I posted a time-lapse on Instagram the other day of me doing my morning pages. And I immediately got a reply from someone: “You write SO much every morning?! What do you write about? I’m glad if I can write a to-do list for me and the kids.” But with that thinking you’re missing the point of morning pages, of journalling the way I do. It’s not about writing something productive.
Yes. That’s right.
Morning pages is not about writing something productive.
Most of the morning pages I write are absolute crap. They either piss and moan about some aspect of my life that sucks (I’m too busy, too tired, I don’t want to work today, I want to go back to bed, or simply: I just don’t want to do these morning pages), or they are about all the things I still have to do, or some emotion I am feeling. I never know what I’ll write about before I start. I just put pen to paper and go.
So why do it? Why do morning pages when what comes out is total crap that’s fit for the garbage?
Warming up and get the rubbish words out
Well, think of it like this: if you are a runner who does marathons professionally. Would you do a marathon without warming up? Of course not, then your muscles are cold and you either injure yourself or set a crap time. Or worse: do both.
So I see morning pages as my warm-up for the day. Sometimes I get so stuck in my thoughts that my creative thinking is blocked and pushed down. It is hidden under the rubble of ‘I am not good enough’ and all types of ‘this sucks’. So I do morning pages. To get it out. To unclog the drain so the good words can come out.
Neil Gaiman said it better:
Assume that you have a million words inside you that are absolute rubbish and you need to get them out before you get to the good ones.
So show up to your morning pages, get some of the rubbish out to get to the good ones.
But that’s not the only thing that makes morning pages magic. For me, I’ve always been a thinker on paper. I think more clearly when I write things out than I do when I think in my head, or even talk things through with a friend.
So if my thoughts decided to come up with something like ‘I am missing out on this experience because my leg is injured and I can’t fully participate’, I get to think about it on paper. Not directed thinking, I just go where my pen takes me. I don’t think. I let it flow.
So in the above example, I kept writing about how much I didn’t like I couldn’t participate. And then suddenly on the paper, it said:
“Hang on a minute. You show up to everything. You’re doing all the sessions, doing all the work. The only thing you can’t do is jump up and down and dance. And even that you’re doing sitting on your bum in a chair. So ARE participating and you ARE showing up.”
So with those 10-20 minutes in the morning, I am able to stop a negative thinking pattern that would have held me hostage. And turned it around.
And sure, not every morning is magic. Sometimes you write pages and you go: Meh.
But the key here is: I show up. YOU showed up. So whatever your day turns out to be after that. You did this one thing that you said you are going to do every day. So you started your day by showing up for yourself. And that is always the right way to start your day.
We form a line. The seven of us are standing in a darkened hallway in our socks. We move at the rhythm our teacher is setting. Sometimes slow, at times fast. And I’m struggling to keep a straight face.
Round and round in circles we go. Up and down the hall, trying to feel our breath as we walk. It feels surreal walking here. I’m trying my best to stick with the assignment and focus on my breathing, but I have to hide my face, so no one sees me giggle.
I’m halfway through my mindfulness course, and I’m still not sure what to think. I love the idea of not feeding my negative thoughts and not giving the stress any power. But I have a hard time surrendering.
All those years, I have trained my mind to be in control. To be strong, to not let anything else win. And yet, I feel weaker than ever. I’m trying to quit my snacking habit and as soon as the impulse comes up to race to the chocolate. My mind has no control over that feeling whatsoever. So why do I insist this is ‘being strong’?
All my life, I heard not to give up and to fight for my dreams. So when things get hard, I work harder and fight to make the things happen even if that means breaking myself.
At least I didn’t give up. Well, that’s the idea at least.
With a few extra years of life experience, I’m beginning to think saying no is stronger. If it’s based on well-considered thoughts and you made a real effort to make it work, it’s okay to give up. To let go of a dream that is making you miserable.
Mindfulness is a hard lesson for me. Because again, it’s not about giving in or giving up. It’s about living in the moment and accepting how that moment is making you feel. Not to pass any judgement on that. And boy, am I good at passing judgement mostly when it comes to myself.
That makes mindfulness also a valuable lesson for me to learn because I am struggling with it so much.
I’m not sure if I’m going to get the hang of it during the lessons I still have left. It feels like something my mind is and isn’t ready for at the same time. And the trick is not to judge yourself about that…
We’re standing in a circle throwing a paper towel ball at each other. Then a second ball gets added, followed by a third. Suppressed giggles from everyone in the group. It looks like I’m not the only one who finds this both ridiculous and fun at the same time.
On the sidelines, our instructor tells us to stop trying to catch the ball and feel our butt, legs and feet. It feels silly, and I’m very aware that I’m putting extra tension on my rear end. All I want to do at that moment is to throw the ball and keep laughing, which is not the point of the exercise.
A couple of weeks ago, I started a mindfulness course. Burnt out, stressed out, out of a job and on the verge of a meltdown, I felt like it was time for a change. I heard so many good things about mindfulness I was ready to try it. Every week I sit cross-legged with strangers on a yoga mat trying to feel my pain. To me, that seems counter-intuitive. Naturally, I asked about it.
Wanting it now
“So what you’re saying is that you already feel the pain all the time, but that you want it resolved, right? You want it to go away?” Our instructor asked me. Yes, I nod, yes, please. “Well”, he shrugs. “You didn’t sign up for a course to solve all your problems.”
I can’t put into words exactly what I felt at that point. Anger, frustration, annoyance, sadness, perhaps all of it at the same time. Why? Because he was right.
What I didn’t get is that mindfulness isn’t about finding a solution. It’s about everything but the solution. “Your mind is like a little child”, he says. “It wants it, and it wants it now. And if it can’t have it, it starts to whine until he either gets it or gets a lollipop until it’s resolved. It wants a distraction, a form of satisfaction, why do you think we’re all overweight?”
While I said I was not trying to distract myself from the pain, I remembered the brownies and ice cream I had earlier. I reminded myself I was heading to the gym later that evening to take my mind off everything. And I remembered the Netflix binge I indulged in. Everything to not be alone with my thoughts. But I shouldn’t be alone with my thoughts; I should be alone with my feelings.
I should be trying to feel the pain and not think about it. Thinking about it only makes it bigger, feeds it. Feeling it doesn’t make it go away, but also doesn’t make it grow. I tried it this morning, and it was uncomfortable. It hurts, and it feels like something is rotting in my chest, pressing against my ribs and wanting to go deeper. I still want to resolve it, fix it and make it go away. But I like the idea of not making it grow.
So if you see me with a blank expression on my face this week, don’t worry, I’m emerging myself in that ball in my chest. Or I’m trying to feel my butt and feet (and trying not to care how ridiculous that sounds.)
I’m lying on my back on a towel. I can feel the grass beneath my feet, the sun on my face and the wind playing with the loose strands of hair. In this moment I am completely happy.
Lately, happiness is something that doesn’t come around that often for me. Being burnt out for me means that happiness is something that’s really hard to experience, and everything around me feels like a big black hole that’s sucking me in deeper. But today was different.
Today’s yoga session was outside. It’s one of those rare occasions where the Netherlands is warm. And I mean really warm. Bright blue sky and blazing sun. We white Dutch people rejoice and at the same time worry about sunburn. So today, my weekly yin yoga class was in someone’s garden overlooking the fields. Up ahead, horses were running around and playing, and all I could hear was the sound of birds and the rusting in the grass.
This is what happiness looks like.