It is human instinct to want to be heard, to want to be listened-to, to speak your mind. So what happens when we can’t find another person to fulfill this need? We write. I discovered the power of writing when I was about 7 or 8 years old, just as I was learning how to write in school. I was beginning to feel things that I was not so sure were acceptable at home:I was jealous, I was hurt, I wanted more attention, etc. I did not know what to do with these feelings, and I discovered that putting them on paper somehow helped. As I grew, my relationship with my “diary” developed and it became an essential part of life. In many ways, my diary was my therapist long before I understood what therapy is.
But like most people, I wrote in my journal when I had the need to do so. I had a long day, I would write. I went through a tough time, I would write. I was feeling lonely and alone, I would write. It helped, and my journals kept me company and held the secrets I could not quite share with anyone. Then a few years ago I stumbled upon a writing tool called “morning pages” developed by Julia Cameron. I was intrigued by the thought of writing even when I didn’t particularly have anything to say. I thought why not try it since I am so accustomed to writing anyways. So for most days of the past 3 and half years, I have been committed to writing 3-pages each morning. It did not matter if I wanted to write or not. It did not matter if I had anything significant to say or not. It did not matter if things flowed or made sense or not. What mattered was that I stick to the commitment: 3-pages in the morning.
When I first started them, I thought this is not going to be any different than my normal journaling habit. I prejudged the process to be easy and not so different from what I was already doing. As the days passed and as my habit became a part of my morning routine, I began to understand why they are far from a journal entry. Morning pages are meant to be a flow of consciousness. What does this mean? It means that I write all the thoughts that are flowing in my mind. And my mind is always flowing with thoughts; morning pages allow me to recognize them. I also began to evolve in my way of writing and they began to show me things I did not quite know about myself. Morning pages will mean something different to each person, but here are 10 reasons why 3 years later, I’m still doing them:
1. They clear my mind for the rest of the day. I cannot stress how useful this is. They allow me to “dump” all the clutter that is blocking me, stressing me, suffocating me, clouding my judgement, etc. on paper. They give space for newness to arise, rather than have me carry the weight throughout the day. (Basically, they helped reduce my anxiety!)
2. They set a clear morning ritual. I make my coffee (who doesn’t?!), sit at my table, take out my notebook and begin to write. This is how I start most of my days. As humans, we thrive on predictability, and because life is so very unpredictable (hello, corona!), having a structure, a framework, a ritual, a routine, a rhythm, call it whatever you want, is so important to maintaining a healthy nervous system. Knowing how my mornings will start has helped me feel more anchored in a life full of chaos.
3. They stretch my limits. Let’s be honest, 3-pages is way too long. Having the structure of filling up 3-pages helps me dig deeper and find more meaning in the clutter of my thoughts. More often than not, valuable insights are revealed to me on the last page. Imagine if I had stopped at the first or second page? I would have missed a lot.
4. They are a great aid to my therapeutic journey (Yes, therapists go to therapy too!). In many ways, morning pages were an essential part of the work that I did in between sessions. They dug so deep in me, and I took this stuff straight to the therapy room.
5. They are a form of meditation. In meditation, you learn to be an observer of your thoughts and feelings. You learn to differentiate between you and them. Morning pages help me do this. I know I am not my thoughts. I know I am not my feelings. I can see them clearly on the page. And I can manage them in different ways.
6. They give me something to do when I panic. A big part of anxiety and why we panic is that we feel like we lost control. Morning pages give me a sense of ownership over whatever overwhelming state I am in. They give me a sense of control because I can DO something about it: I can write.
7. They are a place to be. All the different parts of me can show up. And all of them are welcomed. Because morning pages are not meant to be read again, I really do not worry about what goes onto the page. This has allowed me greater freedom of expression where everything is possible and acceptable. I can be whoever I want. I can be grateful, afraid, loving, hating, courageous, lonely, whiny, wise, angry, etc. I can explore not only the horizons of who I am, but also give voice to all the parts of me that have been suppressed.
8. They allow me to rewrite my story. When you have 3 pages to fill every morning, sometimes you just keep saying the same thing over and over again. Until one day that thing starts to change. Why? Because as you flow in the writing process maybe a single word is changed. For example, I learned that when I say “I wish...” I know I am speaking from a place that does not quite believe in the possibility of change. But when I say “I want...” or even better “I need...” there is more seriousness in the belief of my worthiness to change than a simple wish. These small linguistic changes have a bigger impact on how we view ourselves and how we carry ourselves in the world.
9. They inspire my life.This may sound too dreamy, but in reality, most of the grand ideas, or decisions, or creative pursuits that I have made in the past 3 years, began in writing simple words in the morning.
10. They teach me to put myself first. They are a practice of self-care. In the chaos and hustle of modern life, sitting down with one-self is not always on our priority list. When I began to see their impact on my life, I began to appreciate them more and more, and began to protect the sacred space that they allow. I no longer pour from an empty cup. And I can easily recognize when I am, because I start loosening my commitment to them.
These are just a few ways that writing in this way has helped me. There are many tools and ways to utilize pen and paper for our personal growth, seeking insight, and simply coming closer to ourselves. The key here is consistency. Think if you exercise once a month for an hour, versus 10 minutes everyday. The impact of both is incomparable. It can be a daunting experience to begin writing. There is so much that we want to avoid, so much that we are afraid to see. And that which we avoid is exactly what is keeping us depressed, uncomfortable, stuck, anxious, angry, etc. Once we allow ourselves the courage to be, we begin working with ourselves rather than against it. We become our own friend. A lot of self-compassion is cultivated in this process. I hope you don’t miss out.
P.S. If you are afraid to write because the pages might somehow end up in someone’s hands, write in handwriting that nobody can read. Not even yourself!