Word Power: Expression and Healing
Transcending is a word I use in my book title, because the idea of rising above the ordinary, mundane and difficult resonates deeply with me. I wrote a proposal for a training seminar a few years ago, about working with older adults, and had the word transcend in the working title. The seminar company executives kicked it back to me, saying they thought “transcend” would not be meaningful to counseling professionals—maybe too spiritual or something—so we ended up with “overcome.” I was disappointed, because as I worked with these seniors, aged 65 and up to the 90’s, I saw them transcend the changes and trials they were encountering, and it WAS spiritual, miraculous and beautiful.
Finding acceptance, courage and meaning when facing unwanted transitions—transcending them–is a wondrous thing. And words matter.
This past week I participated virtually in the National Association for Poetry Therapy annual conference. When I first discovered this group in 2018, I said to myself, “I have found my peeps—therapists that write!” Poetry therapy and bibliotherapy (books) are built on the belief that healing and growth can occur through the inspiration of the written word. Hearing or reading another’s evocative poem or essay can fire up emotions and awareness, creating an opportunity to learn more about oneself and to work through unfinished business.
The format of the training was that other professionals presented hour-long workshops with a specific focus, such as working with a population of adolescents, addicts, or trauma victims. But all of them involved a “writing prompt,” a tool that starts you out with an idea and you then write; for 2 minutes, 10 minutes, etc. Participants are encouraged to follow the pen—letting the words flow without judgment or self-analysis but allowing them to take you where they will. The idea is that it is a way to bring unconscious, under-the-surface thoughts and feelings up to where they can be viewed and processed.
For instance, a prompt may be, “Transcendence means….” or “I want to transcend…” or even, “Write about the thing you have already transcended in your life.” Rich material can emerge by using this kind of tool. You might want to give it a try.
We counseling professionals attend trainings and conferences because we need continuing education, but we often choose trainings that appeal to us and help us grow further as we are learning how to better help clients. I was often moved to tears last week, as the poems we heard, read or wrote stirred up grief for loved ones that are struggling, or moved and stirred me by exquisite images of pain, resilience and beauty.
I love haiku, a poetic form of three lines and 17 syllables—5 syllables, 7 syllables and 5 syllables, generally evoking the natural world. I came up with this—related to this troublesome time we are in right now:
Far from tribe and fire
warmth from both withheld for now,
but not for ever.
Words, spoken, heard or written are our tools of communication—and communication is what makes us human. I am also acutely aware of how words can be used to wound, enflame, and deny truth. I choose to consider my words carefully, and commit to follow, to the best of my ability, one of The Four Agreements (Don Miguel Ruiz): “Be impeccable with your word.” In short, this means to speak truth, with integrity, with intention only to help, not hurt, and to listen first. The power of the word can move us toward truth and love.
Now, more than ever, words can heal and uplift, bringing transcendence. Use them with care.