I've been writing for as long as I have conscious memory. In fact, I think my conscious memory begins when I began writing, around the age of six, when I penned my first story. I began to keep a journal when I was 14, which means I've been journaling for 33 years. In between, I've had nine books published, and now I teach others how to write.
But I can't teach people "why" to write. And I've come to believe that it's when we connect with the "why" that we reap the real benefits of writing.
Here are some of the gifts I've received from my writing practice, which have the added bonus of being good for my health:
1. It slows me down.
I always write by hand in a beautiful journal with a pen I've lovingly chosen. In a digital age where I type faster than I think, the slower process of writing by hand engages the right side of my brain, yielding insights I can't achieve when I go straight to the computer.
2. It makes me reflect.
I began writing to start a conversation inside myself when I had no one to talk to. This inner dialogue has become a silent companion to me in times of catastrophic loneliness. Reflection is a tool of mindfulness and meditation (which we now know are hugely beneficial to our physical, emotional and spiritual health). So both of these practices, which I only came to in my 20s, seemed natural to me.
3. It makes me confront my shadows and my own bullshit.
Part of what makes us feel so fractured and ungrounded in our lives is that we're suppressing shadow energy and distracting ourselves from confronting difficult emotions and memories. Writing is a safe place to confess. We don't feel judged. The page can hold all the darkness we're willing to entrust to it.
4. It helps me to let go.
Holding onto our baggage causes stress, insomnia, depression and internal fracturing. The beautiful paradox of owning our stuff is that as soon as we do, the heart does this wonderful trick, and we're able to let it go. I know I'm ready to surrender when I'm ready to write about something painful.
5. It has helped me become more comfortable holding paradox.
When we write, we're saying, "This is how it is for me …" Sometimes when I write something, I think to myself, "No, that isn't right, I'm overstating it," or "I'm being a real drama queen." Or, "It's not just that, it is also this."
So I go back and I rewrite. I soften into what's true (even if it doesn't make rational sense), rather than blaze a trail on the page for the sake of it. The page doesn't judge me for being irrational, inconsistent or ridiculous.
Being comfortable with paradox helps us to be less rigid, inflexible and judgmental of ourselves and others.
6. It has been a mysterious source of manifestation.
At the end of each year, I reflect on the year that has passed, and write down all I achieved, all that challenged me, all that I wasn't able to get to. Then I write up my dreams for the following year. Looking back on those entries always gives me goose bumps, because of how many of my intentions have manifested.
When we approach life as a process of emergence, of birthing what is ready to come to fruition at the right time, we feel a sense of belonging to our lives, and find it easier to make meaning, both of which boost our happiness.
7. It has helped me understand that I am not my stories — that my story changes — and has helped me become less attached.
Reading back on some of my journals, I see that what I thought and believed 10 years ago is no longer true. As I turn the pages, I watch as I change, like a sky with clouds moving across it. It's freeing to know that we are not one story, one emotion, but a container for all stories and all emotions. Knowing this, I feel less tethered to my own dramas and less self-congratulatory about my successes.