Sometimes my students ask me whether it's okay to write from anger.
I tell them, of course it is. Anger can be a good motivator. Often we have good reason to be angry, and our anger can help us be social justice warriors. It can direct us towards making change.
So write from anger! Put it all on the page, and then after you have your first uncensored draft, revise it before publication so that you don't say anything you regret.
I want to share with you a piece I published recently that was written from anger.
A few weeks ago, I was having a nice quiet evening reading a book when I came across a passage that I found so disturbing I literally shouted outloud.
My kids looked at me like I was crazy. But I was furious.
In the middle of a well respected book, Mark Epstein’s Advice Not Given: A Guide to Getting Over Yourself, about the connection between Buddhism and psychotherapy, was a description of sexual abuse by a therapist to a much younger woman patient given as an example of GOOD therapy and good dharma. I couldn’t believe it.
I was so upset that I stayed up until 2am writing a review of the book. Over the next days, I refined the piece, but it was my anger that fueled the piece.
Today still well-respected teachers in the buddhist and psychotherapy communities can praise sexual abuse of women--and it can go unremarked in major reviews of the book.
Writing the piece, I realized I was not just writing about one book, but about a whole society and mindset that doesn't have proper tools to see or name abuse or to listen to women--or, to really listen deeply, for that matter, to anyone.
I hope you'll read the piece. It talks about the blindspots in psychotherapy; psychotherapy's difficult history of not listening to women; the dangers of spiritual gurus; the #metoo movement; and the question of when to take seriously one's own authority.
Writing this piece reminded me of why our voices are so important, and why we need again and again to stand up for them.
I also want to invite you to use your voice and speak out against the things that you find upsetting and unjust. There are certainly many things like that today. And while we can't tackle all of them, we can address some of them.
It’s only because of the people who have spoken truth to power before us that we have the freedoms that we have today. Our voices matter, and we all support one another in this endeavor.
Again you can read my piece here:
What is one particular thing that seems unjust and that really upsets you? Whether it is big or small, write about it. Let yourself go. Say what you want to say to right/write the wrong. Don't hold back. Give yourself full permission to express yourself completely and imagine yourself being fully heard.
Look back over your work and make any revisions to it.
It may be powerful to read your piece aloud and to hear yourself speak your own truth. Try it.
Think of one way to share your voice around this topic with someone else--it could be in conversation, online, in a letter to an editor, in an essay, poem or another form.
Read more about writing, social justice and responding to the me too movement in these pieces below:
The past weeks, I’ve been hearing from many clients, students and friends about the impact of the #metoo stories that for a while took over our newsfeeds.
Now the news has largely moved on. But we may not have moved on. Many of us are still processing, slightly thrown off our center, responding. Whether you were affected by the #metoo stories or not, this raises a larger question:
How do stories still live with us? How do we give them space to change us?
I want to offer some guidelines for how we can continue to process these #metoo stories and how we can deal with any other difficult stories in the future.
After a while, reading so many #metoo stories, I felt thrown off my own center, as if other people’s stories had entered my own body, and I was living in more stories than I had the capacity to handle.
I needed to step back and become more mindful of my media consumption.
Here are four tools that I find useful for listening/reading hard stories:
1) Ground: stay connected to your own body and breath as you read.
2) Don’t push away emotional reactions. Feel them. Feel them fully. The short form and fast pace of so much media often seems to preclude emotional response, but that we need to respond emotionally to process.
3) Take breaks. Step away and let the material settle before you read more. This is like shavasana in yoga practice. It’s in this period of deep relaxation that our body and mind are able to process, digest and incorporate the information we have taken in.
4) Reach out to others. We connect through stories, but sometimes we need to connect to more than just the page. Talk to friends, to family members. Be physically present with one another. Give each other a physical hug.
Our media makes it seem “easy” to share our story. But I know from personal experience it’s not.
The first times I told people—my husband and my much trusted therapist—I had been sexually abused, I had a panic attack.
I didn’t write about my own abuse story publicly for many years. I needed to take time to process the information through the safety of the private page first.
When I started to think about publishing and sharing my story, I worried about the different reactions I would get: I worried people would judge me differently. I worried I would be less respected, more victimized, more at risk.
AND at the same time, I also thought that I should just stop making such a big deal of it and just jump right in and share the story.
I needed to take my time and work with all of my contradictory responses. Now I know that all of my feelings around sharing or not sharing were normal. Our feelings around writing and sharing difficult experiences are complicated, contradictory, intense and take time to process.
If we know that about the process, it makes the process much easier; we don’t need the process to be other than it is.
Here are five tools that are helpful when we come to write our stories:
1) Expect the process of writing and sharing to be messy, complex and emotional. Don’t be surprised or blame yourself for the messiness of it.
2) Stay connected to your body and breath as you write,
3) Take breaks and be patient. Allow the process to unfold on its own timetable.
4) Keep the writing process and the publishing/sharing process distinct. You get to decide what and how much you want to share with others—and how and when.
5) Check in with friends and people you trust to support throughout and don’t be afraid to ask for emotional support.
Our stories are precious. They are also very complex. We need to honor them with space, respect and patience. Only then can the transformation power of story telling really come into being.
OPENING FOR CHANGE
We are used to being passive consumers of much of our media. We get up in the morning with a cup of coffee and read the paper. We scroll through our facebook feed when we wait in line. There is little expectation that we become responsible participants in our media consumption.
But each new story affects us, and each new story, ideally, has some impact not only on how we see the world, but also how we act in the world.
What if we consciously work to assume some responsibility for what we read? What if, for each thing we read, we ask ourselves a series of questions.
I suggest we ask these three questions in response to what we read:
1) How did what I read/hear affect me?
2) How did what I read/hear change some part of my vision of the world or of myself
3) How will I act differently as a result? What is even one very small way that I might do something different? It might simply be to remember, next time I talk to someone, that her/his story very likely was complex and challenging. Or it may be the decision to take a particular action as a result of my reading/listening.
In my own case, listening to the #metoo stories has had a number of effects: I reacted with pain and also with some hope on reading the stories. I sat down and written out a new #metoo story that I hadn’t ever really formulated before. I made a point of having some good conversations with my thirteen year old daughter and seventeen year old son that I probably wouldn’t have had this week or in exactly the same way had it not been for the stories I read.
Writing this piece makes me wonder if there is more I can do, from having more conversations with individuals to resisting the reactionary policies of DeVos to advocating again for an equal rights amendment.
We are the stories that we tell—individually and socially. The more we can embrace their real power, the more we have the capacity to make real change.
As always, I love to hear from you. And please share this with anyone who might find it helpful.
At the heart of my work is the belief that the stories we tell, about ourselves and about others, matter. They carry weight, and they have real world consequences.
As Trump pulls out of the Paris Agreement, what we see is one story competing, with enormous globe-changing consequences, with another story.
Trump tells a story about America First. He tells a story in which there are winners and losers, a story in which it is possible to roll back the clock to the past, a story in which “success” is measured by accumulating physical things and by economic gain.
But nothing more clearly shows the limit of that story than the global, environmental facts that now face us. These facts tell a different story:
They tell the story of a global reality in which we are all in this together, in which we are inter-dependent and one community’s or one nation’s wellbeing cannot be isolated. They tell a story in which the future is already upon us, in which the icecaps are already melting and in which our own human consciousness is already waking up to the global realities. Similarly, these facts tell a story in which success can no longer be tied to extractive practices of more and more physical things, because we live in a world with finite physical resources.
This second story offers us a new way to measure success: not in hoarding more things for a few, but in recognizing the inherent value of all life and the ways in which we all depend on one another, the very large and the very small, down to the bees and plankton, without which we could not survive.
This moment is a challenge to us all: to take charge of the narrative.
After all, we live by narrative. Narrative arranges how we make sense of our lives and how we organize our days and our societies.
In some indigenous communities in the amazon, for example, it was and still is considered heroic to give everything away and to share with others. Some communities structure their lives around a story of God. Some around stories of seasonal change.
In all our actions and in all our lives, we are living within narratives that have as their center certain assumptions about what matters and how we shape our lives.
I have seen in my work with clients and in the field of narrative medicine that if we don’t listen to and tell aligned stories about ourselves, we may get sick and not be able to heal.
The same is true of the stories we tell about the earth: if we don’t tell the correct story about it, we will all be in trouble.
We each have the power to tell the story that we believe in, the story that rings true for us. And we each have the power to find the places—on the state level, the city level, the local level, in our homes and in our hearts—where that story resonates and can find traction.
After all, stories are amazingly dynamic and democratic; though an authority figure may try to control them, stories can’t be controlled from the top down. We each have power over our own story.
And each of our own stories involves our relationship to the earth and to one another. So when we do this work of coming into our own truth, we do it not only for ourselves, but also for our collective narrative, for our values, and for the earth.
In these weeks and months and years ahead, it is all the more important that we come into our power to speak our truth and bring about real narrative shifts. Because action follows narrative.
As always, please reach out to me with your thoughts, questions, observations!
And check out my upcoming programs. On Friday June 16th, I’ll be leading a three hour workshop at Grub Street “Writing With Courage” where we’ll look at strategies authors use to speak their truth, often despite pressures to do otherwise, and where you’ll have the opportunity to strengthen your own courage and voice as a writer.
And if you’d like a deeply nourishing weekend of yoga, writing and meditation, please consider joining me at the Copper Beech Institute for a full weekend retreat August 18-20.
Many of us have a love-hate relationship with writing: we value writing; we want to do it more, but it also brings out our fears, frustrations, disappointments.
Over the next months, I’ll be writing a series of posts about how to approach your writing and your creativity with more openness, joy and freedom.
Today, I’m opening the series by addressing two common fears I’ve been hearing again and again from students and clients. Maybe you can relate to them:
These fears both have to do with not having control over your work.
It is true that you can’t control the reaction readers have to your work. But you can control when readers read your work and when readers don’t read your work. And that makes all the difference.
Get very clear on this: no one is going to read your work until you are ready for them to read it!
Many people’s private writing was read by a parent, friend, sibling or teacher as a child, casting a shadow over their writing life. But now you are an adult.
If you don’t want anyone to read your writing. make sure you keep it in a safe, secure and private place. This may seem obvious, but sometimes our unspoken fears limit us, and so instead of finding a safe and secure place for our writing, we don’t write. This is unfortunate!
If you like to write by hand and don’t want anyone to read your writing, put your writing in a locked drawer. If you don’t have a locked drawer, get one.
If you write on the computer, create a separate user account with a code that no one can access but you.
Take the time today to be sure that you feel that you have a secure place for your writing and that no one else will read it without your permission.
Once you have addressed the first fear, let’s turn to the second: your writing might hurt someone you love.
I get it. Generations of writers (usually male) have not seemed to give much thought to this question, and their writing often was deeply hurtful to family, friends, community members.
I applaud writers for thinking about the impact of their words.
But many writers today, especially women, let this fear of hurting others stop the writing process even before it begins. We don’t speak our own truth, we don’t even come to know our own truth, because we worry it might hurt others. Often we internalize others’ censorship of our truth. We can become mindful of this pattern and claim our truth first before we worry about its impact on others.
It’s important to remember that the writing process is not the same as the publishing process. Professional writers, as well as newbies, need to remember to keep the creative process and the publishing process separate. Our first, second and even third draft won’t be read by others unless you invite them to read it.
Before you are ready to publish, you can revise, a lot.
If you don’t want to hurt people in your life, you can also show a draft to the people you love and invite them to a discussion about it before you publish. These can be powerful conversations that develop greater trust and understanding.
Or, once you have come to write and realize your own truth, you might decide that the truth can speak for itself, and it is not your job to protect others from it.
But unless you are getting close to publication, this is something for the future and separate from the process of claiming your own truth and power and creativity for yourself and on the page.
Indeed, one of the great beauty of the page is that no one else is watching you. You get to use language to process thoughts, experiences, emotions, fears, rages, lusts. You get to explore, make mistakes, start over, without anyone judging you.
The page’s feelings can’t get hurt. The page can’t yell at you, judge your or decide no longer to be your friend.
So today, I invite you to look carefully at your own fears around writing.
If you can make the page your safe place, it can become your best friend; you get to establish deep trust with yourself.
This trust gives you enormous freedom: your writing process can go from being tortured to being joyful; old blocks might fall away.
You might even find that the things you were so worried about keeping private don’t need to be guarded so closely.
Emotional Healing & Mindful Writing Blog | Nadia Colburn
I blog about creativity, writing, yoga, meditation, justice, women, the environment and integrated well being for the individual and society.