We live in a culture that is often uncomfortable with emotions. We are taught that strength means not expressing our emotions, or at least not expressing them too much.
Writing has always been a powerful form of expression for me. I’ve found surprising wisdom in my own writing. I’ve also learned so much from reading the writing of others. I’ve found that most writing, whether I can directly relate to it or not, prompts me to think about things from new perspectives. I’ve felt profound connection in reading the reflective writings of others; both to the author and to a bigger sense of what it means to be human.
Writing has the potential to connect people with each other and with what it means to be human. I’ve found that reading others’ works helps me to feel seen, to name my own experiences, and to feel less alone in my struggles.
Inspiration from Writing Your Grief, by Megan Devine
Almost three years ago my 24 year old brother died suddenly. Before that time, I had no idea what it was to lose someone so close to me and so tragically. I had imagination and empathy, I had close friends who had suddenly lost parents and siblings and I showed up for them in the best way I could. But I could not have know what I didn’t know. Grieving, for me, has not been the romanticized picture that is often portrayed in stories. Grieving was, is, terrible. And nothing makes it any less terrible. It is not a problem that can be solved. About eight months after my brother died I signed up for an online grief writing course, Writing Your Grief, facilitated by Megan Devine. Her courses and the structure of a regular writing practice have helped me to “tend to my grief”. 1
“I am forever altered by the loss of my brother. It isn’t just about the immediate pain of his death. But the loss of everything that might have been. Each and every christmas we would have spent together. The experiences he will never have, the experiences he and I will never have together. The last summer he was alive, I wanted to go camping with him. We weren’t quite able to make it happen, and now we never will. Never. Each summer will pass, and we will not go camping together. I’ve lost a lifetime of camping trips with my brother. And birthdays. And phone calls. And text messages. The little moments of love. The big life events. All of it, gone. All the potential futures, gone. The loss goes on and on. I used to think about the finality of death as something that happened in an instant. Someone’s life is over, finished. But now I realize that death, or maybe loss, goes on and on and on. It goes on forever. My brother will always be dead.” – from my grief writings
Practice, mindfulness and focus
Through my journaling practices I have also experienced the focus and groundedness that comes from regular reflective writing. When we bear witness to our emotions without needing to fix them, and when we allow ourselves to do expressive writing, good things happen. 2
One powerful element of coaching is the ongoing cycle of reflection and action. We live in a culture that often prioritizes action over reflection. This can lead to repetition or stagnation when we can’t figure out different ways of acting and interacting. When we create space to explore the ideas and stories we have our reflections can open space for new actions.
The challenge is that developing skills is hard. It takes practice. And having a structure for our practice is helpful.
Writing is also a powerful mindfulness practice. It can help us slow down and become aware of ourselves in the present moment. It can help us focus. Like sand that has been stirred by a wave and then settles, we can settle into ourselves, even just for a few moments.
Writing forces us to think slowly. It prompts us to test our ideas and to articulate our assumptions. And it helps us to observe ourselves. In creating that space for reflection, we can cultivate a deeper relationship with who we are and what matters most.
If you’re interested in carving out time for yourself and developing your own reflective writing practice, consider Writing for Emotional Intelligence, which is a 30 day online course, starting in early February.
- This phrase is a profoundly resonant way that Megan Devine describes what we do with grief. ↩
- See for example The Upward Cycle, by Alex Korb and The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. See also “Seeing the glass half full: Optimistic expressive writing improves mental health among chronically stressed caregivers” http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1348/135910707X251153/full. ↩