My Grandmother used to tell me, “It is from story that we learn many lessons in life. Without it, the world would be a terrible place to live in.” Thinking about that, I realise that I have had a love affair with story from as far back as I can remember. It doesn’t matter which persona story takes on – whether oral, on the page, on the wide or small screen, be it a musical or an enactment on the stage, I am there imbibing whatever lessons it has to teach me. Story and I happened upon the “twins”, notebook and pen, with whom we have had and continue to have many a satisfying adventure. Whatever situation arises, there is always a tale to parallel my experiences and I have been grateful for this.
It wasn’t, however, till I attended a number of CPD (Continued Professional Development) workshops many years later, for work, that I realised I have been administering a form of healing via story intuitively to myself for a very long while. I’ve gone on to share the same with many groups I have the honour to work with. The medical divisions of psychiatry and psychology term this ancient healing practice “bibliotherapy”.
From my locus as a Writing/Reading for Wellbeing Practitioner, I have the honour of several wide-flung windows through which I observe and share the peaks and troughs of others’ lives on a weekly basis. It is a privilege I do not take for granted. There is such a massive spiritual dimension to this job that is awe-inspiring. The sacredness of someone’s story and experiences that I am allowed to share often raises questions about the books we use. Apart from the spiritual, one group and I discussed the magical elements contained in books (these could be already printed stories or the ones we write ourselves). It is the feel and texture of the paper against fingertips as pages are turned, the font and arrangement of the words on a page; if the books are new, the blended smell of ink on fresh paper, the binding glue, etc., can be almost as heady as the incenses used in a temple of meditation that propels one onto a journey of self-discovery.
It is old books, however, that call to me the most… There is something about the mustiness of old books that sets my imagination into overdrive. My curiosity about the histories of those story-filled books and how they have helped and shaped numerous lives awakens with a wish for the ability to time travel. I wonder about the many hands that have thumbed or fingered through their pages, the minds that were stimulated long before I came along to handle the same pages; and these thoughts somehow help with the creation of meaningful workshop sessions. When a set of workshops come to an end and participants tearfully declare how much the work has touched and changed them, even saved their lives and wish to thank me; I am overwhelmingly humbled. An experience that has me acknowledging time and time again that I am in a very privileged position as a writer for wellbeing.
It is my hope that I never, inadvertently or deliberately, abuse this position. I am often lost for words and can only say to the groups that if thanks are to be given, we have to give this to our Creator, Ancestors and Spirit who channel wisdom through me. I believe it is a joint effort. We each take gems away from the sharing that takes place through the various tasks set in class and personal time, not forgetting the creative excursions to places of interest, nature trail walks, etc. The main thing about writing for wellbeing is that most of the conventional rules for writing can be inverted to allow for healing creative license. As we embrace 2017, may we always give thanks for our creativity and the many honours it affords us.
For further info on bibliotherapy check the following links:
About the Author
Nana-Essi Casely-Hayford is an Inscribe contracted writer and currently works with Keighley Library as a Writing/Reading for Wellbeing Practitioner. She states that the work she does with various groups is rewarding, awe-inspiring and deeply humbling at the same time. It is the magical layers in story relating to individual lives’ that touches one’s heart, allowing for the understanding of one’s own experiences. At other times, it is the living vicariously through another’s joy or pain which can be euphorically healing.