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