentially, contain the work and nourish it (p. 24).

(For those of you interested in reading more of Dr. Morrow’s wonderful book, One Year of Writing & Healing, it can be purchased on Amazon.  I recommend it highly to anyone desiring to write from grief, loss, illness or simply, from the unexpected and difficult events life hands us.)

About Sharon A. Bray, EdD

Best known for her innovative work with cancer patients and survivors, Sharon is a writer, educator and author of two books on the benefits of expressive writing during cancer as well as personal essays, a children's book, magazine articles and the occasional poetry. She designed and initiated expressive writing programs at several major cancer centers, including Breast Cancer Connections, Stanford Cancer Center, Scripps Green Cancer Center and Moores UCSD Cancer Center. She continues to lead expressive writing groups for men and women living in the San Diego area and teach creative writing workshops and classes privately for UCLA extension Writers' Program. She previously taught professional development courses in therapeutic writing at Santa Clara University and the Pacific School of Religion, was a faculty member of the CURE Magazine Forums and at the Omega Institute in 2014. Sharon earned her doctorate from the University of Toronto and studied creative and transformative writing at Humber School for Writers, University of Washington, and Goddard College.
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