To improve healthcare workers' job satisfaction and patient care, several physicians and aligned professionals are learning about and using narrative practices. For example, take a look at this article about two people in North Carolina who are teaching courses in Narrative Medicine. From "Stories heal at narrative medicine workshop" (Mountain Xpress):
“Not all patients are storytellers, but every patient has a story to tell,” says Dr. [Claire] Hicks, who believes that narrative medicine helps train us to listen, to empathize and to heal. During the workshop, Dr. Hicks shared insights from a physician’s perspective in her work with HIV patients in hospice and how writing enriches her capacity as caregiver. . . .
. . .
The importance of story is the driving force behind narrative medicine. “Ways to read story are ways to read life,” says [Professor Laura] Hope-Gill.
I have been convinced of the value of narrative practices for a long time, particularly as they increase the ability to be reflective. Therefore, I was excited when I read a message from Professor Anne Villella on a legal education listserv in response to my asking her what she meant by "narrative practices." (One of the courses she offers at Lewis and Clark Law School is on narrative practices). Here is what she wrote (posted with permission):
The idea of narrative practices that I mentioned in my post include many of those found in Narrative Medicine, which you mention. I have attended a 4-day Narrative Medicine workshop and read much of the scholarship on Narrative Medicine. Its impact on those in the healthcare field have been remarkable in terms of developing professional identity, compassion, a sense of affiliation, and, ultimately, patient care.
I believe similar practices can have similar results in the practice of law and representation of clients. And, I know that there are others out there who have incorporated narrative practices into their courses.(I would love to hear from others who have done this!)
Besides Narrative Medicine, there are other resources out there about narrative practices. The work of Gillie Bolton comes to mind--she facilitates workshops and has written extensively on
Memoir and life story writing, genealogy and family-tree shaking, ethical wills and legacy leaving: All are very popular topics and processes today. Although writing about one's past can facilitate moving forward into the future, help one ascertain his or her most important values, and illuminate how and to whom to leave bequests (both tangible and intangible), the actual writing can be overwhelming.
And now let me leave the computer for a moment and scream! I had a whole blog post written about an alternative method for memorializing your life that can seem less paralyzing. I talked about the possible benefits, some variations, and what it would take for me to post mine on Facebook once it was created.
Then, on the last save, Typepad disappeared the whole thing except the first paragraph. So now I will just post the bare links. Also I will refrain from typing a choice swear word.
[C]reate 3 blocks that are then filled with the symbols of your life – childhood, teen and adult. You are also asked to do this in black and white for two reasons:
First, because it’s hard enough to tell your life story in three pictures, without having to deal with the complexities of color balancing and second, because black and white tends to give history authenticity (personal or otherwise.)
After she realized the legal profession was a not a good match for her, in fact that she'd rather be shot than spend the rest of her life practicing law, Deborah SmithDouglas walked away from that career and turned more attention to her spiritual journey. A longtime resident of Santa Fe, she has written The Praying Life and coauthored with her husband Pilgrims in the Kingdom.
To learn more about her decision to shift away from the law, listen to this interview by Judy Alexander from University of California at Irvine. Douglas talks about how one of the steps towards her current vocation came from her love of poetry; she studied Gerard Manley Hopkins and doing so lead her to the Jesuit way of praying. Balance in life was part of what drew her to the Rule of Saint Benedict and she contrasts balance with what she learned as a lawyer. Douglas also describes the importance and inspiration fiction* has been for her, and about trusting one's "uh oh feelings." Teachings come to her from unexpected places and activities in life; she tells us about wisdom that came from a homeless man at Denny's in Kansas. The many gems in this interview also include her ideas about the value of gratitude, of looking back to find life's lessons in retrospect, and of what she learned from the law that she now uses in her work.
There is a bridge between the present and my past. I call her memory, and over her I travel back and forth, my home now there, then here, seeking comfort against the uncertainties that press on me. With her, I revisit the kind gestures, the warm embraces, the belly laughs that graced my life along the way and that help me face the rising edge of time which greets me each morning.
But I also travel back along that bridge into the darker corners, and don't know why. Surely I should heed the signs of warning and calls to turn back that have been placed along the way, by me, after previous upsetting forays! Why do I return to these moments or months of grief or fear or violence, that raised fist, the shameful disrobing, those awful words, which sliced my heart in two? Let memory fade. Let the day begin anew. Let me be buoyed by the possibilities of the future, not the hard facts of the past. ...
...I am certain that this book will command your attention. Like the people who broke out of prison by digging a tunnel with spoons, these authors have broken out of their prisons of memory with pens. This is not a book about transformative writing; this book is transformative writing. The authors write deeply and beautifully about their experiences and their healing process, illustrating directly both their resiliency and the power of creative writing. Dr. Reiter provides an excellent overview of the therapeutic effects of writing in the first chapter, noting ten principles derived from a broad range of sources [overview of the principles] ... . Throughout, one feels the power of transformational writing in altering people's relationship to their own history. ...
There is a bridge between the present and my past. I call her memory, and after reading this book, I think I can call her friend.
Somewhere I got the notion that I need to have some weighty life lessons learned prior to writing my memoir: that any readers must gain wisdom from my stories. However, if I stop to consider what life stories or segments I have most enjoyed reading, they do not all contain major (or even minor) epiphanies. Some are entertaining, some are quirky, some are thought-provoking just because the writer learned little.
And some are downright mundane: The day-to-day story my great-great-grandmother wrote of her trip from Nebraska to Nevada in the summer of 1863 merely details life on the trail but is never boring because the reader gets to see another time in history through the eyes of a teenager. She probably had no idea her words were going to be read over 100 years later by her descendant; after all, when she wrote she had not even met my great-grandfather yet.
It is likely that we may never know who will be reading what we write when we chronicle our lives, or if anyone will see our words. Is the potential readership of any concern? Does a low (or no) degree of profound insight hurt the product for the writer or the readers? Will no clear purpose for writing matter when you take pen in hand?
Some recent reading convinced me to start writing even though I lack both purpose and profundity. First
My memories of teaching classes on writing life stories are tinged with great delight for the stories I heard and deep appreciation for the writers' contributions of whimsy, intrigue, beauty in day-to-day life, and courage. For all those stories, I am grateful.
Many of my friends and colleagues share my interest in the writing of life stories or of memoirs and know of the benefits of that genre of writing. For all of you who have that interest, here are a couple of resources. These labs study life stories and you can learn more by clicking their research links.
Photo I took of people heading for Rolling Thunder
I have long believed that mindfulness does not just flow exclusively from meditation. Many activities from fly fishing to client counseling to motorcycling to mediating, done in an attentive way, can increase one's state and trait of mindfulness. Therefore I was happy to see this exchange in an interview with Natalie Goldberg (Huffington Post).
Q. Your definition of meditation is more flexible than most. Besides sitting and walking meditation, you recommend writing, too. What's the difference between keeping a journal and writing meditation?
A. There's no difference to me. Whether you're keeping a journal or writing as a meditation, it's the same thing. What's important is you're having a relationship with your mind. We live in discursive thinking, and what we want to do is drop below to first thoughts, which is wild mind and true energy.
Photography too can be a portal for that kind of relationship with your mind. Click to read past posts here on photography and mindfulness.
Do you think people can change? Your answer to that question may affect the conflict in your life. Can you look at disagreements from a third-party perspective? Doing so may affect life's conflicts, too.
The impact on conflict of having a growth mindset (believing people can change) and using cognitive reappraisal (e.g., seeing things through a third party's eyes) are discussed in the below news release from Stanford.
As any of you who have attended one of Brains on Purpose™ my programs knows, we look at a method for taking a third-party perspective which I have called "double journaling." I explain the exercise in the recent interview I did for Pattie Porter with Zena Zumeta. Links to listen to the interview are here. Another method: Taking or finding a photo that represents the conflict to you and describing it as a third-party observer.
Click to listen to a talk given for Judge Kane to Colorado radio station KVNF. The talk is titled "Sin, Liberty, and the Law." He's introduced by Sally Kane, his daughter and the executive director of KVNF.
Be sure to listen to the question-and-answer session, too. Judge Kane says much of interest, including that, in the last 30 years, our nation has lost its moral compass.