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Scribing the Soul
October 2001

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Kathleen's Current Column

by Kathleen Adams, LPC, RPT
Director of The Center for Journal Therapy

In ancient times, scribes were devotees of the Word. They were the bridges between worlds, charged with the sacred task of painstakingly transcribing the Mysteries into a form that could be referenced by holy men and women. Many centuries later, our modern journals give us unlimited access to the Mysteries of our souls. Through this column, I hope to offer ways that we can approach our own lives with the love and devotion of the scribes of old.

Coping Strategies for Times of Crisis

I heard the news today, O boy....
--John Lennon

As of September 11, 2001, we have been plunged into a crisis that no one can fully comprehend. Our paradigms have shifted, boundaries have vanished, and we are not prepared. In the words of the poet Adrienne Rich, "the maps they gave us/ were out of date by years." There are no "right" answers, no magic potions, no formulas or recipes. But here are some common-sense suggestions for managing these difficult times.

1. Accept your emotions. Whatever you are feeling, it is a normal and natural response. There are four basic feeling groups: Mad, sad, glad and scared. These basic groups provide the ingredients for many dozens of feelings. You might experience any number of different, and possibly conflicting, emotions, which may shift quickly and without warning. All of this, unfortunately, is to be expected and may continue for many weeks or months. It is crucially important to be able to tell the difference between feeling an emotion such as profound depression or white-hot rage and acting on an emotion, such as harming yourself or someone/something else.

2. Take a break from news coverage. The repetitive images and continual verbal analysis and speculation are imbedding themselves into our psyches, overstimulating our adrenal glands, and overloading our mental and psychological capacities to process. Give yourself a break from the news, or at least be selective in your intake.

3. Find your tribe. Community is vitally important at a time like this. Humans are tribal people. Find your tribe, whether that is family, friends, church, school or classes, workplace, support group, volunteer activities, e-mail listservs, neighborhood, one good friend. Have at least one source of support that reliably gives you contact with caring, accepting human beings.

4. Tell your story. We need to talk about this, to discharge the tension, to move it out of our bodies, to witness and be witnessed.

5. Relentless self-care is mandatory. It is not possible for all of us to take time out from our own individual lives. We must continue going to school, going to work, feeding our children, driving carpool, and living our lives against a ghastly backdrop of grief, fear and uncertainty. It is essential that we practice relentless self-care. Get enough sleep; if you can’t sleep, at least try to rest peacefully. Eat in a way that feeds and fuels your body. Get some exercise. Do whatever comforts and sustains you: Hot baths, hikes, time with friends, time alone, hobbies, movies, weekends away. Some people (extraverts) get their batteries recharged by being with other people. Others (introverts) recharge their batteries by being alone. Know what fuels you, and do that relentlessly.

6. Take care of your body. Move tension and accumulated feelings and toxins out of your body. Sweating, elimination and bodywork are three good ways. Exercise, saunas or steam rooms, massage, yoga, eating simple foods simply prepared, drinking lots of water, and breathing will help.

7. Beauty heals. "Let the beauty that you love be what you do," says the 14th century mystic poet Rumi. If you love the outdoors, be in nature. If you love art, go to the art museum or get out your paints. If you love music, surround yourself with the most beautiful music you can find. If you love flowers, buy or plant them for yourself. Surround yourself with beauty.

8. Eat a poem. Our US Poet Laureate, Billy Collins, says that comfort can be found in just about any poem. Find a poem that speaks to you of hope or grief or courage, and chew it up. Read it over and over. Read it out loud. Think about it. Let it deepen in you. Let certain lines digest in you until you find yourself thinking of them in odd times throughout your day. Let this poem live inside you and guide you to your own True North. For poems to inspire you, check out the Poem of the Month at www.journaltherapy.com or the poems at www.poetrytherapy.org.

9. Pray. Whatever your religious or spiritual persuasion (including not being sure if you have one), examine whether you essentially believe in a benevolent power that is beyond your personal self. It matters less what you call it than that you feel it as a positive presence for good. Prayer, like so much else, is a highly individualized expression that may or may not involve the formal rituals of bowed head, silence, closed eyes, composed speech. For many people, turning to prayer is one antidote to feeling helpless. If you already have a spiritual practice, now is the time to deepen and extend it.

10. Be kind. Go out of your way to extend kindness in small, everyday ways. Make space for the car in front of you to change lanes. Smile at the grocery store clerk. Thank a fireman or policeman for the work they do. Extend friendship and support to a stranger. The brilliant poet Maya Angelou said of the many deaths, "We must not see this as 6,000 lives lost. We must see this as one precious life lost, and we must see that 6,000 times." We can each witness each individual death by performing 6,000 acts of kindness. Love is the one sure antidote to hatred, the one sure path to healing. Perform at least one conscious act of kindness every single day.

11. Write a journal. It is well documented that writing your thoughts and feelings during times of trauma and distress is a healing, nurturing, effective means of release. Be sure to date your entries, and stop if you begin to feel overwhelmed. There are no rules; you don’t need to write a certain number of pages, or for a certain length of time. Even five or ten minutes every now and then is helpful. If you don’t know where to start, begin with the story you are living in that moment. "Right now I feel…." or "Today I am…" will get you going. Then simply follow your pen, and trust it will lead you into and through the story your life wants to tell just then. If you feel distracted and scattered, as so many of us do, try heading your page, "What's the most important thing to do?"

12. Reclaim mastery and joy. Seek and find the ways in your one life where you can reclaim your healthy power and authority. Find the people, places and things that help you feel joyful. We cannot avoid or deny the awfulness of September's events. We can and must, however, find the courage to go on about our lives on parallel tracks of grief and joy, apprehension and mastery, war and peace.

If you cannot bear this alone, and particularly if you struggled with depression or anxiety even before the crisis, do not hesitate to ask for professional help from a psychotherapist or mental health agency.

© Kathleen Adams.  All Rights Reserved

Kathleen Adams LPC, RPT is a Registered Poetry/Journal Therapist and Director of The Center for Journal Therapy in Lakewood, Colorado. She is one of the leading voices on the power of writing to heal and is the author of four books, including Journal to the Self and The Write Way to Wellness. Her upcoming seminars include the annual 5-day women’s writing retreat in Colorado July 8-13, and a one-day Journal to the Self workshop in Denver in late July. She would love your feedback on this column; please e-mail kay@journaltherapy.com or stop by her website, www.journaltherapy.com.


Read Kathleen's Past "Scribing the Soul" Columns:

September 2001 "Journal of a Synchronicity"

August 2001 "Rituals for Soulful Writing"

July 2001 "A Baker’s Dozen Ways to Journal Your Dreams"

April 2001 "Journals to Go"

March 2001 "Healing Words, Healing Touch: Jihan's Letters"

February 2001 "Love Letters"

January 2001 "Scribing the Authentic Self"

December 2000 "Riding the Inky Wave"

November 2000 "The Good News"

October 2000 "Soul Food: Exploring Affirmations in Writing"

September 2000 "Diary of a Headache"

August 2000 "Making Up the Truth"

July 2000 "Pockets of Joy"

June 2000 "Five Ways to Scribe Your Intuition"


Read Kathleen's Feature Article on Dream Journals:

Writing in the Dark: Cracking the Soul's Code Through Dream Journals



Visit Kathleen at her Website:



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