*I am honored that Author Wendy Brown-Baez is stopping by on her WOW: Women on Writing book tour to share some thoughts on how writing has the power to heal.
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Our brains are hard-wired for stories. It is the way we process events and experiences and the way we connect with our human family. I believe this was an evolutionary development as we learned how to survive. I can well imagine that those stories told by ancient people sitting around the fire were instructional: how to find food and shelter, how to brave wild beasts and weather, and how to stay healthy and care for the sick. Hoever, all cultures delight in gossip, spiritual teachings in the form of parables, and tales of fantasy and magic. The brain takes pleasure in discovering who we are as communal and spiritual beings through stories.
There are several ways to use writing to help us to heal from emotional wounds and increase our physical well-being.
One way is by keeping a journal and recording what you are feeling and thinking. When we name our feelings, they move from the amygdala section of the brain, our flight and fight center, to the prefrontal cortex where we make decisions about how to respond. We can coach ourselves toward the future and cultivate optimism. We can explore the past and identify patterns in order to break them and align with our deepest values.
Another way is writing stories. Studies completed by James Pennebaker, author of Writing to Heal: A guided journal for recovering from trauma & emotional upheaval suggest that it is not only writing down events but how we felt at the time and how we feel now that has the most healing benefit. Moving our thoughts around our brains to the area of understanding, insight, and awareness helps us move from emotion to decision.
There are studies that suggest that the chemicals of serotonin and dopamine are created when we pay attention through writing. In addition, our immune systems are strengthened and our blood pressure lowers. Writing can help with pain management as we focus in the present moment.
Another key to using writing as a tool for healing is to share our writing in a safe way. This may be a support group, a writing group, or a reading for the public. I teach a Restorative Justice writing class in prison for the perpetrators to write their stories, starting with their own intimidation or hurt and writing about the impact of their crimes on others: their families, their victims, and their victims’ families. We complete the class by writing their healing stories— how they have changed and who they are now. Then they read these stories in a program attended by Department of Correction staff and invited guests. This has been transformative for both the writers and audience.
In writing Catch a Dream first as memoir, recording diligently everything that I experienced while living in Israel, I was able to process those experiences in a deeper way. I had to pay attention to the setting and descriptions, the way my relationships impacted me, my desires, longings, hopes, dreams, disappointments, and heart-breaks. Changing the memoir to a novel gave me more distance from the story and a more objective point of view. It helped me understand myself and my choices differently. My character made choices that weren’t always the best for her but she was also open to new friendships and a different culture. She allowed faith and her heart to guide her. Like my character, my beliefs were filled with contradictions. I had lost my hope for a romantic partner but yearned for love. I loved being a free spirit but wanted to belong somewhere. I fell in love with a country embroiled in constant conflict with the Palestinian people within its borders and Arabic nations on its borders, but I was a dedicated peace-nik. By writing my story, both as memoir and as fiction, I pruned the branches that no longer bear fruit in order to leave the most succulent possibilities.
Wendy Brown-Báez is the author of a poetry CD Longing for Home, the full-length poetry collection Ceremonies of the Spirit (Plain View Press, ’09), and chapbooks: transparencies of light (Finishing Line Press, ’11) and Elegy for Newtown (Red Bird Chapbooks, ’14). She has published both poetry and prose in numerous literary journals and anthologies, both in print and on-line. She received McKnight, Mn State Arts Board and Saint Louis Park Arts & Culture grants to bring writing workshops into non-profits and community centers.
Wendy has facilitated writing workshops since 1994 including at Cornerstone’s support groups, the Women & Spirituality conference at MSU Mankato, Celebrate Yourself women’s retreats, All About the Journey healing center, The Aliveness Project, Unity Minneapolis, El Colegio High School and Jacob’s Well women’s retreat. Wendy received 2008 and 2009 McKnight grants through COMPAS Community Art Program to teach writing workshops for youth in crisis. The project at SafeZone and Face to Face Academy developed into an art installation showcasing their recorded writings. When it was noted that students’ reading scores improved, she was hired as Face to Face’s writing instructor.
In 2012 she was awarded a MN State Arts Board Artist Initiative grant to teach writing workshops in twelve non-profit arts and human service organizations. She continues to teach at Pathways: a healing center, in Mn prisons, and in community spaces such as public libraries, yoga studios, churches, and cafes. Wendy has taught memoir at MCTC continuing ed and through Minneapolis community ed.
In addition, Wendy has managed shelters for the homeless and visited incarcerated teens. She is trained as a hospice volunteer and as a facilitator of Monologue Life Stories. Wendy studied alternative healing, ceremony, and spiritual traditions with Earthwalks for Health and lived in Mexico and Israel. She has collected wisdom teachings from these diverse cultures, as well as written memoirs of her adventures.
You can find Wendy Brown-Baez at:
© Strength 4 Spouses LLC, 2018.