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Whole-hearted learning and the healing power of stories

Posted Jan 06 2011 9:38am

Since I shared my story of my dad’s heart attack, collapse and ongoing illness last week on this blog, I’ve been so grateful for all the wonderful messages of support that I’ve received. So many people have contacted me by email and shared their own personal stories with me or added their comments to my Facebook page.

I want to thank each and every one of you from the bottom of my heart for sharing this experience with me so generously. Your stories and love have given me such enormous strength over the last few days.

You know, I almost didn’t hit the ‘Publish’ button on that blog post. I wondered if it was too personal or whether, as a therapist, I was crossing the line, doing too much of what in therapy-speak we call ‘self-disclosure.’

There’s no doubt that, when I wrote my story in the early hours of Monday when I couldn’t sleep, it was just for me. It was because I felt that my body wasn’t big enough to hold all the emotion. It was welling up inside me, pressing against the inside of my chest so that I could barely breath.

I had to get it ‘out there’ somehow – and the way that I know best, the way I find most helpful, is to pick up a pen or tap away at the keyboard.

As the words flowed, I began to feel calm.

My belief in this healing power of writing is what drives my Word Sauce writing programme . (Lots of new developments ready to launch in that area soon, people, just as soon as my dad is fully on his way to recovery, so please do watch out for that.)

Tapping into that therapeutic writing process is one thing. But to then put the product of that process out there in the world – well, isn’t that a bit attention-seeking or even self-indulgent? Is it appropriate?

Strangely enough, right now, I’m working with my current group of Word Saucerers on a module of the Word Sauce Programme that is all about reading and being read, about how to become a kind, compassionate reader of our own stories, those stories we tell ourselves inside our heads, and how to nurture our own talents and abilities with words, the ‘sauce’ of our very own juiciness.

Given that, I decided that it was especially important that I shared my story, sent it into the world, despite my hesitations and trepidations.

But there was something more too.

As soon as the words were there on the screen, they were not just for me anymore, not just about me and dad anymore.

It was suddenly so clear to me that the story itself is everyone’s story – the story of love and of what it feels like to love someone, the story of daughters and fathers, children and parents all over the world since the beginning of time, the story of what it is to be human, of what it is to have a very human heart.

And I believe that stories help us all to make meaning out of the very darkest of times. Stories help us to stop and reflect and wonder.

I’m keeping a little notebook in my handbag right now and jotting down thoughts and reflections, words and jargon that strike me as I shuttle between home and hospital ward. It helps.

It also gives me a sense that I’m making something out of it all. I’m not sure quite what yet, but the feelings are already arranging themsleves into new forms.

I notice, for example, how often in everyday language we all use words and phrases like ‘from the heart’ or ‘whole-heartedly’ or ‘take heart from…’

I’ve been noticing how, when I speak to a nurse or the registrar, I find myself placing my hand over my own heart for emphasis, even though I might be saying something totally unconnected with the condition of my dad’s arteries and the medical decisions that need to be made.

It’s almost funny to catch myself saying on the phone to my mum, ‘I’m taking great heart from the fact that he’s looking so much better today.’ It’s as if I’m cracking one of my dad’s own terrible corny jokes.

But it’s surely not coincidental, the verbal and non-verbal body-based metaphors we find ourselves using. I’ve been observing them for years now, in client sessions and in people’s writing. I’ve been researching this connection for years too. Our bodies make their way into our words all the time. Our bodies are always trying to be heard.

What is it, I wonder, that’s trying to make itself heard in your life right now? What do you notice when you really slow down and listen? How is your body trying to speak to you? What are the stories that are most helpful to you and what stories do you need to tell or get ‘out there’ onto the page?

Tomorrow, I’ll be writing about a particular story – a mythic story – that has been helping me to make sense of my journey over the last few days. I’d love to  hear about the stories that have been helpful to you in your own life.

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