Writing provides a healing journey

By Alice Holstein

Several months ago I finished writing a series of 19 essays that I named “Seeker: Claiming a Spiritual Not Religious Path.”

It was intended for the group of people popularly labeled “the nones,” the 27% of the population who are uninterested in formal religion.

They nonetheless claim to be spiritual, pursuing that through being in nature, practices such as meditation or yoga, family activities and social justice projects.

One third of them believe in God; one third believe in some kind of “force” and one third are humanist, agnostic or none of the above. They are of all ages, and lots of them are young.

My essays, which I thought might be a book, were aimed at helping this audience address such questions as “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” “How do I live a life of meaning?” There is evidence that the “nones” do lack ways to create meaning in their lives.

As a lifelong “seeker,” I had asked these questions and more as I pursued an eclectic path toward a well-rounded spirituality. I also thought of my essays as “wisdom tales,” gathered from more than 75 years of living through some unusual experiences.

A few of my essay titles are “What Time Shall I Meet Your Plane?” about being there for a person when there is no one else to help solve a crisis, “Seeing Elizabeth Home,” about my companioning a beloved friend to her death, one of the most important things I have done in my life.

“Learning to Grieve With Elisabeth Kubler-Ross” was about coming to terms with my experience as a Vietnam-era veteran, 16 years after I left the service. Being a briefing officer for B-52 operations left indelible marks that I buried until her workshop.

I submitted the essays to an editor with big publishing house experience. He pronounced my writing style as lively and readable but that the work did not constitute enough essays for a book. He added that it probably would not interest a general public.

Although I was disappointed, I was not crushed; I knew the essays were distinctly personal and that one publishing avenue might have to be self-publishing. I am at the point, however, of being unwilling to undertake that learning curve or spend the money. Maybe I will change my mind.

What I am left with is the realization that ultimately, as an elder, I answered those questions of meaning and purpose for myself. Doing so has been a distinctly worthwhile endeavor.

Writing a “life review” is an exercise commonly suggested for elders; this was not exactly that, but it served the larger purpose of integrating many of my beliefs, lessons and stories within myself.

Such an integrating function is worthwhile in and of itself. In addition, I had hours and hours of writing pleasure, including the hours and hours of editing that good writing requires.

It is thus that I recommend all those who say, “I could/should write a book, or I want to leave my stories to others,” to go ahead and undertake the task. Who knows — you might even decide to self-publish, or perhaps make an inexpensive booklet of prime stories.

What matters most, however, is that you ask the questions, “Who am I?” or “Who have I been?” “Why was I here at all?” “How did I live a life of meaning?”

It seems to me that these are COVID-19 type issues. We have all been plunged into a dark night of the soul where we likely ponder such things. Our isolation and disruption of the normal may be a time to address these core questions.

There is a well-known saying that writers write for themselves. I know that truth from my previous publications.

If you have no writing skill, then make some notes and practice telling your stories.

The point is to put some preparation into the exercise. Rambling is not enjoyable to others.

The process of reflection, the clarity that comes only from writing, or gathering and honing our material, is a healing exercise.

Doing it can make us more whole and content, more complete as a human being, regardless of the audience or lack thereof, regardless of the so-called outward “success” of having distilled your personal story.

Your life is valuable and it is up to you to claim it, if only for yourself.

Alice Holstein, Ed.D., is a spiritual companioning practitioner, author and speaker in La Crosse, Wisconsin. She is at aholstein at centurytel.net

This article appeared in the LaCross Tribune on August 9, 2020

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