When Stacy Lawson of Red Square Yoga asked me if I would lead a writing exercise as part of a Restorative Yoga workshop at Gilda’s Club, a community resource for cancer survivors and their families, I jumped at the opportunity. I figured that between my personal writing practice and my own experience with cancer, I’d be able to come up with a great activity for the workshop. But then I started to wonder what I’d gotten myself into. What could I possibly offer people to help them get through what is probably the most difficult experience of their lives?
Then I remembered how, when I was undergoing chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma as a teen, I would try to escape the uncomfortable sensations in my body by going to a beautiful place in my mind. That memory helped me create a writing exercise for the workshop participants.
The workshop took place last Sunday afternoon. After snacks and introductions, we went into the comfortable room where we’d be writing. Once everyone had gathered, I asked them to visualize a place they loved, a place where they felt happy and at peace. This could be a place in nature or an indoor space, a spot they had visited or a location they’d dreamed of visiting. I encouraged them to take their time and visualize it in full detail, paying attention to the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and sensations around them.
The next step was to write about the place. I reminded the participants that this didn’t have to be “good” writing or even contain complete sentences. Their only job was to fully describe their special place for themselves.
After they had finished writing, I asked anyone who wanted to to share their work. They wrote about an amazing diversity of places, including beaches, woods, outdoor markets, Ireland, and China.
Next I asked them to circle 5 or 6 words within their description that evoked the essence of the place and use those words to write a short paragraph or poem.
Last of all, each person chose one word that held the memory of the place. Some of the words chosen were beach, rock, serenity, expanse, green, and frolic. I told them that this word was their talisman, something they could hang onto during a difficult treatment or episode of pain to help them escape to their special place.
It was such an honor to help lead the workshop and be surrounded by the courageous spirits of the participants. And for me, it was a reminder of how powerful writing – and words – can be.