The past year has been quite a rollercoaster ride. We worked through (and continue to work through) a pandemic, managed to make it through the most contentious (and still contentious) presidential election in my lifetime (or yours, for that matter), and yet the world still turned. Battles rage on in American public life: a pair of infrastructure bills in the senate, bans on local mask mandates in Texas and Florida, a clamping down on educators as we try to teach American history and literature in our classrooms.
As I look beyond my country’s borders, I see the Taliban gaining strength in Afghanistan, controversy (once again) at the Olympics, and a deadly earthquake and tropical storm in Haiti.
In the midst of all of this, I managed to drop my writing practice. Compared to the events mentioned above, I know this is the smallest, silliest thing to think about as a “loss” during the clustercuss that has been the last two years. But, this morning, I picked up my pen again, and I found myself thinking about this very issue. I used to handwrite three pages every single morning. It was an important part of my routine:
- Wake up.
- Stumble downstairs and pour a cup of coffee.
- Walk back upstairs, avoiding the creaky sixth step so as not to disturb the rest of the house.
- Sit down for twenty minutes of meditation.
- Write three pages in my journal.
My entire routine remained the same throughout 2020 and 2021. But at some point late last year, item #5 was dropped from the list.
My morning pages practice has always been about getting my thoughts and feelings down on the page. I wanted to expose them, hold them up to the light so that I could examine them and see what they were all about. This regular act, to be quite honest, had changed my life. As I wrote in June 2020, “Morning Pages has served as a place to dialogue with myself as I seek to figure out what I really value and what I want to prioritize.”
Why, then, did I stop writing them?
In part, I think it’s because the act of writing, in my mind, tends to reify things. Things become a little more real when you can see them sitting there on the page in front of you. To continue down the hole and into the darkness of the last twelve months was a little scary. I think my subconscious knew that.
Writing, sometimes, can trick us into believing that things are permanent. The words on the page, after all, are static. Once I set that pen to paper, those words aren’t going anywhere.
Except that they are definitely going somewhere, aren’t they?
In an earlier post, I wrote about anicca, the idea that nothing is permanent. The illusion of permanence that comes with setting pen to paper is alluring. Many of us seek ways to make permanent the things that are merely ephemeral. This is the source of so much suffering, our desire to press pause on the world, to stop the incessant march of time. We want to stop aging, freeze the sunset, carry on with our current successes. We have great moments that we never want to end and bad ends that we never want to have their moment.
But no matter how hard we try, no matter how much ink we might spill to get it all down, all things must pass.
The paper I’m writing on will decay. Its atoms will be redistributed into other aggregations, other forms. Eventually, they’ll be sucked up by some wandering black hole, waiting for eternity to evaporate them back out.
Less cosmically, perhaps, I might remind myself that the ink I use in my fountain pens is water-soluble; therefore, in the case of a flood, the thousands of pages I’ve written will all be lost and gone.
Whether destroyed by flood, fire, black holes, or the ravages of time, these thoughts, these ideas, these feelings will cease to be.
And, really, isn’t that why I wrote them down in the first place? To get them out? To let them go? To download them from my head and my heart? To exorcise my mind’s grip and need for control?
This morning, then, I took up the pen again as an important part of my spiritual practice. The practice of writing three pages each morning has changed my life a thousand little times. Nothing is permanent, so I know it will change my life yet again.