The Ancient Greeks told us to “know thyself.” Sounds nice, doesn’t it? We’d all like to understand ourselves better. The trick is how to go about doing that. Introspection is so important, but it’s not always easy…. Or maybe it can be.
Have you ever noticed that sometimes when you’re overcome by emotion—be it anger, sadness, joy—the words flow out of your mouth a lot easier? Perhaps you’re in an argument with someone, and you can feel the justice and truth of your beliefs take hold of you. Or maybe you’re explaining to your boyfriend/girlfriend why this relationship no longer works for you. Maybe you just climbed a mountain on a beautiful spring day and as you reach the summit you see the world below you in a completely new light.
The common thread here is that sometimes, when just let ourselves rant and turn off that mental editor, that little skeptic, inside our heads, we say things with a clarity and precision that we didn’t even know we possessed.
I know that sometimes when I try to make a hard decision or reach a conclusion about a difficult emotional situation, I just get muddled. Too many options seem right, too many seem wrong, and I just end up in a confused paralysis. It’s hard to concentrate and make a decision. Do you know the feeling?
Well, recently I tried out a technique that helped me cut through all of that. It involves shutting down your mental editor and giving the mind a chance to let its wisdom flood into your life.
Each time I’ve tried it, without fail, I have walked away with a renewed sense of clarity and acceptance of my situation. I’d like to walk you through exactly how this technique works.
Meditation Hasn’t Worked For Me
For different reasons, I’ve struggled with meditation. I understand how beneficial it is for both mind and brain, I see the value in slowing down thoughts and bringing focus to the present moment, I love the idea of generating oneness and compassion for my fellow beings.
I simply haven’t been able to accomplish those things through meditation. Don’t get me wrong—I think it’s an excellent tool for pretty much everyone but me. Almost everyone I’ve spoken to who has committed to a practice of meditation thinks it’s the bee’s knees. It’s something I continue to work on and experiment with. And I’d recommend that you give it a shot too.
But I’ve found the journaling technique I’m about to describe to be incredibly more useful than meditation.
One of my best friends was an English major in college. He passed along a writing technique a professor recommended to him. In that context, it was meant to improve writing. But I found that it also has a tremendous value for introspection. If done properly, it creates a nice, shiny window right into your soul.
My instructions to you: WRITE.
It has to be hand-written. Set aside an hour; or maybe, if there’s a lot to unearth, two. All you have to do is write about yourself, and keep writing. Even if you reach a point after a paragraph where nothing to say immediately comes to mind, just write something. Write jibberish, write nonsense. Soon enough a real thought will congeal. In fact, these momentary lulls in thought are the spaces from which the real wisdom emerges. As you write, don’t go back to change anything, or correct mistakes. No one is going to see this but you. Don’t stress over grammar or spelling. Don’t try to be eloquent, reasoned, or insightful. Don’t try to do anything at all except the task before you. As you keep writing, you’ll find yourself naturally introducing and exploring the topics that are important to you.
“But wait… writing is just writing. How can this be the thing that will bring me wonderful introspective clarity? It’s too easy.”
Timing is Everything
The magic of this technique comes from its ability to quiet the internal chatter. After a few lines, paragraphs, or maybe pages of constant writing, the mind will learn that it has found itself a continuous stream of expression (your pen). Often when we write (or do anything), we go for a little bit, lose some steam, maybe take a quick break, check facebook, go back and read what we wrote, do a little editing.
But in this exercise, every time you break through that barrier of wanting to stop, getting bored, or going back to correct what you said, and just keep writing, you build a stronger and stronger bridge to your subconscious.
The best time to perform this technique is when you find yourself ruminating about a question or problem. “How come all of my personal development efforts haven’t yielded any real changes in my life?” “Ugh, why am I jealous of my best friend’s success?” “Is my partner really right for me?”
When questions like that spring up and you find yourself pondering, THAT is the perfect time to whip out the paper and pen and free yourself with them.
Two final things that will allow this practice to work best: 1) the willingness to be completely honest and open-minded about the answers that will arise, and 2) the willingness to question and keep questioning. This will allow you to delve deeper into the mysteries and mine for answers.
These guidelines create the perfect conditions to let the answers you’re seeking flow right to you.
Why Does it Work?
You may be skeptical. That’s healthy.
The reason this technique is so powerful is because it is a fantastic medium to access the wisdom that’s already inside of you.
Each one of us is a wise soul. The reason we often don’t feel wise is because inner wisdom is of the subtle type. It’s a gentle creature. It doesn’t fight for your attention, it’s not blatant or urgent. But so many things in our world today, and in our own heads, ARE.
So to access our wisdom, we have to get past all the thickets and brambles of distraction, boredom, self-doubt, and inhibition until we find ourselves near a beautiful, humble little stream. And every stream eventually finds the ocean. We are connected to an ocean of wisdom. We just have to clear a path to travel there.
By giving the inner machinations of the mind a constant stream of expression, it becomes easier to see the thread of thought, pick it up, and follow where it leads. This is also why it’s important that the exercise be hand-written. Typing on a computer is so much faster. Sometimes that’s great. Sometimes it’s not.
I find that when I’m typing, I’m often at the end of a sentence before the thought that inspired the sentence could fully ripen and fall to the ground. With hand-writing, the thought that inspires the sentence must be held in mind until you’re able to finish writing it. Then, the thought that follows will have a strong and sometimes very insightful connection to the one that precedes it.
And finally, this laborious process ensures that any new conclusion you do reach is done so completely sincerely, with only your head and heart guiding you. It’s not Mom and Pop’s opinion, the latest trend, or some quick fix. If you have insight this way it will be felt throughout, and integrated with, your entire being. Sometimes this exercise alone is enough to cement a new belief or habit in place. Sometimes I feel like a different person after I’ve finished.
Answers Await You
Next time you find yourself turning over a personal, social, or emotional issue in your mind, I encourage you to let your inner voice be heard with your pen. Give it a shot! What have you got to lose?
Truth and wisdom, like happiness, cannot be forced. When you search for them, they disappear. But when you humbly open your door to them, and create the right setting for them to step forth, and then have patience and faith that they will arrive, they always do.
This journaling technique is the best way I’ve ever experienced to let that natural process take place.
I hope you try it! Please comment below and let us know how it goes! Feel free to ask us questions, we’d love to help. And be sure to share this with any friends or family that you think might benefit from it.