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Posts Tagged ‘Writing as healing’

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness comes 
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!…

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing,

and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond. 

 ~Rumi

Resistance is so devious!  Now that I started meditating twice a day again, it convinced me that I don’t need to journal (and blog) even though writing deepens my consciousness and feeds my soul; and I fell for it! I have not written in days and I feel it.   It’s not that I am not having insights and writing ideas—on the contrary; but I allow myself to be distracted by excuses and, supposedly, being “responsible”.  Not only that, but a study of my own process would help me be more compassionate about others’ resistances.  But resistance is also insidious and unimaginably perseverant.  It does not give up, and I am not going to feed it, at least for now, by spending my entire time writing session writing about it.   Okay, this is freaky and an example of resistance’s chicanery. A Steven Pressfield quote disappeared from the page even though I am using track changes!  In the War of Art, Pressfield writes that “[t] he more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it. Know what he is talking about?

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Last Sunday was busy and exhausting, so I played facebook Scrabble instead of writing my Blog entry. The truth is that, I unconsciously surrendered to the relentless subliminal refrain of my Greek Chorus.  As an aside, it is interesting that, refrain means, both, a “ group of verses repeated at intervals throughout a song or poem,” and to hold back.  So, what are my refrains, of this song, called my life?

“Zulema, you are so self-indulgent—why should people care to know about your navel gazing?  Oh, your writing is slipping, at the beginning you were creative and engaged, now you are just writing to fill up the page.  People are tired of your whining.

Get the sound of the cacophony I live with?  The thing is that, these messages are so insidious that, I am not always aware of this background music.  But, the Universe, in its infinite compassion sent Angels to rescue me from my reverie.  One morning last week, I received an email that a random person stumbled onto my post on Tonglen, and liked it.; one of my friends called and left a message thanking and praising me and my writing; one my former students shared that she’d read my blog on face book , and enjoyed it; finally, my blogger friend subscribed to my blog.  As I write, I am reminded that, like Harry Potter, I can create a Patronus Charm to deflect my Dementors.  Throughout the week, whenever I start to feel discouraged, I hope I remember to conjure up my happy memory to give me the energy to continue composing my life.

But this is also a good time to revisit why I started this blog.  I write because I love playing with words, hundreds of Scrabble games, lost and won will attest; I write because I am a teacher, and I want to share what I learn; I write because it is an expression of healing, and, hopefully, sharing my struggles makes your struggles less lonely.  Finally, I write, because in the words of Dumbledore, the sage wizard from Harry Potter:

I sometimes find, and I am sure you know the feeling, that I simply have too many thoughts and memories crammed into my mind… At these times… I use the Pensieve. One simply siphons the excess thoughts from one’s mind, pours them into the basin, and examines them at one’s leisure.

via “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” Quotes.

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“Carpe diem! Rejoice while you are alive; enjoy the day; live life to the fullest; make the most of what you have. It is later than you think.”

via Living quotes.

I didn’t post last week and I have been on the verge of skipping this week as well. since I was and am exhausted, physically and emotionally.  Although I thought I was immune to the residual effects of 9/11, I wasn’t.  I found myself feeling frightened that I would die in a 10th year anniversary attack.  It didn’t help that someone I know, who was at the WTC during the attacks, was wrestling with her PTSD, or that I was volunteered to support American war Vets in Levittown, PA through Operation Stand Down.  Wouldn’t veterans be terrorist targets?   I knew my fears were irrational, but I could not help myself.  Ten years later, planes crashing against towers continue to haunt us, and, perhaps, always will.

Writing demons, like terrorists and Dementors in the Harry Potter series, can siphon your soul, leaving you lifeless; last week, I told myself I could not write, and I couldn’t.  But I have learned from Harry Potter that, a Patronus charm can help deflect negative forces by staying focused on something positive, like a happy memory, the happier the better.  I must have succeeded in conjuring one up, since I am writing tonight, even though I still have to prepare for class tomorrow, and my personal Greek chorus echoes in the background, telling me I can’t write.  But standing firm, I remembered my commitment to writing as a spiritual practice and how fulfilled I feel during and after writing a blog entry.  And, I remembered that, showing up is the beginning and the end.  I must show up in life, and writing makes me feel alive.

So, why am I so tired this week?  Because I have been seizing every opportunity that comes my way—-stretching myself way beyond my comfort zone.  Despite my tendency to barricade in my home fortress, I taught my first class at the Blanton-Peale Institute last week (more another time), I have started training to co-lead Success Is An Inside Job Retreats (SIIJ), and I volunteered at Operation Stand Down, while continuing my online teaching, and my research on Cubans.  Fighting off my Dementors, I am meeting the most extraordinary people, both personally and professionally, and reconnecting with old friends and acquaintances.  I feel so exuberant that, at times, I am afraid I will blow a gasket.  In the past I resisted both joy and pain, and, now, I am allowing both in.  Wow.  This is what being alive feels like—-to have integration and alignment between whom you are, what you do, and whom you spend your time with.  But living fully can be exhausting when you are first learning how.

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“It’s the process of writing and life that matters… We are trying to become sane along with our poems and stories.”

Natalie Goldberg quotes

via Natalie Goldberg quotes.

I have been so caught up with the stuff of daily life, like work, a wedding, and a funeral, that I missed my Friday deadline.  Don’t worry— I will spare you this week from writing about death at the request of my friend W., whom lost her father to a stroke and her brother-in-lawn to a drunken-driver, just this spring. But I can’t promise that I won’t write about death next week, a few hours ago, the hospice doctor said that, she is “exhausting” her reserves, which should last until today or tomorrow.  So, instead, I decided to recycle a guest post I did in February for a blogger friend, meredith.  The purpose is twofold; first, to write about a more neutral topic; and second, to reconnect myself to my motives for starting this blog.   I write about blogging as a yoga practice, because meredith writes about her experiences healing through daily yoga for a year.  So here goes.

As an academic, though in recovery, programmed to research before I write (and to lecture, so bear with me), I decided look up yoga on Wikipedia, not a legitimate source of knowledge, according to keepers of “correct” knowledge, but it works for me here.  Although Westerners think of yoga as a physical practice, yoga also includes mental, or meditative practices.  In essence, the Sanskrit word for yoga means to join, to yoke, or to unite.  The word wholeness comes to mind, and it makes sense because yoga unites us, or makes us whole.  It is also interesting that the root word for religion, religiō in Latin, means “bind, connect”, or “to reconnect.”

So, how is blogging my yoga practice?  You know this story, but I love telling it because it makes me, and, hopefully, you hopeful.  Years ago, exhausted from resisting and being chased by writing, I decided to turn my suffering (and suffering it was) into a spiritual practice to transcend a writer’s block dating back to elementary school when I agonized over writing spelling stories, because I kept finding myself in jobs that defined me, not by the quality of my writing, but by my the number of publications.  As I write this, I realize that although I no longer agonize about academic writing, as I once did, I don’t enjoy writing for a den of lions (read: peer reviewers) to rip apart with their piercing claws and teeth.

As a practice, blogging connects me, internally, with myself and, externally, with others.  I reinforce my insights with readings from the Tao:

Writing helps me to reflect and to integrate new experiences and major life events, gathering my scattered thoughts and feelings that might otherwise become lost.  But too much reflection, or “over-thinking,” the root of my early suffering, can paralyze me.

Fill your bowl to the brim and it will spill.  Keep sharpening your knife and it will blunt (p. 9).

 

Writing, or anything else for that matter, becomes harder, if not impossible, when I am attached to a particular outcome.  Whenever I sit down to write, I intentionally release my attachment to reader comments or to high reader numbers.

The Master doesn’t seek fulfillment.

Not seeking, not expecting,

She is present, and can welcome all things (15).

 

Publicly sharing my struggles, big and small, helps me to accept parts of me that I have hidden in shame for most of my life.  I am allowing myself to be partial to become whole, and by showing you my brokenness, I hope that you can accept your own.

            If you want to become whole, let yourself be partial.

If you want to become straight,

Let yourself be crooked.

If you want to become full,

Let yourself be empty (p. 22).

 

Externally, blogging has helped me to join with a community of kindred spirits, who like me, are dancing as hard as they can to heal,  and to cheer others on.  That, of course, is how I met meredith, and Chaz, and leesis.   When I started my blog, I knew I would connect with friends, but I never imagined that I would make new ones.

Daily life, if I allow it, prevents me from doing what is meaningful to me—like blogging.  I do need a blog schedule, though I struggle to keep it.  Like I honor my work schedules, I need to schedule and honor those things that give me life energy, but this is a work in progress.   Perhaps I can find structure by following the prompts of the yoga of writing website I just discovered on Google.

What are you yearning to do that you can’t find the time for?  Perhaps you can schedule it into your busy life, and who knows?  You may find that you have more energy than you ever imagined.  Tell me about it.

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For last year’s words belong to last year’s language

And next year’s words await another voice.

And to make an end is to make a beginning.

~T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”

via Happy New Year Quotes, New Years Eve Sayings.

 

A Cuban New Year’s Eve tradition is to dump a bucket of water out the window, to rid oneself of the dirt (karma?) of the old year and to clear the way for a clean start. My friend “Remedios” reminded me of this practice yesterday as we Skyped across continents, she in Europe and I in the US. She was tearful, wistful that she and her younger sister are estranged for yet another year, and regretting her part in causing it. Her courageous expression of grief and regrets engendered a conversation about compassion and forgiveness of self and others.   Though it seems that our automatic response to tears is to try to contain them, as we talked, it dawned on me that, perhaps, through our collective end-of-year sadness and tears, we are emotionally and spiritually cleansing in preparation for all that is to come in 2011. With this insight, can we stop beating ourselves for being blue when we  are supposed to be glad?   Sadness leads us to go inside to see what needs to go into our bucket.

 

On this eve of 2011, I feel the anticipation of Advent (Discovering Advent), the exultation of Christmas, and the trepidation of Joseph fleeing with his wife and new baby to Egypt (The Grinch sings the blues). However, that I am writing and you are reading this blog, and that it brings me such deep joy and fulfillment when writing was for so long soulfully painful, gives me hope and staunch confidence in my resilience. And, I am profoundly grateful to you for holding a safe space for me to heal and to express my creativity by bearing witness to my darkness and my light.What a priceless gift you have given me!  Today, and always, I wish for you all that you have given me, magnified.

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Open yourself to the Tao, and trust your natural responses; and everything will fall into place (Mitchell, p. 23).


On Tuesday, I was feeling sad, so I sat down to write to discover what was beneath the sadness; it was related to a talk my friend and I attended on Monday at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.  The speaker,  a sociologist named Susan Eckstein presented on her book, The immigrant divide:  How Cuban Americans changed the US and their homeland. Since I’d read the book, I sat and knitted a sock while I listened.  Was I subconsciously distracting myself?  Seated to my left, my friend, an aspiring academic, was furiously taking notes and whispering commentaries.  Shortly after Professor Eckstein began her talk, a middle-age Cuban man interrupted her, challenging one of her arguments.  As is the custom at such events, she asked him to please hold questions and comments until she was done.  I commented to my friend, that he seemed contentious, and she replied that she, too, was feeling that way.  I couldn’t understand why, though I was aware that his defensiveness irritated me.  The man continued to interrupt, and my friend continued her commentary.  When the talk ended, the man was ready to pounce, but he was stopped, this time by the moderator, an older Cuban academic.  I noticed, however, that when another Cuban woman spoke in response to a question asked by the moderator, she, too, sounded angry.  I continued knitting, irritated and embarrassed that, unlike me, Cubans become so emotional whenever the subject comes up.

It is interesting that this talk came a few days after my frozen grief blog (Frozen grief) and that anger and irritability are grief reactions.   Is that why the audience seemed so angry and defensive?  In the past, I have avoided being around Cubans, other than family, and a friend or two, because, ironically, being with my tribe, reminded me that I was perpetually condemned to not belonging.  Not here, where I am always seen as “different”, nor among Cubans, whom I have distanced myself from.  Because frozen grief does not flow, like water does, my feelings took 24 hours to germinate. I awoke feeling restless and melancholy, and this time, I could not distract myself, so I was forced to face my feelings. Shortly after I started writing, a wave of grief assaulted me—-one as deep, or even deeper than when my father died the second time.  I say the second time, because the adoring, and indulgent father of my early life in Cuba died in 1959; the father that greeted me at the airport—the angry, violent, reproaching one, the one eternally scarred by trauma, died in 2005 (More on Parenting).  As I write this, I wonder if I have allowed myself to grieve either of my fathers.  But although my second father died five years ago, his mind preceding his body in death by a year, as he withdrew into silences occasionally interrupted by violent rages precipitated by torturous delusions about infidelity.

Pauline Boss classifies losses where there is a physical presence and a psychological loss as type II ambiguous loss situations (http://www.ambiguousloss.com/four_questions.php).  My indefinite separation from Cuba and the family left behind, technically, constitutes a type I loss because there is psychological presence and a physical absence.  But, did I hold them and Cuba psychologically present?  Not really.  Although my Death and Dying instructor pointed out my losses in that paper that I wrote over thirty years ago, I was occasionally intellectually aware but, mostly, emotionally cut-off from my losses; hence, my irritation with and my retreat from “emotional” Cubans.  Yesterday, almost fifty years later, I wept, and until it comes again, my melancholy lifted.  It is amazing that something as simple as crying (and writing) can erode our feelings of grief.  But, as the Tao reminds us:

Nothing in the world

Is as soft and yielding as water.

Yet for dissolving the hard and inflexible,

nothing can surpass it.


Finally, The Tao also reminds us that:

If you want to shrink something,

You must first allow it to expand.

If you want to get rid of something,

You must first allow it to flourish . . .

This is called the subtle perception of the way things are (Mitchell, p.36).


What ambiguous losses in your life are waiting to be grieved?  I am humbled and grateful for any thoughts, feelings, or experiences you are moved to share here.

References

Eckstein, S. E. (2009). The immigrant divide:  How Cuban Americans changed the US and their homeland. New York: Routledge.

Mitchell, S. (1994). Tao te ching: A new English version: HarperCollins Publishers.

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Storytelling is healing. As we reveal ourselves in story, we become aware of the continuing core of our lives under the fragmented surface of our experience. We become aware of the multifaceted, multi-chaptered ‘ I ‘ who is the storyteller.

–Susan Wittig Albert

 

A friend recently asked me what inspired me to blog, and I decided to explore my reasons in a blog.  I can’t pinpoint whether this was something I wanted to do before the surgery, or whether it was one of those gifts of the surgery.  But, regardless of when the dream surfaced in me, my Caring Bridge blog definitely crystallized the idea in my heart and mind.  As I mentioned in my first blog (On living), to my amazement, my friends and acquaintances continued reading my blog long after my six-week recovery period, and a few shared that they looked forward to reading my posts after long, stressful days, before going to bed.  One of these friends, a Palestinian dynamo fueled by the tenure clock and by an inextinguishable passion to help her people.  That she took the time out to read my blog and found solace in my writing was inspirational and gratifying both personally and professionally.  Another friend, also a social worker, commented that she and, she believed, others were healing along with me.  Then, as I am doing now, I was sharing my psychological and spiritual process.

So, what drives or inspires me to write about my process though, then, and now, I hear whispers of self-centeredness from my personal Greek choir?  I have two primary reasons; I am a healer and a writer, two identities I have seldom claimed publicly or privately.  Indeed, I have consciously and vigorously avoided being a therapist and writing for publication.  I dreaded having responsible for others’ lives feeling entrapped by the commitment inherent in a private practice, remnants of my childhood parentification (It’s all about me:  Relationship as mirrors). And, as much as I see now that I love to write, academic writing is not only formulaic and sterile, but the peer review process required for publication felt like those Roman games where the early Christians were thrown to the lions.  For years, teaching was similarly terrifying.  What was I, an academically trained social worker, who resisted agency and private-practice work and academia, to do, when I didn’t want to move because by then, I had developed life-long friendships in Ann Arbor.  For three years, I stood between not one, but two Swords of Damocles, each sword hanging by a horsehair, waiting,  my impasse, broken by a chance meeting with a spiritual reader and teacher, Chetana Cathy Florida, whom I will write about in future blogs.  Despite six years of psychoanalysis, she birthed me through unimaginable healing, and brought me to this point, continuing to teach me even though she died in 2004.  Her teachings and nurturance transformed my life, gradually releasing the Me that had spent a lifetime shackled and entrapped in a trunk strapped with steel chains.   And, like Houdini, I have escaped, though it’s taken me much longer, and I am now wiggling my fingers as I write.

There are many reasons why I write, but mostly, I write because I want to share the good news– hope that no matter how trapped and dead you may feel, resurrection, a central doctrine of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, is possible.  Although with each passing day, my body’s shelf life is gradually expires, my spirit feels brighter and more alive than ever.  And, as I write, I continue to heal, as research shows that self-disclosure through writing has remarkable physical and emotional salutary effects (Neiderfhoffer & Pennebaker, 2002).  The evidence is, as they say in research, robust.  So, what are you waiting for?  Take out your pen and paper, or take out your computer, and start writing.  You can warm-up by leaving a comment, here.

 

P.S.  Did I tell you that I am preparing for my clinical license exam?  Yes, after thirty years, I am officially claiming my role as a not-as-wounded- healer.

 

Neiderfhoffer, K. G. & Pennebaker, J. W. (2002).  Sharing one’s story:  On the benefits of writing and sharing about emotional experiences.  In C.R. Snyder & Shane J. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology (pp. 573-583). New York: Oxford University Press.

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