Tag Archives: left brain

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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How to use our journals to get into action this festive season

At 11.11 am on Friday 21 December 2012, the leader of the Druids, King Arthur Pendragon, made his Winter Solstice speech at Stonehenge, a little further south of where I live in Wiltshire, welcoming in a new cosmic era of peace, care and compassion, and calling for an end to suffering and greed.

The end of the world hasn’t come to pass. Personally I didn’t think it would. But, not unlike the Druids’ message, I am choosing to view this media-hyped Winter Solstice as a new opportunity, a time of new intentions, commitments and change.

And my journal is where I am devising the change I want to see in the world. However devising sounds like I’m going through a very deliberate process of planning and manipulating my thoughts and ideas about how I want life to be, then writing down a to do list or project plan of what I must achieve in 2013.

This would not be an accurate description of the process. It would be altogether too premeditated, too forced and analytical, too “left-brain”.

Rather I am allowing myself to write in response to what is happening in the world, and I’m being present to the emotions and feelings that real life events are evoking in me. What I find are ideas about how to do things differently, new creative ways to celebrate Christmas, and a quiet conviction that whatever needs to happen will present itself as the obvious next step. It’s an entirely different feeling from the concerted “I must be the change I want to see in the world” mindset. It’s much gentler, much more in the moment, and much more authentic.

One of the ideas that has most inspired me this festive season is the notion of “living well in your place.” So instead of sending Christmas cards this year I have chosen to hand out small parcels of Quality Street choccies to all my neighbours, complete with a folded note giving our phone number, and a thank you to one and all for being my neighbour. Although we have lived in our 25-home street for twelve years, there are some families that I have never met, and I suddenly wanted desperately to change that.

It was whilst writing about my current perceptions in my journal that this idea came to me. It was a moment of “clunk” when inspiration hits and you feel compelled into action. And it was such a simple idea that I can’t believe it had never before occured to me. My daughter and I walked round in the rain and knocked on everyone’s door, handed out the chocolates and our best wishes for Christmas, and basked in the smiles we received. It was truly heart-warming, and confirmed the spirit of Christmas for me and my little girl.

That’s how our journals can help us get into real, genuine and authentic action. And that’s how we can change the world.

With every good wish for the festive season.

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Why journal writing is good for our brain

Journal writing is a physical act in that it requires we use our fine motor skills to wield a tool that marks the page. It is also a mental and intellectual act in that in order to be intelligible the marks we make must conform to the conventions of the language in which we operate. It is a creative and intuitive act as we give permission to our emotions and imagination to express themselves.

In this sense journal writing is a past-time that immediately and simultaneously engages all those parts of our brain that are responsible for physical coordination, verbal and logical reasoning and emotional response. It is an integrally holistic exercise in itself, firing activity across the whole of our cerebral hemispheres. Add to that the act of reflection, reading what we have written, and we become aware of new insights that our whole brain is  pointing us towards.

It occurs to me as I write that journaling might therefore be a form of dreaming. When we get really absorbed in our journaling session we have little control over what emerges at the end of our pen. Many writers of different genres report a similar experience once they get into the flow of their work, and the content of their writing seems to be directing itself, like our dreams. So it is with reflective writing. Once we let go of the stage directions of our conscious mind, our imaginations really do roam free and what we read invariably surprises us.

So why is this beneficial? In his seminal work on brain function The Master and his Emissary, psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist highlights how a world which is run by too much left-brain thinking  is one which is mechanistic, virtual, fragmented, and with a greater tendency to manifest exploitative practices. This is because our left-brain is more utilitarian, governing rules, language, and logic. Whereas a world which respects human artistic endeavour, and which acknowledges the more emotional and intuitive aspect of humanity, is demonstrating a prevalence for right-brain thinking.

McGilchrist’s point is that overuse of one set of cerebral skills at the expense of the other results in a very lop-sided world. We need to strike a better balance between the characteristics of our mind, including using our brain in a more integrated way, and acknowledging that our physical bodies are also part of the equation. Journal writing is one way of training our brain to fire on all cylinders of its creative and logical potential, and if more people achieved this the world could become a different place.

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7 Astounding benefits of journal writing

You may have guessed by now that I’m quite fanatical about how journal writing can change your life. As well as helping you think clearly, keep track of important ideas and projects, relax and tease out your creative side, journal writing also has a number of other benefits.

Here are some more reasons why I believe journal writing is just PERFECT:

  1. Promotes self-healing
  2. Enables weight-loss
  3. Reveals the deep-seated intelligence of our bodies
  4. Forges greater links between the hemispheres of our brain
  5. Encourages calmer moods
  6. Coaxes out our human joy in playing
  7. Transforms our relationship with time

(See what I did there?)

Over the next few posts I’ll be commenting in more detail on each of these amazing benefits – so be sure to check back soon!

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