Writing can help to heal the heart. Research related to health and wellness has proven that writing is a way to face illness and grow. I first learned about this through Dr. John Evans, who created Wellness & Writing Connections conferences and workshops. Inspired by Dr. James Pennebaker’s research on how writing can help people heal, Dr. Evans began using writing to heal from his own illness and found that putting pen to paper brought big benefits. The upside was so good that he decided to share his results with others and encourage them to write as well. Today he works with Duke Integrative Medicine Center doing workshops for caregivers as a way to relieve stress. He also presents workshops like “Transform Your Health: Write to Heal” through the International Association for Journal Writing and writes for Psychology Today.

Dr. Pennebaker, Professor at University of Texas at Austin, inspired a lot of work around writing and healing. He said, “Emotional upheavals touch every part of our lives. You don’t just lose a job, you don’t just get divorced. These things affect all aspects of who we are—our financial situation, our relationships with others, our views of ourselves, our issues of life and death. Writing helps us focus and organize the experience.”

One of Pennebaker’s exercise goes like this: Over the next four days, write about your deepest emotions and thoughts about the emotional upheaval that has been influencing your life the most. In your writing, really let go and explore the event and how it has affected you. You might tie this experience to your childhood, your relationship with your parents, people you have loved or love now, or even your career. Write continuously for 20 minutes.

Sometimes we’ve avoided the emotions linked to difficult experiences so they remain blocked inside. Writing is a way to release them. One of the important keys is to write affirmations and focus on the positive even in difficult experiences. It’s a way to change perspective and take away the gems and lessons from situations that might seem challenging.

I love to write and have long used it as a way to process my experiences. I believe that the explosion in the number of people who want to write books is due in part to the way that writing helps us to discover ourselves. Have you had this experience? It can happen sometimes in conversation too, but writing has a power that helps to heal and to also discover what’s going on in the sometimes mysterious workings of our inner self. I find my notebook (no lines please!) is one of my best friends. It listens without criticism. It allows me to express what I feel. It never ever chides me for being wrong, or mean, or gushing, or anything else for that matter.

Writing is especially helpful to help me sort out big events and traumas and gain perspective. When I can explore the tough stuff on paper it’s a way of finding revelation. When I can get the words out of my system it unlocks pain and frees me to be more content. My words are not always pretty and positive. They reveal fear, pain, depression, despair, but they also reveal moments of transcendent joy, an appreciation for beauty, and love. Without words on paper it would have been much harder for me to understand my experiences and paint the shades of my emotions.

Writing as a therapy is more and more recognized and I highly recommend it either in an organized group setting or on your own. At its best it can open the way to a deeper experience of life.

Bio: Debra Moffitt is the award winning author of Awake in the World: 108 Practices to Live a Divinely Inspired Life and “Garden of Bliss: Cultivating the Inner Landscape for Self-Discovery” (Llewellyn Worldwide, May 2013). A visionary, dreamer and teacher, she’s devoted to nurturing the spiritual in everyday life. She leads workshops on spiritual practices, writing and creativity in the U.S. and Europe. More at http://www.awakeintheworld.com and on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/DebraMoffittAwakeintheWorld

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