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Writing to Heal: How the Written Word Helps Heal the Spirit


Knowledge of oneself sometimes endowed by writing can become an important element of healing.

At some point in In Search of Lost Time, Marcel Proust states that writing is a type of exploration that the writer performs on his or her own interior, an almost Dantesque descent that takes place a little inadvertently as writing sinks us in a slumber that leads us smoothly, almost narcotically, into our internal world.

It is no coincidence that surrealists found in automatic writing one of their favorite methods for literary creation, as a good extent of writing is made of unconsciousness––that raw material that generally lies there, semi-hidden, and which only emerges in special circumstances, when we dream or when we speak (paradoxically) without thinking, but also when we begin to write and we let ourselves go on that torrent of our thoughts, our associations, our memories, even our errors.

In “Notes on poetry,” José Gorostiza characterized that exploration:

From my point of view, both in my own poetry and others’, I have believed to feel (allow me to support myself in the air again) that poetry, upon penetrating the word, deconstructs it, opens it like a cocoon to all the matrices of meaning. Beneath the spell of poetry, words become transparent and we are allowed a glimpse, although from far away, of the walls around words becoming transparent. We see not only what is said but what is silent. We note that there are doors and windows opening into all directions of the understanding, and that between word and word there are secret corridors and drawbridges. We cross, in our imagination, toward dank dungeons, and airy, elevated galleries that we don’t have in our own castles. Poetry has brought to light the immensity of other worlds that circle our world.

Writing like that, like an exercise of knowledge of oneself, can be considered a form of healing, a therapy, and perhaps also a restorative practice. With a certain frequency, the problems of our psyche are the fruit of ignorance we have regarding ourselves. We are born in a pre-existing world––arrive when things are already done and reality already has a defined aspect. We grow up in a culture we didn’t choose, with already-conceptualized values oriented toward certain possibilities of action, a system with its own logic, its permissions and also its prohibitions. And all of these is spun little by little in a thread where it is eventually no longer possible to distinguish that which we were taught to call truthful or acceptable from that which we need to find out with our own resources. Narratives cross each other; they meet, overlap and blend. A chorus of voices tells us what to do or not to do, what to desire and what not to. But…what about our voice? To a large extent, that is the core benefits of writing. When one endeavors to write as that method of self-knowledge, it can show us the thread of our own narrative in the midst of all those that became part of our being, sometimes without us even wanting it.

Writing, on the other hand, is an exercise that at least in a first moment does not require more than will, time and some minimum material resources: a pen, paper or maybe a computer. An initial motive, which can be any––from a childhood memory to the description of something occurring the moment we decide to write. And from that point, if we are willing, continue. Writing is not a practice exclusive to just a few, and much less its therapeutic qualities. Anyone can write, in the broadest sense of the verb.

“Being happy means becoming aware of oneself without fear.” That was written by Walter Benjamin in One Way Street. Happiness, more often than not, occurs when we are able to acknowledge who we are with sufficiency and calmness, when we know our identity in its integrating components, when we embrace our limitations and we face our most profound, personal desire, which bestows movement to our lives. Thus, as Benjamin observed, there is no fear of perceiving ourselves, because we know ourselves. So perhaps to be happy is possible, even immediate; an inevitable consequence and one that’s not even sought after, but which naturally occurs.


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