Journaling is a creative practice. For me, that practice centers on training my mind to observe and interpret the world around me in healthy and truthful ways. By healthy, I mean in ways that cultivate wellbeing for myself and others. By truthful, I mean in ways that imbue my life with self-discovered meaning, purpose, and hope. For those things to happen, there must be a constant interplay between the words I write in my journal and how I work with my observations and interpretations of experience. For journaling to be effective, it should encourage me to interact and experiment with experiences in new ways.

In the traditional arts, a creative practice focuses on a specific medium. In transformative journal writing, creative practice focuses on experience. This is how journal writing becomes an artistic practice. There is no art in journal writing unless it helps you to improve your ability to work with directly felt experience.

Your journal is about creating the conditions necessary to improve the ways in which you work with your everyday experiences. Your journal is not about writing eloquently, nor do you need to make it look pretty. When the physical journal becomes the object of creative practice, then journaling is reduced to a craft. Your purpose in transformative journal writing is to close the gap between what you write and what you do. If you empower your words, the appearance of your journal doesn’t matter.

Words can heal. Words can wound. Write down the word gratitude and, through mindfulness, explore how that word feels as it moves through your body. Write down the word hate and notice a more uncomfortable sensation moving through you even as you write it. Say each word out loud and sense how you feel. Words matter. Words become matter.

Your body reacts to words first. Your mind senses that reaction as thought begins to form. If you are an HSP, all of this is obvious. If you are not, mindfulness will show you the way. The key insight is that the ways in which you use words (or fail to use them) in your journal has a significant influence on your sense of wellbeing. How you carry your words with you in everyday life influences how you observe and interpret your experiences.

Closing the gap between your words and your life involves two skills. The first is the ability to sit, go deep into body and mind, and find the words to describe what is there. Instead of logging events as you might do in a diary, you explore the feelings and perceptions associated with an experience. The second skill is experimentation with experience. Rather than being enslaved by entrenched reactions, you begin to intercept them and experiment with other ways of reacting to the situation. During these moments, you mentally refer to something in your journal to open your awareness.

Another important skill is developing your tolerance for failure. I am unsuccessful at closing the gap between what I write down and what I do far more than I am successful. My failure rate is high, but my mantra is, “Begin again.” This is the heart of the “training” aspect of transformative journal writing. Doing the work is the practice. It’s the only way you will uncover ideas about how to live.

I am suspicious of claims about how expressing your demons is in and of itself beneficial. I will explore this issue in another post, but it is worth mentioning here. Simply putting your thoughts down on paper is, in my experience, of little use. You might feel a temporary feeling of satisfaction for getting something “off your mind,” but that something hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s still festering in you.

We all have inner demons. I have produced thousands of words (well, probably more than that) about my demons. And they seem to like the attention, regardless of my angle of approach. I have described them in detail, exposed them, turned to face them, and tried to work with them. Contrary to popular advice, I do not believe that you can literally write away your demons.

Sometimes the best you can do is to learn to understand and to accept your demons. My approach has evolved from a crusade to rid myself of them to accommodating them. That advice is out there as well, but it took me years of journal writing to find out for myself. And no, I don’t believe you can take short-cuts. The creative practice will take you where it may.

Transformative journal writing is not a heroic practice to become a superhuman version of yourself who can conquer anything. It is, however, the process of becoming more human. Part of becoming more human is about learning to inhabit the parts of ourselves that we would rather not inhabit.

Moreover, closing the gap between words and life demands a healthy dose of pragmatism and realism. My words are transformative when I experiment with them in a real-life context. I still must do the work, not just write about what I want or hope to do. Without a transformative element, my journals are a graveyard of forgotten potential.

Notes

  1. In The Hidden Messages of Water, Dr. Masaru Emoto reveals the inner life of vibration and resonance in nature. He shows us that water can copy, memorize, and transport information. More specifically, water responds to the unique resonance of various words.
  2. In the extended version of What the Bleep Do We Know, Dr. Emoto demonstrated how exposing water crystals to the word thank-you water formed beautiful crystals, while negative words caused the crystalline structure to become malformed. The human body is approximately 70% water. All words are sources of vibration and resonance. If words have the power to alter the crystalline structure of water, then they also have the power to change the nature of our experience.
  3. Marshall McLuhan quipped that “All words are verbs.” He meant that words have the power to influence how we perceive the world around us. Language and thought are interconnected. The words we write matter because they shape how we observe and interpret experience.
  4. Dr. Sherry Reiter, author of Writing Away the Demons: Stories of Creative Coping Through Transformative Writing, states: “It is a creative act of courage to tell the story and write the poem, to encounter one’s griefs, angers, and shame, and to choose a creative channel to intentionally funnel one’s emotions.” The key here for me is the idea of the “creative channel,” which I believe is about closing the gap between the words you write and the way you orient yourself to experience.