One of the more effective techniques of emotional healing is mindfulness: watching your thoughts and emotions moment to moment, just noticing them and whatever reactions they bring. Actively digging into emotion brings further benefits. A particularly effective way to do both of these is journaling: writing down your thoughts and feelings.
I often recommend that patients purchase Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way. (She’s written at least four books with similar titles; get the original.) Though many people find the entire book to be extremely helpful, I particularly suggest the first chapter, which discusses what she calls Morning Pages.
She is better than I could be at describing what to do and why, but here’s a summary.
The technique is simple. Every morning, write down by hand three pages of whatever comes to your mind. Whatever. Don’t edit what you write. If you react to what you’ve written, write down your reaction. If you like it, don’t like it, whatever, write that down. If you think your thoughts don’t make sense, note that reaction. Whatever happens, keep writing what you’re thinking and feeling without editing.
If you’re like me and prefer typing to writing by hand, that’s great, but don’t do it here. You must hand write this Morning Pages. If you can’t get to it one morning, do it later, but it’s best before noon.
What you get as you write whatever you’re thinking and feeling can of course be anything. Most often, it falls into three categories: bitching, whining, and complaining (feel free to indulge if that’s what’s there); to-do lists; and finding out what is really going on with you at the moment. I find Morning Pages particularly useful if I’m upset but haven’t yet figured out what’s eating me.
It becomes particularly interesting when you momentarily run out of thoughts and have nothing to say. Keep writing, putting down whatever your version is of “nothing.” For example, “Nothing, nothing, I have nothing to say, nada, zero, nothing, oh god is this boring, I have nothing to say, nothing, nothing, ho hum, wee hee …” You get the picture. Being willing to write down “nothing” opens you to whatever thoughts you might have next, and they are apt to be much more interesting than whatever you started off with. I learn more about myself following periods of “nothing” than at any other time.
A word of warning: your Morning Pages journal is intensely personal, full of stuff that just popped into your head but you don’t really mean. Don’t share it with anyone. Some people like to save their journals. I don’t find what I’ve written particularly interesting — so I shred it, except for the occasional inspiration or to-do list. Whatever, just keep it out of prying hands.
The Artist’s Way: 25th Anniversary Editionby Julia Cameron. Publisher: Jeremy P. Tarcher; 10th Annv edition (February 28, 2002). ISBN: 1585421464. (Be sure to get the original Artist’s Way and not the many “Sons of Artist’s Way” books Ms. Cameron has written since.)
It’s hard to describe how much I like this book and why I so often I recommend it to my patients. The author contends that creativity is the most genuine and profound aspect of our humanity. Each of us, in our own way, is an artist, but many of us are too embarrassed to express our creativity unless we could somehow be professional quality. Here is a series of exercises for opening up your creativity and making it work for you. After all, the whole point of creativity is to express yourself for your own satisfaction. If someone else likes your work, that’s okay, but it’s basically irrelevant.
The Artist’s Way is a great way to open up your creativity, but mostly I recommend it for another reason entirely: “Morning Pages.” This is Julia Cameron’s term for a daily journal, covered in the first chapter. She describes with particular clarity how to write down whatever arises in your mind (I call this a “mind dump”). For many people, this is as nearly as powerful a technique of emotional healing as psychotherapy.