I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Maria Rodgers O’Rourke’s reflection on Morning Pages.
Morning Pages saved my life. They started with The Artist’s Way and are now central to my “Monk in the World practice.” Here’s my story.
Years ago, as a new wife and mother, mornings meant a deluge of To-Do’s and anxiety. Waking from a dream, after a few tender moments of peace and clarity, my brain chattered away with tasks and regrets. I wanted nothing more than to pull the covers back over my head and shut the world out. Most days I dragged myself up, but many days I was on autopilot, in darkness and despair.
Around this time, a dear friend gave me a copy of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. One of the central exercises in her guide to “creative recovery” are Morning Pages: three pages, written longhand, first thing after waking. Throughout high school and college, I’d filled journals with precious insights and feelings. Morning Pages are not journals, though – they’re intended to be destroyed. The process offered me a lifeline for the dreaded beginning of the day.
Desperate for relief, I committed to this early morning writing practice. I discovered – in my own dark, quiet house, with my beloveds tucked safely in bed – a deep, nurturing space. The simple act of dumping those painful words on the page cleared my head of judgment, anger, and anxiety. The scratch of my pen across a clean sheet of paper became a sound of solace. The secret pages gave me permission to express dark, scary, shameful, and sad thoughts in a safe, simple way. My desire to hide under the covers gave way to happy anticipation of relief. Morning Pages made way for the good person within me – the one I really want to be – to emerge from the darkness of my internal fault-finding. Over time, with the help of spiritual direction, counseling, Zoloft, and Morning Pages, I pulled out of the hole of depression.
From this foundation of personal healing, my creative recovery as a writer blossomed. On Morning Page days, my writing sessions produced real gems. Rough and honest, my work became truer to my voice. Morning Pages blasted me past writer’s block to produce those important first drafts.
It was hard to destroy the pages after writing them, though. I clung to my words, but didn’t want anyone else reading them, either. To follow through on this part of the process, I knew deep down, was essential to my mental health, and keeping my writing honest. So, I came up with a compromise: I’d write my pages in a dedicated notebook, and when it was full, I’d burn it.
This ritual brings a lovely close to the cycle begun in my early morning sessions. About once a month or so, I tear out the pages and toss them into our blazing fireplace. As the paper bursts into flames, I lift a prayer of release and gratitude. Something like:
I release these words into God’s care. Thank you for all you’ve taught me. May grace transform these pages, to bring love and healing to me, those I love, and all those my creative life serves.
The smoke rises, and my eyes blink back a tear. The quiet is so deep I can hear the paper crumble to black ash. My heart is calm, and a gentle space opens in my soul. The flames burn to embers, and I’m renewed for the next day – and notebook – to come.
My Morning Pages practice continues. Good days begin with scribbling a few pages. On bad days, when I feel restless or confused, it probably means I’ve abandoned the practice. A couple mornings back at the page and the way is clear, again. I return to them when I’m stuck – creatively, personally, spiritually – at all times of the day. And every so often, a blessed evening by the fire comforts my soul. Yes, Morning Pages saved, and continue to save, my life.
Maria Rodgers O’Rourke is a writer, speaker, and editor who also serves nonprofit agencies in communications and storytelling. She’s known for her wisdom, humor, and down-to-earth spirituality. Advice maven and author of two devotional journals, you can find her work at MariaRodgersORourke.com, the HuffPost, and Chicken Soup for the Soul.