The Healing Power of a Pen

For Bob Dylan, success came early in his career. At age 22, he had written Blowin’ in the Wind and The Times They Are-a-Changin. But in spite of his success, he wasn’t happy with his life. He had thought about quitting singing. At age 24, he was burned out. He was depressed.

What Bob Dylan did in that moment in his life is a lesson that is valuable for everyone to explore when they are troubled. He turned to his therapist – his pen. He began to put words on paper about anything that came to his mind. In literary circles, that’s called a stream of consciousness.

He didn’t have any goal. He was just capturing his thinking. He thought it might become a novel, but that was only a minor part of his reason for writing. He just needed to explore his thinking and write it down. Neuroscientists might call what he was doing cognitive integration. That is the combination of our brain, our body, and the placing of words into sentences. For Dylan it was self-administered therapy.

Shortly afterwards, Dylan sat down at his piano. The paper he was writing on “spoke” to him. As Dylan describes it: “the paper, it was saying:  How does it feel?” Dylan went back to what he had written to look for more lyrics. The result was Like a Rolling Stone and a new beginning for Bob Dylan.

There’s something magical about the wisdom contained in a pen that just needs to come out. A keyboard doesn’t have that same magic. Just writing, without worrying about sentence structure, grammar or spelling can have an amazing therapeutic value. The writing doesn’t need to have any purpose other than to ease your mind by expressing your thinking at that moment.

When we write with a pen, we slow down to think. We are putting words on paper as we are talking to ourselves, but writing them down helps us express our ideas more coherently. Often what results is something very different than anything we could have imagined before we put pen to paper.

Dylan describes the words on the paper singing to him. It’s doubtful that many of us will find our words forming a song, but we will likely find those words giving us a renewal. The words may stimulate new ideas, or they can simply be a release of pent-up feelings.

It’s hard to imagine anything more valuable than taking quiet time to talk to ourselves through the words we write down on paper. In effect we are learning about who we are and the why of our life.

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“All I can do is be me, whoever that is.” – Bob Dylan

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