One morning ritual I’ve been working on establishing is a first-thing-top-of-mind-write session. It’s just a minimum of one page, handwritten stream of consciousness dump into a book I keep bedside, preferably before I check my phone for any messages or news of the day. Just what’s running through my head when I awake.
I know that rituals are one of the key tools we have in transformational change, so it’s something I try to make time for, directly after brushing and flossing.
Hopefully these journal entries won’t come back to haunt me like they have done for a dear friend of mine. My friend ruminates and keeps going back to re-read the journals from years ago, something I simply find it unbearable to do, unless necessary for a writing project.
I have to admit, when I can stomach the look back, it’s compelling. I mean what’s more fascinating to us than ourselves? In my case, it’s like driving by a wreck on the highway. Not pretty, but also hard to look away.
But here’s the problem — our journals lock in thoughts from another time—and keep alive old grudges, pains, distresses. At least for me, it’s the things (and people!) that bother me that I tend to write down. “Life is quiet and peaceful and I’m enjoying just sitting here and writing,” doesn’t make it into the journal.
With my friend, this habit actually fed and further burned in feelings of unhappiness to the point where it affected a long marriage. My friend couldn’t move on from the past and wanted everyone to know what had been endured, so we could all share again in the suffering. This rekindled the suffering and locked in that version of the truth, even if though the journals described a world that largely was no longer present.
I talk about suffering in my journal too. But I do it to let go of those thoughts- it’s like I am putting them on little slips of paper and casting them away from my soul. It’s an exhale for me. Which is what I need to do before I can inhale again with fresh air of today.
Yet for some people like my friend, memories of these pains and transgressions– even if they are not written down in a journal– are often revisited with little reminders, grudges and perceived offenses that we just can’t put aside.
It’s as if the pain is kept under lock and key in a bank vault, where it builds interest and dominates our emotional portfolio. The distress is perpetually revisited and kept alive, so we remain shackled in the chains of the past, rather than in the wholeness and freedom of the present.
Re-reading a journal does provide a fuller knowledge of how we got here, I understand that. But when we approach it as if it is the only version of history, we stand the risk of just picking your scabs and preventing healing.
Journals are permanent, life is not.
A poet’s tortured journals of woe make good copy, but do not fuel a happy life. Perhaps we’ve been taught that it’s more romantic to be miserable, forlorn and misunderstood, waiting for the world to reconfigure and recognize your gift.
I have a common bit of advice I give to people who come to me with worries and concerns about the future– “let’s not read ahead. One page at a time.”
Let’s also not keep reading too far back either. Some of those characters in our back story are better off left there, as we build a better version of our self.