Spiritual practices are activities we engage (usually routinely) in order to intentionally cultivate spiritual growth. These activities run the gamut – worship, prayer, spiritual reading, interceding for neighbors during a walk, drawing mandalas, being in nature to inspire wonder. Our personal writing, or journaling, can also be a spiritual practice.
One form of journaling, commended by many, is that of writing “morning pages.” (Not sure of the true origin of this practice but Julia Cameron [cf., The Artist’s Way] has long been a prominent proponent. )
Morning pages are written for the express purpose of clearing the clutter in one’s mind. This kind of writing is done first thing in the morning, by longhand (a key element), in a stream of consciousness style. The instruction is to write and write and write and write and… No stops. No paragraphs. No concern about spelling or grammar. No concern about where your thoughts are headed. This is a practice to help settle the heart and mind by emptying. A page could go like this:
It was hard to get up this morning but I knew if I didn’t get up the day would just snowball on me – rolling more and more out of control. The presentation is prepared for the team meeting today but it still keeps running in my head. I hope my black slacks are clean because I planned on wearing them today. It will just be good to get to lunch and know that the meeting is behind me. Then I’ll have to get Kevin’s gift during lunch or I’ll be late to the dinner party. No time after work. It will be good to end the day with dear friends. They know I’ve been pressing to get to this presentation. I’ll have to be careful not to make the party MY celebration! I do have to pick up dog food too…
Approaches vary but are generalized here:
- Write as soon as you can in the morning.
- Set an amount of time (20-30 minutes) or a page count as your goal and be diligent. (Allow the writing to trail off to “I don’t have anything left to write…” but keep writing, write even filler words, until the goal is met.)
- Write without regard to structure, handwriting, or a reader.
- Simplicity is encouraged. Write in a spiral notebook or loose-leaf paper. (Some encourage you throw the pages away daily.)
- The effectiveness of the practice grows with continuity. Be dedicated in giving this practice time to bear fruit.
Often, effectively expressing ourselves is all we need to help relieve the emotional stress we are experiencing. Pen and paper can become a tangible release valve. A more significant notebook or journal can be used for other times of writing to process a day, an event, or during a retreat. These pages are generally separate or at least delineated as morning pages.
Morning page practitioners share that their writing helps prepare them to be productive at work, to be more creative, to be better grounded as they begin their day. This kind of mind-emptying journaling helps prior to sitting in prayer, especially for meditation or centering prayer.
Perhaps, morning pages could be an especially fruitful practice as we navigate these days which include a swirl (onslaught) of information (and opinions) on how to best live during a pandemic. We have many decisions to make regarding what is risky behavior and which risks we are willing to take. Even folks who don’t normally experience much anxiety can be experiencing the unfamiliar rumble of stress. Writing about these feelings can diffuse the stress and anxiety.
Many of us have taken advantage of more time at home by organizing and decluttering closets, drawers and garages. Decluttering our thoughts would be a helpful venture, as well. Being present to oneself through the practice of writing morning pages is an act of self-care and self-awareness that will bear fruit in heart, mind and soul.
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