I’m always searching for ways to counteract my type-A, future-focused tendencies that make me a tangled ball of stress. Try meditation, they say. I’ve tried sitting still, focusing on nothing in particular and thinking about not thinking. I’ve had some success with it, but the real breakthrough came when I started journaling.
Image by Bruce Guenter.
Up until a couple of months ago, I’d always thought of journals as something my teenage self would scoff at. But actually writing with pen and paper has become a powerful therapeutic intervention for helping me stay sane, grateful and grounded in my “always-on” life. The meditative effects have primarily been two-fold.
First, my journaling is an uninhibited form of creative expression where I can write whatever and however I want, and no one else can judge me. This has been especially liberating because 99 per cent of what I write is seen by others and thus gets filtered. But when I journal, I can write about anything. I can be extremely selfish and unabashed, which leads me to essentially writing away my worries, stress, fears and any other unpleasant thoughts I have in my head.
Laboriously laying out these thoughts on paper have led to many revelations I wouldn’t have arrived at if I’d just sat and ruminated on them. The second benefit sounds more meditative. With journaling, I feel utterly present in the moment, entranced by the repetitive motion of moving my pen and seeing my thoughts materialise onto paper. It’s very different from when I’m writing words on my laptop. It’s just more relaxing.
If you decide to give journaling a shot, it’s important to ditch any ideas of being “perfect” about it. I know people who’ve spent way too much money on pens and notebooks, only to still have blank pages. If premium pen and paper are what you’re into, then that’s cool. I’m OK with my notebook from the Japanese dollar store and a good enough pen. Just remember to actually, you know, write.
And don’t get too hung up on what to write about. Plenty of random thoughts pop into my head throughout the day, but there’s usually one that resonates more deeply than others. Before, I’d used to let those thoughts languish and eventually fall into the ether, but now I spend 20-30 minutes teasing them out and just writing — there doesn’t even have to be a conclusion or takeaway! That’s the great thing about this. In addition to the catharsis, you learn to be more generally aware of how certain things make you feel and why.
It’s never too late to start a journal. And I’m saying this after so many years of writing already.