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Writing for Healing – a community

This week, I attended the TWI (Therapeutic Writing Institute) Therapeutic Journaling and Memoir convention in Hendersonville NC, where I was provided opportunity to listen to some of the country’s leading teachers and authors on the subject of writing for healing. Most attendees were therapists getting credentialing so they can add writing to their programs. And then there’s me.I discovered a whole new community of healers I didn’t really know existed before.

The two time US Poet Laureate, Natasha Trethewey, was a featured speaker. She read her work –and after her keynote lecture and powerful poems, she shared information about programs devoted to helping troubled teens express themselves with poetry that she has been involved in.

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Poet Laureate, Natasha Tethewey, giving a presentation

I took a variety of courses, including several on writing ethical and spiritual wills (lasting words to leave for future generations to share the wisdom of who you are and what you believe), writing to get closer to nature and to forge deeper connections to earth spirit, the power of circles to connect people in healing communities, how to write spiritual poetry, and much more. I have so many of the writing books that were featured, yet still I brought a few and had them signed. I bought a few more for the library at Heartwood too – interesting new titles that I can’t wait to read and share. I have been asked to teach at ACE in Sarasota next term, and my mind was alive with ideas for innovative writing classes for the Ace population, as well as students at Heartwood, too.

Most delightful was the community meals that allowed me to meet the other 160 attendees, most of whom are therapists, all of whom are writers with stories to share of how writing has changed the lives of those they work with. The people I met were all passionate about writing, serving others, and making a difference in the world. I couldn’t help but be impressed with their commitment and generosity of spirit. It was unlike any yoga or writing event I’ve ever been too – yet oddly similar at the same time. This convention opened my eyes to many concepts, teaching me what I know and what I don’t know about therapeutic writing. It was a profound experience that revealed I have good instincts and I’ve been teaching quality material. Sometimes the validation that you are doing something right is the best take-away of all. The free writes and opportunity to follow another teacher’s lead in journaling was deeply appreciated too.

The timing of this experience couldn’t have been better because as soon as I left for a week, my book arrived at my home- a month earlier than expected because the official release date is still a month off. I have had some concern about my memoir and how it will be embraced or perceived by those who are mentioned in it, yet after listening to the wisdom of these great teachers and their message about writing as an act of healing, how important it is to speak your truth despite resistance and fears and the way others try to silence you, made me not only feel validated, but deeply proud, that I stuck with my project for over 9 years to finally get the book in print. Coming home to hold the printed words in my hands for the first time had special significance after hearing so much on the subject – and I couldn’t help but feel good about my own commitment to spiritual growth and the writing I’ve done to understand myself and my place in the world. It doesn’t make a difference if anyone likes my book or not. What is important is that I wrote it, boldly and with right intention.

When a few new friends at dinner discovered I was a yoga teacher, they quickly instigated an impromptu class, and I found myself teaching yoga to a group of writers on chairs (since we didn’t have mats) outside in the grass after a long day of writing indoors. It was magical. A hummingbird soared by as I was teaching, reminding me of my garden, because we have a resident hummingbird that I seem to see everyday this time of year sat home. At Heartwood, I am trying to blend yoga and writing, and this small, spontaneous hour and the visit from my little bird friend seemed to confirm that my vision is indeed possible.

It has been a long time since I’ve taken the time or spent the money to attend an event like this to expand my understanding of writing. The drive was long, the beds in the retreat center hard and uncomfortable and it rained the entire time.  Despite it being spring, the weather was uncommonly cold, and of course, I did not pack for such conditions, but that didn’t kill the buzz! I drove to Walmart to buy a blanket for my bed, and endured the rest with a smile.

In addition to enjoying the educational program, I had been looking forward to experiencing a different retreat center to see how the vision we have at Heartwood holds up. This convention was at the Kunuga Retreat Center near Ashville, which is a renowned 180 acre Episcopalian spiritual retreat center that has been established for some 80 years.  I got such a kick out of seeing they had a peace pole (the same size as ours) and a labyrinth (the same size as ours) and other similarities. This reinforced my belief that we are on the right track. I certainly felt pride that we have done as much as we have with so little space and limited private resources.  I came back with a few new ideas to enhance the inner quiet for our students too. I walked the labyrinth in the rain, using the time to consider how my writing has changed, grown and taken root in new directions over the years. It was lovely having the private time to process what I was learning and doing as a writer, teacher and woman.

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Labyrinth at Kanuga

Today I am home. David is hard at work refinishing the back room of the studio to make a permanent art room so we can expand our programs to include more spiritual arts. Soon, we won’t have to drag materials and tables in and out of storage every time we use them. Meanwhile, I am sending out copies of my book to family and friends, and attending to the backlog of work.  Back to the grind, but what a lovely grind it is.

It is good to get away – but even better to come home to a place you feel defines you, and to see it with invigorated purpose.

About Ginny East Shaddock

Director of Heartwood Retreat Center, Ginny is also a writer. This is her personal blog with essay form writing about life and reflection. My entries are often lengthy and random, because I'm not here to promote or sell anything. I'm not expecting followers - just find this format a good place to think with the pen.

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