This past week, I listened to an episode of one of my favorite podcasts, This Jungian Life. The show features three Jungian analysts talking about all sorts of topics with a psychological perspective – fascinating stuff (at least for me anyway). The episode was called “The Alchemy of Writing,”* which, of course, made my little blogger’s heart skip a beat. It was all about the transformative nature of writing – any sort of writing – from journaling to authoring nonfiction books to emails and texts.
A definition of alchemy I found: “a seemingly magical process of transformation, creation, or combination.” I’m always up for a magical process of transformation – how about you?
Here’s what else caught my attention – through a variety of examples, the hosts describe what happens in the brain when we write (particularly handwriting as opposed to typing, although both are effective). They noted that writing seems to assist with emotional regulation by taking emotional signals that initially don’t have language assigned to them out of the amygdala (the part of the brain that hurls us into those fight, flight, or freeze actions) and into the self-regulating part of the brain. And it doesn’t even matter how much one writes. Simply writing, or reading, a word or phrase helps with the process.
For most of us, written words create structure – they are symbolic representations of experience. I wrote a while back about the power of spoken and/or thought words – how much more power could we tap into with writing what we notice? We understand instinctively that processing things with writing makes a difference. It makes total sense when you think about journaling about gratitude, or blasting out that angry message to your boss, or telling off that annoying woman on the PTA board (the message you hopefully burn, tear up, or delete). There’s something about putting words outside of our heads that gives us a way to separate from the emotions. Things that can’t be put into language tend to float around in our heads incoherently, jumbled, disordered.
OK, Sara, where are we going here? I’m wondering what could happen if, when you are overwhelmed with a space or a set of tasks, you placed yourself in connection with writing.
And yes, I recognize that a to-do list is a written representation of the tasks (and it certainly helps to have it). I’m speaking of writing more about what you feel:
  • “When I look at my list of tasks, I feel like I don’t know where to start. And if I start at the top, I might miss something more important, and I could get myself into trouble.”
  • Or, “When I open this drawer, I see tons of things I probably shouldn’t keep, but I’m resistant to letting go of them because I feel guilty that I bought them.”
  • Or, “To start this project, I feel like I have to have the perfect conditions and supplies, and if I don’t have them then I think whatever I do won’t make any difference.”

As a starting point to see how this might work, I tried it for myself. I have a closet that desperately needs to be gone through and purged. It was the last one filled when we moved into the house. Much care was taken in other areas, like the kitchen and laundry room, but when I got to this last closet on the second floor, well…I was kind of pooped. I basically plopped everything that didn’t fit anywhere else: crafty stuff, leftover costume pieces, old Destination Imagination supplies, photos, you name it. Once other family members caught on, they plopped things in it, too (plopping is contagious). I’ve been avoiding it, and another purpose for it has never really presented itself. It’s a bonus space.
Just writing about it here seems to be making it more of a priority. And truth be told, writing about it makes me feel a little silly for waiting so long to deal with it. It’s OK, I can feel silly.
But also, I took out a sheet of paper, sat in front of it, and started jotting things down. It isn’t anything profound or fancy. You don’t have to be Faulkner or Hemingway to write down a few thoughts:
“Not much light to work with, and I can’t see what’s in the back. Probably 75% of the stuff here can go away. I don’t feel the least bit sentimental about any of it – in fact I’m irritated. It would be good to have extra space for blankets. That microscope needs a home, and there’s a Doctor Who coloring book that’s never been touched. It will take a little time. I have boxes I can use and time next Saturday…” (there was more, but you get the idea).
Prior to writing, the closet just felt like a formless void of uncomfortable, disappointing decisions. Now it’s something more tangible and work-with-ableIf I stop to think about it, there was indeed a bit of an alchemical transformation that took place there.

What space or project could you transform with a little writing this week?
p.s. Anyone in the market for a Doctor Who coloring book?
*Lee, Joseph, Marchiano, Lisa, Stewart, Deborah, hosts. “The Alchemy of Writing.” This Jungian LifeiTunes app, 14 April 2021.