Tag Archives: intuition

Are you an expressive or reflective journal writer?

It’s interesting to pay attention to our thinking around our journal writing practice.

As you approach your journal, do you know what you’re going to write about? Are you recording bits and pieces from your day, a snippet of conversation, a joke you heard, an interesting person you met who made you think?

Or do you dive in and just allow your pen to move across the page, without any premeditated direction or intentional end point?

It’s delicious to spend time writing and finish up somewhere unexpected, or simply in a place of deep satisfaction. I suspect this is more achievable when we do no more than express our thoughts as opposed to reflect on them.

But the distinction between expression and reflection is subtle. And it all starts with how aware we are of our thought process – and how quickly we are moved to interpret our thinking.

I recently realised that much of my journal writing was governed by my need to understand and rationalise what occurs in my experience. As a result much of what I wrote was already heavily censored before it reached the page. Of course I am very adept at tricking myself that what I am writing is authentic expression – but so much has already happened in my cognition before the pen makes its mark.

So I tried a different approach. Instead of sub-consciously crafting my words ahead of sitting down with my journal I decided to face up to what I was really thinking about, and write that down instead.

The results have been remarkable.

Firstly I can see that much of what I think about is pretty trivial. This is very humbling – and means that I can relax a bit out of my self-imposed intellectualisations. I’m just human after all – who knew?

Secondly I noticed an intense period of dreaming. As if my sub-conscious mind had been unleashed, and was determined to show me its wisdom. What was interesting was also that using my journal to record my dreams was good practice in just expressing the thoughts that were in my head, without analysis and reflection. When I found myself writing about a gentleman trying to teach a red setter to play golf I knew that I was beginning to permit myself to write anything without interpreting it first!

Thirdly I’ve noticed an increased facility with the language I’m using to describe my thoughts and experiences. This is great news for a writer! The words seem to be coming from a different place – an embodied place rather than an intellectual place. I love this particularly because I’m fascinated and encouraged by the physical, intuitive intelligence of my body. And now it’s helping me improve my vocabulary – awesome!

So what do you need to do to become more expressive in your journal? Free-writing, dream-recording and simply paying attention to the actual thoughts that occupy us are useful first steps.

Go play – and let me know how you get on!

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Me and my shadow… Journaling to illuminate ‘Self’ and ‘Other’

The winner of Britain’s Got Talent 2013 was Hungarian shadow-dance troupe Attraction. They presented three tableaux over the course of the competition which told compelling stories (although the final one was just a touch sycophantic), sending the audience on an emotional inner journey, and clearly appealing to our human fascination with the illusion of shadow.

One of the things I always notice is my shadow. Right back since childhood. Although I no longer try and beat my shadow, or pin it down, I do still appreciate its shape and attitude. Studying Virgil’s Aeneid  for O level Latin I remember learning about Aeneas’ encounter with the insubstantial shades in the Underworld, the shadowy, lost figures of the Dead. But these days I prefer to think of my shadow as evidence of my body, my physicality, substantial and very much alive.

Shadow

It’s good having a body. Not only does it allow us to cast a shadow, it also allows us to play sport, dance, sing, make love, walk out in nature. Sometimes it goes wrong and it gets old, but generally, as long as we look after it and pay attention to it it’s a great source of solace and inspiration too.

Our bodies are vessels of physical intelligence, intuition and deep-seated wisdom, or, to coin a word from Marion Milner, sagacity. And, if we learn to recognise our body as part of ourselves, rather than simply as a vehicle to carry our head around, we can discover much from being in it.

A few weeks ago at the Swindon Festival Of Literature I heard Resurgence editor Satish Kumar define spirituality (from Latin spirare to breathe) as relationship, a particular connection that we share through the act of breathing the same air. And I find that we create relationship with our shadow-casting bodies  through precisely that – breathing; breathing into our physical presence, creating a tingling feeling from the tips of our toes to the top of our head. Milner is particularly struck by the sensation of her skin burgeoning right to the ends of her finger nails as she focuses her attention and her breath on the weight of her body.

This sets the scene for deeper forms of inquiry. Once we’ve been reminded about our physical self by the appearance of our shadow, and we’ve reconnected with our body through the simple, intentional act of breathing, we can then begin to notice what memories we have stored, and what these tell us about who we are.

How we view our relationship with our own physicality is an important aspect of the exploration of self and other that our journaling practice makes possible. It’s a vital starting point.  Whether we think of ourselves as our bodies, or our bodies as part of ourselves, or even as completely separate from who we think ourselves to be, when we dare to go further than our self-righteous, self-pitying rants, we find great stillness in our body. I also know from experience that what my body has to tell me is always valuable, whenever I make space to hear the particular message coming from my back, neck or jaw.

Like Aeneas we might see our physical shadow as our insubstantial ‘other’. But it is an echo of  our substance and can point the way back to the ‘other’ within us.

Otherness is always part of us. The unknown, unconscious functions of our body that enable us to perceive our environment; the mysterious, though entirely rational, rhythm of life which pulses through us day and night; the ability we have to engage in an activity and be aware that we are engaged in it; the ease with which we recognise the “me” and the “not-me-guv” in our physical experience.

Our inquiries go deeper when we develop the capacity to view ourselves objectively. We need to become ‘other’, to get out of our own way and step aside from ourselves in order to look in. We can imagine another self, stepping out of and away from our body to look back whence it came. As we do this we are automatically expanding our imagination, our inner space, which, once expanded, won’t shrink back. We have now become simultaneously the observer and the observed.

Meanwhile the functions of the body continue, and maybe they benefit from increased inner space. Inner reflection and expressive writing in our journals have a proven  feedback loop of health benefits. The space within expands, our awareness increases and from a more objective standpoint our unknown, unconscious and mysterious functions get to choose which of our narrative serves us, and which needs to be jettisoned.

So next time you see your shadow, appreciate its magic and use it as a prompt to expand your inner space. As you look back to your Self from the perspective of your inner Other, what do you notice?

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Filed under Reflective Writing Practice, Self-Awareness

Journaling insights #1

Last night I hosted the first session of a brand new journal writing course here in Swindon, UK. It was a great evening and I’m already thrilled and honoured to be working with a very energetic and engaged group of writers.

As usual insights started popping not very long after we began working on the exercises I’d prepared. With the right intention journal writing never fails to take us places very quickly and directly, and there were a number of a-has, enthusiastic nods and knowing eye-rolls as realisations began to occur. One participant even broke off part way through their writing and beamed “I love this!” There you go – I love it too.

And one of the most intriguing insights for me came during our discussion of left-brain/right-brain approaches.

Check out a famous demo here.

Typically our left-brain is very logical and rules-oriented, enabling us to express ourselves in coherent, intelligible language, and understand strucutured arguments. Yet it can also be a bit of a control freak, ‘bullying’ our more elusive qualities of intuition, imagination and emotion into submission.

Our modern western culture is in itself a product of left-brain dominance, and has moulded us in the main in its own image (for more on this read Iain McGilchrist’s fabulous book The Master and its Emissary), which often means that it can take a bit of an effort to coax our right-brain attributes out to play.

To tackle this right-brain elusiveness, writing tutors often give their students an exercise to distract their logical mind and allow the imagination to flow. This might be a timed exercise with a question to answer, or an acrostic poem, or a phrase to complete. In journal writing these are known as prompts, springboards or kick-off phrases, and they usually work like a dream to get people writing.

Except sometimes they don’t. Perhaps if you are a creative and intuitive person, or a poet, or someone for whom right-brain sensibilities are already to the fore, then maybe the tricks to distract the left-brain back-fire. Instead of distracting the logical mind such tricks might arouse it and cause it to thrash about trying to make itself useful, or drawing attention to itself like a petulant, over-stimulated child.

Perhaps. But this brings me back to a key point about each of us developing our individual reflective writing practice. There are no rules, there is no right way or wrong way. Any type of prompt, inquiry or kick-off phrase might work beautifully, or it might crash and burn. The important thing is to be aware of what doesn’t work for you – and find something that does. Maybe adopting a different perspective, or using metaphor, or writing in the third person, or using a different voice. Or something else entirely.

Journal writing is a good prescription, but it never is prescriptive. Give it a go a see what works for you.

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Filed under Journal Writing, Reflective Writing Practice, Self-Awareness, Uncategorized

A writer’s intuition

My favourite news story of the past five days has surely been that of the confirmation through DNA testing that the remains unearthed in a Leicester carpark are indeed those of Richard III.

This story appeals to my fascination with archaeology and tangible clues about our history. I get the shivers imagining that the skull and the bones discovered once carried the almost mythical character of one of our most famous kings.

But the aspect of the story I have most enjoyed has been that of Philippa Langley, secretary of the Scottish branch of the Richard III Society and the woman whose knowledge of the last Plantagenet brought her to the site of King Richard’s final resting place. It was however her intuition, as she stood in the carpark, which compelled her to organise the dig. She describes getting goosebumps and chills on a boiling hot day, and even asserts that the former monarch was somehow calling to her.

As a result, the archaeological dig that was scheduled to last weeks made its discovery in days. And Philippa, who is writing a screenplay about the “real” Richard III, having read a gripping biography of him, finally got to meet her king.

To me this is testament to the power of words, read and written, to heighten our intuitive attributes, and, what’s more, give us the courage to act on them. Three cheers for the king. Three cheers for the intuitive hit that has restored him to us.

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How journal writing reveals the intelligence of our bodies

I love how we use very physical language to describe our intuition. We get a gut-feeling, a hunch, or we feel something in our bones, or in our water. Our body often provides us with clues about the truth of a situation, and it serves us to heed the messages that come from our intuitive, physical intelligence.

Our physical experience is a rich seam to mine in our journals, and getting curious about how certain situations are making our body feel can often yield surprising results.

Not only that, but by actively engaging our physical experience in a dialogue, in what I call ‘holistic communion’, we can often dig beneath the surface of our circumstances and gain real insight into what’s going on for us.

A few years ago I embarked on a business relationship which proved to be a massive headache in the long run. I should have known that my future wouldn’t be too bright with the business in question because during our very first meeting I had such a blinding headache that I had to ask my colleagues if they had any pain killers on them! I recall at the time that I’d just returned from a 740 mile round trip delivering personal development workshops at the other end of the country, so I really should have been taking things easy and not jumping head long into another business idea. If only I’d taken the time to write in my journal about the experience, and ask my headache what it was trying to tell me, I’m sure the message would have been “don’t dive in head first when you don’t know how deep it is”.

Pay attention in your journal to what your body is experiencing and discover a whole new set of resources to guide you.

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Filed under Journal Writing, Self-Awareness