Keeping a journal, seeking the truth

What is it about keeping a journal that makes it so beneficial?

I write or record a journal entry just about every single day. I’ve done it for years. In fact, as a habit it’s become self-perpetuating. I’m not sure I could stop even if I wanted to.

A journal is a lot of things, yet in the end, if you’re doing it right, it can be summarized in one word: truth.

You see, honesty is integral to the process of journaling.

I remember writing my first few journal entries. I was embarrassed. I was sloppy. I didn’t know how to communicate. Not to other people, certainly not to myself.

I would write superficial nothings, as if I were being watched by a room full of people. I wrote as if I were writing on MSN messenger (remember that?). I would even pop in a few smileys, just to make sure of not stepping on my own toes.

For some reason, though, I stuck to it. I kept writing. At first just whenever I remembered to. Soon enough, it became a habit. Now, self communication is integral to my sense of self.

When I think back to the time before I started keeping a journal, it’s hard to believe that I used to be so blocked, so inarticulate, so lost in triviality.

You can’t really love other people until you truly love yourself, and the same is true of communication. If you can’t articulate ideas, feelings, events, or ambitions to yourself, you can be sure that you can’t communicate them to others. As within, so without.

The act of keeping a daily journal is a practice. It’s a practice in communication with self. It’s a practice in finding the core of concepts, ideas, emotions and difficulties. It’s a practice of articulation.

I’ve filled hundreds of pages of soul-searching. Some of them contain inane navel-gazing, but more and more they seem to contain profound insights into what it means to be me. I keep a few full journals in a drawer at home. Others I’ve lost. One I burnt on a beach in South America.

To others, they may seem overly dramatic, even contentious. Maybe they seem pointless. But to me they have immeasurable value and vast meaning. Even if I hardly ever look through old journals, the mere fact that I wrote them, the hours of work behind them, the deep, surgical search for fulfilment, day after day, fill me with a sense of awe.

Truth is the key word when it comes to keeping a journal. You may be able to lie to others, but you always know when you’re lying to yourself. And it hurts all the more.

If you start a journal today, and just write, and you keep it up for a few weeks or months, you will realize how much you’ve been lying to yourself, and you will seek to find truth.

Truth heals. Truth is purely subjective. What you sense to be true is what’s important here.

By no means have I arrived at the end of the path of journaling. In fact, I think I’m just getting started. But it’s a fulfilling path, I can tell you that much. When you realize truth, your relationship to past, present and future changes. The more you manifest truth in your life, the better life will be.

Good luck on your journey.

Much love.

 

Self help or self acceptance?

I’ve become very wary of self help books and articles, especially of the quick-fix variety. In fact, I’ve started to see them as more of a nuisance than a helpful resource, even damaging. The thing with self help, I feel, is that the main premise of the genre is lack or inadequacy.

Obviously, self improvement is generally an admirable endeavor.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t aim to be the best person you have the potential to be. What I am saying is that the vast majority of self help material is primarily devised, not to make you a better person, but to make somebody else a lot of money.

Some of the best-selling self help works are aimed at improving social skills, for example.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with working on social skills per se, but the fact is that not everyone is of a gregarious disposition. Not everyone gets energized by going to a party or partaking in large group activities.

Peoples’ temperaments range between the extremes of introversion and extroversion, and neither quality is better than the other.

However, extroversion has been pedestalized by western society in the last hundred years, especially through American culture. In contrast, the ideal of the brooding philosopher or wise hermit has sort of died off.

Good social skills are invaluable. They are a magnificent tool to improve life and make it in the world, but I think they are highly overrated, at the expense of voluntary solitude.

Solitude is beautiful, and the potential for personal growth through being alone is definitely on par with the potential for growth through enrapturing, profound conversation.

An entire industry has risen around the myth that if you’re not extroverted, there must be something wrong with you and maybe you can fix it by buying this book/program/dvd-series!

That’s really the root of my dissatisfaction with the self help industry, the fact that at the end of the day, it’s all about selling more stuff. And I know there are some gems out there, but most of it is chaff.

In my own life, I’ve started shying away from this kind of material. The way forward for me has been to reconcile the paradox of self improvement versus self acceptance.

How can you be motivated to improve yourself if you already believe you’re good enough? And how can you accept yourself when you work from the assumption that you’re not good enough as you are?

This is a tough question, and it’s taken me a long time to figure out what can be done.

If you can’t accept yourself as you are right this moment, you can be sure of depression and anxiety. And if you narcissistically decide that you’re already perfect, you stagnate or you may even have a negative influence on those around you and ultimately make your situation worse.

As in so many things in life, a balance needs to be struck. A bargain of sorts. Self acceptance to the degree that self love is possible, without falling into narcissism.

You see, accepting yourself as you are is not the same as thinking you’re perfect. That’s narcissism, and that’s not a good path to take.

Accepting yourself means accepting your flaws and weaknesses, as well as your strengths. Ironically, true self improvement can only begin after accepting the flaws you seek to improve.

Even though both concepts are valuable, the fact is that self acceptance is the base or pillar on which self improvement necessarily rests.

Once I realized this, I instantly started to feel better about myself, because I started focusing on knowing myself, in order that I could finally come to accept myself.

In closing, my last beef with traditional self help is this: You should decide what needs improvement! Not everyone wants to or even needs to improve in the same way. Stop giving other people, companies or institutions permission to tell you what’s wrong.

Through introspection and contemplation, you can figure out what you really need. It may surprise you.

What’s helped me most of all are two things: Keeping a journal, and meditating. Maybe “helped” isn’t really sufficient. Transformed is better, more accurate. These habits, over many years, have transformed me to the point that I hardly recognize myself, and my perceptions of the world around me are totally different.

True investigation of the relationship between self and other is a rabbit hole so deep that you will never find your way back out. It’s the ultimate adventure. I hope to see you down there.

As always, much love.

3 Wonderful benefits of journaling

I just finished a journal. I mean, the pages in my physical notebook are full. Full of my handwriting. Full of my deepest secrets and insecurities, and full of my most profound insights and aspirations.

In celebration of that fact, I want to delve even deeper into the magnificent art of pouring your heart out onto sheets of processed wood chips.

I guess the most obvious question to ask when starting any habit would be why should I?
And that’s perfectly valid. You should have at least some idea of what you want to get out of something before you put in precious time and energy.

However, I want to try my very best to convince you that keeping a journal is definitely worth the effort.

The benefits of keeping a journal are too numerous to count, but a few have become exceedingly obvious (and welcome!) in my own life. Here are my top three:

Increased emotional intelligence

My understanding of my own feelings and emotions has improved so drastically in the past few years that I can hardly believe it. I’m sure many factors have had roles to play, but journaling stands out to me.

I feel like keeping a journal has given me a chance to really get to know my thought patterns. And following my thought patterns, analyzing them and breaking them apart has allowed me to gain great understanding of what drives me, what scares me, even what horrifies me.

I keep hitting new walls in my own self-inquiry, even if I feel like I’ve finally got it all figured out. These new walls can sometimes be circumnavigated, sometimes I can jump over them quickly, but some walls need to be broken down, brick by emotional brick.

Using a journal to lay out my fears and expectations in a clear way has enabled me to end toxic relationships, push myself out of my comfort zone and travel to distant countries. It’s even helped me to discover my own negative thought patterns, and subsequently to break them with affirmations.

Writing in a journal is like polishing a mirror. The more you polish, the clearer your reflection, and the better you will be able to know who you are and why you’re here.

Which brings me to point number two.

Clearing the path

Journaling has been a way for me to discover what it is that I truly want out of this life, this existence on planet earth. Not to say that I’ve got my life all figured out, but I’m way closer than I was before I started keeping a journal.

Before I started serious self-inquiry and meditation, my negative beliefs and thought patterns were like tangled branches in a forest, blocking my view of the stars.

They drastically limited my possibilities for happiness and fulfillment, and my trusty journal has helped me to sneak some pretty profound peaks through the foliage. In some cases I’ve even been able to remove them completely.

A clear path, and a strong sense of direction in life, have been some of the most powerful benefits from my daily writing habit. Never before have I been so driven to accomplish anything in my life.

Every day, my sense of purpose becomes stronger and more tangible. I want to serve. I want to provide others with value, the same value that I’ve discovered for myself through my own hard work. I want to be free. I want to be happy.

It seems simple when I put it like that, but it took a long time to realize these truths deep in the core of my being.

And that’s the essence of my last point:

Profound inner change

If you take home anything from this article, let it be this: deep personal transformation is possible through hard work.

If I were to meet a five years younger version of myself today, I would not like that guy. There was just so much not to like!

But through difficult emotional work and hours of frantic writing, I’ve transformed myself into someone I not only like, but LOVE unconditionally. And I know that anyone can do it, with the right mindset and the right tools.

I broke a terrible addiction to video-games, healed my crippling need for external validation, and cleared out the mental cobwebs preventing me from functioning as a healthy human being.

So many things have changed and improved. And every day they get even better. All thanks to journaling, in large part.

When you’ve managed to remove all the unnecessary stress, all the limiting beliefs and negative thoughts, everything becomes clear. Awareness expands. Consciousness manifests where none was to be found.

The proof is in the pudding. You will never know the wonders and sheer bliss of journaling without trying it for yourself. I really hope you will.

The real challenge is to just start. Just find a piece of paper if you don’t have a notebook at hand, and a pen, and start writing. Anything! Flow of consciousness. Write what comes up into your mind. If you can’t think of anything to write about, write “I can’t think of anything to write about”.

You just need to get the habit started. Like a snowball rolling down a mountainside, gaining momentum and speed as it goes along. Keep it short and sweet at first, just a few lines if you don’t feel like writing at all.

I promise you, if you stick with it, you will be richly rewarded.

Much love.

 

 

 

 

Keeping a journal – The ultimate tool for self-inquiry

Along with cultivating a habit of daily meditation, keeping a journal is one of the two pillars of my journey self-actualization.

In some ways, journal is just a fancy word for diary, but in other ways it means so much more. I see a diary as a more superficial version of a true journal. A diary is a place where you write what you did today, where you went, interesting events and so on. A journal goes deeper.

A journal is a place where you go into the meaning of your life. Your aspirations, fears and your wildest dreams. It’s a tool for working with emotions and insecurities. And above all, it’s a tool for inquiring into the nature of your being.

I’ve kept a journal for the past five years. As with most of my life transforming habits, I started out unsteadily. I didn’t write every day, and I didn’t dive deep. It wasn’t until I started writing daily, and from the soul, that the true potential of journaling revealed itself to me.

Your journal should be your best friend. A friend with whom you will share anything and everything. I now write things in my journal that I wouldn’t even share with my girlfriend or my actual best friend. I write things that are exceedingly difficult to think about or even acknowledge.

I write about my sexuality, about my dreams, about my past. I endlessly go over the possibilities in every given situation. I console myself when I feel bad. I pump myself up when I need to go do something.

A journal is like a mirror, and the more you write, the more you polish that mirror. You see your reflection clearer and clearer. I’ve polished a decent amount of grime from my mirror, but I still have a way to go. I want to go deeper every day. And every day I write, is a day that I get closer to acceptance and understanding.

I’ve also been able to blow away the chaff, so to speak, regarding my aspirations in life. All too often, we think we want something in our lives, but really we’re doing what we think we ought to do, or wanting what we think people should want.

In my own life, most often that means wanting something that’s acceptable to society, or my parents or even my friends. I decided long ago that I wanted to break free from cultural restraints and to live honestly and in sync with my true wants and needs as a person. And my journal has been indispensable for finding out what I truly want in life.

A more down to earth reason for starting a journaling habit is that you’re effectively practicing communication.

I’ve improved my speech and writing by leaps and bounds by sticking to my journal. My mind is more organized. I can formulate thoughts way faster than before. Words come to me when I need them. Not always, but way more than before.

Communication is the cornerstone of fulfilling relationships. My communication is in no way perfect, but the more I’m able to be honest and reliable to myself through my journal, the more I’m able to cultivate those qualities in my relationships with others.

In the end, what I want from all this is the capacity to synchronize my thoughts, words and actions. I’m not there yet, not fully, but I know I’m on the right path.

So where to start? For the first thing, find something to write on! I recommend getting a nice notebook, not one of those cheap ugly ones with terrible paper, but a proper little book. Something that inspires you to treat it with respect.

In my years of keeping journals, I’ve used pen and paper, an app called Journey (which is great), and I’ve also recorded some entries on my phone. All of these work, although I keep coming back to the physical pen and paper approach. It feels more stable and secure I guess, but to each his own.

As with building habits in general, the most important thing is consistency. Even if you only write three lines a day, you’re making progress. Doing a little every day is always better than doing a lot every now and then.

A habit creates momentum. Momentum will keep you writing even when you don’t feel like it.

Our habits can make us irrelevant, or they can make us invincible. It’s our own choice, all things considered. Sometimes life gives us a cold splash of water in the face, or sand in our eyes, but it will be our habits that help us through the tough times and journaling will give you a new perspective and a way to internalize the lessons that existence is trying to teach.

Your life is your own. Do with it what you see fit. But first, you need to see clearly. Make your journal a priority.

Check out my post on the incredible benefits of meditation, or the awesome power of psychedelics. Or maybe you’re interested in the right way to use affirmations.

Journaling is bliss

Being able to express yourself effectively is one of the most important aspects of relating to someone on a deep level. Words can change reality. In fact, some would say that words ARE reality. When I started my first journal years ago, I was verbally stunted.

And although I didn‘t know it at the time, my lack of verbal skills was stunting my emotional intelligence. At the beginning what I was writing was little more than a shallow diary type deal.

I was afraid someone would read it and discover something embarrassing about me, so I wrote as if it were out in the open for everyone to see. Which didn’t amount to more than “today I went to school and so-and-so said this to him and I told him to fuck off” and so on.

Sometimes I would even put in a little emoticon “:)” or something. As if I were writing a post on Facebook or MSN messenger.

Digging through an emotional past

Here’s th

e thing. Journaling is deeply personal. It can become a way for you to dig around in the darkest recesses of your psyche. My journaling habit has evolved so much over the last five years or so, and I’m incredibly grateful to my younger self for sticking with it.

It’s gone from being a shallow, facile skimming of my most superficial thoughts to being a daily reaffirming of my life’s purpose, organizing of my thought processes and a working through difficult emotions.

I used to only journal when I felt like it, but now I never miss a day. I’ve journaled every single day for almost a year, and I’ll never stop. It’s been life changing, and the benefits are still piling up.

I don’t have much experience writing or speaking publicly, but my years of journaling for myself have given me an easy flow with words, in conversation or in writing. I write in my native Icelandic but my general capacity for language has improved drastically, so even my English flows more naturally.

And these benefits keep getting more powerful exponentially. I feel like this last year my speech is getting more eloquent than ever before.

Repression

I remember a period of a few weeks during my travels in Central and South America three years ago, where I decided to really delve into childhood trauma. I wanted to see if difficulties in childhood were still affecting me as a grown man.

My clearest memory from that time is of myself, sitting on a stone bench under some palm trees on a quiet beach in Montezuma, Costa Rica. I just sat there with my little notebook on the table, crying uncontrollably.

I had just uncovered a traumatic memory of my 9 year old self, around Christmas. We were sitting at the dinner table, my sister, my mother, her then-boyfriend and his son, and myself. I had a stabbing pain in my neck, as if I had sprained it somehow.

After whining and generally expressing my pain for maybe ten minutes, my mother had had enough. She dragged me into the bedroom and looked at me with cold resentment in her eyes. Her eyes are what I remember most vividly.

She then proceeded to yank my head this way and that, yelling at me to stop crying. What she was trying to accomplish I have no idea. But I remember the shame, the sheer terror when we came out of the bedroom and sat back down at the table.

They all heard what had been happening, but nobody said a word. I quietly finished my food and went to my room.

Now when I actually allowed this memory to surface, and actively put myself in my nine year old self’s shoes and felt what he had been feeling, I experienced utter catharsis. It was like this repressed ineffable feeling had been weighing down on me for so long, and I had finally pushed it off.

Just the beginning

Then years later I read a book called CPTSD: From Surviving to Thriving by Pete Walker and it all finally made sense. CPTSD stands for Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, implying a web of traumatic incidents.

If you suspect childhood trauma may be affecting your emotional well-being as an adult, I highly recommend it. It cleared up quite a few misconceptions I had about my upbringing. But I digress.

Since then I’ve managed to work through loads upon loads of difficult memories, feelings and doubts, and I’m not close to being done yet.

This is just one example of the awesome power of keeping a journal. My final advice is to keep it honest. You will gain nothing from lying to yourself. Admit your deepest fears and longings, open up to yourself. That’s the first step to opening yourself up to the universe.

And then you’ll be on the path to true emotional fulfillment.