There’s this practice I started back when I was 18 years old, alone in my room in a house filled with students, and in the midst of a deep state of depression. To distract my mind from its all-consuming dark thoughts, I walked over to my desk and gazed over a stack of books that lay atop it, picking one at random that I had yet to read.
I took it over to my bed and opened the first page, telling myself over and over, “Just read so you don’t think. Just read so you can get out of your own head.”
I remember that day so vividly because it was a starting point for me. Having just begun therapy at that age, I had yet to create any tools for myself in order to cope with my mental health struggles. However, this night was the beginning of a shift, one where I learned of a method that I still use to this day.
The book I read that night and couldn’t put down was, “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg. Looking back now, this was the beginning of my journey towards mindfulness practices, creating tools that would help declutter my thoughts, and coming back to the written word yet again.
The one practice I continue to do today is First Thought Writing, or what we now all know and understand as “morning pages.” The rules are as follows:
First Thoughts, excerpt from Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
Just dive in. Begin where you are.
Keep your hand moving. Don’t pause to read what you’ve just written. That’s stalling and trying to get control of what you’re saying.
Don’t cross out. That is editing as you write. Even if you write something you didn’t mean to write, leave it.
Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar. Don’t even care about staying in the margins and lines on the page.
Don’t think. Don’t get logical.
Go for the jugular. If something comes up in your writing that is scary or naked, dive right into it. It probably has lots of energy.
These are the rules. It is important to adhere to them because the aim is to burn through first thoughts, to the place where energy is unobstructed by social politeness or the internal censor, to the place where you feel you are writing what your mind actually sees and feels, not what it thinks it should see or feel. It’s a great opportunity to capture the oddities of your mind. Explore the rugged edge of thought.
This stream-of-consciousness form of writing first thing in the morning has changed my life. I don’t necessarily re-read what I wrote each day, but the act of doing it is the magic. Being someone who typically wakes up with a flood of anxious thoughts, I found that after pouring it all out onto the paper – no filter, no putting the pen down, no stopping to think – there’s a release that happens. When I finish, I feel as if the fog has cleared and I now have room in my mind for ideas.
I’ve learned over the years, just how important it is to create room for yourself, your thoughts, your ideas, your voice, and your well-being. What I didn’t understand at the time was that it was my own anxiety that took up most of that space, and when I began to learn techniques of how to manage it better, I could actually finally see myself. I could decipher who I was apart from the list of things I worried about.
It’s a practice I always come back to even when I veer away because it makes space for me. When there is space available, there is also the freedom of getting to choose what to fill it with.