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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Preparing to Show Up: Writing Practices that Serve

by Jennifer Wilhoit

Several months ago I wrote a piece for this blog about nature practices we can do in hospice settings, and when preparing for visits with families and people who are dying. I stressed the vital importance of self-care as we serve individuals with such acute and ever-changing needs. I also reminded the reader that we do not engage our hospice work in a vacuum, but as ordinary humans ourselves with the vagaries of everyday life pressing in on us. We show up to our families and friends; we show up to those we are called to serve in hospice contexts. But how well do we remember to show up to ourselves with sustained attention, presence, deep awareness to physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs before we burn out? How well do we attend to ourselves on a daily basis so that compassion fatigue does not catch up with us?

I have been a hospice volunteer for nearly twenty years, while also serving the deep needs of people in transition through my private professional practice as a spiritual ecologist/author who guides individuals and groups through healing, nature-based writing support to meet their unique needs. What I’ve learned through my work is that showing up in a deeply present, engaged, dynamic manner is not only essential for those I serve, but also crucial for myself. We need to maintain a daily connection to fluidity in our lives, being nurtured, inspired, and open to insights. One way I have learned to do so for myself and for my clients, is through writing. So this second article I’m offering in this series looks at simple writing practices that serve both ourselves and others.

Essentially, the practices that follow can be:
1.) rejuvenating,
2.) quick and convenient,
3.) private and sacred,
4.) process-based rather than outcome-driven (and sometimes messy).

We can do any of these practices without much preparation in a moment when we feel depleted, enervated, or in need of clarity.

As I wrote in the first article of my series, these practices are not intended as a panacea, but rather as touchstones of writing that sustains us. These practices can also be used, with modification, directly in our daily interactions with those we serve. I recommend opening up a pause in your schedule and routine. I have done many of these within moments of my next client appointment, or around the corner from the next hospice family. I do them in my car, on my lap on a park bench, in the bright early dawn at home, just before tucking myself in bed at night.

All of these small, simple acts can restore us, thus allowing us to really show up to ourselves as well as to those we serve. I offer them in three categories: practices that nurture, practices that inspire, and practices that offer insight. The most important thing to remember is that these are intended to be for you. There is no standard of quality, or prescription for “good writing.” Any writing will do. This is about process.

Writing to Nurture
For you:
  • Journal about something that adds pleasure to your life.
  • Make a list of activities that help you feel a strong sense of well-being. Select one to do this week.
  • Take five minutes at the end of every workday to quickly write about tense situations from that day.
For those you serve:
  • Offer to help a patient write a letter to a loved one.
  • Suggest free-write journaling to patients, friends, or family as a means of self-care.
Writing for Inspiration
For you:
  • Write a poem. Or handwrite an inspiring poem by someone else.
  • Take a beautiful quotation and post it near your work area, carry it in your bag, or place it on your dashboard.
  • Write out some prayers, mantras, or meditative phrases that help center you.
  • Take your pen and paper outside to a comfortable place in nature. See what arrives on your page.
For those you serve:
  • Offer blessing cards to people you frequently encounter at work. These can be as simple to make as writing one affirming word on a small piece of colorful card stock (i.e., “peace,” “comfort,” “blessings,” “warmth” …”).
  • Share a short piece of beautiful writing with a coworker, family, or patient.
Writing for Insight
For you:
  • Free-write for fifteen or twenty minutes about possible solutions to a problem you face. Do not edit your writing. Allow any possibility (even outrageous ones) to show up on the page.
  • List for yourself the most impactful hospice situations you’ve faced in your career.
  • Write down a few ways that you can use writing to be more effective at work.
  • Write down a story about a time you felt especially motivated.
For those you serve:
  • Write down for family members a short task list or patient care suggestions.
  • Offer families a blank journal/notebook in which friends can record visits, share memories, or paste photos.
The work we do on behalf of others—even out of passion and clear calling—does require a lot of us. Please try these easy practices. Their power lies in repetition, hence the word “practice.” Test out one on a daily basis; or try several over the next week. Modify them to suit your work schedule. Most of all, adapt them to best meet your individual, nuanced, fluctuating needs from moment to moment.

So many blessings to you as you journey through your inner/outer landscape in service to the families who so very much need you.

Jennifer J. Wilhoit, PhD is a writer, spiritual ecologist, & longtime hospice volunteer. She founded TEALarbor stories through which she compassionately supports people's deep storying processes. She lives on an island in the Pacific Northwest. You can find her on Twitter at @TEALarbor.

All photographs in this story are copyright @TEALarbor Stories.

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