Another month

Walking

Walking, moving, landscapes, connecting.

Many people are finding that getting out and walking helps in many ways to mitigate the conditions of the pandemic; not just the confinement of being at home for so long. This may result in many more people on the trails, open spaces are being shared with greater numbers. This can make solitude and silence harder to find but recently I, literally, discovered that

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference

Robert Frost - The Road not Taken




It really did make a difference to the experience. Each time the trail forked or another path turned off the way forward got steeper, there was more snow, and there were fewer and fewer people.


Journal prompts

Think about the forks in the road, literal or metaphorical, you have come to recently in the continuing experience of the pandemic.

What choices did you make? 
Where did they take you? 
Where do you imagine 
the road not taken have gone? 
What are you curious about?


Letters

I am told that people really are writing more letters in these times as they seek connection beyond their immediate environment. Someone said to me that she wrote letters to people with no expectation they would write back – so a letter in return feels like a gift.

Someone else said to me that in the course of clearing out a cupboard she came across letters I’d sent her years ago.

If you re-read old letters there is the opportunity to use the Feedback Loop and integrate your insight:

"When I read this I feel.........."
"When I read this I notice........"
"When I read this I remember........"


Journal prompts

And finally:

Write an unsent letter to your post-pandemic self.

People who live alone have particular challenges in this time:

What has helped you? What do you miss most?

What is your experience?

You can leave a comment on this blog by typing in the Leave a Reply box at the bottom of the page or you can contact me directly by filling in this form here:

Connections in lockdown…….

At the beginning of this lockdown, in the middle of March, the lake was frozen. So much was frozen. The levels of anxiety and uncertainty stacked up, personal griefs nestled inside the larger griefs as we adapted to the local conditions and read about the wider world. When everything changes and nothing changes, what do we do?

lake-3-1

Galway Kinnell’s 1983 poem Wait could have been written for this time.

Wait, for now.
Distrust everything if you have to.
But trust the hours. Haven’t they
carried you everywhere, up to now?
Personal events will become interesting again.
Hair will become interesting.
Pain will become interesting.

 

Journal prompt: What are you waiting for? What are you missing? What do you hope to keep from this time?

When you read what you’ve written, what do you notice?

One form of connection, the touch of another human, even the casual touch, may only be a memory for some people, stored in the body. but other forms of connection may be strengthened as other forms of communication are revived or practised differently; text, e-mail, phone, social media, Zoom, even handwritten letters.

Journal prompt: Think about how you are communicating with people, with whom?

Make lists (linear, circular or clusters) of the people you are in contact with and your preferences for communicating with them. What do you notice?  How do you feel about the interactions? Is anyone missing? Is there someone you’d like to connect with that you haven’t?

What do you want to do while you are waiting  – why not write someone a letter?

Wait.
Don’t go too early.
You’re tired. But everyone’s tired.
But no one is tired enough.
Only wait a little and listen:
music of hair,
music of pain,
music of looms weaving all our loves again.

 

The lake in late May is no longer frozen but we are still waiting.

lake-photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

Honoring Silence……….

What happens when we can’t write? When the ability to write abandons us? How can we make sense of this and explain the not-writing periods?

Selective mutism is a response to trauma where people stop speaking (Celie, the heroine of Alice Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple is rendered mute by the abuse she suffers, eventually writing helps her break the silence). Harriet Shawcross explores the phenomenon of selective mutism in her book Unspeakable, part memoir, part investigative journalism. It happens all over the world.

Yet when writing isn’t happening it’s called Writer’s Block which suggests an external wall rather than an internal response to the inexpressible. Anais Nin, the 20th century feminist diarist said:

We write to taste life twice, once in the moment and in retrospect.

so it seems to make perfect sense that we should not want to taste out trauma twice and that writing would desert us in order to protect us.

There have been two significant periods in my life when I couldn’t write – in my teens and just the last few months (slowly now the ability to write in coherent sentences is returning, but not yet the ability to write story). Both times it was after a major trauma. Yet each time I felt frustrated because the very means by which I make sense of the world and process experience had deserted me.

Having been a journal writer since I could make marks on the page, it was extremely distressing to have a period in my teens when I could not write—I literally could not write—a neurological event utterly disrupted my mental and physical processes. The re-learning was slow. I was unlanguaged and felt cut off from my very self when I could not write.

(Thompson K. & and Wright J. 2015 Honoring Silence in  Adams & Thompson (eds)Expressive Writing  Counseling and Healthcare: Rowman and Littlefield)

I see over and over again that some clients who have suffered childhood abuse find it possible to write before they can speak about it. But this is a slow and tender process, one that must be broken down into small and contained parts. Traumatic memories are stored in the non-verbal parts of the brain and restoring the narrative requires access to words.

Prompt: If writing has become hard or seems to have disappeared then remember that one word counts, that a phrase or an image contains much more than itself. So, write the word  and without context. Do not try to put it into a story. Do not yet try to tell the story of your trauma. Story time will come later. And for once, do not re-read, do not reflect, leave your marks on the page and come back to them when time has passed.

Above all, be gentle with yourself.

 

 

 

Choose Memory 2……..

Not the time Jane threw a coffeepot at Don,
but the time they swam with turtles in Puako Bay.

The poem looks at how different memories are associated with events, people, places in our lives or in history. It pairs a negative memory with a positive one, implicitly inviting us to choose the good rather than the bad.

Journal prompt: write a series of couplets alternating negative and positive related memories,  beginning each:

Not the time……………

But the time…………….

cropped-dsc01256.jpgNostalgia, the bittersweet emotion, that mixture of regret for what has gone and sweetness of what it was, offers us the choice of focussing on the sadness and loss or the happiness, not wallowing in loss or bitterness but celebrating the good parts of our experience.

Nostalgia researcher Krystine Batcho says: “When we reminisce nostalgically, we want to bring the best of our past into our present”. She suggests that ruminating on a friendship that has ended can take us in two different ways – we can choose to focus on the loss, things that went wrong or we can focus on the good aspects of the experience:

Journal prompt: explore a friendship that has ended

What did you get out of it?

What did you share?

What are the things you want to remember?

How did it become a part of who you are today?

A recent study identified by Tokyo Metropolitan University identified  two characteristics of nostalgic memory:

1) they are personally significant

2) they are ‘chronologically remote’ and have not been much mulled over so that when they are recalled there is an element of novelty.

Nostalgic memories are often triggered by seeing an old photograph or an object from the past or hearing a tune or sound connected with an old event.

Journal prompt: look at a photograph or listen to a piece of music from your past

Set a timer for 15 minutes (so you don’t disappear into the past for too long).

Notice the sensations evoked in you. Write in the present tense about any memories that come to mind, describe them in detail.

After 15 minutes, read through what you’ve written and think about what you want to keep, what aspects you’d like to re-kindle (for example qualities or activities that you have allowed to lapse)  and what you have learnt.

 

If you have thoughts about these prompts please leave me a comment.

Notice: there are places still available on the half day workshop in Boulder on June 29th workshop

Expressive Writing for Health, Trauma Recovery and Wholeness: customise your journal for your needs

Choose Memory…..

6 degrees
6° F – so cold and bleak

In January people are often concerned with looking forward, making new resolutions , moving on. But what about remembering? What, or rather how, do you choose to remember?

On Tuesday it was 6°F, bitter cold – but a few days later it’s 60° F. I can choose what to remember about this and how to remember it  –  the temperature was a fact but there was beauty and some excitement in the extreme.

Joy Harjo’s poem Remember (which I have used in groups recently  – one person said ‘at last you’ve found one I like!’), invites us to remember many things about ourselves and the world. She exhorts us to connect with our lives and our worlds, and encourages resilience and strength. It begins:

Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.

and continues with invitations to remember many things including:

Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.

The poem calls us to Remember, as an injunction, 15 times.

People in my groups wrote deeply and movingly in different ways in response to this. Several people wrote about mothers, living or dead, someone wrote emotionally about her mother but also compassionately about her troubled self when her mother died. Some people wrote about their values and their beliefs, others wrote about specific people or events. They saw that they could choose what and how to remember – in writing about the past they chose how to think about it.

Jean-Paul Sartre said that there are things about the past that can’t be changed or denied, the facticity, but we can choose to change our attitude to those things.

In Christmas Days – 12 stories and 12 feasts for 12 days Jeanette Winterson echoes this:

…it’s a fact that our memories change as we do….you can go back in time, you can heal the past. It may be fixed as a fact – what happened happened – but it isn’t fixed in the ongoing story of our lives.

 

6 degrees and sunny
6°F and so beautiful and sunny

Journal prompt: Think about things you want to remember, choose the details and the attitude. Write a list poem (or simply a list) beginning each line:

Remember…

When you’ve finished read it through and give yourself some feedback beginning:

When I read this I feel………….

As 2018 begins – choose what you want to remember and what you want to bring with you. Leave a comment below.