Almost eight years ago I wrote a post about journaling in response to my reading of Hermione Lee’s biography of Virginia Woolf and how I had returned to writing in a journal of ideas after having abandoned the act a few years earlier. Now, as a consequence of the emotional turmoil I experienced in late autumn and early winter I started journaling again, but this time about myself, my thoughts and feelings on my current state of life, with the sole purpose of discovering and so returning to myself, having realized that increasingly over these last eight years I had completely lost myself, my identity having been erased in the total act of love and devotion to another. This experience taught me that if you forget yourself in the midst of your relationship and that relationship happens to end at some point, you will be left devastated over not just this fact but over the reality that you crash into, namely, that you have to find and put back together the pieces of the puzzle that is you all over again. The worst part of this is recognizing that which is implied in having to do this search and find, or more aptly put, this search and rescue, of you—that you lost yourself without even knowing it when you fell so deeply in love. This truth was compounded even more so because I discovered that I had not exactly been living as my own person while in this relationship and was preaching the opposite to others, that even though you are in a committed, loving relationship does not mean you still do not exist as a person with your own identity. If you lose yourself, if the person you are no longer exists while in the relationship, then how and what are you contributing to the relationship? Nothing. You are merely a mirror that reproduces your partner’s self, you are an instrument for their self-reflection and have no voice, as mirrors do not speak.
There is no room for silence in a relationship if that silence only serves to keep your identity erased and makes you the suffering servant; if you cannot voice your personhood without fearing your partner’s reaction then your relationship is not one, the relational nature is nonexistent. Communication is key, as two people are in any and all relationships, not one. Relationships are meant to be partnerships, in which the needs and wants of each individual matter and should be met to the best of each partner’s abilities to do so, always remaining attentive to the fact that each is a human being with limits and flaws and that sometimes bending, compromising, like bamboo is necessary for the relationship to be beneficial and succeed.
In the need to find the pieces of you, to find your voice and self again, keeping a journal is of the utmost importance. The only person who can do the work of this search and rescue is you. This is your life and your identity to be (re)discovered through the hard work of active self-development and awareness. No, none of us exists in a vacuum, and so our lives will be complex, full of a varied engagement with others, with nature, and culture, and with the media whose agenda is to shape this culture to its own ends and purposes, and so our journals will reflect all of these interactions in both implicit and explicit ways. In a very real sense the ivory tower that I and many, many others have long lived in or have long desired to live in is a fabrication, a myth of most writers’ and philosophers’ romantic imaginations, a product of their disillusionment that the world is and can never be as they wish it. Our fantasies always expose our disillusioned state of existence. We would not fantasize if our needs and desires were met. In journaling you are able to return to yourself, to recover and rehabilitate the you that has been long lost and forgotten, the silenced and erased self that you may not have noticed was no longer present.
A journal is an extraordinary opportunity to see yourself in your own mirror, to see there what is wrong, what is right, what is missing and thereby what needs to be obtained and achieved. For two decades, two decades too long, I used to believe that writing in a journal was an egotistical act, as it recorded what you were doing with your days and talking about yourself, but I no longer feel that way. You aren’t talking about yourself when you write in a journal, you are talking to yourself, and therein lies the most invaluable benefit to journaling. A journal shouldn’t be about you, about the ego-self, but rather for you, a private space in which you give yourself the freedom, the license, to lay down the mask you wear each day in public and to stop performing the role you play automatically and otherwise with others—family, friends, lover, and anyone else you may encounter throughout the day. Writing in a journal, then, is often the only time and place you can be with yourself, with your own thoughts and emotions uninterrupted. Journaling is not only a priceless method of moving up the numerous rungs of the ladder of self-awareness, pushing you ever forward on the path of self-enlightenment, but also a means through which you can develop a relationship with yourself, and this relationship, cliché that it is, is the most important one you will ever have in your life. By journaling you are committing to the most important project of your life—you.
In building a relationship with yourself through journaling, one of a number of ways to do so, you are coming to a deeper realization of who you are, the ever-evolving person whose changing definition as time goes on structures and inevitably continually restructures how you live in the world and communicate with and relate to others. Most people refer to this relationship with yourself as self-love; I prefer the phrase “self-acceptance.” For me, self-love is essentially that—the power to accept yourself as you are at any given moment on any given day, without falling prey to how easy it is for us to see and pick at our flaws because we have expectations for ourselves that we should not, that are too high and unnecessary, because we seem to be uncomfortable with the thought and truth of our very humanness, and to be human means to be imperfect, and in that imperfection wholly beautiful and lovable, but recognizing that beauty and lovableness must begin within, with ourselves, and accepted in all its veracity, even when the shades of the colors of who we are when we look in the mirror may not be as bright or vibrant as we want them to be. To love and accept the light as well as the dark gradients of our colors is to truly love and accept ourselves, our humanity. Once we have recognized this and begun to actively love ourselves for this multitude that we are, that we contain, and it is, do not misunderstand me, an ongoing process that ebbs and flows with the phases of our lives, we can then begin to love and give love to others, with a remarkable and unparalleled openness because we began to write the narrative of love that I believe all life is by loving and accepting ourselves first.
Journaling can be difficult because of the unwillingness of the ego to allow us access to what lies far below the surface of our consciousness, but which is necessary in order to break destructive thought patterns and habits that may have become ingrained as a result of specific childhood and teenage experiences, for instance. Even more, we unconsciously take in and later model the various beliefs and behaviors of our parents and other family members, even teachers and friends, usually perpetuating negative ideas, habits, and actions that ultimately define us but which are only imitations and not our real selves. Thus, journaling is an integral way to encounter and begin to counteract these habits, these voices, these ghosts, if you will, that have been influencing and determining our thoughts and behaviors throughout most of our lives. This too is a process that must be continuously tended to, and the hardest part is confronting what comes up when you assert your will over and against the ego and the mirror of the words you are writing reveals hard truths you had no idea were submerged beneath the waters of your conscious mind. Once these truths are brought to the surface, the next step, naturally, is to accept that these dark influences have been incredibly strong factors in your self-development. Once you come to terms with them, you must then begin the long, challenging journey toward breaking the habits and the thought patterns and discovering yourself, a new self, a true self, because you have not been your true self, and that, in a way, I believe, is the most daunting truth we all must come to accept, and in accepting, let go, so that we can move forward and live the life we were meant to live—our own.