Rupi Kaur’s short poems on Instagram resonated with so many people; then she released three bestselling poetry collections and an Amazon special and, in 2022, launched a world tour. Her fourth book, Healing Through Words, is a departure. Leigh Haber talked with Kaur about this guided journal designed to help readers explore their heartbreaks, losses, trauma—and discover the power of words to heal.
Leigh Haber: There’s an exercise at the very beginning of the book suggesting readers spend a few moments taking deep breaths, meditating on the word trauma to see what it conjures, and then allotting a few minutes to free writing.
What are prompts like this designed to do?
Rupi Kaur: I use free writing to tap into my inner thoughts. I might wake up one day and think, Oh, I should be writing about this, or about that. But it’s really when I let go and allow my subconscious to take the wheel that the healing process starts.
For the uninitiated, what do you mean by “free writing”?
You write the first thing that comes to mind without stopping to edit or revise or to be concerned with whether or not what you’ve written makes sense. You’re not trying to
be perfect—it’s the opposite of that. But what can happen at the end of a five- or 20-minute free writing exercise is that suddenly you begin to understand: Okay, so that’s happening inside of me. That’s actually what I need to focus on.
You explore themes of love and sex. You write that your inner “defiant voice” gave you permission to not be knee-deep in trauma all the time, and helped you redefine toxic ideas of love. How did you—and how can readers—make that transition?
For years, I wrote almost exclusively about sexual abuse and the violence that’s inflicted on women’s bodies. And eventually I thought, Maybe I don’t want to do this
all the time. It’s important to reclaim power over our own bodies and to enjoy our sensualities. How do we go through sexual trauma and then transition to finding people who make us feel safe, with whom we can have the amazing erotic experiences we deserve? The prompts in chapter two are designed to facilitate that.
What does Healing Through Words have to offer those who, fortunately for them, have no experience of sexual abuse?
We all have stories. We all have pain. For example, in the “Breaking” section, the goal is to dig through whatever hurt you’re experiencing and realizing you can survive. Everyone has had moments of feeling, Oh, God, everything is terrible, and it’s not going to get better. My life is over. Hopefully, the exercises I offer will enable readers to step back and acknowledge that while the pain is real, we can get through it and even feel more powerful because of it.
You say that healing is messy…
It took me a long time to realize that being human means we can’t be perfect and on it 100 percent of the time. Healing is a verb. It’s not an outcome or a result. As long as you’re alive, you’re going to be working through stuff. You may think, I’m done. I’m healed, but it comes back.… With the right tools, your heart becomes bigger and it can hold more and more joy. Learning to be easy on yourself is probably the best form of self-care.
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