Our journal writing workshop last evening was yet again a wonderful opportunity to share insights and learn new perspectives. My gratitude goes to workshop participant Elinor who shared a wonderful phrase that somehow landed quite forcefully with me. She said: “Necessity has no emotion.”
The reason why this hit me with such a clunk is because it seems to account for what I have found in my journal beyond the ranting. Once I’ve stripped away the whining voice of my inner critic or the exclamation marks of my ego; when I’ve named and shamed the stuck-on-repeat stories with which I’ve been comforting myself, and once I’ve come to terms with my main vulnerabilities, what’s left is a calm, balanced narrative in which I’m finally able to speak my truth. There are no exclamation marks here. No over-blown claims about my own brilliance. No excuses and convoluted reasons why I won’t/shan’t/can’t. Just calm, logical, plain, straight-forward truth. Well hello.
Inner wisdom and authenticity are the pearls I’m constantly encouraging my workshop participants to pursue. These are the buried treasures that our journals can reveal to us, but from whose scent the decoys and false trails of our inner critic, our stories, excuses and egoist self-justifications often throw us. How easily we become distracted and displaced! But every pearl needs its grit. It would be foolish though to mistake the grit for the final product!
In Elinor’s insight I’m seeing that authenticity is akin to necessity. Our authentic self is who we necessarily are – who we cannot avoid being, no matter how many layers of negativity, self-judgement and self justification we heap on top. And when we hear its voice we find pearlescent peace, quiet and truth.
Our journals bring us face to face with unpalatable truths about our human nature. They give us the space to rant and to get things off our chest – then surely we can move on?
Ranting is the double-edged sword of journaling. It can be cathartic, but it can also amplify those aspects of ourselves which are false and inauthentic. Our rants are often driven by our inner critic, by our ego, by the stories that we’ve made up about others, and by endless excuses and self-justifications about why we’re not just getting on with the things we want to do.
Ranting is often the beginners’ level of journaling. When our journals serve us solely as places to let off steam they can become quite ludicrous, terrifying documents. They can make us feel deeply ashamed. No wonder we would prefer to keep them secret!
Without a safe way of being able to process and interpret what we rant about in our journals the practice of reflective writing becomes unsustainable. The typical reaction is to abandon our journal – set fire to it perhaps – and decry the whole journaling practice as a waste of time that only gets us more wound up.
The more reflective way is to stay with it, accept our need to rant occasionally, accept that the voice in which we express our rant is rarely authentic, and wait and see what shows up next. Ranting can help us access the truth, as long as we’ve got the guts to stick around and reflect on what we’ve written. In this case we invariably find that ranting simply becomes intolerable to read. As one workshop participant told me: “There’s nowhere to hide when you’re writing to yourself.”
So if you’re struggling to get beyond ranting don’t give up. In fact do the opposite – keep ranting. Before too long your inner wisdom will kick in and you’ll find yourself discovering new insights and understanding. This is when the risk pays off.