'Write to save yourself and someday you'll write because you've been saved.'
Anne Michaels, Fugitive Pieces
Whilst working on my recently completed PhD I began to explore the origins and purpose of story. I say, 'began', because the more research I did, the more I realised that this is a never ending exploration. My interest was initially sparked by my own experience as a storyteller, but also by the realisation that many of my creative writing students were finding some sort of therapy through their own storytelling, some drawn to it consciously, others unconscious of the motivations but surprised by the results. Surprisingly, this occurred not just in writing memoir but also in fiction writing, something which I have come to believe is often autobiographical in theme, if not in plot and character. With this in mind I began exploring the link between creativity and healing, and more specifically the therapeutic functions of writing and of story.
For a time I became particularly fascinated with our first recorded storytellers, the shamans. Playing the role of priest, healer and story teller, the first shamans were responsible for the health of the mind, the body and the spirit of their people; interconnected roles which in today's society have been separated. As psychologist, Jean Achterberg wrote, 'in traditional shamanic cultures, healing bears little relationship to the remission of physical symptoms. It refers rather to becoming whole or in harmony with the community, the planet and one's private circumstances'. Rather than treating the symptoms they search for and treat, the cause. To do this shamans journey into 'other' worlds, returning with stories to tell their patients in order to help them realign with the forces of the universe.
The Navajo Indians and the Tibetans use intricate sand drawings as part of their healing ceremonies, the patient symbolically entering the story by sitting inside the drawing. Prophets such as Jesus and Buddha told parables to help rebalance peoples' lives. Even the traditional Catholic confessional can be seen as a space in which a person is able to tell their story, in the process relieving themselves of its burden. Today there are a plethora of narrative based therapies that encourage the patient to uncover their own stories, the therapists aware that within the stories or 'wounds', lie the clues to their patient's health. As psychologist, Bill Plotkin wrote in Soulcraft, Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche, the patient must 'find one inner place in particular that is immensely and uniquely painful. This place harbors an early psychological wound, a trauma so significant she formed her primary survival strategies of childhood in reaction to it, so hurtful that much of her personal style and sensitivities have their roots there'. In order for healing to begin, the stories behind these wounds must be uncovered, acknowledged and then released.
From my own experience of writing, I knew the power of the imagination to step beyond the boundaries of the physical world in order to heal or simply give meaning to life, so it was a natural step to begin exploring the parallels between the writing journey and the shamanic journey. In Writing as a Sacred Path, Jill Jepson argues that 'writers, like shamans have a special connection with the world. They view reality through the lenses of imagination, intuition, dream and myth'. This is a connection I recognise, not only in relation to the process of writing but to the 'call' that makes writing essential for survival, because, as Kafka once put it so succinctly, 'a non-writing writer is a monster inviting madness'. In shamanism, too, any shaman who resists the call will die, for according to anthropologist, Mercea Eliade, 'a shaman's vocation is obligatory; one cannot refuse it'. The call involves a descent into sickness and the only way to heal is to accept it, for the shaman is 'above all a sick man who has succeeded in curing himself'.
Retrieving lost or stolen fragments of souls is an important aspect of shamanic work and is a large part of Fern's journey in Flight. In the beginning of the story she is paradoxically, at once too light and too heavy. The heaviness is due to the amount of guilt, fear, grief and anger that Fern is holding, while the lightness is caused by that fact that much of herself is missing. She has left parts behind, possibly in other places, other times, other dimensions even. And other parts have been stolen. Fern must acknowledge and release the guilt, fear, grief and anger, whilst following the threads and reclaiming each missing part, in order to become whole once again.
Fern's journey also, in a sense, mirrors the process of initiation that a shaman must undertake before he or she is qualified to heal others. When the story opens Fern is suffering from a sickness of spirit that will be fatal if she doesn't address it. As the story progresses, Fern moves (sometimes willingly and sometimes reluctantly), from ill health to vitality or fragmentation to wholeness. Gradually she becomes her own healer and in the end she will become a healer of others. A shaman of sorts.
As writers and readers, as tellers of stories generally, perhaps one of those hidden rewards that stories provide us with, is a way to frame and comprehend the journeys we take within ourselves to uncover the stories we didn't know were there and to bring them out into the light. As with my earlier novels, the writing of Flight represented a stage in my own evolution as a person and a writer. It wasn't easy to write and in the process I had to explore some of the darkest corners of my psyche. But it was essential that I write it. There are different ways in which Flight can be read: as an adventure story, as a psychological story, and as a journey of the soul. The challenge has been to write a story that is true to myself and yet will satisfy the reader in each of these readings.
Copyright (c) 2012 by Rosie Dub. All rights reserved. You may translate, link to or quote this article, in its entirety, as long as you include the author name and a working link back to this website:http://writeonthefringes.blogspot.co.uk/