Originally Posted in Our Community of Humanity at Inner Child Magazine
Healing and the Poet's Brain
Not everyone aspires to be a poet. Not everyone enjoys reading poetry but perhaps we should rethink the role of poetry in individual healing and brain health. Start at the beginning with the feeling—what is that feeling—that creates a stirring poem.
“A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness," said Robert Frost.
Poems are also for finding those things that will shift the sickness and the despair into hope, inner peace, and a sense of freedom.
The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry
"When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”
Poetry, Storytelling, and Blood Pressure
Telling your story in prose or poetry is helpful in letting go of stress and to decrease blood pressure symptoms. This study showed that "storytelling is emerging as a powerful tool for health promotion in vulnerable populations. The storytelling intervention produced substantial and significant improvements in blood pressure for patients with baseline uncontrolled hypertension," according to Houston, T. K., J. J. Allison, et al. (2011). "Culturally appropriate storytelling to improve blood pressure: a randomized trial." Ann Intern Med 154(2): 77-84.
Who do you tell your story to? Whose stories do you hear? Try writing a short story or poem about an experience you have had.
“...and then, I have nature and art and poetry, and if that is not enough, what is enough?” Vincent van Gogh
Recovery From Serious Illness
In a study that aimed to explore the effect of a poetry writing program for people who had experienced a serious mental illness researchers said, "Participants responded enthusiastically and each group demonstrated an increase in wellbeing over the course of their workshop, moving them from medium to low risk on the Kessler-10, a measure of wellbeing. Participants enjoyed the challenge of writing and the companionship of other group members. Psychiatrists are in a position to encourage patients who have experienced a serious illness to explore writing as a way of coming to terms with their experiences," according to Rickett, C., C. Greive, et al. (2011). "Something to hang my life on: the health benefits of writing poetry for people with serious illnesses." Australas Psychiatry 19(3): 265-268.
These studies seem to indicate that poetry writing and storytelling can contribute to physical and mental health. It can also help us connect to the reader or listener of our story and helps us imagine someone else's feelings during an experience they tell us.
“Every heart sings a song, incomplete, until another heart whispers back. Those who wish to sing always find a song. At the touch of a lover, everyone becomes a poet,” said Plato.
Dementia and Brain Power Help
An article in "Dementia" reported, "This article focuses on poetry interventions as one example of cultural arts interventions. The use of poetry might seem counterintuitive, given that people with dementia lose their language abilities and that poetry is regarded to be the most complex literary form. I argue that expanding on existing research on poetry interventions from a health and science perspective with a humanities approach will help illuminate how poetry works to enhance the exchange with people with dementia. Drawing on participant observations of poetry interventions by Gary Glazner (Alzheimer's Poetry Project, USA) at the New York Memory Center, I frame poetry interventions as a specific form of oral poetry in which people with dementia are positioned as cocreators of embodied texts and directly benefit from the power of the spoken word," said Swinnen, A. M. (2014). "Healing words: A study of poetry interventions in dementia care." Dementia (London).
Another study reported on a series of poetry writing workshops, "All of the women said that they benefited from the workshops, but their experiences differed greatly. Themes included competence and self-efficacy, personal growth, wanting to contribute and poetry writing as a way of coping with the progression of the condition. Creative activities such as writing poetry hold promise for enhancing the quality of life of people with dementia," according to Petrescu, I., K. MacFarlane, et al. (2014). "Psychological effects of poetry workshops with people with early stage dementia: an exploratory study." Dementia (London) 13(2): 207-215.
Poetry enhances the quality of life of people with dementia and perhaps anyone who writes or reads poetry. Do you know a poet? Ask them how their life is better because of poetry.
More Community of Humanity blogs:
Community of Humanity Blog (2014-2016) Kimberly Burnham, PhD
Published in over 100 books, Kimberly Burnham is a writer, poet, and complementary medicine practitioner. She authored Awakenings: Peace Dictionary, Language and the Mind, a Daily Brain Health Program for people interested in improving their brain clarity, creativity and muscle movements. Her current project focuses on color words, the brain and vision health designed to assist people in seeing better. Kimberly's Ph.D. (Integrative Medicine) considered manual therapy techniques (Integrative Manual Therapy, Matrix Energetics, Acupressure, Reiki) and health coaching for people with Parkinson's disease. She is an avid gardener and environmentalist, who bicycled 3000 miles across the U.S. in 2013. Kimberly Burnham is the managing editor of Inner Child Magazine and on the board of The United World Movement for Children. For a brain health coaching phone consultation or an appointment in Spokane, Washington contact Kimberly at https://www.nervewhisperer.solutions/ or email her at NerveWhisperer@gmail.com.
They catch on my tongue, roll around in my cheeks, cause my skin to turn green or orange as I desperately try to blend in with the answers to difficult questions. Common questions send me into hiding or delay in an effort to figure out how long I have for the answer, how much I should say, gauging the situations, the environment, the person asking the questions. Easy questions like, "Where are you from?", "Okay, where were you born?" ,
"Where did you go to school?", "Where do your parents live?" Straightforward questions are unbearable tricky for me. The answers, the intersection point between my straight laced Mormon past and my activist lesbian present.
I was born in Provo, Utah, where my parents have returned to live. I graduated with a BSc. in Zoology from Brigham Young University (BYU), so simple cocktail party questions once answered, usually lead to, "Are you Mormon?"
I am, five generations back and yes, there were polygamists but then Prop 8 destroyed what was left of my relationship with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter--day Saints (Mormons), the part of the relationship that wasn't already difficult because I kiss a woman, while still at a Mormon university.
So, sometimes it is embarrassing, in the circles I run in to admit to being a Mormon, especially with Mitt Romney, running for president of the United States. Simple questions, "Where did you go to school?" send me into a chameleon panic of does this person really want to know all the details or how can I answer truthfully without giving way too much information.
It is the same way I feel when someone finds out I speak Japanese, which I learned as a Mormon missionary, although I later returned to Japan to teach English with my girlfriend. There are lots of intersections in my life, certainly between the religion of my childhood and my sexual orientation but lots of others as well. What I have learned from navigating these canyons, like the red rock of Southern Utah, is that the part of my life that I want to hide also connect me to amazing communities, if I can just keep the self hatred at bay. If I can be comfortable in my own unique skin and share myself openly and honestly, and unapologetically, there are ways in which I can connect with anyone, not because we are the same but because we are unique but have some over lapping edges.
A Storied Career: Kathy Hansen's Blog to explore traditional and postmodern forms/uses of storytelling.
Read my May 16, 2012 interview here. http://astoriedcareer.com/kimberly_burnham_q_and_a.html
I encountered Kimberly Burnham during the recent Reinvention Summit 2, in which she was featured in a showcase of selected members of the “tribe.” She has a fascinating story, as well as intriguing ways of applying her story and story in general to help clients.
Kimberly, the author of the upcoming book, The Nerve Whisperer, Create Your Life Through Brain Health, teaches people how to heal and change the story their nervous system is telling about chronic pain, lack of healing and autoimmune dysfunction.
Featured with other thought leaders, her Pearls of Wisdom, 30 Inspirational Idea to Live Your Best life Now chapter, “Fractals: Seeing the Patterns in Our Existence”, offers a unique perspective on pattern recognition and how we can improve our brain health, memory and physical enjoyment of life by observing what changes, while seeking to understand the world around us.
“The Eyes Observing Your World,” in Christine Kloser’s Pebbles in the Pond: Transforming the World One Person at a Time tells a remarkable story of vision recovery, offering hope for anyone with a potentially blinding condition, migraines, chronic pain, or immune dysfunction. Visit her online at her site.
Kimberly Burnham tells her story of vision recovery here at a Books-a-Million book signing for Pearls of Wisdom.
Q&A with Kimberly Burnham:
Kathy Hansen: You use your own story of vision recovery and the stories of your clients to inspire hope in people with genetic and neurological disorders. Can you talk a bit more about how you do that and the effect doing so has on clients?
Kimberly Burnham: When I was 28, working as a professional photographer, I found myself in an ophthalmologist’s office getting a diagnosis of keratoconus, a genetic condition of the cornea. He told me I might go blind, and since it was genetic, there was nothing I could do. It was depressing at first, but during a particularly bad migraine while in massage school, a profession you don’t have to see, to do, I found the courage to say, “This is not okay.” The diagnosis and symptoms propelled me along a journey into complementary and alternative medicine, where I found my own answers — I am migraine-free and have the best vision of my life right now at 54.
People diagnosed with a genetic condition want hope. Sharing stories of healing gives people a different way to think about it, encourages them to seek out their own answers and find solutions. Today I see a lot of adults and children with genetic conditions. Sometimes people disparage what I do by saying, “It is just the placebo effect.” If my clients with genetic conditions and brain dysfunction feel better, move in a more balanced way, have stronger joint and muscle function, improved vision, hearing, and energy levels all because of the placebo effect, I am good with that.
Kathy Hansen: What is the framework or your particular definition of “story?” What definition do you espouse?
Kimberly Burnham: Stories can change, even the story our physical body is telling, sometimes shouting.
I work with clients clinically. I have a PhD in integrative medicine and am certified in integrative manual therapy, matrix energetics, and health coaching. The people I work with don’t like the story their body is telling. They want a new experience of the physical particles making up their joints, muscles, heart, and brain.
The body’s story is constantly evolving. If you look at a person they look more or less the same from one moment to the next but they are not the same. At each point of transition in time, the story can change. Even at a bony level the cells of our skeleton are completely different when compared to seven years ago. Our skin cells are completely different from a few weeks ago. So why do we look more or less the same?
Because the story our cells are telling is the same, the environment they are born into is the same, the experiences and level of communication they attain are the same with access to the same resources and voice.
Albert Einstein said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
If you want a different experience of your joints, of brain clarity, of vibrancy, start telling a different story when someone asks, “How are you?” Change your environment, the food you feed your cells, the oxygen you draw into your lungs, your blood flow pumping through your heart on its way to the liver, to the brain, to the spine. Change something if you don’t like what you have.
Kathy Hansen: You said in an interview, “As I write my stories, I see my life in a fresh way. I see what I have learned from different experiences. I see what I have to share that can inspire others. I see the patterns emerge. Writing about your experiences is so important, as is sharing your talents and learning, but ultimately you must have experiences.” How have you seen this story writing and pattern recognition get results for clients?
Kimberly Burnham: Writing and telling my own story has been so beneficial for me because I have started to see the patterns, the way the peak experiences in my life connect creating a continuity so that each experience gives me a glimpse of what is possible and prepares me for this present moment.
For example, I have a strong connection with Japan. My father was in the US Navy off the coast of Japan when I was born. Twenty-one years later I went to Japan as a missionary for the Mormon church.
Finishing university back in the US, I returned to Japan with my girlfriend to teach English. I studied shiatsu, a kind of Japanese body work and learned about meditation and Buddhism, while I was there. I have Japanese pears growing in my Connecticut garden.
At Bo Eason’s Personal Story Event, one of the “10 Coolest Things About Me” was, “I speak Japanese.” I am not yet at the end of my life, but I see a current running through it. Japan connects my religious heritage and my chosen meditation practice; it colors my worldview and the way I see the potential in people. I have learned a lot about my inner strength through my connection to Japan. I joke that I am Japanese. The word for a Japanese person is “Nihonjin” and can mean, “land of the rising sun person”, literally “root sun person” but also “two legged person”. The joke is funnier in Japanese, which I speak, and that means — I can do anything.
In Christine Kloser’s book, Pebbles in the Pond, Transforming the World One Person at a Time (May 20, 2012), I tell my story of vision recovery and share some of my experience with clients — the miracles I have seen. Writing my story and then telling clients, family, social-media friends, and perfect strangers about it has forced, or at least encouraged, me to see the gifts in my vision-disorder diagnosis and how that propelled me into a search for answers, which has been, I see now, an incredible journey. The telling has been powerful because I am embodying a story of what can change, and every cell in my body is listening to me reinforce my belief in my ability to heal and everyone’s ability to transform their lives. I believe it gives people hope that their physical reality can change, positively influenced by the stories they tell themselves and the story their nerves and sensory body is telling them.
I often ask clients to send me an email about what has changed, what is better a few days after a treatment session. This request does two things. One: they are consciously connecting experiences and looking for what is better. Two: they are writing, telling a story of what is healing, spiraling in a positive direction. You can get tremendous insights by looking for how you are connected to what is good in your life.
Often the last place I touch on a client is an area that feels good rather than where they have pain. I make that the last place because they leave the clinic thinking about that place where they feel good. And that changes everything.
Kathy Hansen: What people have most influenced your story work recently and why?
Kimberly Burnham: I am presently in Laurie Wagner’s Telling True Stories course. Her “wild writing” is transformative, freeing the stories inside by writing as fast as possible, messy, juicy, without editing until it is all there on the page. The gems that come out magnificent.
Laurie also turned me on to Ellen Bass’s narrative poetry, “What if you knew you’d be the last to touch someone?”
What story would you tell?
Michael Margolis’s Reinvention Summit in April 2012 showcased three minutes of my story of vision recovery and my ideas on how consciously telling your story of healing is vital.
Tell your story, knowing that every cell in your body is listening, responding to the stories you tell yourself and others. My favorite quote from Michael was: “Storytelling is a kind of pattern recognition.” Published last year, my messenger mini-book, Our Fractal Nature, a Journey of Self-Discovery and Connection seeks to shine a light on the patterns, the changes that occur at each iteration of the story of your health and healing. Every cell in your body is an information seeking pattern detector, listening as you tell the stories of your past and imagine the future. Your cells are constantly seeking to uncloak the secrecy, share information and find worthy resources.
Earlier this year, I spent precious moments with 50 Pebbles in the Pond authors and remarkable writers at Christine Kloser’s Transformational Author’s Retreat. Not only did we tell our stories, we deeply shared our dreams, hopes and vulnerabilities. By speaking of what we had experienced, what we had come through as well as how we transform our lives, we created community.
Entwined in Bo Eason’s Personal Story Event, I enjoyed the “Tell us the 10 Coolest Things About You” exercise and the Timed Storytelling exercise.
Facing the man across from me, I have three minutes to tell my story. Moving down the line with two minutes for my story of vision recovery and migraine relief, I talk faster trying to massage more syllables into the ticking seconds. Moving again. One minute. My tongue can’t go faster, my heart must choose the words with the most impact. I look at each story in the 300 pages I prepared to be here. If I knew I had only one minute to have a positive impact on you, what story would I tell? What offering of myself will have the greatest healing impact?
In Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg explores, “it takes a while for our experience to sift through our consciousness. It is hard to write about being in love in the midst of a mad love affair. We have no perspective. It’s not yet in our body.” Writing, telling, talking and listening I gain perspective. I share my voice so you and I and others may live better — see more clearly.
In Matrix Energetics, the Experience, developed by Richard Bartlett, I use two points to explore the particles of experience, mine and yours. I feel into the waves of possibilities, tapping into the quantum physics field to find the story of change, of healing, of vibrancy. I mentally time-travel forward and backward to exploring how the story of the past can change and how the story of the future can develop. Photons and sounds moving all in the service of quality of life, of creative expression, and of love and light.
I am the master of what I create. There are no victims here, as I tell my life, grateful for the experiences, sharing what I have learned, sharing what can to help another on their journey, sharing the ways we can journey together in peace and joy.
Kathy Hansen: If you could share just one piece of wisdom about storytelling with readers, what would it be?
Kimberly Burnham: The placebo effect is the result of storytelling. It is the story the patients tells themselves about the benefit of a particular substance or treatment. It is the story the doctor, researcher or healthcare practitioner tells the patient about their future, about their recovery. Are they believable? Does the way they tell the story of healing benefit the patient or does it create a nosebo effect?
The nosebo effect is when you believe something bad will happen as a result of a substance or treatment. When a doctor tells someone with cancer they have six months to live, I believe he or she is using storytelling to curse the person. The power of clinical stories should not be taken lightly.
In one of my favorite movies, The Last Holiday, Queen Latifah’s character is told she will die from a brain tumor, and there is nothing she can do. She sets off to spend all her money doing things she has always wanted to do but didn’t take the money or time. It turns out she was misdiagnosed. The movie is really about how a person living fully, passionately, holding nothing back can do amazing things.
Here is a poem I wrote about the placebo effect in my own life.
Controlling the Uncontrollable
Only nothing is nothing: placebo
psychology plays in your electric brain
physiologic effect in my blazing body
is not nothing
Only the placebo effect
white coat scientists mock my alternatives
You feel better, pain-free
She dances stronger, hips flexible
Tottering becomes balance,
a credit to all powerful placebo
I can live with that, I am good with that
Nosebo, placebo telling me I am, I have
a wicked genetic condition
Saying there is nothing
I can do anything
This is not okay!
Alternative medicine solutions
genes without change
better vision than 40
Seeing the pattern of flow
Avoiding the car accident by a hair.
Placebo storied pattern recognition
new stories as every cell listens
telling hopeless doctors
I see you, placebo my eye
Not Taking Advantage of Your Amazon Author's page?
Kimberly Burnham helps authors get their books out into the world more broadly by improving their free Amazon Author's page and book pages, posting a book review on her blog and on her LinkedIn Pulse blog (over 12,000 followers) Promotion packages start at $50. Contact her at NerveWhisperer@gmail.com. See her Amazon Author's Page.
See her list of publications including her latest book of brain health meditations, Awakenings: Peace Dictionary, Language and the Mind, a Daily Brain Health Program.
Designed to enhance memory, creativity, and inner peace, Awakenings: Peace,Dictionary, Language and the Mind, a Daily Brain Health Program is available free of charge as a Kindle eBook on February 14-15, 2019. [Click Here].
Please share and write a review on Amazon.
I am looking for guest blog opportunities and a position as poet-in-residence. My current project is writing dictionary poems using words in different languages for the English word "peace." You can read some of my poems on Poemhunter .
As poet-in-residence I would write poems on different words in different languages and broadcast them throughout the social media blogosphere. Each poem would link back to your site where the word or language appeared.
I would expect some sort of stipend and a six month to one year placement. Please contact me for details if your organization is interested in having a poet-in-residence to help get your message out. Nervewhisperer@gmial.com
Buy the print or eBook, review Awakenings then contact Kimberly for a free 20 minute brain health consultation. Email or Phone
(Regular rates $120 per hour or 10 sessions for $650.)