There are many paths to happiness; I have walked some of them and others lay hidden, still waiting to be discovered. One of the simplest routes I know requires nothing more complex than a pen and paper.
I speak of the humble art of journaling, the simple recording of thoughts as they come to you. I speak of the pleasure one can take from holding the right pen. I speak of the rambling joy of writing just to fill space in a journal, without thought or intent. I speak of the way that the written word can soothe the soul and clarify thoughts in turmoil. Journaling allows you to capture the very ebb and flow of your stream of consciousness and that moment. Applied assiduously, it will lead you to that pristine moment – so hard to attain – when the words finally run out and you don’t try to force your way through. In that moment there is nothing. The thousand voices of memory fall silent, the other self who narrates the story of your life pauses for breath. All of them – all of them – run out of words and lie still, quiescent. It is not peace, precisely. It is a quiet elation, that totality of self as your internal and your external come into alignment and you are whole.
I’ve had some success with a computer keyboard, but the pen provides a subtly more visceral connection. The pen also slows you down, a crucial ingredient in the mix. I prefer to journal with my favorite pen. You have one, too, I’m sure – the one that fits your fingers just right. The one that spreads ink evenly and in a color you like. The on that you stop to look for, even if some other pen is lying right there in front of you.
Yeah, that pen.
I’ve used many papers over the years. Loose-leaf, notepad, notebook, and bound blank journal. I’ve used blogs like this one, 750words.com, and files saved privately on my computer. The digital stores my thoughts but doesn’t lead them to silence. It’s a good way to vent, but it’s never served me quite so well as a path to joy. When it comes to paper, I find that there’s not much difference while you’re writing. I do prefer something with a hard back, something that allows me to curl up in bed or on the sofa while I write, but, logically, that’s the only useful feature I need. And yet, I’ve got to confess that I really adore those lovely, bound blank journals. The binding, the attractively designed cover – they make no difference while I’m writing. It’s when I’m done, when I’ve set the book aside, that it calls to me. It looks nice by my laptop. It makes me want to pick it up and start writing all over again.
For me, it also helps to do my journaling in cursive, the better to maintain the proper flow of ideas to page. It’s about good handwriting, too. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I get caught up in the writing and fast becomes more important than neat, but usually I try to form my letters properly or – at the very least – legibly. If I want to keep up with a train of thought I can pull out my computer. I write with a pen in a search for clarity, and keeping my writing tidy forces my mind to slow down to keep pace. It allows each thought form more fully and emerge more smoothly. Slow and steady wins the peace.
Not every journaling session reaches that unifying state I described. Sometimes I’m too focused on mundane trivia. Sometimes I’m too upset or too elated by the end of the day. Still, every entry, no matter how filled with daily minutia and page-filling nonsense, leaves me more settled in my mind and heart than I began.