Let It Flow: Writing for Release

by Janet Arnold-Grych

Yesterday was a hard day. Nothing had really changed. My food, water, Internet, and toilet paper supplies all remain strong. My family members still hold good health and mostly good spirits. We even had sunshine. And yet I felt out of sorts, sluggish, unable to open my hand to the day’s offerings. Perhaps it was just the cumulative weight of things unknown and things missing. I couldn’t quite name it—and that’s why I went to write, not to clarify things, simply to release them. Journaling can be a powerful tool to give form to feeling or, as in my case, to lessen the load by moving some of what is inside to an exterior page, mess and all. 

Part of my day job is to write—executive memos, survey findings, communication plans. It's more like ironing sharp pleats than it is artistically designing attire. So when it comes to journaling, it’s easy for me to get caught in my own net of grammar rules and structure. That’s why I have to write quickly, opening the tap and allowing whatever is pressing against the line to flood out. It has taken me a while to embrace the messiness; to let go of expectations for quality and that some brilliant insight will dislodge itself and tumble out on to the page. Like yoga, this is about process, not outcome.

Bhavani Lorraine Nelson, a Kripalu Yoga teacher who leads workshops in journaling, meditation, and stress reduction, acknowledges the power of free writing to create space, “Just let it be. Don’t correct it. Just let it flow. Get all of your senses in there. It’s not about judgment. In fact, this process can help you learn to not judge so 'the critic' goes a way a little bit. And then go to the next day. You can’t change anything after the day ends. The next happens.”

If you haven’t really journaled before, why not try embracing it as a way to let go just a little? A trick shared with me a long time ago is to get to your computer or sheet of paper and write whatever is in your head. If nothing emerges, start with something banal like, “I am writing this line.” Repeat the line over and over if that’s what is yours in the moment. And tell yourself thank you. In our yoga practice we remind ourselves that every day is different. Give yourself permission to just be, to write what is right for you that day. Curiously, taking that approach can often cause the mind’s tracks to switch, allowing more interior thoughts to run freely simply because judgment has been removed.

And if you are stuck, as in all things, start with gratitude. “I write late at night," says Bhavani. “I report on the day and my comments about the day—stream of consciousness—how do I feel about the day and how do I feel about tomorrow. With journaling you can begin or end with some things that you are grateful for. Our mind is created to beat ourselves up. But it’s shown in positive psychology that you can switch the lens.”

Because this is an unprecedented time, it is even more true that we can give ourselves unprecedented latitude when it comes to self-expectation. That’s why this is a welcoming time to journal, to move thoughts and emotions on to the page, even if they arrive in a form that seems trivial or nonsensical. There are no rules or requirements. Writing can simply offer an opportunity for release, maybe even a little validation or perhaps commendation for the day's efforts. Wouldn’t just a little more lightness feel perfect right about now?

Janet Arnold-Grych is a yoga teacher and writer whose work has been published in Elephant Journal, the Huffington Post, Third Coast Digest, and other outlets.