Writing offers a way for people to connect to deeper, wiser aspects of ourselves – a way for us to find out, as the poet Audre Lorde said, “what we didn’t know we knew.” Almost every writer has experienced mysterious moments when the words that flow from our pens, or from our fingers on a keyboard, seem as if they come from someplace else – a place beyond our small human selves. Sometimes, when we let it happen, it’s as if the words become a little boat, a raft on which we can sail in a larger stream. When this happens, in a sense, the writer has become a shaman: one who makes a bridge from her own human consciousness to a consciousness that is far bigger, mysterious and vast.
Writing can give us many gifts. It can help us touch into a depth far beyond our personal selves; it can also help us express the personal self, what poet Seamus Heaney calls the "essential watermark” of our own perceptions. Writing can also give us a way to mine meaning, even beauty, from the difficult events in our lives. There is a mysterious alchemy that can occur when we find ways to put our pain and confusion into words, and then usher those words out of our bodies and onto the page. And in this way, writing can facilitate the kind of healing shamans call "soul retrieval," restoring our own wholeness.
And writing can facilitate our emotional and spiritual growth in many other ways. Through writing, we can become more able to see ourselves, and others, and all things as they are – imperfect, and yet perfectly held within a continuous process of growth. We can learn to view that process, and the constantly shifting, churning, transmuting flux of ourselves and all things, with more compassion. We can become more alert to the magic of life, more able to recognize, receive and celebrate all the small blessings that are daily offered up to us. In our writing we can honor ourselves and each other, even in our most painful moments. As poet Bruce Weigl says in a poem about his own childhood sexual abuse, “Say it clearly and you make it beautiful, no matter what.”
These gifts are not available only to those who meet a certain standard of achievement as writers. They are available to all who write, because they come about through the process of writing, rather than as the result of a finished product.
Understanding that the real goal is that unfolding, that flowering-forth of the self – and that the writing, when it comes, is simply gravy – can help us make a very important change in our personal process. Rather than putting pressure on ourselves, we can draw back, relaxing into a posture of invitation, of interested curiosity toward the self and all it contains. We can learn to pay closer attention to our own creative process, noticing what thoughts or feelings or observations move us, intrigue us, delight us, leapfrog us into new places – or shut us down. Wherever we are, whether we’re wandering through the woods, sitting at a desk looking out the window, or on a bench in a public park people-watching, we can learn to watch our minds with interest – observing what we notice, what we wonder about, even where we get stuck.
At the one-day Writer As Shaman Meetups, which generally take place on weekend days from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., we do a wide range of exercises designed to help participants enter into, and write from, these deeper places in their being. In my four-day Writer As Shaman retreats, we also work intensively with the tool of the shamanic journey, a very powerful way of receiving insight and healing, and also a very direct route to enhanced creativity.