Transform Suffering with Creativity

“If you don’t transform your suffering, you will surely transmit it.” —Richard Rohr

images-1Although I have written and published two books during the past fifteen years, I have never considered myself a writer.  Ernest Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

So it has been for me. When I suffer most, I am compelled to write. Creative expression, I have learned, can help to transform pain.  Suffering unleashes survival energy and drives us to creativity in an effort to relieve the pain.

The worse the suffering, the more our whole being moves to respond, almost like an instinct. Suddenly, we see how we are called to show up in the world. Writing for me, or any creative activity—including things we may not think of as creative, like cooking or gardening—provides a way to structure or reframe experience.

Creative focus encourages compassionate detachment from what is happening to us. Creativity helps to move the suffering outside ourselves into the pool of human experience. In this way, we transform suffering with creativity.

The “Labor” of Creating 

After my first book was published, I swore I would never write another. But as time went on I had the idea that maybe I should write another book. I was in a time of contentment, and decided I would write about “happiness.” Although I tried to write each day, over a two-year period I only amassed around fifty pages;  I just could not get into it. I was too busy enjoying my life, doing other things.

Then, at the apex of all this happiness, my long-time partner abruptly left me a few weeks our wedding. The shock of his turnabout blindsided me severely and led me into the worst suffering of my life.  The more the pain intensified (and it got worse as time went on), the more I was driven to write. Sitting at my desk, the voice of a wise, warrior woman came to me.  She translated the darkness of disbelief, outrage, hurt and grief into words to soothe, comfort and guide me. Within a few months I had poured out more than 200 pages.

As I was writing, it was as if something inside me was asking for my help to be let out into the world—at first gently knocking, then getting louder and louder and finally pounding on the door of my awareness. The impulse to write came on like an instinctual force, much like eating when hungry.

There came such a sense of discomfort and fullness—as in the ninth month of pregnancy when the growing weight and pressure in your womb makes you desperate to deliver.  Similarly, when we are “at term” in a creative process, we have no choice but to birth what has been growing inside of us.  With writing, we deliver the images, conversations, feelings and ideas onto the page.

It took six revisions and four years before I ended up with the now award-winning Love and the Mystery of Betrayal. Translating the descent into the madness and mystery of a shattered heart to make it accessible to others was indeed a labor of love. The book sheds light on the impact of deception and betrayal by a loved one, describing and exploring the trauma, existential shock and spiritual crisis it sets in motion.

We cannot think our way out of suffering, but we can feel, express and create our way through it. Expressing feelings through some form of creativity is one suggestion I offer along with 15 others for the transformation of suffering in a free ebooklet “16 Tips for Healing after Heartbreak” available on my website.

If I had not suffered, I wonder if I would have found the passion and intensity needed for writing this book. Suffering is a mystery of human nature I do not claim to understand, only to respect as a place of spiritual promise and healing. If you are suffering, may creative expression be a key component of your healing.


6 thoughts on “Transform Suffering with Creativity

  1. Sandra,

    This book was amazing for me. I really appreciated being able to read about pain in a way that didn’t make it seem like something I hadn’t been smart enough or strong enough to outwit. Pain is not to be diminished with dismissive thoughts. It can be transforming, but only if first acknowledged and embraced as the transformer it is meant to be. Thank you for putting this in print in a way that I could hold on to and run with. When I found your book, I was also reading a different book on the subject of betrayal, and nowhere did it give clues as to how to deal with pain. Your approach is so refreshingly honest and direct in regards to pain and suffering. I’m so grateful that you wrote it. I’m now my soul’s best friend – no longer abandoning my tender heart in tough times – a devoted supporter of outrageous innocence, including my own.

  2. I’m so glad you used your creative energies to create your books Sandy. Writing has been transformative for me too. One of the things that often scares people about writing is the belief that it must be perfect the first time on the page. We often sabotage ourselves in this way. During my chemo treatments in 2008, I wrote a little something everyday and never gave it a thought as to whether it was worth anything. Now, when I go back and read that suffering made real in black & white, I value the gold coins tossed there. Plain old lined notebooks help too!

    • Thanks, Susie — your writing is so refreshing, down to earth yet deep and uplifting (not to mention whimsical and funny!). I don’t know if you have written a piece based on the chemo treatments, if you have I would love to read it. If not, I look forward to it. Maybe as part of your current book project?

      • Yes, there is a “Letters to Jenny” in the current print book project, (not in the ebook launching next month though.) It is a long piece, but easy reading in the letter format. Surprising what I could draw from those hashed out notes. Turned out a lot was funny. Who knew? Congratulations on these awards! Wow, I just saw them. That is wonderful for you; you deserve it.

        Thanks for your kind words.

        • Can’t wait for your book!
          The book awards have come as a pleasant surprise, but most gratifying has been reader feedback and appreciation. You know what I mean, that is one of the big reasons we write, yes? — to communicate and connect. It completes the circle to know you have been heard, received. I get in a way I never had before why actors need an audience, writers need readers…

  3. Hello Sandra
    These words have come to me as I try to express, even just for myself, why I am narrating painful and happy memories of my childhood. Transcendence is definitely up there as a reason for me.
    Thanks so much

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