Body Narrative: Writing the Story of Your Body

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We take these sounds as testimony: violin, skin, tongue. Our bodies know these testimonies as beauty. –Susan Griffin

Words have mysterious and profound power. The process of writing can be life changing and therapeutic. Research suggests that expressive writing can improve health and well being. Dr. James Pennebaker, the premier researcher in the area of writing as healing, says, “Story is a way of knowledge.” Let your story tell you where it wants to go. This column will address resistance in body-narrative writing and how to use stream-of-consciousness writing as a way to counter resistance as well as taking your body back to its roots.

In his book Writing from the Body, John Lee calls us to remember the primacy of the body in writing. “The call to write is a call received in the body first. Creativity is not tidy or polite—it’s insistent. It calls us to feel, not dimly, not safely, but widely, passionately, in every cell and fiber.” Lee writes, “If we are to answer this call, we have to be able to feel every part of our lives…To write from truth, we have to radically reclaim and renew the body.”[i]

Be strong then, and enter into your own body;

There you have a solid place for your feet.

Think about it carefully!

Don’t go off somewhere else!

Kabir says this: just throw away all thoughts of imaginary things,

and stand firm in that which you are.

Kabir from “#14” in The Kabir Book translated by Robert Bly

Writing body narrative can be approached as journaling for your own benefit or as something that would eventually be published. Keeping a daily journal allows one to explore the intricacies of life and any beliefs, judgments, or feelings we have difficulty releasing. Using everyday language to write body narrative, your body story can facilitate insight and transformation. Furthermore, using imagery and metaphor in the creative process aids in healing.

French anthropologist and ethnologist, Claude Lévi-Strauss, argued “the transformations of healing involve a symbolic mapping of bodily experience onto a metaphoric space represented in myth and ritual. The narrative structure of the ritual then carries the participants into a new representational space, and with this movement, transforms their bodily experience and social position.”[ii] Thinking about this in terms of body narrative, sometimes adding just a few sentences to your journal entries about the surprises you came across while writing, what you want to further explore, or what you are learning about yourself through writing fuels further reflection and clarity. 

At each writing session, it is necessary to

  1. Devote time to yourself
  2. Create a safe space
  3. Protect your privacy 

If you get stuck or feel resistant, ask yourself how being resistant serves you. Make a list of what you are resistant to. For each item, ask yourself, what you get to do or avoid because of the resistance. Can you imagine the possibility of what might happen if you let go of your resistance? Before returning to your writing, let your imagination float around freely. Allow the process of writing to lead you into the heart of what needs to be written.

After much thought, I realized that the trouble I had writing that bleak Friday afternoon was due to my approach. I was trying to analyze…trying to explain rationally… I was failing miserably because I was approaching the task through my head… I had to drop into my belly.

Marion Woodman, Interview, Common Boundary, July 1992

Self-awareness encompasses an awareness of movement and body sensations as well as thoughts and feelings. To help get you into your body, first consider the following: What does body awareness mean to you? What words or images would you use to describe body awareness? Do you view the mind and body as separate entities?

Enter into your writing fully without hesitation. Write with intention. Stream of consciousness writing allows you to let your words spill out as fast as your thoughts. It doesn’t matter if your writing is disconnected or repetitive, or whether punctuation is correct. Free-write for ten minutes. Sink into the depths.

“Delve deep into your roots—the roots that connect your body to your family, to the earth itself, the roots that dangle beneath your desire to write. Your words will blossom more freely when they are grounded in your own fertile soil.”iii         

Take your body back to its roots, to its ancestral homeland. Enter the body of your mother or grandmother or great-grandmother. What would it be like to live inside her skin? How did she feel about her own body–as a child, a teenager, a young mother, or an older woman? Write from her voice. Let your body tell the tale of the bodies that came before you, the bodies that brought you into being, the bodies that still sing through your blood.

Think about place as well. What landscape has informed and constructed you? What corners of the earth have you felt a deep union with? Bring this place –and your body’s response to it—to full, three-dimensional life on the page. Remember and name each little detail, from the wild mustard scent of the breeze to the burrs that clung to your socks long after you ran through the scrubby field. Write about being at home in your own flesh, not just a visitor in your own skin[iii]  

If you need emotional distance, write prose from a third person point of view or write as an observer. Putting your writing aside for a length of time–enough time that allows you to see with fresh eyes may be helpful. 

 

Sources

[i] Lee, J. (1994). Writing from the Body, St. Martin’s Griffin, p. 1.

[ii] Kirmayer, L. J. (2004). The cultural diversity of healing: meaning, metaphor and mechanism. British Medical Bulletin. 69(1): 33-48. Retrieved December 10, 2013 from http://bmb.oxfordjournals.org/content/69/1/33.full.

[iii] Brandeis, G. (2002), Fruitflesh: Seeds of inspiration for women who write. New York, New York: Harper-Collins. p. 23.

 


 Debbie spent 30 years as a registered nurse. She became a certified applied poetry facilitator and journal-writing instructor in 2007. She is currently a student in the Johns Hopkins Science-Medical Writing program. Her publications have appeared in Journal of Poetry Therapy, Studies in Writing: Research on Writing Approaches in Mental Health, Women on Poetry: Tips on Writing, Teaching and Publishing by Successful Women, Statement CLAS Journal, The Journal of the Colorado Language Arts Society, and Red Earth Review.


 

 

Debbie McCulliss
Debbie spent 30 years as a registered nurse. She became a certified applied poetry facilitator and journal-writing instructor in 2007. She is currently a student in the Johns Hopkins Science-Medical Writing program. Her publications have appeared in Journal of Poetry Therapy, Studies in Writing: Research on Writing Approaches in Mental Health, Women on Poetry: Tips on Writing, Teaching and Publishing by Successful Women, Statement CLAS Journal, The Journal of the Colorado Language Arts Society, and Red Earth Review.

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