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Writing to calm the mind

Increasingly those involved in the healing professions are recommending writing as a practise to deal with inner turmoil, restore a sense of perspective and unearth the insights needed for personal growth.

Writing could be considered the Western form of meditation. Sitting still for ‘long’ periods and ‘doing nothing’, as many in our culture would view meditative practices, might be ok in India but does not sit easily with Western values. Writing can achieve the same ends as meditation in terms of calming the mind and putting us in a more reflective place – key to finding  the ‘right’ answers to the big questions in our lives.

I am not talking about writing a book for publication (although some with a personal healing agenda do just that ) rather what is referred to as journaling. This is the practise of maintaining a record of our emerging thoughts, feelings and emotions. It is not a diary of events although these will feature as context. While journal records can be retained for future rereading their primary purpose is served simply by the act of writing itself.

So how does it work? The discipline of writing externalises (brings into the open ), what is going on inside for us , much like talking * to a trusted friend. The requirement to find the right words to express our negative emotions, for example, reduces their power over us and puts us back in the driving seat. Journaling can also be used to record positive affirmations, express gratitude for the good things in our lives, for prayer or for ‘handing over’ issues we are grappling with to our ‘higher power’.

* writing has some advantages over talking to a friend – we can be completely honest when writing (nobody is listening !) and a friend is not always available (we can usually find pen and paper!)

The rules of journaling :

1. The first rule is that there are no rules. There is no list of suitable subjects, and nobody is going to correct your spelling or grammer. What you write doesn’t need to make sense, or follow any convention. Some days you will write several pages and others just a few lines.

2. Stick to the task. Don’t panic or give up if you feel you have nothing to say. Write about anything that comes to mind even mundane stuff like the weather, and try to keep writing without interuption as much as possible.

3. Make journaling a daily practise (subject to rule 1!!). You don’t have to do it every day but this is the way to get the best out of it. Build journaling into your morning and/or evening routine.Writing in the morning when you are fresh can really set you up for the day ahead.

4. Your journal can be typed but I would recommend that you handwrite  your journal to personalise the experience as much as possible and give you the best chance of unearthing your deepest truths.

5. It is generally best not to share your journal. If you know that you are going to share what you write this will tend to constrain your ‘stream of consciousness’, as it will be hard to resist the temptation to edit what you write or to set out to create some kind of impression.

There is an exception to the no sharing rule, which is not strictly speaking journaling. This is writing a letter to heal a past wound. It can be very powerful  to write to someone to express your feelings about a past experience. While this could be sent to the individual (or read aloud) it could equally be shared with trusted others eg as part of group therapy.


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