Writing your intuitive wisdom

Intuition is a wonderful tool that can allow us to unlock our creative potential, and transform our lives.

In her book, ‘Emotional Freedom,’ Judith Orloff MD defines intuition as ‘a potent wisdom..a practical, smart decision-making aid…Intuition can be a hunch, a dream, a ‘’knowing’’, specific guidance, or a warning of danger.’’

She explains that the phrase ‘gut feeling,’ is actually literally true. Cutting edge scientists have now discovered a kind of brain in the gut, called the ‘enteric nervous system.’ It is a network of neurons that learn and store information.

Intuition, is a kind of knowledge that can help us make better decisions, and avoid the endless circling in our heads, that leads to nowhere. When we write intuitively, our characters seem to take on minds of their own, our words flow, effortlessly, we are no longer thinking.

But we have to find our intuition, we have to switch off our minds, and allow our writing to come from a different place. When I began to write while being consciously aware of my body, I found a voice that was wiser than myself, who wrote much better words than me. They did not even seem like my words anymore.

Here are some other things that help switch off our circling minds; Go for a walk or swim before writing, dance around the living room,  meditate. Write somewhere out in nature far away from distractions, so your intuition has the space to speak.

If you’re a beginning writer staring at a blank page, your head can sometimes sabotage the process by worrying about what you will write, and whether it will be good enough. But you can simply ask your intuition ‘’what should I write?’’ and your intuition will answer at the speed of light. Simply write down the first thing that comes to you, no matter how strange or ridiculous it seems. Keep doing this, following the trail that you intuition leads you along.

My intuition has never let me down, when I ask questions, it answers. These could be questions about my life, or about my writing. When I was in my early twenties, I worried about when I would have children, so I wrote down the question, and then the answer that popped into my head. At 32 years old. I actually had my daughter two months before thirty second birthday, so perhaps your intuition, can’t always foresee the future! But it can make an accurate intelligent estimation, based on you and what might happen.

Recently I was struggling to write a novel, trying to find the time, getting frustrated by interruptions, and feeling upset, about how I would never fulfill this dream of mine. Then I wrote this simple question on the page. ‘’Why can’t I write a novel?’’ My intuition explained, that at this stage in my life, with a young baby, I just don’t have the headspace for it, and I have other writing projects that I need to work on first, such as my book about creative writing and healing. When that’s done, then my head will be empty for a novel. I’m much happier to leave my dream on the shelf for a while, because now I understand that I just need to be patient.

In modern western society, we are led far from our intuition. We are taught to think and talk, but not so much about how to listen.  Writing is a trail back to ourselves, to the intuitive voice that whispers in our bodies, a wise voice, that will give you an answer, just a long as you remember to ask.

Writing Exercise;

Write a question, about your life or your writing ambitions. Then write the answer, the first thing that pops into your head.

Advertisements

The way stories flow through your veins

Have you ever taken a yoga or tai chi class, and noticed that your body seems to have a zing at the end of it? Have you ever felt the tingles beneath your skin, the energy flowing? Or perhaps you have been to a meditation class and noticed, that when you bring focused attention to your body you start noticing all sorts of subtle sensations, that you weren’t aware of before.

Yogi’s call it prana, tai chi practitioners call it Chi; the life force that flows through every living thing.  According to Chinese philosophy, when chi flows easily, we feel healthy and the body can naturally heal ourselves. When chi is blocked we can experience illness.

Writing can give you that tingly, zingy feeling too, all you need to do is become aware of how your body feels as you write. Lie down with a notebook and pen, and write down one thought after another, focusing on how your body feels as you write. If a thought tenses your muscles, then focus on relaxing them. If you notice your breathing getting hurried, then bring some attention there until it slows and lengthens.

Keep writing your thoughts, and you may find that your focus heightens, and you are aware of more subtle sensations in your body. You may find discomfort or knots of tension, and a flurry of thoughts, that seem to come from a particular area.

As you drop deeper into concentrated focus on your body and your mind, your thoughts will start to flow more easily, and with more clarity. Ultimately chi, or prana, is a creative energy, and by bring your attention to it, you find the pathway to follow the thread of your words.

The healing power of tears, and how listening changes everything

Finding a listener for your stories can make all the difference 

I am the mother of a 10-month old daughter Ruby. When I was pregnant I worried a lot about what sort of mother I’d be and how I could bring her up to be happy. We all seem hurt in some ways by our upbringing and having that responsibility for a child seemed overwhelming. I read a lot of books about parenting, and discovered something fascinating.

Babies and children instinctively heal themselves from trauma and upset by crying, and laughter. Stress hormones such as cortisol are released through tears.

However as parents we often think it is our job to stop or minimise crying. So when babies cry, we feed them even when they’re not hungry, or give them a dummy to stop the crying. When toddlers tantrum we may try to ignore them, or if in public, give into their demands to try and keep them quiet!

Hand in Hand parenting is a parenting organisation, that teachers a method called Parenting by Connection. The idea is to maintain a close connection with your child. To play and listen to them in a way that promotes laughter, and love, and sometimes tears. And if a child cries, then then you should stay with them, offer support, love and a listening ear.

Have you ever had the experience of feeling upset and somebody asks if you’re okay, and then you suddenly burst into tears? Having a supportive listener actually makes us cry harder. If we support children, when they cry, rather than trying to stop them, then they will always have that innate mechnaism, of healing through expressing emotions.

The Hand in Hand approach, has started me wondering about why creative writing is healing. Writing softened me up, it turned anger and hardness into sadness and tears. It took a long time to work through this process, because like most of us, the natural expression of my emotions had been tampered with.

James Pennebaker noted that in his study, participants cried when they wrote about trauma. Perhaps their greater health and happiness was in part due to the tears they released.

In Autumn I will begin training as a Hand in Hand parenting instructor, another job I’d like to do alongside writing and creative writing teaching. In my interview I was asked about emotional release and if I’d done anything to release my own emotions through tears. Hand in Hand recommends that parents have a listening partnership, in which we share listening time about the issues with our lives with another person. The idea is that this listening partnership, gives us the chance to release our own emotions through laughter and tears.

I’d never had a listening partnership before, but I had written to heal my emotions. Was that the same thing? In my interview I was told that it wasn’t, because writing in a journal doesn’t have the same warmth of having a real person listening to you.

Then I began to think a bit more, about the times I’d shared my writing with others, about trembling, at speaking allowed about things that had been going around and around in my head. I’d read extracts from my writing at writing workshops that felt like group therapy, but with the added bonus of trying to turn the dust of our lives into beautiful words.

Writing in a journal can help us to intellectually understand our lives but part of the healing process is the sharing. That though we may have been hurt, we can find someone to trust with our stories. In public or in private, I think sharing our words is an essential part of the healing process. In laboratory studies where writing increases health and happiness, could this be partly due to the fact that participants feel that the investigator has read their stories?

After my daughter was born, I was swept up in the joy of being a mother. I felt like I was healed. But then I began my own listening partnership. I began again telling my life story, and feeling, shaky and sad again. Having a listener had made me feel soft again, but this was actually a good thing. Afterwards I was more creative, words flowed more easily. I was no longer knotted up and tight, too busy with being a mother. Finding a supportive listener gave me the time and space to go into myself.

It’s an amazing gift now, to be able to live creativly while being a busy mum, and I wouldn’t have been able to do that without being listened to. It took me back to myself, and made me realise I still had healing to do. I’ll always having healing to do. But that’s a good thing, because I leave the pain, floating around in a conversation, or written on the page. It doesn’t interfere with my life. My days are happier, because I’ve searched inside for sadness and left it behind.

The Two Minute Miracle — How creative writing can improve your health

creativewriting.jpg

Just two minutes of creative writing about positive and negative life-experiences can improve your health and well-being.

James Pennebaker discovered that writing about trauma or upheavel in your life for fifteen minutes on four separate occasions, resulted in 50% less trips to the doctor, and greater happiness, and well-being.

This study has been replicated many times, with different writing subjects such as writing about the happiest moments in your life, or writing about future life goals. Each study resulted in less trips to the doctor, and greater happiness.

Psychologist Laura King wanted to know what the minimum amount of writing time was necessary in order to improve health and happiness. In her study participants wrote for two minutes, on two separate occasions, on either a traumatic or happy life event. The result was greater reported happiness and less trips to the doctor in the following month.

But why does it work? “We don’t know why it works, but it really works,” King says. Pennebaker explains that writing about a life event makes it simpler in our minds, so people, ”don’t have to obsess. People sleep better, they’re more socially connected, they laugh more.”

As humans we are naturally born storytellers, and the stories we tell help us to live and learn. Laura King, explains, “When we write about ourselves, we’re writing a story that ultimately serves as our identity, …When we take a moment to think about our lives as a story, we get these insights that we would not have otherwise.”

Perhaps the reason why writing can improve our physical health, lies in the interconnectedness of body and mind. If we work to tend the wild gardens of our minds, then our bodies will benefit too, and vice versa.

So far there hasn’t been much research into the effect of longer writing periods on the mind and body, and James Pennebaker actively warns against it, saying that two much writing might lead to ‘naval-‘gazing,’ and an unhealthy preoccupation with the negative aspects of our lives.

However we also don’t really know how to maximise the health benefits of creative writing. Perhaps if we write about the whole spectrum of human emotion, not just the negative things that happen to us, then we can achieve balance in our writing and lives. There may also be health benefits to engaging in a long term writing project such as a memoir. Louise De Salvo’s book, Writing As a Way of Healing, describes  the pleasure and the sense of accomplishment we get from editing, and rewriting, our raw emotion. And the way that long-term focussed attention helps us to understand and accept the past.

In my personal practise of writing, I use the meditative techniques of watching my emotions as they arise, concentrating on the sensations in my body, and breathing. This seems to give me a strong and safe foundation, so I don’t get swept away by negative thoughts, but simply watch them, write them and then let them go.

Writing in this meditative way, I find that the longer I write, the more heightened my consciousness is, the more relaxed, and happy I begin to feel, as I clear out all the negative junk that has built up in my mind.

But on busy days,  it’s good to know that all we need is two minutes. Carry a tiny notebook with you,  lock yourself in the bathroom if necessary, and always remember that you do have enough time!

Playful Writing

While trying to come up with a subject for my next blog post I was thinking about the book I was currently reading, Playful Parenting by Larry Cohen, and how it had absolutely nothing to do with creative writing

Then I thought about it again, and realise it actually had everything to do with creative writing. Playful Parenting is a book that explains what really goes on in a child’s play. According to the blurb, play is ‘children’s way of exploring the world, communicating deep feelings…working through stressful situations and simply blowing off steam.’

Writing is a way for adults to play. I invent characters who bear resemblances to people I’ve met, and have plots that seem like metaphors for things that have happened in my life. In my private journals, I often say things I don’t believe, exaggerating things out of proportion, without having anyone accusing me of lying.

Freud was one of the early documenters of play in children. He observed a young boy play a game called ‘Gone’ in which he repeatedly made a wooden reel on a string appear and disappear. According to Freud the boy was reenacting the traumatic event of his mother leaving, and that the pleasure he derived from this game was helped him to overcome the upsetting feeling of his mother leaving.

When we write, we can return to our storage houses of upsetting feelings, and let them come out. We do not need to write autobiography in order to access the healing aspects of writing. We do not need to even consciously set out to write to heal ourselves.

Sometimes you may have a strong desire to tell ‘the truth’, what really happened in your life. But fictional stories have a way of running away with themselves, of delving deep into your subconscious, and rewriting some of your hidden stories. Writing like play isn’t really about thinking, all you have to do is set pen to paper and begin.

Write Exercises

All too often, writing becomes serious. Writing block sets in. We worry about what our audience will think. Or we are in a writing workshop and freeze at the thought of people actually hearing what we are going to write. Then there is the painful work of editing, and trying to get published.

If you find yourself getting too serious in your writing, or describing it as ‘work,’ then it might be time to return to it’s origins in play.

1. I love Sark’s Journal and Playbook, a multicolored book with playful writing exercises such as ‘invite someone dangerous to tea’  and ‘eat mangoes naked.’ Try them!

2. Write like no-one’s watching you. like you will just rip it all up when you have finished. Write in big letters without being afraid of taking up too much space, and don’t worry about what direction you write in either. What would you write, if you were just being silly, saying something that you didn’t really mean, or wasn’t true.

Writing Gratitude : Maya Angelou

For many years I was a foul-weather journaler. I didn’t see the point of writing positive things down. Writing was a way for me to solve problems and feel better. If I felt good there wasn’t really much point in writing anything!

In ‘Letter to My Daughter’ Maya Angelou, tells a story of returning home after traveling on tour with an Opera. At this point in her life she was not yet a writer.  She describes how the reunion with her young son, was so emotional that, ‘I must confess it may have sent me over the edge.’ She started to worry about her son growing up in a racist society, and began to have thoughts about killing him.

She went to visit her singing teacher to tell him she was going crazy. He gave her a pen, and a yellow pad of paper and told her to write down her blessings.

So Angelou wrote them down. Simple things like she had ears to hear a choir, eyes to see a waterfall or a lover’s face. When she had finished writing the feeling of madness was gone.

In ‘Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude can Make you Happier.’ Robert Emmons describes how writing about gratitude can make us happier and healthier. In one study in participants wrote daily about five things they were grateful for. These writers felt better about their lives, had more optimism about the future, and fewer health problems, than those who wrote about five daily hassles or five daily events. In other studies, it was found that writing about gratitude could result in better sleep and even protect from heart attacks.

Nowadays I try to keep a balance in my writing. I write about what I am grateful each day, often at the beginning or end of a writing session. It’s sometimes hard to remember which is why I keep a ‘gratitude pebble’ on my desk. When I look at the pebble I remember to write what I am grateful for.

Writing is a way to go into the darkness, to transform it into something brighter. But its important to remember to visit the places where the light already shines.

Writing Exercise

Simply write down five things you are grateful for each day. It’s also a good exercise to try when you have been focusing on the negative in your writing and need to redress the balance.

Finding stories in our wild minds; Natalie Goldberg,

One of the earliest inspirations for my own writing was the books of Natalie Goldberg. I started writing a diary when I was 13, but Natalie liberated me from the need to write about everything that happened in chronological order. It was freeing to learn that I could simply write my thoughts as they happened and see where they would take me.

My favourite quote from her is ‘feel free to write the worst junk in the world.’ Goldberg explains that by not being afraid to write the junk,  by ignoring the critical voice in our minds that tells us something is ‘rubbish,’ we unlock our creativity and our able to write more freely.  We can also clear our minds out of our junk so we are able to find the gold.

Goldberg is a student of Zen meditation and was once told by her Zen teacher to treat writing as her meditation. I’ve always followed her advice to simply write what I am thinking, and doing so has taken me to some unexpected places.

When I was in 26 the fatigue I’d had while at university returned. I spent many long afternoons, watching film after film lying on my bed unable to move. Then, sometimes, out of desperation I would write my thoughts, and a funny thing happened. My energy returned, in 10 minutes as opposed to resting for hours and hours. Writing was not just making me feel happier, it was giving me physical energy. And this knowledge that writing could effect my physical body, started as a ‘feeling.’ I felt it to be true.

I  began to spontaneously include more meditative aspects into my writing. I focused on relaxing my body, and noticing my breathing. I would try to relax my muscles, to sink down into my body, and ‘ground’ myself, in ways I had learnt through practising tai chi and yoga. This was a way to hone the effect that writing seemed to have on my body, to draw something out of the silence under my skin, and make words out of it. Once I’d expressed the words, I felt better, it seemed so simple!

As I continued to write, sometimes, for as long as two hours, my mind became clearer and clearer. My thoughts slowed down, from the hurried frenzy that I began with. Insights appeared on the page, as if from some deeper wisdom than myself.

And all of this happened, simply by paying attention to the first thought in my head, and then following it to the next one.

Natalie Goldberg’s books are amazing, and I love the fact that they make writer’s block impossible. Just as we are never free of thoughts, we always have something to write on the page. Unless we have reached enlightenment, our minds our never empty!