Note to Self: The Benefits of Journaling
August 6, 2012
Imagine meeting your younger self from twenty years ago. I once wrote a fanciful piece of fiction lie that. Then, the other day, while searching for something in my notebooks, I stumbled upon a journal entry from 1991. What a gift! A time capsule, a message in a bottle sent across the ocean of time, a photograph of my younger mind. I read it eagerly, along with other older note book entries. I was curious to see how I had evolved. Had these intervening twenty years taught me anything at all?
Journaling for me has been a record of my experiments in living wholly and authentically. In my youth I was introduced to a book by M.K. Gandhi called The Story of My Experiments with Truth. It is his personal record of slow and deliberate evolution from a flawed, awkward child into a saint. He stresses in this book that he was not born good, but rather he earned goodness through experimentation. He read ideas (the Geeta, Tolstoi, Bible), thought about them, then tried them out in his life to see if they worked. The book is a record of these trials, both his successes and his failures. He maintains at the end of the book that anyone can do what he did. He was not born special. I think that is important. Since first reading that book I began to use journaling as a way to record my own experiments with the truth. Though my life may not be of the kind played upon the stage of history, it is as valid for me as Gandhi’s was for him.
I not only write down incidents and events that have excited me or disturbed me and also how I handled them. A review, impartial, non-judgmental of what aspects were handled skillfully, and which could be improved upon. By recording skillful behavior, it becomes concretized. It is like a pat on the back, a substantial reinforcement. Recording the parts which could have been handled better allows reflection on ways and means and motives for such behavior to adhere as a permanent part of my character.
Some events arouse strong emotions, such as fear, anxiety, paranoia which can be debilitating. I find journalling a great way to let go of those strong emotions. Burying strong emotions, or denying them would be harmful to my mental health. By recording them I acknowledge them, but at the same time am able to create an objective distance between me and the negativity. I record them coldly, truthfully, without any editing. The writing will never be seen by anyone. It is for me and me alone. The feelings have a safe outlet. It prevents me from saying those things out loud, and later having to apologize
After my illness, journalling took on a greater significance in my self-experiments. While the medical profession is great at taking care of the physical symptoms, they tend to ignore or deny the emotional effects of maladies. After my heart attack I had to relearn how to live: how to walk, how to eat, even how to breathe. My journal became my scientific record of the results of changing the variables. For example, in learning to sleep better, I tried different pillows, different positions, I varied the bedtime routine. I noted what worked and what didn’t (TV before bed did not work to relax me for sleep, reading did). My journal became my confidante as well. In all honesty, no one else really cares about the daily minutiae of your living. But your journal does.
When faced with a dilemma, for me writing down my thoughts is a way of organizing the mental chatter. It clarifies the solution.
I value my dreams. I consider them to be missives from the sub-conscious. While I do not subscribe to symbolic meaning in dreams, they do have a language of their own. I keep a journal at my bedside for whenever such inspiring dreams occur. The act of recording dreams often clarifies their meaning, which are unique for each person. In the same bedside journal I also record contemplative, meditative thoughts. The beauty and wisdom of them is tempting to own, but I know deep down that they are the property of humanity. The reality is that there are no such thing as original thought. It all belong to the universal mind. We think, feel and discover on the shoulders of those who came before. The very process of thought requires language, which is the property of humanity. Journaling helps me to unload the burden of false ownership. Writing it down it releasing the thoughts back into the world where they belong (instead of cluttering up my mind).
For this insight, I am grateful to myself for keeping diaries most of my life.