Even if paper magazines and journals are experiencing a decline, there are still hold outs of resistance against the rising commercial and technological tide. With its tactile feel, paper is still stalwart for many applications, especially print books and personal journals. While you could keep a journal digitally, there are studies that point out that the slower pace of writing and the physical connection between your mind, body, and the medium, have many beneficial effects. 

Journaling is an excellent way to build a habit of examining yourself and your life. Doubtlessly, many of you have already of journaling, given its ubiquity in anything related to self-help or mental health. Yet, there are numerous styles of journaling that all have their own uses, from the classic Stoic style you can find in Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, to therapeutic journaling where you dive deep into events of emotional significance. However, aside from these, you can find great journaling advice from the most surprising sources, like the Quotations of Chairman Mao Zedong (a.k.a. The Little Red Book). While Mao’s thoughts on critique and self-critique are centred within the sphere of the party organisation, focusing on how to handle conflicts and shortcomings of party cadres or negative thoughts from party members, the principles he proposes are timeless and applicable just as much to any personal journaling or self-examination practice. Namely, his main takeaways are to be curious and honest with yourself, to regularly sort through your thoughts (and emotions), and to detach yourself from judging yourself. So, if you want your self-examination and self-care to have a distinct revolutionary proletarian character, look no further than this guide to Maoist journaling!

“In order to win new victories we must call on our Party cadres to get rid of the baggage and start up the machinery. “To get rid of the baggage” means to free our minds of many encumbrances. Many things may become baggage, may become encumbrances if we cling to them blindly and uncritically. Let us take some illustrations. Having made mistakes, you may feel that, come what may, you are saddled with them and so become dispirited; if you have not made mistakes, you may feel that you are free from error and so become conceited. Lack of achievement in work may breed pessimism and depression, while achievement may breed pride and arrogance.”

– Correcting Mistaken Ideas, Mao Zedong

In discussing the history of the Communist Party of China during the civil war, Mao gives a surprisingly astute explanation of baggage from a psychological perspective. When the mind is encumbered by past experiences or harmful thoughts, one is predisposed to experience symptoms of depression. Conversely, a focus on only positivity and achievement can lead to toxic positivity or a superiority complex. Naturally, this is a major simplification, but the principle that can be distilled from this, is that your past experiences inform your perceptions – these perceptions go on to colour your thoughts. As such, to avoid being dominated by perceptions, thoughts, and narratives that are harmful to us, it is necessary to deconstruct them through critical analysis. The mind will play a huge role here.

“ “To start up the machinery” means to make good use of the organ of thought. Although some people carry no baggage and have the virtue of close contact with the masses, they fail to accomplish anything because they do not know how to think searchingly or are unwilling to use their brains to think much and think hard. Others refuse to use their brains because they are carrying baggage which cramps their intellect. Lenin and Stalin often advised people to use their brains, and we should give the same advice. This mechanism, the brain, has the special function of thinking. Mencius said, “The office of the mind is to think.” He defined the function of the brain correctly. We should always use our brains and think everything over carefully. A common saying goes, “Knit the brows and you will hit upon a stratagem.” In other words, much thinking yields wisdom. In order to get rid of the practice of acting blindly which is so common in our Party, we must encourage our comrades to think, to learn the method of analysis and to cultivate the habit of analysis. There is all too little of this habit in our Party. If we get rid of our baggage and start up the machinery, if we march with light packs and know how to think hard, then we are sure to triumph.”

– Our Study and the Current Situation, Mao Zedong

Your mind can be your greatest ally or your worst enemy, under- and overusing the mind are both dangerous tendencies that may prevent you from achieving a healthy personal balance. Here lies a great point of synergy that makes it all the more beneficial to journal, it channels your intellectual capacities, while also helping you deconstruct baggage. Self-examination, and self-criticism, while they may appear arduous or destructive at first, are actually a conscious effort that uses your mind to help reshape and challenge subconscious assumptions and narratives. Self-criticism, as expressed through the practice of journaling, then becomes a way to cleanse out old thoughts and allow fresh air to come in, it becomes a tool for change and progress within the party and your persona.

“Conscientious practice of self-criticism is still another hallmark distinguishing our Party from all other political parties. As we say, dust will accumulate if a room is not cleaned regularly, our faces will get dirty if they are not washed regularly. Our comrades’ minds and our Party’s work may also collect dust, and also need sweeping and washing. The proverb “Running water is never stale and a door-hinge is never worm-eaten” means that constant motion prevents the inroads of germs and other organisms. To check up regularly on our work and in the process develop a democratic style of work, to fear neither criticism nor self-criticism, and to apply such good popular Chinese maxims as “Say all you know and say it without reserve”, “Blame not the speaker but be warned by his words” and “Correct mistakes if you have committed them and guard against them if you have not” – this is the only effective way to prevent all kinds of political dust and germs from contaminating the minds of our comrades and the body of our Party.”

– Criticism and Self-Criticism, Mao Zedong

Proper self-criticism is not self-flagellation, but rather a dialectical process by which you can deconstruct personal baggage. It involves detachment from old perceptions and ideas, followed by the introduction of new and opposing thoughts, which precipitates in a resolution (synthesis) that leads to progress in your internal mental discourse. 

If any of you, like me, have struggled with intrusive thoughts, or perhaps thinking over things you have done or that have happened to you in the past, it is all too easy to become personally absorbed in them. When this becomes a pattern of negativity, this mental clutter and dirt will pile up in your mind, suffocating your spirit. One the main benefits of journaling is to sort through one’s thoughts – paper not only allows you to word your thoughts, but it also creates some mental distance between your mind and a thought, allowing you to extricate it from your persona. Once you separate the two, you can critically examine them without ‘blaming the speaker’ (i.e. yourself). This opens up the way to slowly sweeping and clearing out your mental clutter, through first processing past experiences and associated thoughts – employing the help of a professional, or, at the very least, good journal prompts, is strongly recommended – and then extracting lessons to come out more resilient. 

Introducing criticism and new ideas to your perceptions is the next step in the personal dialectic – you can think of counterarguments to thoughts you have written down, and will test the validity of your perceptions by confronting them with reality. Really, this is a process that often repeats itself, though with every resolution and breakthrough you reach upon deconstructing old thoughts, your mindset will shift. Setting aside a regular time for journaling and revisiting your older entries often to deconstruct any persistent narratives you may have will firmly nest you in a habit of regular mental detoxification, and if you can be open and honest with yourself about your thoughts, you will cultivate great knowledge and self-awareness.

By Konstantijn Rondhuis

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