A Narrative Writing and Imagery Project for Healing and Growth

Anne Gustin: As we speak we might be speaking about narrative writing, for which I’ll use the time period expressive writing interchangeably. I’ve no expertise of or coaching in any formal writing, however I do imagine that’s the great thing about this specific mission [done for CiWPP] is for example that writing is offered and open to all of us, no expertise mandatory.

As we speak, I’d prefer to take all of you on a journey by way of the realms of narrative writing, imagery, and optimistic psychology. On this journey, I’d ask that you just be open and receptive to the chances that therapeutic and development have to supply, and to the various instruments accessible to us all to be able to navigate our personal particular person therapeutic and development. As we speak, our journey will comply with a really purposeful path, one that may begin with my 30-day writing mission, and with an invite to start a relationship with narrating your individual life tales. Alongside the way in which, we are going to look at and savor stunning imagery, find out about the advantages of writing narrative, and make significant connections to optimistic psychology ideas that I’m positive loads of you might be fairly conversant in at this level.

Earlier than we start, I want to lead you thru a quick centering, rest, and likewise simply getting us extra in contact with a few of our capability to be receptive to how imagery impacts us. I would like you to shut your eyes and take three to 4 deep cleaning and linked breaths out and in by way of your nostrils. Simply concentrate. Be at liberty to elongate out your exhalation for those who really feel particularly scattered or frazzled immediately. In the event you already really feel balanced and content material, be happy to take very even breaths. And eventually, if neither of those match for you, you would possibly as a substitute really feel drained, torpid, or worn out, be happy to elongate your inhalation. And keep right here for just a few extra moments together with your eyes closed.

We’re going to start our journey with a quote from a author, creator, and mystic named Caroline Adams: “Your life is a sacred journey. It’s about change, development, discovery, motion, transformation, repeatedly increasing your imaginative and prescient of what’s doable. Stretching your soul. Studying to see clearly and deeply listening to your instinct. Taking brave challenges at each step alongside the way in which. You might be on the trail precisely the place you are supposed to be proper now. And from right here, you may solely go ahead shaping your life story into a powerful story of triumph, of therapeutic, of braveness, of magnificence, of knowledge, of energy, of dignity, and of affection.”

I’m going to pause right here for a second and simply allow you to take up these phrases so fantastically and eloquently written. And you may be happy to open your eyes and have a look at the phrases written on display. Pay particular consideration to the underlined phrases: “a sacred journey repeatedly increasing, stretching your soul listening. You might be on the trail shaping your life story.” These phrases and phrases will change into very related to our journey immediately.


Our journey will start with an outline of my 30-day problem that I did for CiWPP. My last mission requirement to graduate from CiWPP was a 30-day journaling mission. And I turned it into my last mission. So every day I wrote about my oldest daughter’s delivery. Simply to provide you some private context, my daughter Livia was born 15 years in the past this November. As we speak, she is a spunky and full of life—which occurs to be the that means of her title—teenage lady. Most days she brings me to my knees, definitely stretches my soul, and forces me to increase my considering. I suppose you would say that Livia has been influencing me to do these items at the same time as early as being within the womb.

However again to my journaling. I wrote for 30 days straight. Some days, the phrases flowed freely and simply, and others felt extra like I used to be going by way of the motions. I selected to put in writing about my being pregnant with Livia and the delivery expertise. Some days I wrote early within the morning after meditation. Different days, I wrote proper earlier than mattress as a result of I didn’t get it in in the course of the day. Some days solely a paragraph and different days, a number of pages flowed. As I wrote, some days introduced tears and I felt I could be consumed by a puddle of deep disappointment. Different days introduced anger. Nonetheless, different days drew me into reflection, as I deeply linked to my expertise, and allowed myself to see the various completely different angles of my circumstances. You see, Livia’s delivery was a traumatic expertise for me, one which I nonetheless carry to this present day, one which definitely formed many different choices and experiences in my life. You can say it was a life occasion that broke me open and compelled me to rebuild myself into a brand new model of Anne. Extra to return on that later.

When the 30-day writing observe ended, I went again and browse my writing, which I don’t at all times do after I journal, I don’t at all times return later and have a look at it and evaluation it. I observed one thing very, very fascinating. So my writing was very nonlinear. It didn’t comply with a sure path. It was free flowing. It was deeply linked to my expertise. And it was a few trauma or disappointment in my life. Permit me to learn to you the very first journal entry I made on that first day of the 30-Day Problem. Have you learnt the one while you’re sitting there going, Oh, can I actually do that for 30 days? Am I actually going to make it? And might I be that disciplined? This gives you some perception into the exceptional method that my mission and writing unfolded. So it begins day one or chapter one: You can say delivery [is] a journey to the core and again out once more. A self-discovery like no different. Day one is tough to seek out the phrases. It’s so onerous to begin firstly. A lot simpler to begin on the center and even the top.


So this was what was so fascinating to me, is I felt compelled to begin on the very finish to start on the finish. The top then knowledgeable me how I’d write the start of the story. The subsequent day, I circled again to the start of the being pregnant and even wove in items of my upbringing. After that, day three, I returned to writing concerning the finish, the delivery occasion itself, and so forth and so forth. It occurred to me that I used to be weaving a tapestry of occasions whose outcomes had been formed by many parts in my life. My very own misleading mind messages or unfavorable thought patterns, my household of origin, relationships, previous and current, and my relationship to myself, and my view of what I used to be able to—all these items contributing to how I used to be now reflecting on the why of the trauma I endured, the moments the place I froze, couldn’t converse up or really feel empowered to decide on the choices I made all alongside the way in which, how I even chosen my care supplier for the delivery, and what I actually longed for within the delivery expertise, and the way I wasn’t in a position to have the expertise I longed for, after which additionally who I sought out for assist. I used to be starting to see how my emotions and feelings surrounded all these occasions and connections. Thus, my story’s distinctive tapestry.

Sooner or later, as my writing course of continued to stay with me lengthy after the 30 days had been up, it simply hit me—a picture emerged, one which I used to be considerably conversant in, however not fully. The way in which my writing unfolded jogged my memory of a labyrinth.  And this labyrinth picture or the labyrinth on the whole wasn’t fully international to me. I as soon as acquired a handheld labyrinth with a bit metallic software that you just use to hint the trail. It may be used as sort of a stress-relieving software. So I had that and I’ve had a bit card that described a bit bit about what labyrinths are. After which when Livia, my oldest daughter, entered preschool at a church close to my neighborhood, I discovered there was a labyrinth on their property. So this was a number of years after Livia’s delivery. And after two excruciating being pregnant losses I endured, I used to be now carrying my second daughter, Gianna is her title. And I started to stroll this labyrinth on the church each day that I dropped my daughter Livia at daycare. I used it to wish and meditate for Gianna’s upcoming delivery. Hopefully, I needed for that delivery expertise. I used to be actually longing and dreaming up what curiosity I had for the way this picture re entered my life following this 30-day writing observe. I requested myself why the labyrinth, so I actually adopted my curiosity towards understanding the that means of this historic form.


Labyrinths are historic patterns, discovered all around the world in numerous completely different cultures and traditions. The labyrinth is a posh sample, which regularly resembles a maze with many twists and turns. The trail is meandering. And but it’s purposeful. A few of these phrases you would possibly acknowledge from Caroline Adams’ quote that I learn. You may see the picture appears like a circle with an interior spiral resulting in the middle and this is only one sample. Labyrinths are very sacred. It’s usually thought that the trail results in wholeness or heart. There is just one technique to the middle and the identical method again out of the labyrinth, and labyrinths have been used for a lot of issues similar to leisure like a maze, meditation, and to assist in devotional practices of assorted religious disciplines. They’re even thought to have a centering impact on the mind itself. 

It’s actually unknown the place the labyrinth comes from, which I discover so exceptional, however it’s thought that it’s an archetype of the human thoughts itself. So labyrinths considerably resemble the human mind. Individuals who have walked labyrinths describe it as having that centering feeling for them. They observe each a acutely aware draw and an unconscious connection to the form that appears to be considerably extra refined. The truth is, strolling the labyrinth, researchers imagine could in reality steadiness the fitting and left hemispheres of our mind. So we actually don’t know why they draw us in, but it surely’s thought that it was born out of how the human thoughts really works and capabilities. We simply have this innate curiosity and connection to labyrinths. We even have discovered that labyrinths are, in essence, much like our personal life’s journey, in that our lives are sometimes meandering, however purposeful.

This picture is an artwork set up, and the title is Beckett’s maze. It’s from the Jamestown Artwork Middle, and it was created by the artist Robin Crocker. It’s painted on the parking zone. It’s meant for individuals to stroll. Individuals comply with the convoluted pathway because it winds to the middle. And it’s an invite to take pleasure in a strolling meditation or prayer. It’s an existential journey, a real-life journey as you stroll it, to 1’s core, to 1’s heart. The colour selections—purple, black, and gold—specific the sacred nature of it. And the artist incorporates closing textual content from Samuel Beckett’s novel The Unnamable. And the subtitle of that’s, You should go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on. Doesn’t that remind you of what I talked about with my writing journey? Some days it felt simple, I might do it. It flowed. Different days I resisted. I didn’t wish to do it. However I persevered. 30 days. That “you should go on” marks the doorway to the maze. After which gold medallions are stamped alongside the trail six toes aside, a nod to what we’re doing now, this social distancing. They usually’re stenciled alternately with “I can’t go on I’ll go on.” So it’s that tug and pull of how we undergo this difficult time. And the sorrow and uncertainty of life. I can’t make it immediately. I simply can’t do it. Along with the enjoyment, acceptance and inevitability of life. I have to go on I’ll go on. So we all know that this has loads of relevance to what we’re coping with, with COVID and all the opposite issues in our world—social injustice, political divide. It’s a method for us to maneuver by way of this and ponder what’s our position, our impression, on this half of a complete.

The archetype of a specific labyrinth sample has been used as a supportive picture for the method of being pregnant and childbirth. Just like the journey to changing into a mom, the labyrinth path is usually complicated and with twists and turns alongside the way in which. And it could possibly really feel lengthy and arduous as you navigate an unknown expertise. So for birthing lady, the labyrinth can function a meditative stroll. A girl enters the labyrinth upon conception and follows the trail for 10 months resulting in the delivery. The way in which out of the labyrinth is symbolic to the postpartum interval, and likewise the broader parenting journey total.

I had the privilege of encountering a labyrinth only in the near past in mid-October in St. George, Utah. And it’s simply on the fringe of Snow Canyon State Park, this stunning spiral labyrinth. And I believed what could be enjoyable is for us to take a stroll collectively by way of this labyrinth, as I described extra totally how the labyrinth suits with my narrative writing mission. So you may see the footsteps … we enter the very outer fringe of the labyrinth, probably the most huge a part of the spiral sample. For me, what this entrance to the labyrinth and the journey inward seemed like was my being pregnant, the uncertainty of changing into a brand new father or mother, the labor itself, the trauma I skilled in the course of the labor, this sense of feeling like a sufferer, I didn’t have any management or energy over my circumstances, many twists and turns. It additionally displays the day by day journaling course of, the narrative writing the I felt it flowed but it surely didn’t the subsequent day and the way the journaling got here out. And each these had been very purposeful journeys, they had been resulting in one thing extra significant. So we attain the facilities, you stroll, we’re now in that heart circle collectively. The delivery occasion was the that means of what I went by way of. After which for me with the journaling and the narrative mission, it was discovering that means within the story. We’ll discuss a bit extra about that later. Then the journey again out, the postpartum therapeutic, the postpartum melancholy I skilled, the transformation. And in addition the expansion that I discovered by way of the expertise. There’s this sense of survivorship and private company. And once more, all these phrases that we could have heard earlier than in optimistic psychology, however we’ll talk about extra totally.


So right here you may see, that is how my narrative writing suits so fantastically with the labyrinth imagery. However I needed to make clear one thing that’s so mystical to me. It was just like the labyrinth was with me the entire 30 days. I didn’t name forth the picture till after the mission was full. It’s wonderful to me that it appeared to information me the entire time. 


So allow us to transition now in our journey to a dialogue about narrative writing. What are the advantages? And why would one of these writing be so helpful to us? Effectively, psychology has begun to extensively examine how narrative writing or expressive writing generally is a very helpful and legitimate software for addressing nervousness, melancholy, and trauma. As well as, research have famous the connection to how individuals create that means. Narrative psychology, which is a perspective inside cognitive psychology, has confirmed the significance of tales in our lives, as a result of people actually do arrange their life experiences as tales. Inside the realm of narrative psychology, our integration of details and occasions assist develop our tales. As people, we then choose them aside, and we weave them again collectively to make that means. This whole course of displays who we are actually, but it surely additionally shapes who we have gotten.


So why use this type of writing to heal? What are a number of the advantages? One of many main researchers on expressive writing, James Pennebaker, did discover by way of his analysis that it could possibly increase our immune system, so have precise bodily results. Individuals who’ve stored in journals most of their lives discover that it helps them. It’s a container for a few of their experiences and emotions. And by having that container, that secure and sacred container for these issues, it could possibly assist their immune system flourish. Maria Sirois, in her webinar sequence, Writing towards Happiness, discusses that in narrative writing, we will start to honor and respect either side of the story. I discovered this to be so true, I impulsively might see so many alternative angles, and that holding the lens of a number of truths is what sustains our development and our studying. And that thriving within the midst of adverse experiences lives within the integration of our experiences. That is what Maria calls the gold in writing. They’re the factors of that means. Dan McAdams’ analysis confirms what Maria says: writing narrative helps people make that means out of their experiences, and develops coherence. These phrases we’ll outline extra clearly as we go ahead.

In a latest article within the Harvard Enterprise Assessment, the creator, Deborah Siegel-Acevedo, notes Pennebaker’s findings that after we expertise trauma, it really damages our mind tissue. However when individuals translate their emotional experiences into phrases, they could be altering the way in which it’s organized within the mind. Isn’t that fascinating? How malleable our mind tissue is, how it’s changeable. The one standards for the writing is it needs to be a narrative created by the individual experiencing it. To ensure that it to be helpful, the author must cognitively course of the expertise and develop understanding or coherence … making that means out of it. So [researcher Susan] Lutgendorf notes that a person wants to seek out that means in a traumatic reminiscence, in addition to really feel the associated feelings, to be able to reap the advantages of the writing train.

So how can we join this to optimistic psychology ideas that I do know many others have offered on, and also you’ve most likely change into fairly conversant in at this level? Effectively, we will increase upon the necessary profit of constructing and discovering that means in our tales. What does optimistic psychology inform us about this? What’s that means? Let’s look again on the definition. In line with main researcher Michael Steger, that means in life is the extent to which individuals comprehend, make sense of, or see significance of their lives, accompanied by the diploma to which they understand themselves to have a function, a mission, an overarching intention in life. And if any of you have got learn any of the Blue Zones research or that e-book, they speak about one of many essential causes individuals have longevity and vitality in life is that feeling of getting a mission or function nonetheless as they transfer into the the later years of their life.


We additionally know by way of Dan Tomasulo’s work on hope and and discovered hopefulness, that that means is a set off for hope. Dan says hope is an inside expertise, and it may be gifted and even borrowed from one other. Narrative writing, oddly sufficient, is a method that we will borrow hope. We can also borrow hope when another person is telling us their story. So our tales are what activate hope. We now have additionally seen that appreciation and reference to others are pathways again to discovering that means in life.


We now have discovered from analysis accomplished on resilience and grit that that means is a driver for resilience. And analysis by David Kessler on the levels of grief posits that that means helps us to develop coherence. I discovered this definition of coherence that I imagine suits rather well inside the optimistic psychology framework. Coherence is when your mind’s ideas and choices work hand in hand together with your coronary heart, feelings, and your physique, the actions that you just take. It’s a state of unity between thoughts, physique, and spirit. 


David Kessler in his work on the sixth stage of grief, discovering that means, [writes that] the one technique to recohere life after loss is thru that means. And life could not ever return to regular. The one technique to survive is to make that means and discover that means. A few of us possibly have learn the beloved e-book Man’s Seek for That means by Viktor Frankl, and he notes that his survival was depending on the that means he discovered within the midst of even probably the most excessive of life circumstances. After which, lastly, Louise De Salvo in Writing as a Manner of Therapeutic talks concerning the distinction between a sufferer and survivor is the that means manufactured from any specific trauma. That means and coherence have the flexibility to remodel a trauma into a possible development alternative. And we all know this as a time period known as post-traumatic development, outlined as any optimistic change skilled because of a wrestle with a significant life disaster or a traumatic occasion. So actually taking the concept of post-traumatic stress, utilizing a few of our character strengths to remodel the way in which we understand that occasion in our lives and and the way in which we permit that occasion or trauma to have an effect on us each day on a mobile degree, and even how we permit the trauma to probably impression our spirits, and turning it right into a development alternative.

So how can we write narrative? I would really like at this level to learn to you one of many final journal entries that I did. And I feel you will note, once more, so lots of the parallels to the labyrinth itself, to those optimistic psychology ideas. My delivery trauma was largely emotional. My trauma included unfavorable, dangerous therapy by a revered authority determine, emotional abandonment by my household, and being bodily and verbally silenced. It additionally included an emergency process to get my child from my physique. And a part of my trauma included all of the methods I personally failed myself, ignored my instinct, and didn’t hunt down extra assist alongside the way in which. Trauma will be attributable to many alternative experiences. Bodily, emotional, religious. Trauma is our psyche’s expertise of an occasion in life and the felt sense that we’re severely threatened. It’s felt deep inside the physique, and its footings are rooted in ourselves. It may well take loads to unearth our traumas and to launch the grip they maintain on us. My trauma held on to me for a few years, it nonetheless surfaces after I least count on it. As my therapeutic course of unfolded, it requires the help of many alternative strategies, remedy, yoga, extra remedy, extra yoga, reflection, meditation, crying, excessive train at occasions, speaking, processing, a lot of speaking, writing, yoga, remedy once more, intensive remedy, writing, writing, and writing. All these helped me make that means of my trauma. It helped me inform the narrative of my story. And the narrative was linking the expertise and the emotion. It allowed me to really feel a way of management or private company over my expertise … sufferer to heroine.


How can we write narrative? There are some pointers that researchers have come to know. To actually get your story out on the web page, the author will need to have freedom at the start. The rules will be pretty fluid, nevertheless, analysis reveals that the writing have to be concrete, genuine, and specific. The author should be capable of hyperlink emotions to occasions on the paper, and the story have to be allowed to be full, complicated, and coherent, with the start, a center, and an finish. However the author can begin at any level within the story, i.e., my writing began on the finish.

What occurs? This was one of the highly effective statements I discovered within the analysis about writing our traumas. Writing transforms us from a sufferer into one thing extra highly effective: a narrator with the ability to watch, see. It jogs my memory of two necessary ideas, one from the yoga custom, an idea known as witness consciousness or creating the witness. This concept is one is that one has the flexibility to watch themselves as in the event that they had been watching a film, virtually sitting again and watching themselves onscreen. You virtually step outdoors your self and watch, all of the whereas engaged on non-judgment and non-attachment to your ideas, to your phrases, and to your actions. Writing narrative helps us to reclaim some measure of non-public company; company outlined because the felt sense that we have now management over our life or our experiences. One other definition, from Zimmerman and Cleary: Private company is the flexibility to provoke and direct actions towards the achievement of an outlined purpose.


We are actually coming to the top of our journey collectively, and I’d love so that you can do that out. So come together with me and let’s do a writing train collectively. I’m going to ask you into possibly enriching your writing by way of imagery. Let’s shut our eyes for only a second. Once more, take just a few deep breaths and actually really feel into your sitting bones. Discover the floor under you.


Convey into your thoughts one thing from the pandemic timeframe, the final 18 months or so, that felt difficult for you. And take just a few extra breaths and attempt to bear in mind what made it difficult. While you really feel full in figuring out what it was that was difficult for you, you may open your eyes. Write for 2 to 3 minutes about latest emotions and occasions associated to the pandemic, one thing that was difficult. Don’t fear about whether it is popping out excellent. I’ll set a timer for us in order that we will keep inside that three minutes. You may be happy to start your writing each time you might be prepared.

Now let’s take a minute or so simply to evaluation and browse your writing. Assessment the paragraph on the web page, replicate on what you learn, after which I’ll ask you, are you able to join your writing to any specific picture? If imagery is tough for you, which for some individuals it truly is, possibly look or underline some factors in your writing that appear significant. And in addition replicate on what character strengths you used to maneuver you thru the problem, observe these down. In the event you had been capable of finding a picture, or provide you with a picture, draw a tough sketch of it. It’s not an artwork competitors, it’s only a method so that you can deepen the expertise of the writing.


Hopefully you loved this course of. I wish to once more remind you that my writing occurred earlier than I even began my last mission. It was one thing that actually simply organically unfolded. Once I learn now what I wrote, I perceive that this was at all times the mission that I used to be meant to do. The labyrinth was current in my consciousness and my unconsciousness the entire time, my thoughts was merely ready for me to hyperlink collectively the connections between my writing and what I used to be studying about optimistic psychology. So connecting all of it collectively. The narrative writing permits for connecting occasions and feelings, in the end making that means out of our experiences. Permitting the thoughts to kind a picture such because the labyrinth illustrates the circuitous journey of writing the narrative of a specific occasion, expertise, or trauma even. After which the expansion occurs as a result of the storytelling provides the author private company over their trauma, and it helps combine the expertise, usually resulting in development and a modified perspective.

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