Scientists and Researchers continue to gather evidence proving what many survivors already know: Writing is a powerful healing tool. In this section we offer insights and suggestions from expert educators who have contributed to our knowledge of the benefits of writing though illness.
Our contributor for this issue is Sharon Bray, Ed.D. Sharon's specialty is in the healing power of writing, about which she has written two books: A Healing Journey, and When Words Heal. Much of Sharon's inspiration for these books comes from the cancer survivors she has worked with in several writing groups.
To encourage focused writing, Sharon uses guided visualizations and other prompts, such as poems, photographs and tangible objects. The following three prompts are reprinted from When Words Heal, with Sharon's permission.
Guided Visualization: Healing our Wounded Bodies
Find a comfortable position. Close your eyes if you wish, and relax by taking a few deep breaths. Let your breathing slowly become deeper and fuller. Inhale to fill your lungs and bloodstream with energizing oxygen, and exhale the tensions of the day. Notice how your lungs expand and contract with each inhalation and exhalation. Feel their power, how with each breath they give you life, how they energize your body and mind. Sit quietly, and let your mind's eye travel over each part of your body. Begin with your feet. Feel how solidly they are connected to the earth. Gradually travel to each part of your body until you come to the part of your body that needs to heal. Imagine that you are a healer. You can dispense magical powers. Perhaps you bathe your wounded body in a warm bath of flowing water, soothe it with soft music, or surround it with a rainbow of healing colors or a gentle melody. Whatever your magical powers, use them now to heal your body. Feel how your body responds to your healing magic touch. Your wounded body begins to transform before your eyes, becoming whole. Stay with that image for a few moments. When you are ready, come back into the room, feeling the power within you to heal. Open your eyes and begin writing. Take five minutes to describe your healing powers.
Exercise: Bringing Fear into the Open
When we are diagnosed with cancer, one of the most difficult emotions to deal with is fear. In her book, When Words Heal, Sharon discusses how important it is to write through our fears.
"Writing through the fears and shock of a cancer diagnosis can increase your ability to cope. Writing about having cancer helps you to externalize your fears and worries. Getting your feelings outside of you and onto paper allows them to be examined and heard. Your sense of being lost and overwhelmed diminishes. As you move into the darkness of cancer and express it, your writing intensifies, revealing your raw emotions." Sharon Bray, When Words Heal.
One of the poems Sharon regularly uses in her groups is Raymond Carver's "Fear." Sharon suggests reading the poem and writing whatever comes to mind for 15 minutes. Follow this link to access the poem.
Exercise: I used to be_______, but now ...
This exercise encourages you to look at your feelings about yourself before and after cancer.
Hold a small hand mirror up to your face. Look carefully at the person you see reflected back at you, the person who has struggled with all the ramifications of this disease. Think about who you were before cancer came into your life and who you are now, the person you have become. Write for twenty minutes. You might want to begin with the line, "I used to be_____, but now..."
Sharon Bray, Ed.D., an internationally recognized speaker on the healing power of writing, is the founder and director of Wellspring Writers. Sharon divides her "home" time between the San Francisco Bay and San Diego areas, writing, teaching and leading creative writing workshops. She also teaches professional development courses on writing and healing at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley and Santa Clara University's Center for Professional Development. Beginning January 2007, Sharon will be teaching a new online course in healing writing through the UCLA Extension Writers' Program. To learn more about Sharon and her work, visit www.wellspringwriters.org.