“I absolutely LOVE what I do. There is so much joy in creating a safe, sacred space where women gather to connect, write, listen, witness and honour each other. I feel so fortunate to offer this empowering and transformative work for women.
There is a feeling I get, when I am in the midst of a session. Listening to the women’s stories, witnessing their journeys, hearing their voices soften as they touch upon a vulnerable truth, or watching as their eyes light up when they taste the freedom of expression or the healing relief from having found a different way to tell their story that unburdens them, releases years of pent-up frustration or guilt or shame.
It’s a feeling of exhilaration, joy and wonder.
I feel such gratitude that life has given me the skills, gifts and opportunities to be a generous loving support for each woman’s writing process, which is also a healing process, learning process, discovery process and a self-loving process.“
Dr. Ahava Shira
Journal Writing, Poetry & Spoken Word Performance
When I was 20 years old, I bought my first journal to take with on a 4-month solo backpacking trip to Europe. My second journal was written in Israel, where I lived in Jerusalem for a year while studying at the Hebrew University. After a few more years of travel and study, I left my hometown of Montreal and moved to the west coast of Canada, landing in Vancouver, where I started writing and performing poetry about the trauma and unhealthy relationships I had experienced in my childhood home and the post-traumatic patterns I was encountering as an adult, from disordered eating to self-picking.
After self-publishing my first book of poems, Weaving of My Being, I wrote and acted in my first one woman show, Chelo. Five years later, I produced my spoken word CD, Love is Like This.
Writing helped me give voice and meaning to things I hadn’t had words for, to understand what happened to me, and free myself from guilt, shame and self-doubt.
I co-developed and facilitated an award-winning school-based violence prevention program called “Respectful Relationships,” from 2000-2007. Wanting to deepen my skills and awareness of my role as a facilitator, I completed a graduate program in writing and narrative inquiry. During my Master’s of Education in Curriculum Studies (UVic, 2005), with the support of my mentor Dr. Antoinette Oberg, I wrote poetry and stories exploring what I was learning about my own relationships as I taught the program to youth. Becoming aware of my tendency toward self-judgment and criticism, I committed to understanding how to reverse these negative patterns and engage more kindly toward myself and others.
After graduating from my M.Ed., I dove even deeper into writing, narrative inquiry and other arts-based research through a PhD in Language and Literacy Education (UBC, 2010). Through the mentorship of my supervisor, poet and professor Dr. Carl Leggo, I developed Loving Inquiry, a practice of writing that uses the metaphor of the gate to open up to more generous, joyful and compassionate ways of being with self, other and the world.
After graduating, I created a 12-month transformational creative mentorship program helping women focus on their writing and other arts in a nourishing space of kindness and self-compassion.
Writing Alone Together
The same year I started my PhD, I also started writing with two women who were also passionate, long-time journal writers (by then I had been journal writing for 20 years). In 2014, after seven years of creative collaboration we co-published Writing Alone Together: Journalling in a Circle of Women for Creativity, Compassion and Connection.
Since then, I have facilitated hundreds of workshops, retreats and facilitator training sessions in Writing Alone Together. I have worked with diverse populations including women with fused spines, youth in middle and high schools, and clients of a mental health drop-in centre.
I have co-edited and published six collections of students’ writing, with the support of my dear friend, colleague and co-inspirator, Sarah Hook Nilsson.
I also developed and facilitated Home Words, a Facilitator Training for educators, counselors and community members to use Writing Alone Together with their own clients and students.
This arts-based community development work has been recognized through several grants from the Salt Spring Arts and the BC Arts Council.
Woman in Mirror memoir writing journeys
In 2015 I started to work on a memoir exploring some health and relationship issues. Through writing my stories, I deepened my understanding of traumatic events from my past, and developed more awareness of boundaries and other skills I needed to support myself and heal my body in the present.
Having the support of a writing mentor who gently guided me through the process of editing and shaping my story was so important and I am grateful to feminist author Betsy Warland for her guidance with Curve: A Memoir of (Self) Compassion.
I am currently facilitating Woman in Mirror online memoir writing journeys for women who want to free their voices, discover their stories and develop a loving relationship with themselves and others.
Immerse Yourself month-long daily writing practice
At the start of the pandemic, the world as I knew it collapsed. My husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, the farm we had called home for 14 years went up for sale and sold in a matter of days, and I found myself in the unfamiliar role of primary breadwinner, while moving to a new house and learning what it means to be a loving care-partner for my husband of 21 years.
In mid-2021, as we were preparing to move, amid all the uncertainty and my fears and doubts about the future, I said to my husband one day “I wrote my way onto the Farm, I will write my way off the Farm.”
This became the impetus for my second memoir, Touching Wood.
A year later and I am still living, and writing, the changes. And I have noticed so are many other women in my classes.
I created Immerse Yourself, a month of daily writing to support women to create space and time to devote to their writing.