Originally published on elephant journal: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2016/11/10-ways-writing-helps-us-deal-with-a-trumped-up-world/
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ~ Maya Angelou
If you’re anything like me, you watched the American Presidential race with a heavy heart.
I had already burst into tears at the beginning of the final debate when I heard Trump talk so vehemently about reproductive rights.
To look at this man, spewing that sort of scare tactic rhetoric and threatening the rights people have suffered and fought for made me feel like we’ve already gone back in time—to a scary, disheartening era. For him to have won, was something else entirely.
So what can we do to feel better in the midst of all this?
Well, there’s no quick fix to anything. Not to our health, or our politics, or any of the divisive issues that come between us as a human race, but there are small things we can do to help us feel a little more in control, a little more powerful and a little more heard.
The only way I can even watch the news is to know, without a doubt, that I’m doing what I can to contribute to the kind of world I’d like to see. And it doesn’t have to be huge. I do my best to eat a predominately vegan diet, because doing so makes me feel like I’m living a slightly more compassionate life. Some days, that’s enough. Most days, it’s not. But there is something I can do everyday that always holds the potential to affect change.
I can write.
Here are 10 ways I’ve found writing helps ease the pain of a Trumped-up world:
1. Writing helps us figure out what it is we’re thinking, feeling and suppressing.
I’m the kind of person who usually has mala beads laying around these days, and when I’m searching for subject matter, or feeling overwhelmed by the state of the world, a quick meditation allows the important thoughts to pop to the forefront of my mind. It helps me to take action and to narrow down my focus.
When I actually take time to do this, I’ll often come across a little snippet of information I didn’t even know I was holding onto. It’s from there that I can then start to explore the deeper meanings of my emotions and actions, and write about subjects that I think will help better the world.
I’m not saying I’m going to change the world with a single article, but the more people we have thinking deeply about issues that affect us all, the better. Writing provides us with a tool we can call on when we need a way of not being complacent. It helps us figure out why we feel the way we do, and then put that message out into the world if we want to.
2. Writing gives us the space to say the things we normally leave bouncing around inside our skull.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, another beautiful thing about writing is that nobody has to know about it, or read it but us. I’ve often used writing to express my deepest darkest fears and desires, utilizing a stream of consciousness approach to just get everything out, not stopping to think about structure or grammar or flow. And believe me, I’m not about to go posting those barf drafts for the world to see, but more often than not there’s a pearl of wisdom in there.
Sometimes what I’ve written turns into a blog post, sometimes it turns into a chapter in my novel, and sometimes I let it turn to ash at the bottom of a garbage can. Either way, I feel like I’ve physically done something to record, validate and release my emotions.
Think about the times in your own life when you’ve felt vulnerable, or sad or lonely, but you never verbalized it because somehow that would have made it too real. Writing gives you that space. Writing doesn’t judge you—on the contrary, writing asks that you be honest.
When I was a kid, I remember writing on the first page of a new diary that I was going to write in it as if nobody would ever read it but me, meaning that in the past I had been stifling and surpassing my thoughts on the off chance somebody else read it. Even as a kid I was afraid to write down how I really felt. Something stopped me from expressing myself fully.
If we really wrote about what we felt, and then somehow found the courage to speak it out loud, imagine how things would change for the better. It would be a start.
3. Writing a letter to someone makes us feel heard.
I’ll never forget the time I sat by the Caribbean sea in Costa Rica with a broken heart, and wrote a letter to the people involved—one to myself, and one to him. They were letters of honesty, forgiveness and compassion: things that are sadly difficult to come by, especially when it comes to ourselves.
After I wrote those letters I wasn’t sure what to do with them, as the intention had never been for anyone else to read them but me. It was then that I looked down at the golden sand between my toes, and dug a small hole, placing the letters at the bottom and gently covering them. I imagined the information within the letters leaching out of the paper, and into the earth, returning to their source. I imagined my own sadness, my worries, my problems, swirling beneath me in a sort of collective root system. I reminded myself that we’re all connected. That nothing we’re feeling is new. When you’re wronged, or hurt, of deliriously happy, you can be certain that somebody, somewhere has already felt what you’re feeling. Its quite possible even, that somebody is feeling the exact same thing at the exact same time. So why not tap into that? Feel it. We’re in this thing together.
Back on the beach, I took a few deep breaths, meditating on that interconnectivity. And then, after about 10 minutes, I dug up the letters, and walked them into the sea. I knelt down in the warm Caribbean water, and allowed it to wash over the ripped journal pages in my hands, watching as the ink ran and the words became illegible.
I then repeated the phrase in my head a number of times, “Bless and release, bless and release, bless and release.”
When that felt complete, I hopped on my bike for the short ride back to my cabin in the jungle. As I biked down the bumpy dirt path leading to my house, I passed by somebody burning dead palm leaves from their yard. I stopped there and threw the letters in. I watched them curl in on themselves as they touched the final two elements, disintegrating to ash, and then lifting off into the sky.
I’ve performed this type of ceremony a number of times since then, and I know plenty of others who have a version of it that they use as well. It’s a form of catharsis, a permission slip to acknowledge what’s happened and then let it go.
None of that ritual of release would have happened if I hadn’t thought to turn to my writing, and I guess that’s the point. One action inevitably leads to another, and then another. You never know where a few simple words jotted down on a page will lead, or what hope they can bring.
4. Writing out a scene or interaction helps bring that scene to fruition.
You know that feeling you get when you end a conversation with somebody and you’re like, “Damn! I should have said that,” or, “I wish I had said this.” We’ve all been there. When we’re put on the spot sometimes our brains just simply shut down on us and we’re left blubbering and stuttering and rambling instead of reiterating our very valid points.
I’ve been so enraged after one of these situations before that I didn’t know what to do with all of my emotion. So I opened my laptop and slammed around on the keys for a while, recreating and disguising the scene in my fiction. What came out was a deeper understanding of the other person’s point of view, as well as my own, and the opportunity to tell the other person how I really felt in person afterwards with a more calm and rational mindset.
Obviously you can never control what other people say in real life, but nobody can stop you from imagining what you wish you would have said, and what it would have been nice to hear them say. We often give away our power in these sorts of situations, but re-creating the situation as you see fit takes it back, even just a little.
5. Writing is a productive way to pass the time.
We’re a culture obsessed with productivity and the glorification of keeping busy, and we’re exhausted from it. At the end of the day all we want to do is turn on the TV and turn off our over active minds. But studies show that watching TV before bed is damaging to the natural rhythms our bodies are trying to create for us. So whenever I’m really feeling like too much screen time is getting to me, I’ll head to my room an hour before I want to go to sleep and just sit there writing out the events of the day, like a movie on replay.
And you do get that same feeling of tuning out in a sense. You’re just writing down stuff you already know, information that has already happened. It’s nothing new, and it’s a great way to take inventory of the moments that might otherwise pass you by. Like a funny interaction with a friend, a milestone moment with your kid, or a successful idea you pitched at work. These are all the details of your story, and they matters.
When I worked for the former CEO of a national software company, editing her memoirs, we often referred back to her diaries. She didn’t write every day, just when something important happened, but she said she knew jotting things down was what helped solidify everything in her mind, and she was constantly on me to do the same.
“You can’t remember everything,” she would say. “You have to write it down or else it’ll be gone. Our memories fail us.”
So in a world that tries to get us to schedule every minute of our day and tune out for the ones we do put aside, writing down our thoughts is the perfect compromise. Who knows what you’ll do with the information one day.
6. Letter-writing campaigns actually get things done.
Every year Amnesty sends out info on some of their cases, and activists around the globe write to people in positions of power, who can affect change. The idea is to flood the physical mailboxes of the people in charge. It’s much more difficult to ignore an actual pile of letters on a person’s desk, taking up space. And recently, Amnesty and their network of activists, got to see their persistence pay off. After four decades spent in isolation and inhumane conditions in a prison in Louisiana, Albert Woodfox was finally given the opportunity to walk outside and take his first breath of fresh air in forty years, while looking up at the sky, a view the rest of us take for granted everyday.
Without the outrage of human rights advocates this wouldn’t have happened. And without writing, the message just wouldn’t have been received.
7. Writing helps us heal not just emotionally, but physically too.
A study conducted by researchers in New Zealand found that writing can actually speed physical healing after a traumatic event. Researchers performed skin biopsies on a number of people, half of whom were assigned the task of writing about their innermost desires, and the other half told to avoid such topics. They then observed how quickly the two groups’ wounds healed, and found that the group expressing themselves healed significantly quicker.
It begs the question, does connecting with our innermost desires actually create space for something a little more metaphysical to happen? Maybe.
A friend of mine broke her femur one winter, and having nothing else to do she started writing. Suddenly she felt like she was channeling information that she had never tapped into before, and just one short year later, fully healed and rehabilitated, she had written and released a book full of all the insights she had gained during her recovery. Hey, it could be a coincidence, but I don’t really believe in those.
8. Writing about our dreams gives us a way of communicating with our subconscious.
Sometimes I wake up from a disturbing dream and I’m so put off by it that I feel like my day is already tainted by it. But if I reach for my journal and write it down I can feel the power it was previously holding over me start to fade away.
And suddenly I start to see connections in the dream with my real life. It takes those subconscious desires, thoughts or warnings and brings them into the physical world where I can actually do something with them. Our minds are firing all day long, and we get little reprieve when we sleep, so it’s safe to say that a number of those thoughts are connected, even in the distorted world of our dreams.
Hey, half the battle in life is figuring out what we want. Imagine if we could use writing to connect the dots. The information is already within us, it’s just a matter of uncovering it. The world would be a better place if everybody was able to bridge the gap between their conscious and unconscious desires.
9. Writing a “F**kit List” helps us prioritize what we actually need to do, and what we can let go of.
Screaming into a pillow when we’re frustrated is great, but it also hurts the throat and is kind of fleeting. Writing something I call a F**kit List on the other hand, allows us to make a list of all the things we’ve got going on in our lives, and for a short time to just say, “F**k it all!”
I always write these lists in angry red ink just to get the point across, and I scribble and scratch and take my frustrations out on the page. But then something interesting often happens, certain items will come up on the list twice or even three time. When I write these lists, I try to write from a kind of glazed-over state connected to my subconscious mind without much forethought. And what that tells me is that maybe I really should consider letting those things go, if I’m actually so opposed to them. Sometimes that might be a job, or a friend or a type of food I’ve been indulging in, but this activity always gives my frustrations the space to exist, and a way of really looking at what’s important in my life.
10. Writing is fun. And the world could always use a little more of that.
I’ve facilitated yoga and creative writing workshops across Canada, and what I hear most often is, “I’d love to give the workshop a try, but I’m definitely not a writer.” But here’s the thing, you are. You don’t have to be aiming for a Pulitzer, or to get published anywhere for that matter, the goal can simply be a little self-reflection.
Sometimes when I hold one of those workshops, I’ll get people who mention they really came for the yoga, and weren’t that interested in the writing aspect. But after trying out the writing prompts and exercises, they notice that they’re actually having fun. Something they haven’t felt in connection with writing for years, if ever.
I think that’s because we’re forced to write so much throughout out school years. Through elementary school, high school, university and grad school, we’re asked to write essays and tests and group evaluations and assessments. We write so much under the demand of somebody else, that we lose our connection with it. Writing becomes a task that somebody is telling us we have to do, and it takes all the fun out of it.
Well, I’m here to put it back! It doesn’t have to be about grades or pressure or creating something if you don’t want it to. Beleive me, I’ve had enough of that. I have both a Journalism Diploma and a Degree in Creative Writing, having pursued both those subjects because writing has always fascinated me, but even I came very close to forgetting the power and joy that can come from the page.
Writing doesn’t have to be anything, it can just be.
Without a purpose. Without a goal. Writing can provide you a space within which you can begin to understand yourself, others and the world around you.
Bonus: Writing a letter to our emotions demystifies them and takes away their hold over us.
This one might sound a little strange but stick with me…This is actually a fun exercise I like to do with my friends when they mention they’re feeling stuck.
If I’m feeling a particular emotion that isn’t all that pleasant, I’ll personify it, and then write it a letter. Imagine if your loneliness, anger or lust were a person. What would they look like? What would they say? How would they act?
Giving your emotions qualities as if they were people gives you the opportunity to connect with what you’re feeling in a different way. It was Albert Einstein who was credited with saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”
And therapy is expensive.
So if a particular emotion has set up shop within you and looks like it’s ready to hunker down for the winter, why not try something new to move past it?
If writing has taught me anything over the years it’s this: all that matters is that we put pen to paper, or fingers to keys, and thoughts into action. What comes out is…kind of irrelevant.
Life is confusing. Relationships are confusing. Parenting, loss and politics are confusing, but writing can help quell all that.
It can add order to chaos, strength to pain, and understanding in the face of overwhelming adversity.
So why not give it a try today? Nobody has to know that you’re writing, what you wrote about, or why you wrote it.
It can just be between you and the page.