After reading 21 Rituals to Change Your Life by Theresa Cheung recently, I felt compelled to revisit the concept of Journaling as this was one of the rituals recommended in the book and something I had attempted after reading Julia Cameron’s, The Artists Way. I’d also been aware previously from countless other self help tomes and through my membership of a global group of business improvement facilitators many moons ago, about the power of journaling, or writing down your thoughts each day or maybe a summary of your day. It seems that it is almost universally accepted as a major contributor to success and productivity, especially for creative types.
In the past I have had mild success with turning journaling into flow state like spells of really creative writing and indeed have developed a great many ideas that were otherwise just idle thoughts, when in that mode in the past, but had never made the connection with this process and the (relatively unimportant in the global scheme) reasonable success I have had.
So far blah blah!
It wasn’t until I eventually picked up the yellowing copy of A Life of One’s Own by Joanna Field (Marion Milner) that I had intended to read (among the many other must read books gathering dust on my shelves) many years ago, that I came to realise how powerful the habit of writing down my thoughts and ideas from each day could become.
In this book first published in 1934, the author Joanna Field (Marion Milner) asked a simple question:
“What will make me happy?”
She then uses the 220 pages that follow to describe how she used her own intimate diaries to delve deep into her own psyche and, much like a detective would, takes a very practical approach to observing her own reactions to seemingly everyday and somewhat overlooked stimuli. It’s a fascinating study that is hard to put down.
Early on in her investigation she realises that there are probably two versions of herself. One she called her deliberate self and another, seemingly far more interesting version she called her automatic self.
The book in its entirety is a fascinating read and a refreshing new approach to the endless quest we have as humans to understand our own minds and to make sense of the world around us. And of course the subject of happiness!
However, for the purposes of this post, the most enlightening passage I’ve come across so far is when the author describes her two levels of thought. In Chapter 3, Exploring the Hinterland she puts it like this:
“Once more I tried, this time 6 months later. I had not read through what I had written on the two previous occasions and could not remember at all what I had put. This time, however, I did not begin with the word God, but with the phrase ‘I believe’.
I BELIEVE . in God, etc. – that’s no use – God – some-thing large up in the sky rather like a canopy – and a shrinking fear inside me – memory of pain, when I have said: ‘Oh God’, the ache of foreboding and fear of consequences – dread – when I have said: ‘God help me’ – ‘God, let me not be late for school’ – panic, terror – unreasoning, in which only God can help – it’s terror of wrong-doing, of disapproval – it seems a long time since I felt it. God – a far-away altar to a man god -Abraham on the mountain – the God of Moses with piercing eyes that burnt one’s face – no, it was a burning light, the face of God, that blinded one – St Paul was also blinded – and God, no, the Lord, was not in the Fire – yet I feel he is very much fire – the queer awe and terror and excitement of watching a heath fire and fighting it – the living fury of the flames – this is as God – fierce, destructive, beautiful, inhuman – the sun also blinds one – I cannot look upon his face – he is joyful and strong and aloof – Balder the beautiful – the light of his countenance is new life in one’s limbs – but he is far away, benign, and not a force to be feared and wondered at, as the Fire – Fire – a queer thing sometimes glowing inside oneself – sometimes a little flickering flame – God – the woods and forests stand aloof- great beeches on the Downs with a brood-ing life of their own – rain, persistent, uncontrollable, wind. – sometimes malevolent, howling, furious seas, personal but In-human having purposes, apart from men’s little affairs – a vast brooding existence – more than a mass of water – the Earth, a gentler being, passive, bearing fruit, more man’s slave than the sea and the wind and the fire – when these are tamed it is more on sufferance.
All this puzzled me a great deal. I thought ‘What is the good of imagining I accept what the scientists are saying about the nature of the universe if all the time part of myself is believing something quite different ?’
Might not these apparent beliefs of my automatic self, although I had no notion of their existence, possess the power to influence my feelings and actions? And was it not important that I should find out how to control the beliefs of this part of myself, since they seemed to take so little account of what my deliberate self thought?
One day I showed some of these outpourings to a friend. We had been children together, often living in the same house, and had had exactly the same religious teaching. She said, But where on earth do you get such ideas! I never think like that!’ But I said, ‘Nor do I. If you had asked me what I think about I couldn’t have told you a word of all that. It was only when I let my thought run on absolutely freely in writing that I dis-covered such thoughts. Perhaps you have another mind too which has ideas that you’ve never guessed at.’ She said, ‘Perhaps’, but did not seem inclined to try the experiment.”
What I think this describes is that when physically writing down her thoughts, the author was sliding into something akin to a flow state, she was accessing what she termed her deeper mind, below the superficial surface somehow. It’s as if we have the capacity to gloss over our true feelings in order to present a facade to the world that is more acceptable to society…as if!
This is the Power that gurus speak of when they talk about Journaling or keeping a Diary…it isn’t the content itself that is important, as I will shortly demonstrate, but the fact that it illuminates the underlying state of our minds…and illumination is exactly what it can bring to us. Through this one simple ritual we can pull out new ideas and develop old ones to a level that we couldn’t even conceive of before. It is a truly fascinating concept that I will now be pursuing with greater vim than before…I needed this insight, perhaps a prompt to say…read the books you thought you would be fascinated by instead of leaving them to gather mould on the shelf!
In Julia Cameron’s Artists Way, the first practical exercise she recommends is what she terms Morning Pages…a free writing ritual that you undertake every morning, committing to scribbling down at least 3 full pages of text with a pen or pencil, just as Joanna Field described back in 1934.
I started doing morning pages on 26th May 2017 and lasted until the 30th! Although I see now that I also did it on 14th September 2017 just for one morning…
To be honest it felt stupid and a bit like a teacher saying you had to do it, just because. It didn’t make a great deal of sense to me, I didn’t understand fully why it was necessary. BUT now I do and with the enlightenment of someone’s direct experience from 1934 brought by Joanna Field I now get it and recommend it.
Part of the reason I felt stupid doing it at first was to do with the fact that it was stream of consciousness stuff…writing quickly in order not to lose thoughts or even to become blocked…it seemed like a lot of writing being done that would never see the light of day because it wasn’t about anything in particular…wasted efforts maybe?
From today, I’ll use Restless Peasant as my outlet for this…sorry Julia, no more pencil scribbles, but hopefully a mind opening ritual anyway. For posterity, here is my first Morning Pages from 26/05/2017:
“My first go at Morning Pages is a bit of a puzzle for me. The idea of course, is to unblock my creative, artistic side. Yet, I find myself seeking out a Palomino Blackwing 602 in order to write these first scribbles.
That Palomino, I think, represents Resistance as Stephen [ Stephen Pressfield]- the War of Art guy says.
As a concession to my Resistance, I went with the Palomino, although it’s a much sharpened one and actually hurting my hand to grip it, as it’s so short now.
Instead I’m a writer who doesn’t write much. An artist, once promising (35 + years ago) who hasn’t painted , other than that short burst around meltdown time before Buddhism when I produced a small canvas or board everyday.
I am also a guitarist who doesn’t play guitar, a Volvo dabbler/twiddler who doesn’t ever get round to doing much in the garage.
After I decided to do this, I instinctively went looking for the perfect place/tools with which to do it – Resistance again. But I found a community at Julia Cameron’s site where the insistence was on hand writing – so here I am with my scribbles.
Everything is in place now, I have no excuses. I need to embrace the Kitchen Table – my own advice after all!
I’ve had some writing success, I can make nice websites. I can sell books. I can engage people with my writing and move them to comment, challenge and slowly come round to accepting challenging ideas.
BUT, am I a writer? I always thought I’d be visual and then musical, but music is a mystery still.
Maybe I don’t have to decide, at least yet anyway?
For now, these morning pages will be done, I won’t miss out a day – no excuses, no Palomino required. Let’s just see where it goes.”