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Writing for Wellness
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by Michelle Berberet

The page listens.

Absorbs our tears,

confronts our fears,

doesn’t shrink from our rage,

and takes only delight in our joy.

My mind is racing. I am stuck where I stand because each leg is trying to go in the opposite direction. What do I do?

I write.

What do I write? Anything. I may write, "My mind is racing and I don’t know what to do,” and see what follows from there. I may list all the chores some part of me thinks are matters of life and death and another part doesn’t want to do. It doesn’t matter what I write, though I often gain insights from my scribbling, more on that later; what matters is the act of writing. Once on the page, the chore list loses its power.

Writing acts as a firm gentle brake on a careening mind. Perhaps it’s the drag between the paper and writing instrument or the fingers pressing the keys that creates just enough friction, just enough resistance to slow the mind and allow the writer to breathe.

Writing is a way of bringing the all-powerful, limitless mind that can take the imagination to either end of the spectrum, horror or delusions of grandeur, into the real world here and now. It compassionately reminds us of our physical, emotional and mental limitations. After a few minutes of writing, the mind is calmer, no longer a frightened child running amuck.

Of course, a person doesn’t need to wait for a crisis to enjoy the benefits of writing. Writing regularly – and "regularly” will mean something different for each person – can even prevent the panicked mind scenario. Regular writing assures the writer’s mind, body, and spirit that their needs, fears, dreams and wisdom are heard. Over time, the writer develops the ability to make decisions with the whole person in mind. And with this assurance, there is less need for the mind to scream for attention. A person with a practice of regularly writing hears the whispers of discontent early and is able to address them by writing.

It is always interesting to see what lands on the page after writing freely. The writer can discover what he/she values and what hidden fears surface. Our culture of information makes it so easy for us to think we want or need what others tell us is "new and improved.” Through writing we find out what we really need and what we really want.

The first rule of keeping a journal is that there are no rules. I don’t even like to use the term "keeping a journal.” You may decide to write and immediately destroy or delete your words.

The following are some suggestions for developing a writing practice:

1. Don’t worry about spelling. This may seem obvious and simple, but this is one of the primary reasons I have heard people give for not writing. I used it myself for years.

2. Feel free to write anything; it’s called "free writing.” Write anything, knowing you can burn, shred or soak the pages in water (soaking documents in water is a good way to destroy them.) The page is a 100% safe confidante who will not share your secrets, will not laugh or judge. My writing ranges from to-do lists to thoughts and feelings. I daydream on the page and I often write the dreams I had at night. I map out strategies, practice conversations and write poems that amuse me.

3. If you do plan to keep your writing, date each entry. This is helpful if you come back later so see what you have written. I write only on the right pages of my journal. I use the left page for later comments and additions.

4. Write in the manner that is most comfortable for you. Use a pen or pencil on paper or compose on the keyboard. Studies show the benefits are the same.

5. Be patient. If you want to write, but the very thought of it turns your stomach or you cannot imagine adding this practice to your busy life, don’t give up. Buy a notebook, and leave it by your bedside with a pen or pencil. Put a small tablet or index cards and a writing instrument in your pocket or purse. Create a Word document called "Journal.” Web sites, software and apps exist for journaling, but keep it simple. After planting one of these small seeds, wait. It will grow if this practice is meant to be part of your life. No pressure. You write to enhance you life, not burden it.

These are just a few tips to help you get started. For more information on the power of writing, I recommend the following resources. For a powerful and clear discussion of the benefits of free writing, turn to Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way. She recommends writing daily "Morning Pages,” three pages (or 30 minutes) of free writing first thing every morning. This is a wonderful, effective practice, but perhaps a goal a beginner can aspire to if such a commitment seems overwhelming at first. A clear, clever Web site designed for doing Morning Pages is https://750words.com. It keeps track of when and how much you write and you can accumulate points and badges as rewards for consistently writing.

For more technical reading on the subject, look into works by James W. Pennebaker, Ph.D., Chair of the Department of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. He is an expert on the writing and health. You can also visit his page "Writing and Health: Some Practical Advice”

Experiment. Enjoy creating your own writing practice; enjoy discovering your own voice.

 

Michelle Berberet lives in Alexandria, VA with her husband. When she isn’t writing in her journal she writes poetry, personal essays and fiction. She also volunteers at the Arts and Humanities Program at the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center where she writes with patients, family and staff. She can be reached at listen2thewhispers@gmail.com.

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