Heart and Soul - Writing to Heal

When our souls are on fire, old beliefs and opinions can be consumed, bringing us closer to our essential nature and the heart of healing." (Joan Borysenko)


Often times throughout the years, I’ve found it difficult to express my feelings verbally. Confused by the turmoil within me, I avoided expressing myself because it would mean that I would have to recognize it, feel it, and even re-live it again; something that I was sometimes not ready to do. Not knowing why, I would find myself writing a poem. There, in only a few layered images, I was able to capture my pain, safely. A poem seemed to embody the experience in such a manner that only I would know the truth, yet while upon reading it, other people’s interpretations would vary, so my feelings could remain safely hidden.

I’ve been writing poetry since the third grade. How could I know then that this writing would heal me? My heart knew, my soul. According to the Roman Plotinus (205-270 AD), my soul selected this body, my family, and the circumstances which would mold and express its essence (Hillman 8), so if this is the case, my need to write, to express myself, and to create is latent within me, perhaps within all of us.

Throughout time, humans who struggle with misfortune, pain, and trauma have sought answers to the question, "Why must people suffer?" Existentialism teaches us that to live is to suffer, yet Viktor Frankl in his work with Holocaust victims reminds us that to survive is to find meaning in the suffering (xii). I must admit that finding meaning in pain seems an exercise in torture; yet my journal, although not used often enough in the past, aided me in that circuitous route to freedom. I’ve journaled since I was in high school. I filled notebooks with poems, thoughts, and mind "clips." When I look back at them; those that survived numerous moves, I’m amazed at the chronology of pain and fear. My journal and poetry have seen me through initiation experiences, crises and trauma both physical and emotional. They have been the voice I hid from the world. Writing through pain of growth, through healing from living in a dysfunctional family, and through physical and emotional crises that life throws at me allows my soul to heal as well. Joseph Campbell tells us, "One thing that comes out in myths is that at the bottom of the abyss comes the voice of salvation. The black moment is the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come. At the darkest moment comes the light" (146).

At times, it’s been incredibly difficult to find that light or "pearl of great price" as Nathaniel Hawthorne tells us in his The Scarlet Letter. Like Hester Prynne, I make the pearl from those grains of suffering, and it’s worth the price because it enriches me, it heals my spirit that in itself is the freedom from pain and suffering. I journaled through such teenage angst as adoration, lost loves, never found loves, through college adventures including a radical burst of freedom to California at the age of 20; I even journaled through my first divorce. Then the years passed, and I forgot what I was supposed to remember: to give my soul its voice. I let the years of childbearing, graduate school, and career, steal the breath from me. I forgot to write until my father died, until I grappled with this new pain, grief. I couldn’t express it, I let the weight of it drag me down, but my soul remembered the way to heal, so I wrote the poem "Legacy," an elegy to my father.

I wanted to remember that moment of pain and its universality. From that poem, the article "A Piece of Earth" grew: a true account about the events that occurred during the week of my father’s death and a memorial piece for the family. That was four years ago. I haven’t stopped writing. I’ve written four articles about growing up in a family torn apart by alcoholism. I wrote about the anger, the violence, and the emotional and physical abuse until I healed. Each story allowed my pain its voice; like the oyster covering that grain of sand, my writing coated my pain and allowed me to move to other issues.

G. Lynn Nelson in Writing and Being, tells us "Personal writing in our journals is the heart of all of our writing. There, our words become tools for our psychological, intellectual, emotional and spiritual growth"(40).In my classes, I have weekly sharing sessions where I expect my students to present a journal entry, which they revised for public consumption. In these sessions, I have heard testimony to the power of writing from the heart to heal. I had a young man, with his voice and hands shaking, reveal his pain at the abandonment by his father when he was a child; another young woman wrote about the alienation and pain that she experienced being pregnant in high school and miscarrying the child that she wanted desperately, even though her parents were ashamed and denied her condition. She cried the whole time she was writing her piece, but then she admitted, "I don’t know why I was so afraid to write from the heart; maybe it’s because my heart has been torn from so many directions that I didn’t want to face the truth, but now, thanks to you (and journaling), I have a way to let my feelings come out."

Just this week, I had a young woman, a recent high school graduate, write about the grief and horror that she experienced from hitting and killing a seven year old boy in a car accident. The pathos that came from her story was powerful. The entire class was transfixed. I found tears running down my face and saw the same effect on most students in the room. At first I couldn’t see how she could read the piece without stopping as pain infused her words and voice, then I noticed the stream of tears coursing down her cheeks. She said, "You know; I didn’t want to face this until the "Heart Scar" writing assignment (Nelson 53), but once I started writing, I started crying, and the entire story jumped out of me." She also said that this great weight lifted from her.

Writing brings us closer to our essential nature. It is an avenue of expression that enables us to grapple with life’s problems and to search for the solutions that are within us. Rainer Maria Rilke reminds us, "There is only one journey, going inside of yourself." The power of writing from the heart is in the telling: it is the voice for your soul.

"The Soul is partly given, partly wrought" (Erica Jong).

Works Cited

Borysenko, Joan. Fire in the Soul: A New Psychology of Spiritual Optimism. New York, Warner Books, 1993.

Campbell, Joseph. The Power of Myth. New York, Doubleday, 1988.

Frankl, Viktor. Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy. New York: Washington Square Press, 1963.

Hillman, James. The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling. New York: Warner Books, 1997.

Nelson, G. Lynn. Writing and Being: Taking Back Our Lives Through the Power of Language. San Diego: Luramedia, Inc. 1994.

(Mary Davey Wilson teaches English at Omaha North High School.)

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