~ Jerome, The Pillow Book
The Open Page
Journal writing is, in the plainest words possible, the most direct path to not only ‘The Authentic Self’, but more importantly to excavating, uncovering and unearthing your Authentic Self. The thought of writing a Journal does not exactly fill many people with curiosity and exuberance when I initially suggest it. Although I find – given enough time – everyone eventually comes around. Ofcourse – the water torture probably compels … a bit. Maybe.
“A journal should be a document of misery” ~ Toni
Here is some help from Heather Graham, Toni and Candace – the one and only Feminist Bookstore Ladies and their Journal Writing Group. I think there is something in this for all of us.
Therapeutic Journal Writing
We all engage in what is known in the ‘trade’ as “Self Talk”, but mostly – we cannot hear what it is we say to ourselves, quietly in the privacy privilege and pastures of our own minds. We are blissfully and blithely unaware or the mental torment to which we are regularly subjected. This is where the bondage and other hidden, private pursuits take place, where we revisit and or invent ritual, in the sense that it is mindless and enacted in cycles, ‘abuse’. This happens without any conscious awareness. We feel the effects though. They show up as fears, moods, avoidances even body symptoms sometimes.
“Self Talk” happens just below the line that separates our Conscious Mind from that which is ‘Unconscious’. It is where the psychological demon, a construct known as the “Inner Critic” lives. They have set up camp and torture chamber with a variety of implements. This agency of the mind sits in judgement of our-Self, the Self and everything we think, do and feel. Their proclivities start with a whisper and can end up luring you in to all manner of self destructive and self sabotaging dramas and pursuits.
“Self Talk” said simply, is the way we “Talk” to ourselves and it is a little bit like listening to a recording that is stuck -looping – without any choice on our part. This would be no problem if the tape was saying something like, “You are so beautiful!” or “People really value your contribution at work and in life – generally”. Positive Self Talk such as this – results generally in positive feelings of encouragement and well being. Unfortunately, most of us have inherited Negative Self Talk from the experience of being a child, being parented by the imperfect and less than aware and by the culture around us.
Criticism can be helpful. This is particularly true if the focus is on problem solving and ‘getting to the finish line’ or achieving a goal. However when criticism becomes a constant assault on the Self, it can result in a range of paralyzing psychological symptoms, conditions and experiences. Negative Self Talk, in high doses – is not only destructive but it actively dismantles and undermines the development of your Authentic Self. And so, something needs to be done to limit and eventually transform ‘Self Talk’.
That something is … Journal Writing.
Why? Because, the first step on the road to defeating the Inner Critic and establishing Self Talk which is both motivating, goal directed and outcome oriented is becoming aware of exactly what your Inner Critic is currently saying to you through your own ‘Self Talk’.
Journal Writing is THE WAY to stalk your Inner Critic.
How do I write a Journal?
Therapeutic Journal Writing works with the parts of the mind that is conscious and unconscious. The words themselves build a bridge between these two domains of the mind. The Conscious mind is the Navigator but the Unconscious Mind is where the Inner Critic or the tailor that cuts the cloth to fit the coat you are going to wear, lives.
Believe it or not Journal Writing is a mindful activity because you record exactly what is happening to you, in that moment. You catch whatever is floating through the prism of your mind – just then. If your mind moves, your attention wanders – follow with your pen and catch your thoughts in words. This will begin to change in an authentic and meaningful way, forever – the way in which you talk to yourself.
So, to begin … you locate for yourself the tools for the job. You need a Journal. Find something that delights the Inner Child, something bespoke maybe that speaks or points to the mysteries you are about to wade in to deeply. It might be ingrained in leather or bound in velvet with the inside page marbled in coloured oils. Find yourself a writing implement that writes the way you sync with your personality – the ink flows, the colour calms, the posture of the pen points due north. This will keep you on track.
The best time to write – is – believe it or not – just after you wake up each morning. And before the groaning commences, let me counter your concerns. This is the time when the Unconscious Mind is emptying from your conscious awareness the way water departs from a bath and is being replaced with your Conscious Mind, hell bent and deeply committed to the illusion of control. It is the best time to tune in to what is really going on, what is really happening with you, in that moment between waking and sleeping.
Wake Up. Begin. Write. In manner of free association – think Freud and the Couch. Only talk about your mother if thoughts of her float in to your brain. Keep it real, choose a journal that is about an A5 size page, write three pages. And this is the most important part – then STOP and DO NOT REVIEW THEM. Put your Journal aside and start your day. Then tomorrow, begin writing again.
The Flesh and the Literature
There have been many famous Journal writers – I am sure you can think of a few so I won’t compete here with your list. ‘The Pillow Book’ is the form of the Journal that has delighted me the most, and Sei Shōnagon the most delightful writer of one such.
A Pillow Book was a private diary kept under the writer’s pillow and was written in fear it would be read rather than, so it would be read. As the daughter of a renowned poet and lady in waiting to the Empress in 10th century Japan, she was well qualified to craft a Pillow Book of quality and also in great need of a trust worthy confidant who would neither react nor judge but more importantly – not betray her. Sei Shōnagon’s Pillow Book is a collection of lists, gossip, poetry, observations, complaints and musings.
When she was asked about the most important things in life, Sei Shōnagon answered, “the flesh and the literature.” Her writing included observations of the world around her that reveal both the Authentic Self to herself at the time she lived and to us 1000 years later. She enjoyed the greatly the act of writing in general but took particular delight in the compiling of lists. Had therapy been invented in 10th century Japan, I believe Sei Shōnagon would have called the act of writing – therapeutic.
Here is a little sample of what prints from her mind showed up in her Pillow Book. Her noticings immortalized her because they are as timeless as they are elegant.
Things that have lost their power
- A large boat that is high and dry in a creek at ebb-tide
- A woman who has taken off her false locks to comb the short hair that remains
- A large tree that has been blown down in a gale and lies on its side with its roots in the air
- The retreating figure of a sumo wrestler who has been defeated in a match
- A man of no importance who is reprimanding an attendant
- An old man who removes his hat, uncovering his scanty top knot
- A woman who is angry with her husband about some trifling matter, leaves home and goes somewhere to hide. She is certain he will rush about looking for her but he does nothing of the kind and shows the most infuriating indifference. Since she cannot stay away forever, she swallows her pride and returns.
- A son-in-law who gets praises from the father-in-law.
- A daughter-in-law who gets adored by the mother-in-law.
- A silver tweezers that works well.
- A servant who doesn’t talk ill of the master.
- Flawless styles, personalities and some beautiful looking things stay flawless as they go through life and time.
- To see people, living in the same area, trying to have respects, not showing their shortcoming to each other, to keep maintaining that attitude completely and impeccably.
- Not to make an ink stain when you copy stories and anthologies. Especially with a good book, you try so hard not to make a mess, but it is impossible, it always become dirty.
- Not just between a man and a woman, but also among women, it is very rare to see the promises and a deep friendship being kept long and forever.
On Things that Make One’s Heart Beat Faster
- Sparrows feeding their young
- To pass a place where babies are playing
- To sleep in a room where fine incense has been burnt
- To notice that one’s elegant Chinese mirror has become a little cloudy
- To see a gentleman stop his carriage before one’s gate and instruct his attendants to announce his arrival
- To wash one’s hair, make one’s toilet, and put on scented robes; even if not a soul sees one, these preparations still produce an inner pleasure
- It is night and one is expecting a visitor. Suddenly one is startled by the sound of rain-drops, which the wind blows against the shutters