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.

 

Brain fog and the perfectionist

Brain fog. Dammit.

I’ve been feeling foggy for the last few weeks. I don’t exactly know what’s happening, but I feel like it may be a combination of a few different things.

I started my summer job in beautiful Ásbyrgi in north-east Iceland about a week ago.

As a park ranger, my work is pretty physically intense, with a lot of hiking, maintenance of the park and all kinds of physical labor.

I love being outside so much and working with my hands, but going from doing basic bodyweight exercises every day to the kind of intensive work I’m doing here has left me pretty physically depleted.

My first day of work was about a week ago, then the next day I flew south to Reykjavík to attend my grandmother’s funeral and then flew back north in the evening.

On top of that, I had been asked to play and sing The Beatles’ Let it be, as per my grandmother’s request.

Everything went well in the end, but it really managed to stress me out. Then straight back to work. Now I have a few days off, and I’m absolutely exhausted. Mentally and physically.

I have a pretty strong inclination to perfectionism, which causes me no end of consternation. That means that when I’m feeling off or out of energy, I usually beat myself up for being “lazy” or “unproductive”.

This is really something that I’ve been conscious of for a long time, and I do my best to be aware of it as it happens, but it still manages to catch me by surprise.

Make no mistake, perfectionism is not a virtue.

I would go so far as to call it poisonous. To someone who doesn’t feel the need to achieve perfection, it may seem like a good trait to have. After all, more energy is certainly spent on “perfecting” projects or whatever you may be doing.

However, what’s not obvious is the inner lambasting and criticism associated with perfectionism.

In fact, I believe perfectionism can’t exist without a strong inner critic. A voice inside, however subtle it may be, that just doesn’t leave you alone, that doesn’t allow you to actually finish anything. That doesn’t allow you to take a break because then you would be “wasting time”.

So that brings me to my predicament today. I’m fogged up in the brain. Misty-minded. Temporarily cognitive disability. All right, maybe not that bad, but still pretty unpleasant.

Unpleasant isn’t even the right word. Confusing is more apt.

20180618_115127
A visual representation of brain fog.

I think everyone knows brain fog to some extent. We feel it when we don’t get enough sleep, when we experience a crash after too much caffeine or sugar, or after watching too much mindless TV. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s no fun either.

Brain fog is certainly not compatible with perfectionism.

I’ve written about the inner critic, or inner judge, on a few occasions before, and I’ve made it no secret that I see nothing positive about it. Inner criticism is never constructive. It may seem like it is, but the negatives outweigh the positives.

Whatever you may accomplish thanks to incessant inner judging is shadowed by the stress and anxiety it produces.

What really helped me turn the tables on the inner judge is twofold. The simple awareness of the fact that judgment is occurring is the first step. Nothing can be done without awareness.

The second step is to remove permission for judgment. The way I do this is by finding the indignant, angry, even offended feeling within me and directing it to the judgment. I literally tell it (mentally) to get the hell out of my mind, you have no right to judge me, or even to just fuck off.

Do not try to argue with the judgment. That only confirms the judge’s permission to, well, judge you. And besides, you can’t win. After all, the inner judge is really another aspect of yourself.

Where attention goes, energy flows.

Much love.

 

 

Are you really self-aware?

The standard narrative has us believe that self-awareness goes hand-in-hand with being human, but how much of the time are we really self-aware?

In the last few weeks, I’ve been working on becoming mindful in every day life. What repeatedly surprises me is how much of my day is completely automatic.

From the way I stumble out of bed in the morning (well, actually I sleep on the floor now, but that’s a story for another day), to the way I get dressed, to the way I brush my teeth in the evening before bed.

All of this has become automated from years of repetition, and that’s well and good, to be honest. It saves me the energy of having to control every muscle in every instant.

But sometimes it becomes harmful. Negative patterns of behavior, like negative thinking, repressing emotions, addiction and compulsion are just as easy to imprint as positive patterns. For example, a mindfulness project of mine these last weeks has been to improve my posture, especially the way I carry my shoulders.

It amazes me how many times in the day I suddenly realize that I’ve tensed up my upper back, pulling my shoulders to my ears or rounding them forward. When I notice, I remind myself that this isn’t a healthy way to sit or stand, and I correct it consciously. Those moments of sudden awareness of my posture are glimpses of true self-awareness. And that implies that the rest of the time, I’m not actually aware, or at least not fully aware.

Mindfulness is the key to correcting any and all harmful behavior and compulsions, but realizing when you’re mindful and when you’re not is the tricky part.

The way I see it, the only time we’re truly self-aware is when we’re completely and utterly here, now. At the mercy of the present.

Thinking is not indicative of self-awareness, unless you’re actually aware of your thoughts as the come and go.

Movement is not indicative of self-awareness, unless you’re actually aware of the sensory input your body is picking up from its surroundings.

Saying ‘My name is Tolli and I live in Iceland’ is a script that I’ve repeated a million times, and thus is not indicative of self-awareness.

Only when I actually am in the process of being Tolli from Iceland, am I truly self-aware. And in those moments of clarity and presence, my name and nationality are meaningless. My past and future is irrelevant.

All I have is now. When I become truly present, I realize that the present moment is all there is.

Memory is fickle. Prediction is unreliable. Now is where it’s at. The past and future are concepts. They aren’t real, and they cannot be experienced.

They feel real when we think of them, but we can only think of them in the present moment. Because that’s where we all are, and that’s where we’ve always been.

So now that we see that here, now is all there is, we can deduce that ‘not being in the now’ actually means thinking of past or future events instead of experiencing what is happening around and within us. B

eing outside of the present moment is literally impossible. Even if by some incredible scientific breakthrough a person manages to travel to a different time period, that will become his or her present moment. But I digress.

My goal in life is to become fully self-aware. I want all my behavior to be fully conscious. Conscious thoughts, words, actions.

Compulsion has no place in the life of a fully conscious human being, nor does addiction or depression. I want to take full responsibility for my entire existence.

Consciously accepting and embracing the good and the bad. Consciously deciding to feel love and gratitude in every moment.

Living a life of kindness and compassion. All this will come with increased self-awareness, as it has for countless others.

Much love to you all, until next time.

Freedom from shame

I’ve been trying to figure out a nagging feeling these last few months.

A feeling that’s been coming and going since I can remember, a sort of low, barely noticeable humming tightness and pressure in my throat and belly.

Through vigorous self examination through writing, meditating and psychedelic trips, I think I’ve finally been able to pinpoint exactly what it is: Shame.

I’ve discovered the this feeling of shame has been influencing me way more than I care to admit. Not the kind of burning-cheeks, watery-eyes kind of shame. More of a constant low level stress or anxiety.

The kind of shame that sits with you, even when you think you’ve accepted yourself.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t know exactly how to handle this kind of shame. I’ve been doing some experiments on myself, to try and see what the answer might be.

An honest life

What’s given me the most relief has been honesty and sincerity. To myself especially, but also to some extent to those around me.

One of my major shamers that I managed to single out from the torrent of self-judging, is the nature of my sexuality. I know I’m not alone in this. It’s no secret that sex is taboo in western culture, even though we simultaneously venerate it through media and advertising.

What’s been causing me shame? Well, I’ve finally decided to admit and accept that I’m not a totally straight dude. What that means, I don’t know. All I do know is that I don’t fit into the labeled frame of heterosexual male.

And I’ve known it for years and years, but somehow I kept repressing it, hoping it would go away.

Accept yourself as you are

Admittance and acceptance are conscious decisions, they are not arbitrary. We have way more control over the way we feel than we realize.

After admitting it to myself I decided to admit it to my girlfriend, and later to my best friend.

Both of them were totally fine with it, which says a lot about the quality of my loved ones. It was a great relief, in fact way more of a relief than I initially expected. The proverbial load-off-my-mind has been very tangible.

Now I still have some way to go before I’m fully shame free, but this has been an important first step to my mind.

I have a lot more digging around to do regarding my sexuality and what I want to do about it, and I can feel that there are other issues that I need to get off my chest, but that will have to wait until I’m fully ready.

Coming to terms with the fluidity of my sexual interests has really intrigued me, especially because of how much it had been weighing down on me without me actually noticing.

It’s like if you’ve been carrying a ten pound backpack on your shoulders for ten years straight, without ever taking it off, you’ll eventually stop noticing that it’s there.

And you won’t be able to imagine the incredible relief you’ll experience when you finally manage to shrug it off.

The magnifying glass

One other thing that I’ve noticed, is that working with shame can actually magnify the feeling before actually being able to release it.

When I started poking around in the recesses of my psyche, looking for the shamer, the feeling of shame started to become pretty strong, way stronger than the low humming from before.

When I finally admitted my shame to myself and accepted it, it felt like something was trying to burst out of my chest. I felt like I just had to tell someone, anyone. And the combination of acceptance and sharing released the tightness in my throat, and the pressure in my abdomen.

I started feeling a wonderful feeling of self-love. I’ve been cultivating self-love for some time and it’s been increasing gradually since I started, but this was like a boost, like an injection of some beautiful loving chemical into my emotional veins.

I understand now that the more shamers I discover and disarm, the more I’ll be able to love myself and others. This will be the main work in my journaling efforts until I release them all.

What can I do?

For those of you that want to experience the wonderful release I’ve been describing, it will take some work. Don’t be discouraged though, every journey starts with the first step.

Make a decision, a decision to write in your journal every single day, however little time you manage to scrape up in the beginning.

Write whatever comes to your mind. At first it will be superficial and facile, but it’s like an onion : The sweetest, juiciest layers are deep within. With time and patience, you will reach the core of your being, and at that point all the work will be repaid with interest.

If you’re up to it, you can throw some psychedelics into the mix. Be careful that you know what you’re doing though. They can be incredibly therapeutic but only when approached with respect.

A human being is a complicated thing, at the same time as it’s a beautifully simple thing. There are many facets, many different things to examine and observe, but at the center there lies a soul, so pristine and perfect that you won’t believe that this wonderful thing was to be found within you all along.

Whatever your past, and whatever happens in the future, you can decide to forgive yourself and others for all wrongdoings, and especially for your wrongbeings. You will eventually find that existence is perfect exactly as it is. We only suffer because we allow ourselves to do so.

I wish you luck on your own shameless journey of self acceptance.

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.