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'Writing to Wake the Soul'
Writing is most healing when it connects us not only to our own truth but also to that of others and to the sacred ground of our being.
-- Karen Hering

by Karen Hering

It was years ago. I was a young mother, our family's breadwinner, working a stressful job that kept food on our table but that offered little nourishment for my heart's hunger. Tears came often and sleepless nights had become my norm.

On a visit with my mother, she observed, lovingly and with concern, that I was becoming a ghost of myself. Then with prescriptive intention, she asked, "Have you been writing?"

My mother was not a writer herself. But she understood well that for me writing has often been an antidote to what ails me, as it again proved to be in that difficult year of depression.

This is but one of many reasons I now serve as a literary minister - a real job and job title that I made up in a creative act of living. As a literary minister, I lead guided writing sessions that invite participants to correspond with their own inner truth.

Certainly, there is nothing new about engaging writing as a tool for personal healing and a spiritual practice. But in my ministry, I've learned a few things that can make writing especially transformative.

Writing is most healing when it connects us not only to our own truth but also to that of others and to the sacred ground of our being. This is writing that "wakes the soul" - it rouses that part of ourselves that is our truest identity and also our truest connection to others and to all of life.

Some people do this naturally when they pick up a pen. Poets do it all the time. As an ancient Chinese writer said, what the poet does first is to describe what's close at hand; then she lifts her eyes to a wider horizon, where metaphors and a larger truth embrace the readers' experience, too.


You don't have to be a poet to do this. You don't even have to be a writer. All that you need is pen and paper, a willingness to enter a correspondence with yourself and to wonder on the page about your own life, and its meanings and connection to others.

The fruits of this practice are many, and the best are not about words at all but about finding and making meaning. Writing wakes us up so we can see life's metaphors and harvest the hope and connections they carry.

When my mother died, my sisters and I all came as quickly as we could. One sister, the knitter among us, threw her yarn and needles in her bag hastily; later, unpacking, she found a massively tangled mess. Throughout that week, in our emotional knots of grief and loss, we all took turns - sometimes two or three of us working together - at gently pulling the tangled yarn apart. By the time we returned home, the yarn was neatly rolled into a ball, and some months later, that sister sent us all a photo of the beautiful socks she'd knitted from the mess.

In the moment, the tangled yarn kept our hands busy. But now, it gives us all a metaphor and a story about how something new of beauty and warmth can come from the tangles of loss and sorrow.

When we write about our own lives and lift our eyes to a wider horizon of meaning, we are awakened to metaphors like this one and to the way our lives are filled with meaning and the possibility that something new and even needed might come of the tangled messes of any given day.

Karen Hering is the author of "Writing to Wake the Soul: Opening the Sacred Conversation Within" and consulting literary minister at Unity Church-Unitarian in St. Paul. www.karenhering.com

Natural Rising: Writing Our Way Toward Dawn.
Karen Hering will present a guided writing workshop on losses and new possibilities on Sat., 4/19/2014, 9 a.m.-2 p.m. $55. Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality, Carondelet Center, 1890 Randolph Ave., St. Paul. FFI: 651-696-2788 or office@wisdomwayscenter.org

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