The second meeting of the Kent Writing and Wellbeing Network took place on Saturday 6th April 2013 at the Beaney.
Maggie Smith led us in a writing warm-up, challenging us to write 10-20 words listing our qualities. Many of us felt diffident about doing this and my own list kept throwing up for me the various shadow-sides of each adjective. She then suggested using these to write an advertisement for the self. These generated humour, whimsy, truth and a more than one reference to cats. Mine took the form of an ad on e-bay for ‘a glass half-full’, not ‘quite antique but definitely vintage’.
Reinekke Lengelle then talked about the use of reflective writing at a time of uncertain career progression. She began by asking us to formulate a question we have about our work. I came up with a few – including whether I really liked ‘work’, where I want to focus my energy for the next, if I’m lucky, twenty years, the importance or not of legacy and whether my interests lay more in the inner or outer world.
She then described a model she developed with her collaborator, Frans Meijers that shows the way in which writing can enable people to move from a First Story after a crisis such as redundancy or miscarriage, which may include elements of Dan Baker’s VERB (feelings of victimisation and entitlement, wanting to be rescued and blame). Through a process of Sensing, Sifting, Focusing and Understanding, it is possible to tell a Second Story that includes acceptance, meaning, hope and possibility. Writing can facilitate this process.
That is a very brief summary of their rich and generative ‘Model of Transformation Through Writing’ which can be found as part of the article Lengelle, R. & Meijers, F. (2009) ‘Mystery to Mastery: An exploration of what happens in the black box of writing and healing. Journal of Poetry Therapy, 22, (2), pp 59-77.
There was lively discussion and then Reinekke demonstrated a way of using dialogue writing to explore our earlier question. She invited each of us to draw two archetype cards from a pack designed by Caroline Myss. Mine were the Hero and the Damsel. And then to enter into dialogue with the one that ‘spoke’ to us. The Damsel clearly had something to say to me and I found the dialogue process very freeing. Once again, elements of the shadow crept in.
There was some follow-up from Reinekke on the Kent Writing and Wellbeing Network Facebook page which I’ve pasted in below.
One of the questions that was asked in the workshop was “what if you’ve spent many years in your first story…” I call that the ‘cycle of lament’ and of course we want to move on from our first story, but there is value here too. This question followed me around after the workshop and on the train trip home today as I was reading more of Joseph Campbell’s work I thought about the ‘use of being in our first story’ – or what it can tell us.
Of course there is all kinds of juice there for creative writers as Sarah already said, but there is also value here in the context of writing and personal transformation because the thing we are always ‘talking about’ tells us what our particular life themes are. Frans put it this way, if you find yourself circling around and around a topic, try to see what the centre is. As Katherine mentioned, we don’t want to ‘worship’ our pain, we want to express is. But let’s say that ‘worshipping’ it for a while might also give us ideas about the most vital themes of our lives – if we’re going to wallow, let us make it fertile.
Here are the more eloquent words of Campbell along these lines:
“Twenty-four years is a pretty good stretch of time; a lot had happened during that period. And there I was babbling on about the same thing. That’s the myth in there. Another astonishing way to look back is to pick up some diary entries or notes that you kept a long time ago. You’ll be astonished. Things that you were convinced you had realized more recently will be all pinned down there. These are the driving themes of your life….But what if you want to gain some idea of what your myth is while you are living it? Well, another way to try to discern your desinty-your myth- would be to follow Jung’s example: observe your dreams, observe your conscious choices, keep a journal, and see which images and stories surface and resurface. Look at stories and symbols and see which ones resonate.”
I’m not saying that a ‘first story’ is our personal myth or that it will help us if we stay there…but it is worth exploring by WHAT we are fascinated while we’re there. Then a first story does become that ‘vital raw material’ for developing our ever-evolving story where we will very likely keep seeing repeating themes. These thoughts have to be worked out better, but they felt important to share soon after the workshop. Warmest regards to all and let me know if anyone is interested in the articles, which I can send by e-mail.
Source of Campell, J. (2004) Pathways to Bliss, Mythology and Personal Transformation. California: New World Library. These are writings compiled after his death by Joseph Campbell Foundation and are truly edited preserving his down-to-earth, irreverent, and wise voice. In the book is the most amazing story of his ‘struggle’ in economic depression of the 1930s too – he used the time to read (5 years!) and this became the foundation of his life’s work.