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I first taught Heal Your Self with Writing as a seminar at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, several years ago, and was amazed at the response. Several participants felt that they were able to heal a split within themselves in just a few days which had not been healed with years of traditional therapy. One woman later wrote to me that she had felt separated from herself since being victimized by a sexual assault at the age of fifteen. After the Esalen experiential workshop, she felt reconnected to both her body and her mind through the focused journaling exercises. She later wrote to me that she had ‘returned to herself’.
What had occurred in this short period of time to achieve this life-changing result? One thing was crystal clear. I was not the cause, only the catalyst. She had herself done the inner work necessary to heal the split within, and she had done this through specific writing exercises combined with a fierce courage and resolve to change.
We all know the value of psychology in uncovering our deepest feelings, and the importance of catharsis in temporarily releasing our pain. Yet while psychological techniques may help prepare us for the magical journey of healing, they sometimes are not enough to lead us through the deeper journey of transformation. Catharsis without transcendence risks reliving negative patterns over and over, even reinforcing them, rather than truly putting them behind us.
What psychology does well is help us understand how we feel. What traditional psychology doesn’t always do is provide the way through. Einstein remarked that you can never discover a solution on the same level as the problem. Similarly, only by rising to a higher level of consciousness can an ultimate solution to psychological problems be found. Healing and transformation are possible only through changing one’s perspective from within.
There is a Native American parable about a grandfather talking to his grandson, saying “I feel as if I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is vengeful and angry; the other is loving and compassionate.” When his grandson asks him which wolf will win the fight in his heart, the old man replies, “The one I feed.”
How do we learn to “feed” the stories that heal? How do we put together the pieces of our past? How can we revision our life story so that pain becomes meaningful and actually promotes growth and transformation? One answer lies in focused journaling.
Telling stories about our past through this approach can help change our perspectives, enabling both healing and empowerment. In this way, we are able to make meaning out of memory and put the past where it belongs — behind us.