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Living with Ghosts
(and other reflections)

Using Poetry to Heal Current and Past Life Suffering

Photo by Laura Chouette
The healing power of sharing our poetry comes from the reminder of our shared human experiences.

What is it about lyric poetry that makes it so accessible? What is it about writing poetry that allows us to fully express the thing that is unraveling within, the trauma that must be confronted? Poetry allows us to assemble and to structure trauma through language.

Writing poetry helps us make sense of our trauma. The healing power of sharing our poetry comes from the reminder of our shared human experiences. Poetry as Survival by Gregory Orr (2002) offers an honest and eloquent exploration through the power of poetry and how we can benefit from both writing it and reading it in ways that are surprisingly profound and holistically beneficial, particularly for processing trauma.

From Trauma to Solace

Trauma is a human experience that many of us have encountered firsthand. Yet, what may embed itself into my psyche as trauma, may hardly register with another person’s psyche, and vice versa. Trauma is unique in this way and no one has a right to tell anyone else that the experiences are not traumatic.

For the author, trauma arrived early in his life and was delivered by his own hand through a terrible accident that culminated in his younger brother’s death. What was once a delightful hunting adventure in the woods turned bloody through events that can never be fully resolved in the author’s mind. Shortly thereafter, his mother died—two major events of loss at such a young age. Then, during his time as a Civil Rights activist, he was beaten by police then abducted in Alabama where he spent eight grueling days in solitary confinement.

This is all to say that in life, “disorder” rules supreme and trauma is an unpredictable and even intermittent visitor capable of disrupting our innate desire for “order.” It is order that ushers in a sense of safety and security to our otherwise chaotic and unknowable existence.

Surviving Disorder

Orr (2002) contends that “the way to survive disorder is to let it enter you, to open yourself to it, rather than resisting it or denying its power and presence” (p. 43). I interpret disorder to personally mean “trauma,” whatever that may be for me. I know from experience just like the author knows from his experience that “surviving” trauma can be a lifelong process of recovery and setback, seldom linear, and often a challenge.

In Chapter Six, Orr (2002) brings our attention to the destructive powers of silence, for trauma is often accompanied by “shame, or fear, or inhibition… [thus making] us the victim of our own experience” (p. 87). It is through the process of disclosure that healing can begin to take place. The author then buttresses these statements by presenting a study that was published in April 1999 in the Journal of the American Medical Association demonstrating the benefits of writing and its impact on chronic pain. The participants who wrote about “the most painful incident in my life” had a 47.1 percent improvement of symptoms, compared to 24.3 of participants who were asked to write about “what I plan to do today” (p. 90). Interestingly, the participants who wrote about the most painful incident in their lives did not reflect on their chronic pain, rather the specific traumatic events that are universal in nature (i.e., death of a loved one, unrequited love, etc.; p. 91).

But there is something about the process of writing poetry that offers a sense of release and healing. The author speculates that “[p]erhaps the elaborate and intense patterns of poetry can…make people feel safe…[I]t’s possible to say that the enormous disordering power of trauma needs or demands an equally powerful ordering to contain it, and poetry offers such order” (Orr, 2002, p. 92). More specifically, it is the power poetry that can help us overcome existential crisis that are a part of the human condition (Orr, 2002, p. 4).

A Battle to End All Wars: PTSD from Another Dimension

Nothing stands out so dramatically and poignantly for me as the figurative and literal battle scars of war. My spirit guide, Hans (not his real name), had fought for the Axis Power during World War 2. His experiences during the war and proceeding the war (while interned at a Russian POW camp for years), are a shadow aspect of himself that he still carries beyond his physical death.

Although he has “crossed over” and has confronted his past demons, stripped clean of judgment, hatred or any other human flaws that get resolved in the afterlife, he and I still process his “battle fatigue” (Orr, 2002, p. 182), his haunted psyche that karmically persists beyond his world of skin.

I, too, have been battling past-life PTSD since adolescence when I began to slowly recall my death during World War 2. I was killed during an Allied Air Raid. I had been a female civilian in my late 40s to early 50s residing in Germany during the 1940s. These shadows are extremely challenging to address from any angle. It is easy for others to judge and to question my sanity and my politics—a sublimation, a rumbling in my subconscious.

Blogging and writing poetry have allowed me to structure the chaos, disturbance, and mystery of such experiences. With Hans, while channeling the existential angst that he is still able to access, I process our past lives—the unsettling fact that we were both on the wrong side of history, complicit, and even supportive of such ideologies. Unmasking the shame—the darkness—while exposing my soul to myself and to others is a way to convey my human suffering that has existed prior to this life. In this way, poetry offers a transpersonal outlet that has given me a voice and has even saved my life in this reality.


Orr, G. (2002). Poetry as survival. Athens: The University of Georgia Press.

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