A Quaker women once described the silence in Quaker worship as the time “you were to go inside yourself and greet the light” (in Vecchione, Writing and the Spiritual Life, 2001, p.6). Writing, for me, is a similar moment in time and place to go within myself and, if not greet the light, at least diminish the darkness.
I journalled extensively in my twenties and early thirties; I found writing regularly was an excellent self care practice. It helped me to understand my actions and sense of the world, but also to stabilize myself. Through writing I was able to find the ground of my being, and be able to stand more firmly in the world.
Since the fall, when I began participating in a UU Wellspring group, I have returned to journalling – not consistently but regularly, and I have been reminded of its value for my spirit. The writing is largely stream of consciousness, I begin with whatever is on my mind at the moment I begin to write. I have no agenda to the writing, I am not trying to record my days in detail, or examine myself in any particular way. I follow the writing wherever it goes. While it occasionally leads to an insight or epiphany, I find that it is most valuable in helping me let go of anxiety or worries or concerns about having doing something wrong or not lived up to an expectation. Writing those anxieties out helps me to release them. Writing out an experience gives me distance and perspective, takes it out of my self in a way that talking about it doesn’t necessarily do.
While I don’t write to the divine or use writing as a prayer, I do find that journalling is a spiritual practice. I feel better after an extended period of attentive writing: lighter, refreshed, more content. I don’t always feel like I am “greeting the light”, seeing it clearly, but I feel like I am making room for the divine light within me, clearing out some of the darkness that shadows it. May Sarton, in her memoir Journal of a Solitude, quotes Jung: “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious”. Writing for me is often about paying attention to the dark, making it less scary and more normal, which allows it to fall away. If I have been able to write through a difficult experience and come out to a place of integration, then I will write about who and what I am grateful for in my life, where I find joy and wonder. Writing helps me be more open and present.
In this new era – the COVID-19 pandemic – in which the future seems not just uncertain but dangerous, with infection increasing daily here in Ontario, writing has become a necessary spiritual practice to cope with stress. What is helping you make the darkness conscious?
(this post is an adapted excerpt from a personal essay written for a class in seminary in 2011)