What was the first thing you thought about when you woke up this morning? For me, it was how I could see the early morning light gently pierce the blinds leaving a striped pattern on the blanket as I reached for pen and paper. Yesterday I thought of the Hostas, bent over in the back yard, partially covered by dying leaves, still red and yellow but mostly brown. The day before that I awoke in a panic from a dream about arriving at my zoom board meeting without my notes. While I can’t claim to understand what these first thoughts reveal about me – or my subconscious – I do find them fascinating. Two weeks ago, I doubt I’d have been able to remember these details.
My new-found knowledge is all thanks to a meditative writing technique called Morning Pages. The benefits of keeping a daily journal are well documented, but this idea, founded by author, creative and teacher Julia Cameron in her book, The Artist’s Way, is different. “You must write in the morning, you must fill three sides of paper, and you must do it daily.” It’s an exercise that’s widely acknowledged in writers’ circles and has been adopted by a diverse set of people including filmmakers, entrepreneurs, and psychologists.
Julia describes it as “spiritual windshield wipers,” and a way to “siphon off whatever nebulous worries, jitters, and preoccupations stand between me and my day.” Interested by the idea, and benefits from daily mind-skimming, I took up her challenge in 1995.
The idea is that the writing is done as close to waking up as possible, when you’re still bleary-eyed, foggy-brained, and the caffeine hasn’t swept away the cobwebs. Why? Cameron says, “It’s the cobwebs you want to capture, to clear away the psychic debris standing between us and our day.”
It’s different then gathering your thoughts at the end of the day. Morning gives you more access to your unconscious mind, whereas at night you’re reflecting. In the morning it’s that first stuff in your head - your dreams, an itchy foot, or a sore hip…You just see where it takes you, it’s free flowing.
In Morning Pages, I try to write continuously, without a plan or purpose. The aim is to let the words tumble out and observe them without judgment. And without editing. For this reason, it’s better to write, rather than typing into a phone or a digital device. There’s something so freeing about the fluidity of putting pen to paper. Studies published in the last decade have shown that writing by hand enhances learning — it makes us process and remember information more effectively. It boosts creativity and ideation. I also notice the sound of my scratch marks on the pad. A sort of rhythmic music that accompanies thought.
Sometimes I write about my childhood. Sometimes I write about my parents. “The part of us that creates is childlike,” says Cameron. Often, I write about situations I find worrisome or challenging. Letting go of past pain and succumbing to COVID isolation… It is quite liberating to let go of these thoughts. Cameron says, “Writing Morning Pages is an act of attention. The reward for attention is always healing.” What I sought was healing when I began writing so many years ago.
As time goes on, patterns emerge and I am less worried about what to write. Cameron specifically says not to show your pages to anyone. “Not loved ones, not well-meaning friends.” She says, “Morning Pages lead us to conscious contact with our Creator. The answer is always creativity. Morning Pages make us more honest, first with ourselves, and then with others.”
I have done this many times over the years, quit and started, quit, and started, again and again. It’s fun to read the old Morning Pages and remember where my heart and mind lived during various stages of my writing.
Writing gives me hope for the future. As Cameron says, “It’s very difficult to complain about a situation morning after morning, page after page, without being moved to take constructive action.” What will you write about?
Retired professional writer, Shari Cohen of the Jewish News holds creative writing classes with our residents at Meer Apartments. I’m looking forward to reading whatever they can share with us. This is yet another wonderful way that people spend time purposefully, deep in thought, using remembrance and creativity to craft stories.
This past Monday, I exhaled loudly when I read the triumphant news of Danny Fenster’s release. The joy… the joy…. Where will your joy come from? Write it down and save it to remind yourself of the goodness in our community and in our world.