A.K. Reader, MY SECRET LIFE: Ten Tools for Transformation, Chapter Four, “JOURNAL”

 

The subject of this chapter is obvious to anyone who has ever kept a journal, and, I imagine, that’s most women and very few men!

Chapter Four

JOURNAL, and Mining Emotions

 

Right Brain, Left Brain

My journal began writing itself one June morning in 1970, after walking on the beach with Keiko, a tiny Japanese woman who, besides rearing three children, was also a painter and sculptor. She had been describing to me how she felt while standing inside the space of the Duomo, in Italy, for the first time. Her acutely sensitive descriptions of her response to the “atmosphere” impressed me.

I returned to the place where she and I and others were living for the summer, went to my room, picked up a blank notebook and began writing, first with Keiko’s words, verbatim. You might think it strange that I began my journal with someone else’s words. But as I look back, I would say that what I admired about Keiko was what I sought to cultivate in myself, and my journal has been a principal tool. During 27 years of journaling, I have considered atmospherics as well as events, attending to tone, rhythm, flow, to what one might call the music of situations, the soft fertile space within which hard “facts” emerge.

My journal began at an auspicious moment. Three months earlier I had separated from my first husband. Now I was settled into a tiny corner room with a bed and a table and chair on the third floor of a small hotel on a cliff above the Atlantic ocean. The Hotel Idlewild was again to be the scene of a summer commune. One summer before, living at the same hotel, I had been fascinated and afraid. Now I was about to go wild myself.

“Wild” is not just a matter of action in the world. Wild is a space within the brain, the so-called “right” brain. “Wild” is where things are not “in control.” Where the workings of clocks and calendars do not exist. Wild is where nature, and not culture, rules.

From that first day, I have used my journal to explore the wilds of my “right brain.” And I have coordinated it with the more familiar logic of the left brain. This has not been easy. Our schooling is so exclusively “rational” and “objective” that it is difficult to open ourselves to right-brain values without feeling foolish, confused, stupid, or just plain wrong. Yet I discovered that when I do allow myself to move into my right brain, its activity, and thus, my own creativity, increases. To be “creative” is to be “original” — to come from one’s origins. I am interested in the edges, the boundary zones — where culture arises from nature, where thought recedes into imagination, where symbols zoom into the foreground from the darkness of the inner void.

Schooling encourages a focus on the parts. We focus on points in succession, learning to analyze, move in more and more closely, dissecting. To switch to the right brain, I learned to dissolve that focus, open to the periphery of my vision, and “take in” the full range, without being “focused” on anything in particular. Primitive tribes use this when hunting, or communing with nature. So do artists, when they half-close their eyes to look at the view. They register impressions, and discover the abstract structure of the scene they wish to paint.

At one point when I was writing my doctoral dissertation, I got stuck, and didn’t know how to go on. A dream came to the rescue, of Nietzsche’s eye, as a camera lens, moving in and out — zooming into details, zooming out to the overview, zooming in, zooming out, over and over again.

 Nietzsche’s eye in the dream was appropriate to what was happening in my life at the time. I loved his defiant stand against the dominant western culture and philosophy, and I felt his passion in my own work. The dream showed me how to integrate right- and left-brain approaches to reality by oscillating between the whole and the parts that comprise it. Each enhances the other. By focusing on the whole, I expand the significance given to the parts; by focusing on the parts, I ground my understanding of the whole.

I discover possibilities beyond “what (literally) happened” to, for example, what might happen, with the subtlest shift in attention. Or, I allow many different “takes” on a certain situation. Everything depends on one’s “point of view,” which I have learned to shift at will. Whole brain integration encourages flexibility in thinking — and therefore, in living. I welcome its correction to my native tendency to think and act in rigid, dogmatic, fundamentalist terms.

Rather than reporting a situation chronologically, i.e., “this happened, and then that,” in my journal I might attempt to describe the mood I was in, how I felt, what was going on inside me at the time, and how the “atmospherics” of this “I” interacted with the mood and tone of the situation. Thus I come to recognize my own part in what is happening. If I don’t like it, then it’s up to me to change, to “create my own reality.”

Thank you, Anais Nin and Sylvia Plath

Prior to June of 1970, I had never seriously considered keeping a journal. I had always thought of journals as exercises in recording outer events. Then, in the spring of 1970, I picked up one of Anais Nin’s early Diaries (published, decade by decade starting with 1900-1910) and was amazed to discover her introspective exploration of the contents of her own psyche. Her capacity to speak with feeling about her own feelings — their shifting valences, their circling, cycling progressions, how they move up and down the scale and combine in chords with others — all this, this way of talking on paper, was new to me. Nin’s journal was a wonderful example of female “processing.” One might say she showed us how to do it. The publication of her Diaries in paperback occurred simultaneously with the cultural explosion in both journal writing and “consciousness-raising” groups.

Nin’s achievement is sometimes ridiculed as the self-centered, puerile imaginings of a lying, conniving femme fatale. And though her writing is at times precious, self-serving, even vacuous and sentimental, her work established the boundary conditions that helped to define a new space for writing and thinking about the inner life. I am forever grateful to her for introducing me to this right-brain, or “female,” perspective.

I am also grateful to Sylvia Plath, whose major book of poems, Ariel, was popular during that same summer of 1970. Her precise, economical use of language to evoke a muffled passion for life resonated with my own inner turmoil. I remember being especially struck by the phrase, “fat jug,” used to describe her sturdy toddler as he sat on the floor. That phrase did not sound like one a “good mother” would use. I could feel the ambivalence, even her rage at being “stuck in the house” with her children. Whether or not my feelings about Platt were accurate or imagined, objective or projected, my response to her revealed something within myself which I wrote down in my journal. Her example led me to accept and verbalize the contradictions within my own feelings as a mother of small children.

Plath gave us the complexity of her feelings, polished into gems for poetry. Anais Nin liberated me into expressing whatever was happening inside, no matter how confusing. She was a pioneer in sharing her actual thought processes, however messy, contradictory, or incomplete, and in exploring how they evolved. And she seemed to enjoy the actual process of exploring little known aspects of herself, even when these aspects had little or no direct bearing on current issues.

As I write this, I wonder, “Is this the real Anais Nin, or is this my version of her?” “Go back and look at her journals again,” I admonish myself. “Make sure you know what you are talking about.”

But no, there’s no need for that. This is not a scholarly book, nor am I trying to buttress any left-brained “arguments.” My purpose is not so much to extol the virtues of Anais Nin’s journals as to observe how I remember them, what I think they gave to me, how they spoke to me. What isimportant here is not her reality, but mine. That, after all, is the point of keeping a journal — to follow and describe the continuing process of one’s own inner life.

I may have the facts about Anais Nin “all wrong,” but it really does not matter. What is “true” in the outside world is of only relative import for the inside world. The recognition that what counts is what I say counts, not what the world thinks that counts, is perhaps the most important facet of journal writing. What freedom! What spaciousness! The whole world becomes a field for exploration and discovery of the self. I decide what those discoveries are. I give them value. There are no outside teachers looking over my shoulder. No one, not even “hoary tradition” can criticize or laugh at what I say. In the journal, the “I” is all powerful, all knowing. No other voice can contradict that “I,” unless “I” allow it.

And of course, there is the resultant danger of self-indulgence, self-centeredness, a kind of narcissism bordering on solipsism, of which Anais Nin has been accused.

Power

I notice narcissism in myself, and I notice it as a tendency of others in the “me generation,” born between 1938 and 1958, when the planet Pluto, which signifies power, was in the sign of Leo, signifying the ego, or, the self.

If our generation has focused on the self as of supreme value, it has been to move beyond the supreme value of our parents’ generation, born between 1913 and 1938, when Pluto was in Cancer, the sign of “traditional family values,” which included “not making waves,” “keeping up with the Joneses,” and “what will the neighbors say”?

When we Pluto in Leo people were children, what counted to our Pluto in Cancer parents was measuring up to some outside (family, tribal, community) ideal. When we left home many women in my generation took up journal-writing as a subtle, but potent correction. In fact, this sustained focus on the self has helped us forge an entirely different way of being. For our parents, the outer world is more real (and/or, of greater value) than the inner. For us, especially when we journal, the inner world measures the outer, and this inner yardstick has, for millions, gradually supplanted the more “scientific” one, as the stable framework through which we view reality as a whole.

One of the unconscious assumptions of those who live and move within the mainstream “scientific” framework, is that what happens on the outside “causes” what happens on the inside. This assumption was formulated by the 18thcentury philosopher John Locke, for whom children’s minds were “blank slates” to be written upon through education and conditioning. This little noticed assumption (it is even now the kingpin of our educational system) guarantees the continuation of the idea that learning is “inductive,” consisting of being filled up with information. That’s the epistemological result; in the world of action and ethics, it guarantees the idea that some people are “victims” and others, their oppressors.

For if what happens to me on the outside “causes” my reactions on the inside, then I am not responsible for what happens to me, because “it’s not my fault; so-and-so-did-it-to-me.” And since most people are still mechanical (In the Gurdjieffian sense, see pp. ___), then this assumption is “true” — for mainstream culture.

To say something is “true-for-mainstream-culture” is a long way from saying it is universally true. In fact, we who think in this manner are branded (and sometimes condemned) as “relativists”!

But once we start journaling, in the way I have been discussing, we do turn into relativists. We begin to realize our part in things, and we see how, once we change our way of behaving in the outside world, that world changes, too. So, whereas once we might have thought of ourselves as victims, “locked in by the system.” we now realize that we are not victims. We are creators, responsible for the ways we are and think and act.

Thus the two ways of using power that Starhawk named two decades ago: “power over” and “power from within.”

The generation born during the time when Pluto was in Leo has reversed cause and effect, and it has imagined a new way of using power. Rather than power over others, we work towards “empowering” ourselves, creating power from within. This kind of power does not require another, as victim, to prey upon; rather, since our inner wealth is inexhaustible, it overflows, expressing itself joyously and generously into the world.

Change of Mind

What I was interested in — newly interested in, I should say, as up until 1970 I had decidedly notbeen interested — was feelings. I wanted to learn how to allow my feelings to play out in my life. For I intuitively knew that my life — my full aliveness — literally depended on it. And I wanted to learn how to describe both the inner process of working through feelings as well as the interaction of feelings with the so-called “objective” world. I didn’t know why this shift in emphasis was taking place, but it was, and there was no denying it.

That same year, I had been presented with the highest honor in Boston University’s Department of Philosophy, the Dissertation Fellowship. Impetuously, I marched in to the department chairman’s office and told him that I could not accept it. “I have been thinking all these years with my head,” I told him. “I’m not coming back unless and until I learn to think with my gut.” Needless to say, he was stunned. (Later, he told me, only half joking, “What happened to you, you used to be such a good uptight graduate student!?”). Luckily for me, he then said he would hold the money for me until September (this was May), in case I “changed my mind.”

The point was that my mind had changed. Until now I had been focused on the outside, and now I needed to go inside. Before, my questions were metaphysical: What is real? How do I reconcile the One with the Many? Now my questions were epistemological, psychological, sociological: What is the window through which I am looking at the world? How was it constructed? And: Are there other windows? — and, by extension, other worlds?

That September, I walked back into the department and accepted the fellowship, with the intent to focus on the connections between my own inner and outer lives. After nine months of preparatory work, I wrote the dissertation during a sustained two-month period in the mountains of Idaho, and brought it back to my advisor, Professor Joseph Agassi, done, complete. “Take it or leave it,” I told him, defiantly, as I slammed it on the table.

He opened it up, and began to read the first page. I turned to leave. “No!” he barked. “You stay here. I want you to watch me read it.” So I had the excruciating experience of watching my professor slowly, with great care and attention, read through the first 20 pages of my life’s blood.

At the end Agassi looked up at me, then took off his glasses, folded and put them in his pocket, and said: “Well, I see you are an obscurantist. But you do it so clearly and distinctly I’ll have to support you.” Later he told me that he was supporting me because “Yours is the first dissertation I have seen written in English!”

One year later, at the end of my graduate school experience, while undergoing the two-hour oral defense of my dissertation, I went so far as to claim that “the line between reality and imagination is very fine.” If that is true,” said one of my examiners, “then give us an example.”

“Just yesterday,” I replied, “my son Colin (then five years old) asked me: “Mom, which is more real, my dreams or yesterday?”

The examination was over. It had lasted only 45 minutes. Those professors did not know what to do with me. Quickly they conferred, and agreed to grant me the Ph.D. The feeling was — I was by this time quite expert in picking up on tone, rhythm, flow — “Get her out of here! Quick! Before she does something else to upset us!”

Alchemy

I don’t intend to be flippant. The process of integrating left and right brain through journal writing was neither easy nor simple. Often, during that last year (see the chapter, “Questioning Assumptions”), I felt as if I was falling through space into nothingness. My journal was my ally. The process of physically getting the words out of my chaotic mind onto paper actually made me feel better. It was as if the act of putting them outside myself left room for something else to happen inside. As if, had I not removed them, they would have congealed like a thick syrupy, more and more viscous mass. In my imagination I see all these words, if left unexpressed, precipitating into the physical realm, crystalizing into a brain tumor.

I use a metaphor of illness here, not because the situation was especially morbid or life-threatening, but to give a hint as to the quality and intensity of that year. Something had seized my mind and would not let go. My mind was out-of-control, as my life was out of my control. All I could do was keep going. Keep writing the words down. Keep on letting go.

 Boxes of Journals, Burned

By 1974, when I moved to Idaho to marry my old high school boyfriend, my journal took up ten boxes of the type used to carry liquor. From the time I moved into the little room in the Hotel Idlewild until I moved to Idaho, I had moved seven different times, each time paring down my possessions further, until only my journals were left. They were the most valuable. They documented the historic (hysteric? herstoric?) change within my mind and psyche. Living proof that something had happened to me which others had told me was not possible — except that some people “go crazy.” Was I one of them? No. I knew that, and my journals were proof, that I had gone through a living process. And that this process was meaningful and purposeful. By this time I was on the other side of that process. So I thought, I hoped, and now, with Dick, I could settle down to a normal life, a real life, like other people.

We stored the boxes of journals in a pile in the garage, where they stuck out from the side and we had to make sure the car didn’t run over them every time either of us drove it into the garage. The boxes stuck out, like a sore thumb, like a reminder. What was I doing trying to live a normal life, as a nice little wife, in a suburban house in a little town in Idaho?

That’s when I started walking around the four-mile square grid, feeling like a bird in a cage. After several years, we divorced. I was ready to fly.

Or I thought I was. My unconscious was not done with me. I began to attract alcoholics, mirrors for my own addictions. Each time I would discover a man was alcoholic I would kick him out of my life, incensed! Then the man walked in the door who was my perfect nemesis. Phil Lowman, his name utterly apt. (He’s dead now, so I can use his real name.) I didn’t realize he was alcoholic, of course, and he was more clever than the others, an even better liar.

Quickly, Phil took over, moving into my house, captivating my sons (who were there for the summer) with his pied piper stories. He did the dishes, washed the clothes, bought and cooked food, took the boys swimming . . . Meanwhile, I was sitting in front of the fireplace in my red velveteen rocker, burning journals. Burning ten boxes of journals, one page at a time. Looking at each one first. Grimacing with the pain I could feel on the page. Wanting to be done with it, done with that life. Wanting to start over.

Start over with Phil?

Well, in a way, that is what I did, though my relationship with Phil was more the finale of the old life than the beginning of the new.

Burning the journals was the first step, and burning through my addictions was the second, and I had to start with seeing them played out in a much more extreme manner through the man onto whom I was unconsciously projecting the parts of myself that I hated, and therefore denied were there, in me.

My journal, as much as it had taught me about whole-brained thinking, about verbalizing the complexity of whatever was going on, had not prepared me for Phil. Nothing had prepared me for Phil. Phil came in out of nowhere and took me to a place I had never been . . .

And yet there were clues, had I been paying attention.

By this time I was intensely studying astrology. I had noticed in my own astrological chart that the “progressed Sun” (which moves one degree per year) would oppose natal Pluto (which symbolizes power) for approximately a three-year period. The first year was when I was attracting alcoholics; it was also a year during which I was attempting to hide my addictions (chiefly, cigarettes) in front of other people — they were looking upon me as their “guru” and I didn’t want to disappoint them.

I thought I was powerful (the guru). I saw progressed Sun (which signifies the year-by-year evolution of the essential, conscious self) coming to opposition with natal Pluto and I thought, “Oh goodie, I’m going to get empowered!” HA! Little did I know what lay in wait — or what “getting empowered” really meant.

Pluto entered my life in the guise of Phil Lowman, and I was Persephone, doomed to descend into Hades with him. I was on a journey of empowerment, all right, but not until then did I learn to take seriously what is said about Pluto, that its transit signifies “death, and rebirth.” Yes, I had to die to that old self, and symbolically enough, burning my journals was the first step, though I didn’t know it then, or certainly, know what that death would require.

So I burned the first eight years of my journals, and began to keep a new journal. More than ever, the journal was necessary, as my only ally in a stormy world.

Phil had taken over my life. I was his “victim.” Though I had for years been building a magnetic center internally, both through the journal-writing and through self-remembering, that center was puny, compared to the “power over” me that Phil held. I was his captive, afraid of his hidden, but unpredictable and violent energy, though I couldn’t admit that to myself. I thought I was there to help him heal. I thought I could change his mind, heal his body, save his soul. HA!

I kept my journal; it was the seed of me he could not kill with his negativity, his dark, secretive, passive/aggressive energy. Whereas before, my journals had always been private, now they were actually secret. Before, others had known that I kept a journal, and now no one knew. Phil had spirited me away from my life and all I had left was furtive commentary, on paper, whenever he was gone. I trusted to my journal what I did not dare tell him. My journal was my secret self, a lifeline, reminding me of who I was in the middle of hell.

I pretended to be one way with him — nice, compliant, adaptable. When he was not around I could take off the mask and write what I was really feeling. But not really. For I could not afford, even in the journal, to come to terms with the horrific turn my life had taken. Humiliating. Scary. Totally insecure. I had gone from guru to bum, in one step.

Phil Lowman taught me that I cannot heal another. That what I must do is save myself, that that’s what empowerment means.

Ever since that time I have paid attention to the distinction between secrecy and privacy in my journal. If I need my journal to be my reallife, because my life in the world is false, then something is wrong. If, in writing my journal, I am leading a double life, then my other life needs to change. Never again will I write for myself what I cannot, at some point when appropriate, tell or show another.

Orphan Annie

For several years following the year-long descent into hell, my journal was, as it had been many years earlier, my best friend. By this time I was dedicated to the study of astrology, and my journals from that time are filled with the coded shorthand of that symbolic language.

In 1984, I fell deeply in love with a man who suddenly abandoned me after several months. In the aftermath, I was plunged into pain so extreme that it left me incapacitated. Now writing in my journal became survival, my primary activity in life, as I attempted to explore and investigate where that pain was coming from. I real Alice Miller’s Drama of the Gifted Childand came face to face with the wounded child within me. I named her “Orphan Annie.”

In astrology, the Moon signifies one’s earliest memories, stemming from one’s vulnerable, needy, childhood self. In my first few years as a professional astrologer, I had counseled people to “forget your Moon. Your Moon is past, no longer operating.” I learned otherwise.

Orphan Annie represented my Moon, and she was pissed! I had abandoned her. It was time to re-parent that inner child, by re-experiencing the primal trauma of long ago. For the next few years I used my journal to explore and deepen my experience of my own pain. I couldn’t deny it any longer, because it was always present. My solar plexus and heart areas throbbed with the energy of ancient wounds.

Even so, I only rarely addressed the pain directly. Usually it was projected — onto another. When I look back at the contents of my journals during the first seven years of my 40s, I see that most of what they contain are obsessive rants concerning what was going on in my relationship with whoever was my significant other at the time. Probably 75% of my journal writing during those years involved my “trying to figure out” the person I was seeing, trying to control the relationship, trying to make it fit my preconceived notion of how it should be.

The journal documented what was, or more often, what wasn’t happening with men. Whatever I couldn’t be honest about in my relations with them got slammed into the journal, and later, when appropriate, spoken to their faces. In this way my journal became a sort of sounding board for what I would say next. But so much of it had to do with my attempts at control. Despite Phil’s profound teaching, I was still trying to, if not “save,” then at least “change” another.

The parts of me not “acceptable” to my partners would go into the journal. The more I felt Orphan Annie, her huge needy self, the more vulnerable I became, the more vital the journal became as my way of plunging deeper into the original pain which was so richly working up from my unconscious during those difficult and tumultuous years.

Through the men I picked as partners, I was working through primal issues I had as a child with my own parents. And most of the time I was pissed, because they weren’t giving me what I needed, just as Orphan Annie was pissed because I wasn’t giving her what she needed. For months and months, my journal would document my disgust with so-and-so, the way he treated me, how he didn’t understand me, and so on. I would pour all my hurt and anger and frustration into the journal and gradually, over time, would begin to see that I was repeating myself. If I dipped into the journal to read what I had written six months earlier, it was nearly identical to what I had written that very day!

In this manner, I began to recognize patterns in my relationships. Gradually, the Aha! experience of identifying a pattern became as or more fascinating than following my pain down into the depths. Just as, in my 20s, when I practiced self-remembering, now I was taking that practice to a new level, looking upon myself as a clinical case in dysfunctional relationships. Now there were many voices present, some of whom were: 1) Orphan Annie, who was feeling her way, mostly still in pain; 2) the Mother part of me who was learning to listen to her, empathize with her, sometimes actually rocking her, soothing her; 3) the Psychiatrist, who was fascinated with this “case,” and viewing it impartially; 4) the curious Explorer, who wondered what would happen next; and 5) the Sociologist/Philosopher, who was seeing my own case as a microcosm of the larger order, assigning meaning to the whole.

Those years were by far the most significant in my journal work. The encounter with myself was profound and continuous, and the journal recorded it all, and helped to both amplify the work as well as identify and dissolve patterns.

 Computer Journal

For the past six or seven years I have kept my journal on a computer. Typing on a computer keyboard is not as tiring, and is much faster. Simultaneously, my journal has become mostly a depository for my dreams and certain situations that I am needing to understand in my life. These situations no longer have to do with relationships as much as they have to do with my work as professional astrologer and magazine author, editor, and publisher. I’m involved now with issues having to do with counseling, leadership, and administration. No longer are the issues so deeply and continuously painful and personal.

All along, my journal has also been a dream journal. When I look back on it now, I am more drawn to re-reading my dreams than I am to anything else I was saying about myself. So much of my journal, I now realize, has been like Anais Nin’s, self-indulgent, sentimental, self-justifying.

I am glad to announce that I am beginning to see through my own posturing!

Dreams are another story. Dreams do not lie. Dreams constitute the real inner record of a life.

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One Response to A.K. Reader, MY SECRET LIFE: Ten Tools for Transformation, Chapter Four, “JOURNAL”

  1. MsRhuby says:

    “whole brain integration” – marriage

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