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Using Writing To Heal

CONTENTS

Journaling As A Healing Resource

Bibliography: Literature on personal journaling                   

From My Poetry Journal . . .

Journaling Resource Links                        

JOURNALING AS A HEALING RESOURCE

One of our most ancient methods for healing and personal growth is found in the art of story-telling. From the earliest days, our ancestors sat around the fire and told stories from their lives and their dreams. Those that were powerful enough were memorized and retold until they were reborn as myths. Over the ages, we developed increasingly powerful ways of sharing our stories, from the printing press to the cinematic and electronic media of our day. Regardless how the story is presented, whether it is an experienced or fictional (internally experienced) account, the story always begins with at least one person sharing from their heart and imagination.

Always, the story has some kind of special meaning, if only in the heart of the one who is sharing the story. The literary power of a story is found in the depth and extent of shared meaning it has for the rest of us. Some stories are so personal, we prefer to keep them to ourselves. Much personal journaling is like this. (Some of our greatest literature began as personal journaling, for example, The Diary Of Anne Frank has become an inspirational classic.)

Personal journaling is a way of putting our experience "out there" where we can look at ourselves in the mirror of the printed word. At times, the only safe way of expression for us may be on that paper or computer screen where we need not hold anything back. The therapeutic power of personal journaling can only be appreciated when it is experienced. I have journaled at times in my life, with the result of experiencing great relief and comfort in my efforts. Over the years, I have found that a number of my clients have used journaling in their recovery and personal growth efforts; at times sharing some of their journal entries with the result of greatly enhancing their progress during counseling sessions.

There are many ways of journaling, from jotting down a few notes to reflect back upon at a quiet moment (or bring into a counseling session), to writing detailed memoirs or an autobiography of our most meaningful and challenging times. Our journaling may be limited to a certain range of experiences or goals, as in keeping a dream journal, or it may be a detailed diary. We might engage ourselves in narrative prose in telling ourselves our story. However, sometimes written prose seems inadequate to express the depth of feeling and the profundity of meaning we seek to express in our writing. For this, we might use poetry to build the power into our written expression through metaphor and symbol, through rhythm and rhyme. And some of us even put it to song.

I wish it were possible to know how much of our most revered literary and media treasures began with scribblings in secret by some initially unknown author writing from the depths of his or her heart. The beauty of all this is that you may write as little or as much as you like, no holds barred in your expression, with absolutely no obligation to share your writing with anyone! Before you feel ready to seek counseling, you always have the option of privately opening your soul through the written word.

We all have more wisdom within us than we could ever imagine, and it often tends to come out in our journaling. Sidney Jourard, a great psychology professor and author of The Transparent Self, had a major impact on my growth during my undergraduate training. He used to say that the ability to express what others think and feel is what makes poets and sages. This is to say that the poet and sage reside in all of us. There is a story in each of us, and we may find it at whatever point we feel challenged by life.

The first step is for us to open to ourselves. Self-honesty on paper can reveal truths we never knew we had carried all these years! We may be practical and objective in our writing, or we may be as artistic as we choose. The next level, if we wish to share our efforts, is to bring our writing to others: whether in a support group or writers' workshop or through the various media. Remember that we are more alike than we are different. Whether you write yourself to a point of powerful personal insights on a private level that enhances your personal growth, or whether you open to share a budding masterpiece for humanity, I wish you the best in your writing!

There are a number of books out there that can help and inspire you as you take up the practice of journaling for your healing and personal growth. You can point your browser to the great online bookstore of amazon.com (hyperlinked on my Online Resources, Resource Links page) and do a search under the term, "journaling," where you will find these listings:

Bibliography: Literature on personal journaling

Broyles, Anne (199?). A Spirit Journey. Upper Room

Davis, Donald (1993). Telling Your Own Stories: For Family and Classroom Storytelling, Public Speaking, & Personal Journaling. August House. The book is designed for families, teachers and counselors - all persons who want to inspire storytelling either in themselves or in others.

D'Encarnacao, Paul and Patricia (1991). The Joy Of Journaling. Eagle Wing

Johnson, Richard (1987). Transformative Journaling. (Pub?)

Reznicek, Barbara (1989). Journaling To Recovery. Abbey Press

Shepperson, Vance and Bethyl (1992). Tracks In The Sand: Your Guide To Recovery Journaling. Thomas Nelson

FROM MY POETRY JOURNAL

Here are some poems from the personal poetry journal I have kept over the course of my life. I hope they adequately illustrate the therapeutic value of recording our experiences and perceptions in poetic form. You might find this approach useful in your life. Journaling is helpful, whether you choose to use poetry or prose. Remember, your material is private: written by you to deepen your insight and help you resolve your conflicts. Because it is private, you need not hold back anything! (There are a lot of poems I didn't publish here!) At the end of this section, you will find some additional Web resources that can inspire you in your therapeutic journal writing.

Sweet Sap

Spring arrived last week.                                             

You would never know it                                              

For the clouds of melancholy gray                              

Shrouding bare bones of branches,                                      

With their frost-burned buds                                          

Outlined against the darkening sky.                                   

I feel like those buds —                                              

Nurtured out by the warm promise of Spring …

Hardened and burned at the tips                                       

By bouts of sudden cold.                                              

No way to turn back,                                                  

To retreat . . .                                                                            

Sweet sap running backwards                                           

Into Mother Earth.                                                    

No . . .                                                               

The path of things in Spring is up and out.                    

Perhaps even the buds fear the sudden cold                            

After they are hardened and frost-burned,                            

Insides soft and ruptured,                                           

Growing edges fractured;                                              

Broken promises oozing down last year's winter wood. 

Would summer's bees and butterflies miss those buds                   

Too eager to leap into Spring?                                            

Would you miss my broken dreams and promises,

Dried into last year's winter wood,                                   

While flying by on a summer day?

 

4/7/87 © Granville Angell

  The Morning Star

No greater courage can there be,                                            

To crack the certain mold                                                        

And cast the shards of destiny:                                              

The giving up of what we hold,                                               

The sacrifice of what we are                                                    

For becoming that which we can be —                                  

The bright and shining Morning Star!

 

  May, 1996 copyright: Granville Angell

Some Haiku . . .

Riding East                                                                                 

Over hills at dawn . . .                                                            

Quiet joy!                                                                                      

So many sunrises

 

Fall, 1982 © Granville Angell 

Late dawn in a heavy sky —                                                   

Soft rain                                                                                      

Muffling a morning dove's cries

 

 August, 1995 ©Granville Angell

Heralding noonday sun                                                       

Creation's joys                                                                     

Singing in cicadas' calls

 

Summer, 1994©Granville Angell

Wet Butterflies

You sit there on the campus grass                                  

Smiling back at the dandelions,                                             

Your eyes drying in the sunlight                                              

Like a butterfly, fresh from its cocoon;                                      

I want to grow, you said                                                 

Moments earlier in my office,                                       

Trembling fingers and white knuckles                                

Marching over the battlegrounds of womanhood       

Seeking the truth you already had within;                   

Knowing the beauty you could not feel                                 

You grasped at words                                                             

That perched on your lips                                                        

Like frozen blossoms in April snow;                                      

And choked up sobs,                                                             

Dusty and hard                                                                        

From the sedimentary deposits of a lifetime                         

Of put-downs and broken trust. 

Trust,                                                                                                                                          

Spun like silken spiders' webs                                             

Silver and sinister in the moonlight,                                    

They catch insects and honeydew,                                        

But shatter under rocks.                                                               

I offered you acceptance                                                         

And you placed your trust in my empty hands;            

Together we scouted dark caverns                                       

And herded hidden animals to die in the sun;                          

And having done so,                                                                  

You made your decision with fear and joy                               

In daring to give birth                                                                  

To who you already are;                                                           

But every butterfly                                                             

Emerging wet                                                                                 

In the first hour of its perfection,                                                 

Must lie patient and trusting                                                      

In the air and sunshine                                                          

Before it can hope to fly.

 

November, 1976 Copyright: Granville Angell

 

On Paradisedefaul2.jpg (4072 bytes)

On we go down life’s great path                                       

Through seasons of our lives                                                   

From time to time we stop and go                                    

Within, without                                                                             

To see, to feel, to know . . .                                                  

From time to time                                                                    

That fleeting breath of paradise!

How much we want to make it last — Alas!                                                                                               

To get our want of wants                                                         

And only feel desire’s fickle grasp                                         

Just clutching for one more!                                                     

And so we learn                                                                          

And thus we yearn                                                                     

For deeper tastes of paradise,

To savor full each moment                                                          

In the seasons’ passing times:                                               

The graceful leaf of fall as the budding leaf of spring,           

To see the look of wonder in a child’s eyes                             

As the wisdom in an old one’s eyes                                           

Is to know a touch of paradise!

And on we go                                                                              

And hope we so                                                                            

To find that fleeting high;                                                           

We tramp the treadmills of our world                                         

Not mindful to remember or to know                                   

How comes that fleeting breath of paradise!

To hear the song of spring                                                          

In the silence of the winter’s parting winds,                          

To smell the symphony of falling rain                                     

On warm, baked Earth . . .                                                         

To feel all Humanity in your finger                                        

With the clasp of a newborn’s hand                                            

And know, this too, is spring                                                      

Is to know a touch of paradise!

To melt in the warmth of a close embrace                              

As winter ice in a rising sun;                                                       

To feel your spirits soar on faith                                               

As an eagle sails the wind                                                           

Is to know a touch of paradise!

And on we go                                                                                 

To think we know                                                                      

That paradise must come and go                                             

As winter follows fall;                                                                

Not mindful to be present or recall                                        

Just how we got there                                                                

Or whence we went —                                                      

Whence came and went that                                                  

Fleeting breath of paradise?

And few —                                                                                     

How few of us dare ask or seek to know,                                   

Whence came and went that                                                 

Fleeting breath of paradise?                                                    

And why it rides the face of pain                                              

Or carries it in tow,

And fewer yet dare ask:                                                         

“Who asks, who also knows                                                     

Whence pain and pleasure both must go?”                               

For is this not The One

Who knows and is                                                                       

The touch of paradise?                                                             

Who remains the same                                                      

Behind the seasons’ change,                                                  

Who stares back from the looking glass                               

And changes not behind the passions, thoughts and looks -

Though wrinkles come and passions die                               

That one remains                                                                      

Who does not change or pass —                                           

That One who breathes                                                            

The breath of paradise!

Winter, 1985 copyright: ©Granville Angell

 

To My Grandmother On Her 88th Birthday

She once stood tall and bold to me                                         

An apron and an oatmeal spoon she was,                                

And flower pots for toys in the secret cavern under her back porch.                                                                                               

A firm and gentle hand leading me to department store Santas —                                                                    

And always the bedtime kiss and a loving "Night-God-Bless."                                                                                       

We've grown a lot together, my Grandmother and I —             

I into manhood;                                                                         

She into that mysterious senescent season                   

Where people either get better or worse with time —        

She got better.                                                                           

The artistry of the years sculpted a venerable kind of beauty —                                                                           

Sparkling blue eyes in a face that collects                                

a wrinkle for every smile.                                                        

She put away her apron when Grandpa died,                       

And traded her oatmeal spoon for the                                

Teaspoon which stirs my coffee                                               

As she speaks in her usual witty way.                                      

A knitting needle philosopher,                                                 

She expounds eloquently on everything                             

From the price of yarn to the treasures                              

Found in life's adversities.                                                       

She was first to know the day I fell in love —                            

I wanted to tell her first.                                                               

I hope she will be known by her great-grandchildren,          

At least through what she contributed to me.                      

Life's been good to her and me.                                             

But life, however good, remains a sovereign escort —           

It runs us through its seasons on a schedule                    

Which is seemingly oblivious to its final goal;                    

Until we reach that mysterious senescent season.                 

At times, she reminds us that she will be leaving someday.

We do not want her to go.                                                    

She's important — at least to us;                                           

Not famous — though she wrote a few poems once.             

A leaf on Humanity's tree —                                                  

Only we shall know when she departs our branch               

When winter's gusts prevail.                                               

She'll go silently.                                                                        

But since it is fertilized by its own fallen leaves,                      

Our tree will be greener the following spring —                  

And somehow, I'll know she never really left.

February, 1974 ©Granville Angell

(My grandmother departed our family branch July of 1974.)

Tired Dragon

Are you back today?                                    

You who slide in under the shadows of clouds                  

And stalk me on my brightest days.                            

Are you back today?                                                 

You, who gestated behind the dying eyes of countless soldiers                                                                     

And hapless children,                                                 

And sprang to life in the bright bursts of napalm blasts -- 

Nourished in the cadences of heartbeats and rotor beats and staccato-shattered nights.                                  

You, whom I thought to leave behind,                          

Who stowed away in the deepest recesses of my being;

You who stalked me through the years,                 

Lurking at my bedpost,                                       

Lunging at lamplight's retreat to slide in under the curtain of my dreams.                                                

Are you back today                                                     

To cling, leechlike, on the essence that feeds my hopes and plans?                                                                 

And will you rise up, volcano-like, into the working fields of the day,                                                     

Spewing lava and poisonous gases into the sweet orchards of relationships,                                                        

Then stalk off into the recesses of the night,                 

Like a tired, aging dragon                                            

To bury yourself in the mossy caves of my foreboding –

A tired dragon, waiting for the day when sunlight will finally find you                                                         

And you will no longer slide in under the shadows of clouds?

 © 1999 Granville Angell

 

On the Third Day, God Cried Tears of Snow

(Littleton Poem)

How could it happen here?                                                       

The cries went up in a litany,                                                  

The cries went up in a litany,                                                    

Up from the blood-stained grass, fresh-greening with the coming of Spring,                                                                        

Up from huddled, crying, agonized youth,                              

Up from terrified runners exiting from where shots still crack and shatter down the halls,                                             

Shattering lives and dreams and shattering the Spring air that nurtures new growth                                                          

On tender limbs.

How could it happen here?                                                           

The cries went up in a litany,                                                     

Up from the students and teachers and staff,                       

Up from the police and medics and press,                                  

Up from the parents and the People of America              

Rising on the warming air, the cries mingling with scent of youth-spilled blood and tender blossoms.

Then it was over in a tangle of broken boys and girls and broken bodies; broken toys of bombs and bullets; broken promises and broken lives . . .                                               

And the silence was shattered by the growing litany,     

How could it happen here like it happened there?                   

I heard it spread throughout the land                                   

 And wondered, “How could they not know?”

I felt the burden of a generation of counseling,               

Weighted with the words of countless broken dialogues and misspent promises                                                           

Emerging in a universal dialogue . . .                                           

Parent to child . . .                                                                   

“How could you . . . ?" (Not my child!)                              

“Why didn’t you tell me?” (While I was so busy getting my life together so I could help you with yours)                          

“I tried to give you everything!” (Except enough time and hugs because of my demanding schedule)                         

And I felt the knot well up in me . . .

A knot

And I quit writing this poem until I came across it just now, years later,                                                                           

Having forgotten the reason for its title,                              

But the knot was still there, so I finished it –                        

So it would be done the next time                                           

We all begin to ask: “How could it happen here?”

December, 2002 ©Granville Angell 

 

July 4, 1982

I'm sorry (Shots fired for "the greater glory" in other wars                                                                                           

were only motivated by mere survival in ours).                      

I don't go to fireworks                                                               

The apology murmured under breath                                      

To a little one overgrown in her crib.                                       

No disappointment here,                                                            

In the contented sighs of her sleep.                                       

Alone, with only the guilt to break the silence, now                

I surveyed a future date …                                              

Perhaps next year, the cry would come,                             

"But all daddies take their kids to fireworks…"                        

And what would I say to her then?                                        

The same senseless answer broke the silence —

Putt! … POP! BOOM! Came the muffled Stabs                                                                                     

Through the belly of the peaceful dark.                             

Damn thoughtless laggard … it's already the 5th!              

And again, tonight                                                                    

Like a flood seeping under a bolted door                       

Carrying flotsam of sickening memories in its tides,           

The fear returns for the briefest instant —               

Rationality does double-time:                                                   

"Here you are!" it screams over the crib                                    

At muddled associations gathering in the darkness.            

Old bits of habits rear their honored heads…           

Rendered immortal by virtue of saving skin . . .                   

The impulse to "HIT IT" (on a carpet floor),                         

The furtive glance for the black-shrouded enemy        

Lurking always unseen but close;                                          

That peculiar pervading tenseness that creeps through you

And graces you with the sleep of desperate alertness —

That wakes you on the breath of the first incoming round.  

(I hope I don't have nightmares tonight.)

1981 ©Granville Angell

 

On Accomplishment And Grace

How deep a footprint                                                                  

Will you make                                                                                 

In the sands of humanity?                                                  

Mother asks.                                                                              

How unlike her to see                                                               

The ebb and flow of eternity                                                    

Like waves passing over us,                                                  

Each century                                                                         

Melting the edges off your life's work,                                   

However great or humble it may be                                          

It goes —                                                                                         

A victim and receiver of grace                                          

Before the constant sea;

Time                                                                                                                                                       

Sweeps back and forth                                                        

Across the sands of humanity . . .                                     

Erases all traces of your existence                                              

As surely as the rising tide                                                      

Erases the path                                                                            

Of your tracks along the beach.                                             

One day,                                                                                           

I went for a walk                                                                     

Along the beach —                                                                   

How nice!                                                                                     

The rising tide                                                                                 

Made all things new for me!

May, 1986 ©Granville Angell

 

After the Storm 

Amid muffled thunder

From a distant storm,

Steamy Sunlight filters

Through the dripping bamboo grove.

Red Blotches flutter and perch,

Flutter and Perch –

Landing on fading cherry blossoms,

A cardinal heralds itself

Through the dripping silence!

Petals scatter in sweet descent,

Fluttering home to the moist warmth

Of their earthen womb.

Granville Angell  © 2006

 

For a picture-poem, daughters' tribute, go to Day's End On Table Rock - 1997

Journaling Resource Links
There are a number of useful resources on the Internet on the topic of journaling for healing. (Don't forget to add this site to "Favorites" or "Bookmark" if you plan to return.)

The Center for Journal Therapy is a gathering place for those who know the power of writing for growth and healing.

Holistic Therapies - Journal Keeping -  Complete details on therapeutic journal writing, with history on journal therapy, readings and links

Survivors Healing Through Journaling and Poetry Writing - Instructional sites with links

The Creative Journal - The Art of Finding Yourself

More Journaling Resources - Web links


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