For 15-plus years, I’ve been teaching personal writing as a form of self-expression, healing, community building, and in recent years, as a meditative practice. I’ve taught all ages, topics and backgrounds, and by far the thing I hear the most from just about everyone is, “I’ve never been in a group like this before. We all have so much in common. I’ve been looking for this sort of community for a long time.”
“We all seem to really understand each other. It’s like we’ve known each other our entire lives.”
“Other classes aren’t like this. I feel heard here. I feel understood. There’s no judgment here.”
“This group is my temple.”
“I can totally be myself here.”
“This is better than therapy!”
“It’s not like this out there in the real world.”
I am repeatedly thanked for providing this safe, nurturing, peaceful retreat from a hectic world that is, in comparison, too “critical,” too “demanding,” too “disconnected,” too “isolated” and too “exhausting.” I am repeatedly thanked for “allowing” people to just show up and be who they are, to come as they are: “Take off your shoes, be comfy,” I often say before we begin writing together. “Take a moment to close your eyes and go inward and just be with yourself. You give so much to everyone else…take a few moments to just be here with you — with your body, with your mind, in this room, in this moment….”
These simple rituals and reminders are intended to reconnect them with what all too many of us have forgotten in this quick-fix, go-go world: that we are enough. We are more than enough. We are a gift. We’ve forgotten how to love and honor the gift that we are. We are often too driven by external distractions — doing for others, worrying what others will think, etc. — that we forget to give that same energy to ourselves. Writing together is a beautiful way to remember who we are.
And while I appreciate the gratitude and acknowledge it (yes, I am good at what I do, and yes, I have worked hard at it for many years), the group honeymoon is created by the people in the room sharing the truth of who they are. It wouldn’t be ethical for me to take all the credit for the magic happening when we write together in shared community. What I do is very simple: I give folks “permission” to write their truth and meet themselves in that truth on the page. Sometimes writing truth can be silly. Sometimes truth writing can be scary. Sometimes witnessing ourselves in writing can be the most liberating, life-changing experience we have ever known. It helps us remember who we are. Technically, no one needs this “permission,” but somehow, sadly, in our busy-busy culture, we have forgotten how to be ourselves and have learned to be who we (or others) think we should be…better, stronger, tougher, etc.
We have forgotten that being ourselves is the best medicine — for everyone.
“I completely forgot about that story!” students will often say, after reading a freshly written childhood memory about a first pet or family outing or favorite safe place, or… just about anything. When we write together in community — no matter what we write about — we remember who we are and what it means to be human. When we take the time to share those stories together, word by word, we heal. We listen deeply. We take turns. We laugh. We cry. And we discover that each story is a gift, an offering. Remember bedtime stories? It’s a lot like that. A million years ago people would go from tribe to tribe sharing and gathering stories; these stories provided “entertainment,” sure, but were also essential to our survival as a species. Eventually we settled around the campfire to tell stories. Or sat on porches. It’s in our nature.
In our busy lives, we often forget how to slow down and take time to be with one another. We know how to do this, but it’s like a muscle that needs to be worked so we remember how to do it. Writing together is an amazing way to reconnect to our own truth; sharing our writing aloud in a circle is how we connect to each other. My role is to remind students how to do this. It’s very simple, yet it’s becoming more and more rare. That’s why it always feels so good. Our bodies remember and like what it feels like to be heard.
What I love so much about writing in community is how relieved folks are to feel understood, to be not so alone. I love seeing how writing together about our to-do lists can bring a smile to a face that has not known laughter for a long time. I love seeing how folks begin to blossom when they write and share, how they come home to their unique, wonderful truth and remember how to shine, petal-by-petal, word-by-word. It also teaches us what it means to remember who we are. I see that many of us are so used to doing or being for others that we forget how to be for ourselves. Writing teaches us how to come back to ourselves — and that it doesn’t have to be complicated. From that we realize that being in the world does not have to be so complicated either. We realize that just being present is enough. More than enough.
Writing together and sharing stories in a safe, supportive and nurturing community is a great way to connect with others, practice self care, and give yourself some much needed “me” time by exploring the gifts of your personal stories, thoughts, feelings and dreams as they come alive on the page.