The Shift Network Blog

7 Steps to Free Your Soul and Awaken Through Writing
Mark Matousek
By Mark Matousek
Bestselling Author

Writing is a path of profound self-awareness, a spiritual practice as powerful as meditation, yoga, prayer and psychotherapy….

When we learn to tell the whole truth about experience — to discern our own soul’s odyssey — we come to understand the mythic dimension of our personal struggles, triumphs, confusions, longings, digressions and so-called mistakes.

By putting our feelings down on paper, and learning to shape life’s raw materials into art, we discover that our challenges are also our greatest sources of wisdom, and that even our darkest (or most unexpected) interludes carry within them the seeds of redemption.

(And below I'm sharing 7 steps for a transformative writing practice with you.)

Over the past 30 years, as a memoirist, teacher and seeker, I’ve been consistently amazed by the impact of personal writing on insight, healing and self-transformation by providing a context for telling the truth.

Only by dispelling our lifelong fictions can we walk an authentic path and truly know who we are.

Only by confronting our deepest truths — including the lies we tell ourselves on a regular basis — can we awaken from the fictions that keep us bound to “The Story Of Me” and live from our spiritual core.

This teaches us an all-important lesson:

When you tell the truth, your story changes.

When your story changes, your life is transformed.


That’s because your authentic self has almost nothing to do with the story you tell about yourself, the narrative you use to sum yourself up.

You are the storyteller, not the tale. You are the witness, not the victim. You are the conscious, creative spirit, not the sum of your concepts and labels.

When you come to realize that you are not your story, it’s a watershed moment in self-realization and the advent of a whole new life.

You claim this life by telling the truth. There’s no other way to free ourselves except by addressing the falsehoods of self, paring away our make-believe labels, questioning assumptions, and daring to step into our God-given freedom.

As you discover when you practice deep writing, you rarely reveal the whole truth either to yourself or others. You tell versions of the truth, fractions, euphemisms, partial misrepresentations, reflexive fibs, and outright lies, every single day of your life.

But the whole, unvarnished truth? Not so much.

Though most of us are honest people (more or less), social life requires a lot of withholding; cooperation calls for self-compromise; survival calls for compartmentalization.

And then there is the matter of shame. We tolerate such heavy truckloads of it that the truth comes to seem too threatening to let loose on our carefully manicured lives. Concealing your genuine thoughts and feelings, you adapt through self-censorship and subtle evasion, which is why when you finally do tell the whole truth — in writing, therapy, or a church confessional — it has such a dramatic effect.

You’re awakened by the undeniable sound of your truth and after you tell it, it can’t be untold. Once you’ve rung a bell, you can’t unring it. You’re forced to admit, once and for all, the wide gap between truth and story, and how this gap — this disconnect from truth — limits your ability to thrive.

You realize why you may feel so fraudulent, clinging to your precious myths, as if trapped behind a mask you can’t remove and cut off from your genuine self.

Transformational writing helps you remove the mask….

As numerous studies show, as little as 15 minutes of writing a day of introspective writing can markedly improve psychological as well as physical health.

Unlike journaling or “morning pages,” this form of writing calls on you to do more than free associate or simply report the facts. In order for writing to awaken, you must include your thoughts, emotions, beliefs and insights about your experience, as the godfather of this field, Dr. James W. Pennebaker, has proved in numerous experiments.

Dramatic Results from A Writing Study...

My favorite of his studies examined the effect of transformational writing on a group of 50 unemployed engineers laid off by a large Dallas computer company. Half the men were asked to write about their deepest thoughts and feelings about getting laid off for 30 minutes a day for five consecutive days. The other half of the group wrote for the same amount of time about time management strategies, avoiding the topic of the painful layoffs altogether.

The potency of the study surprised even Pennebaker. Within three months, 27% of the participants who wrote about their feelings had landed jobs compared with less than 5% of the men in the time management and no writing comparison groups.

By three months after writing, 53% of those who wrote about their thoughts and feelings had jobs, compared with only 18% of the men in the other conditions.

Transformational writing is known to reduce stress, accelerate physical healing, decrease the need for therapy, increase happiness levels, and offer profound spiritual benefits to those who commit to its practice.


7 Essential Steps to a Transformative Writing Practice


1. Tell the Truth (& Know Your Secrets)

This is the number one skill you develop as a transformational writer.  Like all spiritual practices, writing is focused on self-liberation and answering the ancient question, “Who am I?”


2. Recognize the Beauty of Your Shadow

Until you penetrate your own shadow, and explore the gifts – as well as the shame – that you hide there, you cannot truly know yourself or access your deep creativity.


3. Survey the Landscape of Your Desires

Desire is the lifeblood of creative and spiritual life. Though we practice non-clinging (and non-craving) — which only cause suffering, as we know from Buddhism — when we deny the energy of our desires, we sap life of its vitality and risk becoming ambivalent.


4. Practice Beginners Mind (& Meet The Witness)

Writing helps to strengthen “witness consciousness.” By observing your own thoughts and feelings, you increase mindfulness. This cultivates Beginners Mind, the ability to meet each moment afresh and recognize what’s true and what isn’t.


5. Learn the Language of Emotion

When you articulate your feelings, and develop “the language of emotion,” you discover the nuances — and originality — of your inner world and its layers of richness.


6. Know the Purpose of Wonder

By learning to observe yourself and the world with an open heart and curious mind, you recognize the wonder in every moment, and the transformative potential for inspiration in each new experience.


7. Practice Sacred Awareness

The world is a theater of miracles in which all things are sacred. Deep writing enables you to make contact with the sacred in every moment, connecting you to the Divine Source.


So try these seven steps for yourself. Take 15 minutes a day — for one week — to explore the truth of who you are on the written page. You’ll be amazed by what a difference it makes in body, mind and spirit. This is powerful medicine.