2018 09 07 08.01.29

50 for 50 #25, Healing part 1

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of attending Beth Bornstein Dunnington's Big Island Writers' Workshop on the actual Big Island of Hawaii. This is a shot of the path we walked each day to reach the pavilion where we met in community and wrote our truth. Isn’t it gorgeous? I know. I’m pretty damn lucky. And grateful.

I am often asked what I like best about Beth's retreats, what pulls me back to her time and again. There are many answers to this question, but in regard to the specific act of writing my most common answer is the format. Beth gives us a list of prompts and a pre-determined amount of time to write, usually 40 or 50 minutes. We break off, find a cozy spot to pour our words onto the page, and, when time is up, gather back together to briefly edit then read aloud what we just wrote. We listen, intently, but don’t critique each others' work, focusing instead on holding space, bearing witness, and accepting unconditionally.  

What I love about the format of prompts and timed writing is having automatic places to start and duration parameters that force my over-thinking nature to release control. Unlike sitting at my desk at home, I can’t spend 50 minutes obsessing over one dang sentence! 

The work I produce in Big Island settings often surprises me. Akin to what Anne Lamott calls the “shitty first draft,” I give myself permission to set aside fear and censorship and grasp whatever thoughts bubble up, without judgment. I scribe sentences as fast as they form to prevent my supergo from meddling in the process, and even catch myself thinking, Huh! about my own thoughts. Pretty cool. The combination of circumstances—environment, people, prompts, limitations—creates an alchemy I have tried and failed to recreate anywhere else. 

For these short bursts of time it’s as if I’m able to shift my perspective, see people and events with a fresher, or maybe keener, eye. Or maybe a less keen eye. Is the work I produce publication ready? Not at all, and that’s okay. Publication isn’t the immediate point, at least not for me. Healing is.       

I’ll be sharing more about my Big Island experience, but healing is what’s been on my mind since the end of the workshop and my return home. The power of the circle of women Beth brings together. What it means to me each time I participate. How I change and grow by the process. How I hope my words inspire others to heal. 

2018 09 07 08.01.29

To heal. It’s a loaded concept, isn’t it? Easy enough to understand, but less easy to achieve. One could argue, as Pema Chödrön did with the word “love” (read here), that the meaning of healing has become saturated to the point of obscurity. I went to Amazon and searched the word “healing.” The resulting 20 pages of products covered the gamut from healing music CDs to healing blankets to healing books to healing jewelry to healing candles to healing skin care to movies to essential oils to soap to crystals and more. And Google. Forget it. Pages and pages of websites, treatment centers, support groups, and miracle prayers. Phew!

All this healing begets many questions. What do we need to heal from? What is healing? What mechanisms help us heal? Must one work with a healing professional to actually heal? Is there an end to the healing process? How does one know if one has healed? How is a healed person different from a non-healed one? How much money are we spending to feel better? Does anything work? Does change last? I could go on, but I think you get the idea. 

I’ve written here, often, about my family’s healing, my healing, my daughter’s healing. Each type the same, but also different. The posts I write, my self-care journey, and my continued learning, all of it, is either an explicit or implicit attempt to help me (and others) to heal, and I’ve come a long way. How much further is there to go? Pondering these questions has helped me realize that while I’ve been busy doing the important work of healing, there’s still more work to do because I need some answers. 

Up next? Some answers. I hope. 

Plus: 25 posts down, only 25 more to go. Yay!


  1. So very well said, Tracey.
    My recent stay in the hospital has now taught me first hand that the business of healing is HARD. It's not for the faint of heart. It's not for wimps. Healing is only suited for those who are willing to face the challenge head-on and keep moving forward despite the discomfort. If you are doing that, and it seems that you are, you are moving in the right direction. Stay the course, my friend. You'll get there.

  2. Thanks Kelly. I'm glad you're feeling so much better. And you are so right! Healing-whether physical, mental, spiritual, whatever–takes guts and dedication. But certain kinds don't have to be so hard. We do that to ourselves..or at least I do. I AM moving in the right direction. Writing about it is helping me figure out just how far I've come. Take good care of yourself!

  3. Very interesting questions,Tracey! I am looking forward to hearing more from you as you explore the intricacies of healing. The expression "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." rings true for me. At least in my adult life. The emotional injuries I endured as a child wore me down and I didn't know how to heal myself. I wasn't offered help, either. But as I entered my young adulthood, I began to get the help I needed.

    Healing is like rings on a tree, building up a thicker fortress over time. Healing adds layers of fortitude and coping mechanisms with each new adversity I have to deal with. I've often said to myself, "If only I had the fortitude and coping skills then that I have now!" Of course this doesn't mean I now have a coat of armor that shields me from emotional pain. But it does mean I've learned a lot of ways to take care of myself when dealing with hardships that make it somewhat easier to endure. I'll take it!

    And one thing I learned from NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) is that I can look back and realize, "Wow. I made it through that (and that, and that, etc.) and I am emotionally stronger than before. When adversity strikes again, in whatever form, as we know life always has ups & downs, I'll be able to work through it and eventually get my life back on track."

    Sure, I wish life was always easy. But it's not. Emotional strength is built upon adversity. Figuring out how to heal ourselves helps us move forward, enjoy the good times more fully and better deal with the tough times as they come along. Easier said than done, of course!

  4. Thank you, Sue, for this comment. You are so right…healing is as individual as we are. And yes. We get stronger with each adversity faced and worked through. I, too, wish I'd known more younger, but that just doesn't seem to be how it works. For anyone. Darn it. And yes again. I agree that learning how to fully embrace life as it is, ups and downs, leads to a richer experience. We can’t control it, we might as well embrace it. <3

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