Not too long ago, immediately prior to the pandemic, I started to lose interest in journal writing. It was an unwelcome but persistent feeling. My body, it seemed, would not relax in it as it used to. I have kept journals and notebooks for three decades. After all these years, I began questioning the value of keeping journals. I disposed of some of my journals (which I regret now). While the minimalist feeling of moving lightly through life appeals to me, it can sometimes lead to poor decisions. All that I have left today is 24 journals and notebooks.

I stopped writing in my journals for a while. That didn’t feel right either. Something was missing but thinking about it didn’t help. Sometimes it’s best to let the body work things and give the mind a rest. I started browsing through previous journals. Three insights gradually emerged. I was initially surprised at how much of my journal writing I had little or no recollection of. The second thing I noticed was repetition. Many entries cycled around the same things indicating that writing about them wasn’t helpful in resolving them. Finally, I noticed numerous abandoned ideas entombed on paper. Many useful insights were abandoned for no apparent reason. Each journal, it seemed, was a tombstone, and the shelf I store them on a graveyard of abandoned potential.

All that writing, I thought. And for what?

There is benefit in the simple act of writing in a journal. At the very least, it affords an opportunity to relax and explore the various feelings, emotions, moods, situations, circumstances, and events of your life. A journal is far more than a diary. It is a contemplative and meditative experience that is good for the mind. I believe that journal writing is a stabilizing force in a volatile world. That is an end unto itself. There is no requirement to expect more from it. I always felt better after writing in my journal.

“I’m a man and I can change, if I have to, I guess.”

Red Green

I’m an HSP (a highly sensitive person). Highly sensitive people have significant empathic ability; they are not a bunch of emotional mush balls. Highly sensitive does not mean highly susceptible. An HSP will feel the energy of their experience far more than people who are not highly sensitive.  It’s an innate quality of embodiment. Since an empath perceives and feels more sensory input it can be challenging for them to process it. For an HSP, the body is always well ahead of the mind. Their sensory life and perceptual acuity are dominant forces in the way they experience and interpret the world around them. People who are not highly sensitive cannot fully understand or appreciate the life of an HSP.

Being a male and an HSP is not a ideal combination in society. The baggage men are required to carry is heavy, superficial, and hopelessly misguided. It’s no wonder so many men hide attempt to comfort themselves with make work projects and spend hours as armchair sports enthusiasts. They are not expected to be in touch with their feelings let alone talk about them. Of course, that is a blatant generalization. Not all men are like this, More, I believe, are growing out of it.

Journal writing is an excellent medium for a male HSP to explore their reactions. My journal writing focuses on the creative exploration of moods, feelings, reactions, hardships, and situations. This is, perhaps, not something men would be expected to do. Journal writing, for a man, whether HSP or not, is a powerful to get past culturally deficient ideas of what being a man means. Just because you’re a man, doesn’t mean you have to grunt.

Journal writing is not a panacea for personal growth, but it’s a fundamental part of it. There is no one thing you can do to suddenly become a better human being. Personal growth is a complex multi-layered process involving a constant interplay between your inner life and the outer world. It is remarkably easy to write an intention, feel energized by it, and then completely forget about it. Writing it down and inhabiting it are two different things. And this is the realization that, ever so gradually, revealed itself to me with respect to my own journal writing.

I’m not a fan of the term “transformative journal writing” but there is a movement behind it. And there is benefit if you keep your feet on the ground and avoid the new age nonsense. For me, transformative writing means that in some meaningful and enduring way the words I write in my journal move out into the world to become lived experience. That does not mean that what I write happens in a literal sense. The secret of The Secret is that it doesn’t exist. Transformative writing means that my writing somehow becomes embodied and is present in my thoughts, feelings, and reactions in everyday life.

None of this is to say that what I write is what will magically manifest itself. Merely writing positive thoughts doesn’t mean my experiences will be positive.

So, what’s the transformative part?

Transformative writing is a training ground. It means that I use the words I write in my journal to train my mind to perceive and interpret the world around in a different way. I “inhabit” the words by training myself to bring them to the forefront in everyday life. Transformative writing is self-directed learning in which your own words influence your actions, reactions, and behaviors.

The idea of training the mind to observe and interpret personal experience in healthier ways is, for me, the essence of transformative writing.

The mind, however, is just a badly-behaved student. The body and the feeling of being alive is the mentor. Experience is the space in which you inhabit your words. The result is a kind of conversation between the words in your journal and the ways in which we choose to interpret and react to situations, circumstances, and events of everyday life.

Notes

  1. In What is Transformative Writing, Jackie Moloney makes a crucial distinction, “Writing is physical. It engages the body’s systems and senses in ways that would not be accessed by just thinking or observing, or in the oral telling of a story. It allows shapes to be made. Patterns and associations. It has the power to turn something remembered or even just noticed in passing into beauty, into art.” She refers to the “felt sense” of the body, which is the medium of transformation. Transformative writing originates in the body, not the mind.
  2. In What is Transformative Journaling, Catharine Bramkamp says, “The transformative part comes when you start expressing what you want to happen. This is the key. There is benefit to bitching, there are more benefits to moving your brain and your consciousness to a more positive place.” She advises to write down any complaints we may have, but then to write a positive intention. She recommends using visualization techniques to “train your subconscious” and embody the intention.
  3. The idea of “Manifestation Journaling” is more mysterious to me. While setting and practicing positive intentions matters, the notion that you can “consciously and consistently write down your intentions, change your mindset, and manifest the life you want” needs clarification. I do not believe that we can literally manifest the life we want and believing that we can cause significant psychological damage. However, if we mean that we can manifest better interpretations and more positive reactions to our experiences in life, then the idea of “manifesting the life you want” makes sense.
  4. Manifestation Journaling: A Complete Guide (+Prompts) offers an academic perspective and more mechanical perspective. This style of journal writing seems like a hybrid between productivity and journaling, or productivity journaling.  SMART goals are used to track manifestations. There is benefit here, but the process, for me, feels rigid.
  5. I made a slight-of-hand reference to “The Secret.” I should clarify. I believe it’s complete nonsense of the highest order. Sometimes, someone else writes it better than you can hope to. In “The Staggering Bullshit of ‘The Secret,'” Mark Manson says it best: “While this sort of ‘delusionally positive’ thinking may make one feel better in some (or even many) situations, as a long-term life strategy it is utterly disastrous.”