“Why is one compelled to write? To set oneself apart, cocooned, rapt in solitude, despite the wants of others. Virginia Woolf had her room. Proust his shuttered windows. Marguerite Duras her muted house. Dylan Thomas his modest shed. All seeking emptiness to imbue with words…The words that will penetrate virgin territory, crack unclaimed combinations, and articulate the infinite.”
– ‘Why I write’ series published by the Wyndham-Campbell lectures at Yale university.
Susan Cain, author of ‘Quiet: The power of introverts’ outlines multiple studies backing the benefits of drawing oneself inward for daily reflection. She calls these restorative niches. Of course these niches differ person to person depending on what lights you up and gives access to the freedom and space your mind craves, but for today we wanted to highlight one in particular – the practice of journaling.
Research now shows that 10 to 15 minutes of handwritten journaling is a sensory experience that actually has a calming effect on the amygdala and the central nervous system. Further studies have also shown that a specific region of the brain most receptive to the growth of grey matter (the good stuff) is actually larger in individuals who are more prone to turning their thoughts inward and reflecting upon actions and decisions.
Motivational teachers are always banging on about discipline, because we really all know the truth: we don’t find time, we make time. The trick is working out what way to best leverage our chosen priorities to best suit our own unique needs and tendencies, whilst still providing maximum benefit.
You may not be a novelist. Or, for you the thought of sitting down and writing may be a subtle form of torture. But why not give it a chance for just one week? Delight in the originality of your mind. Embrace the space where you are free to be completely yourself with no limits or restrictions. Space to get as silly or as serious as you like.
Jacqui Lewis, founder of The Broad Place in Sydney, endorsed a daily scribble time in a recent email newsletter saying, “even if no one is reading it, I can’t recommend writing every day more. Write always, even if it’s 5 minutes waiting for a bus into your phone notes. Even if it’s just after eating lunch. Write. Something happens to your creativity and consciousness when you continually put thoughts on paper, it’s very expensive.”
You don’t have to be writing by candlelight with incense burning to tap into your thoughts and let new insights surface. Some of the biggest a-ha moments may trail through the landscape of your mind when you least expect it. So when you catch these thoughts and ideas, why not jot them down. Through this process, whether your current moment be positive or negative, a curiosity for the circumstance will be useful in shifting you from the victim to the observer, gifting you perspective to see beyond a situation.
As a society we have become addicted to input, consuming passive media almost incessantly. In order to better channel your own productivity, a good rule of thumb for the morning is to ‘create before you consume.’ This is where journaling can be of great advantage. From the moment we wake up in the morning our mind is seeking out and soaking in confirmation for the many pre-held beliefs and tendencies within us, most of which are laden in fear and doubt. These will not change unless we disrupt the pattern that is compromising us and overwrite it with an updated version. It’s easy, and much more appealing, to roll over and reach for our phone before we commit to the tasks of the day that awaits us. However, the effect this consumption can have on our nervous system in the process is considerably powerful. This is because distraction often masks a running from interpersonal conflicts. Perhaps ask what underlying motivations are driving that restlessness in yourself.
A somewhat confronting view, but taking the time to get in touch with your own agenda before you scroll that of another then opens the way for your own creative ideas and solutions to come to the fore. Nicolas Boileau explained this when he mused “what one truly understands clearly articulates itself, and the words to say it come easily.”
Why not give it a try this week and observe how your sense of wellbeing and self compassion shifts…?
Then maybe go write about that too.
Some questions or prompts for your writing practice:
What seeds am I currently sewing internally and externally?
What mindsets, beliefs, comments or events am I recycling or replaying and not letting go of?
Do I hold any self imposed beliefs that contradict my objectives? (for good health / love / success)
What is priority for me right now? (what am I making time for every day)
What and who do I genuinely have an allegiance to?
Bottom image: Agatha Christie behind her desk.