Friday, July 22, 2011

Benefits of Stream of Consciousness Writing, with Example

Stream of Consciousness writing, or Free writing as it is called in this article, has many health benefits. People have waxed eloquent about it being a source of creative ideas. I have not experimented deeply in that terrain. But I can vouch for its therapeutic effect.

To understand this, we need to first appreciate the amount of repression that an individual is subjected to while growing up, and later forced to conform to as an adult. All expressions of spontaneity are actively discouraged- you cannot laugh unless the occasion warrants it, out of fear of offending others. Those who do may be labeled a peculiar type among many things. Similarly, other expressions of emotion are also discouraged-no crying, no show of warmth unless the occasion sanctions, you can’t express anger, sometimes you even have to swallow your indignation and appear pleasing and happy.

"Children start out emotionally honest. They express their true feelings freely and spontaneously. But the training to be emotionally dishonest begins at an early age. Parents and teachers frequently encourage or even demand that children speak or act in ways which are inconsistent with the child's true feelings. The child is told to smile when actually she is sad. She is told to apologize when she feels no regret. She is told to say "thank you," when she feels no appreciation. She is told to "stop complaining" when she feels mistreated. She may be told to kiss people good night when she would never do so voluntarily. She may be told it is "rude" and "selfish" to protest being forced to act in ways which go against her feeling....more here ".

I remember the cancer patient (recuperating from chemo) who was interviewing for a sales post. The interview went well, and the manager enthusiastically clapped him on the back. The poor man, nearly doubled over with pain, for he was not fully healed. His face turned deathly pale, and he struggled to keep balance-that is until he noticed the manager watching him with growing consternation. To regain his footing, he put on his best smile and shouted,” I’m loving it! I’m loving it!” this made the manager even more skeptical. He was not selected. (Incident mentioned in A Funny thing happened at the interview by Gregory F Farrell*).

So you see the mindless repression arising from people following long established, unquestioned beliefs and practices, without using their independent judgments. It prohibits us from all forms of expression which are not in sync with established, accepted norms. Another example is when people of opposing races or religions fall in love or get married: they may face persecution.

Children are most charming, for they are not encumbered with these societal norms. The emotions pass through them freely-when they’re sad they cry, when happy they laugh, when angry they show it-it does not stay in them.  It passes through. And this keeps them emotionally healthy and so refreshingly innocent that adults crave their company. This innocence lasts until the child is forced to learn society’s adult ways to conform, for society has a mortal fear of spontaneity.

All this makes the individual lose esteem in himself or herself. What I inherently am, is of no value, I have to conform to what is imposed from outside. Children are silenced immediately when they speak up or express an idea or opinion. This happens in most families except the few progressive ones, where parents are introspective.

Bound up as we are in this hopeless mesh, we still have a ray of hope-to be ourselves as we were born. A child does not doubt itself nor the world. Free Writing (Stream Of Consciousness writing) offers some hope so that we can regain some of our spontaneity.

In Free Writing, we just write- we just move the pen. We do not think. We do not judge. And we do not stop until the timer is up. We don’t bother about spelling, grammar, logic, punctuation, meaning, coherence, commonsense, taboos, nothing. That is it. It does not have to make any sense. We are not even to think of sense. We only have to keep moving the pen. Or keep typing on the keyboard. It isn’t important to keep the i dots and t crosses and other marks correctly, either.

When we stop judging the subconscious, it develops trust in us, and slowly reveals more of its treasures. You have accepted the subconscious, this gives an increased sense of self-esteem from deep within, as the subconscious is also part of your being.

Free Writing provides a sympathetic listener who will not judge you for your thoughts and feelings. You can write whatever you want, about whomsoever you want, in whatever way you want, and as for whatever length you like. You can’t be that open with humans, of course.

In the beginning the onrush of repressed feelings can be a bit intimidating. It may be like a dam about to burst. Please read the following para carefully:

CAUTION: It is likely that unpleasant thoughts and feelings that have been repressed for long come forcefully to the surface. If you find that some unpleasant thought recurs in your free writing, you can write “Why am I writing this way ?” again and again. You may or may not get the answer. But it has a sobering effect that calms the turmoil. (Dr. James.W.Pennebaker, who has researched this topic in detail, advises to consult a psychotherapist if the obsession persists. He has authored the book “Opening up: The Healing power of expressing emotions**”. Most likely, if you detach yourself from your thoughts (because you are not them), and keep writing the question calmly, you’ll be able to come through any turmoil that may arise.

Because we give ourselves unconditional, non-judgmental attention, (heck that’s why we freewrite  everything that we think, right?) our craving for attention is reduced. This attention seeking has caused more problems than one can imagine.

It is quite likely that miraculous results are produced, over time, because the subconscious is a treasure house. Many important discoveries happened when the logical mind was not working. The best example that comes to mind is of  August Kekule who discovered the molecular structure of Benzene. He had thought deeply about it prior to that, and the alternating double bond structure was revealed to him in a dream.

I’ve also found that when I’ve something important to do (a meeting or decision-making), a session of free writing (say 5-15 mins) clears up my thinking, and I can get through the task smoothly.

A Stream of Consciousness Writing Sample
There are lots of Stream Of Consciousness writing samples on the net, however they contain very few errors, and few logical contradictions. And no trace of taboo topics. These are items that are very likely to surface when you take away the dos and donts of writing. Seriously leads one to believe that these samples have been edited, which makes them non SOC. So here is one of my SOC samples, just in case, anyone is wondering what it might really look like:

"if yiu ahve ever wondered what youa re going to do in the event of a manually powered recesssion, i can only tell you that it is but an imopossible mandream for the big biibs of istrionics calim that ather is notheing sucha s a manually powered recession. To top oit all, you have to check out once in every while to see if you have been triccking yourself into  fourteen year okld recession. it is in the interests of the netehr lands ther htha you have to et used to a manually powered recession in the event of ewhich you will find yourself nbeinf anonymously prooeeled foerward into a big pithoe that will only laugh at the stupiditieds of what you ahve don in your whole lifetime of aesthetic perfection."

This one does not contain profanities, but if it did, they'd be marked something like *&^#$@. No need to show you the dirt!

Note: Keep your SOC writing private. People who are ignorant about this process can misinterpret you.

      Core Catharsis: A New And Radical Approach For Resolving Anxiety, Fully Accepting All Your Experience, And Engaging Impulses

Why People Don't Reap the Rewards of Stream of Consciousness Writing
Here I've to differ from the notion that Stream of Consciousness Writing is writing your thoughts as they occur. It would be, if we did that. However, from the examples available, we can see that people are not really writing down their thoughts. They do, so long as they are agreeable thoughts. When an unpleasant memory rears it head, we recoil, and divert ourselves to some other topic. We may even pretend that such a thought did not arise.

People do not like to relive the memories of traumas like disease, abuse, rape, bereavement, and others. Because they also give rise to associated feelings of guilt, shame, fear, and so on. If these issues have been addressed through therapy, it may be easier.

But it is possible to face these unpleasant thoughts and memories, if we remember these points:
  • Express the trauma a few times in writing.
  • If they become repetitive, use the technique mentioned in the para labelled CAUTION above.
  • Remember that our thoughts or actions are not us.
By far, this is one of the most exhaustive resources I found on Stream of Consciousness writing:

You may also want to read Turning Garbage into Gold: How to Write Well with Stream of Consciousness

Is the fear of failure sabotaging your attempts at personal transformation? Find out: How to overcome the fear of failure
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Want targeted articles for your blog or online publication? You can find my contact details here: About me
Catharsis in Regression Hypnotherapy: Transcripts of TransformationWitnessing The Field Of The MindFinding BalanceBeyond the Breath: Extraordinary Mindfulness Through Whole-Body Vipassana Meditation


NYParrot said...

Great article! We can start by being honest with ourselves through expressing our thoughts in writing, and in the process, hopefully, we'll get to understand our own needs and feelings better... Then it might just help us let other people know out-loud of what's really on our minds, and in our hearts.

Sudheer Kumar said...

Hi, Thanks for stopping by, and appreciate your thoughtful comment.

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