One of the first things I did last week when I arrived early for a yoga retreat was open my laptop and log in to a prose poetry class. I didn’t want to miss the prompts and subsequent delight in something new as it appeared on the page before me.
I don’t always like writing with prompts. Sometimes, they move me away from where I am at the moment, and that is my normal starting point for writing. I tend to write from the inside out. I settle within and see what I find. Prose poetry prompts, however, draw me out of my comfort zone and into the absurd. Sometimes I don’t even get what I just wrote or from where a new character appeared on the page. It’s a great exercise for letting go, enhancing creativity, and discovering new aspects of myself.
While on the yoga retreat, we were invited to journal in the afternoons. I felt at home with this because journaling is a part of my daily practice. Prior to the retreat, I had looked forward to getting away from the distractions and demands of my daily life and enjoying my own company. Most people attending the retreat came with a friend or a small group of friends.
As some of us sat outside by the sea getting to know one another, I shared about a pre-covid experience that invited me to question my identity, goals, and where I wanted to take my life. Then, covid complicated the process of figuring out what I wanted to do for myself because the demands from my family life kicked into high gear. I realized I had the opportunity to continue down the path of offering therapy and therapy training, let go of all my goals to continue focusing on my family, or, I thought, as the situation stabilized, I could try something completely new and different. As I explored possibilities, I picked up new ideas like rocks. I turned them over under a scrutinizing eye and placed them in my pocket. The choices eventually felt heavy.
So, I decided to make sure that no matter what happened in a day, I met with myself within the pages of my journal.
(If you are looking for tips to encourage children to journal, scroll to the end of this blog post.)
I’ve journaled on and off throughout my life. Usually at times of distress or uncertainty. Especially during times of both!
One of the yoga retreat participants, who had previously said, “I feel like I don’t know who I am anymore,” asked how journaling helped me during this recent time of discovery, growth, and healing. At the time, I didn’t have a clear answer. I listed many benefits but still felt the heart of what I wanted to say was missing.
Upon reflection, I realize that one of the biggest benefits of journaling is not just the acts of writing and exploring, which lead to integration, but the metaphor of putting everything–my feelings, thoughts, questions, incongruencies, etc.–into the pages of a book. And closing it. No matter what I write, the journal cover always wraps closely around the words. My writing is never too poor, erroneous, shocking, or too much. The journal doesn’t ask me to change, nor does it reject my reflections. It simply closes. Embraces. It holds my often disparate thoughts. In truth, it holds all these pieces of me. Together.
As I journal, I write unfiltered about whatever comes to mind: dreams, memories, random thought flows, the birds that come to my window, bucket lists, to-do lists, story ideas, poems, etc. Sometimes, I repeat myself page after page (after page) because I am speaking for the parts of me that feel invalidated. Eventually, I offer my own listening/validation as I journal my inner dialogue between these parts. I let them know that I see them and validate them.
Throughout the time of questioning what I wanted to do and how to move forward, I journaled. Eventually, as I wrote, I started to piece together a self-narrative that felt cohesive and congruent. I felt at home. Within myself.
If you are drawn to journaling, I offer these tips:
- Start from where you are.
- Trust yourself.
- Ask any inner critics who show up to kindly step aside. In fact, just have them sit outside for a while.
- Consider reading, The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron.
- Purchase pens or pencils that are comfortable for your hands.
- Choose a similar time of day or another routine to anchor your writing habit. However, don’t stop yourself from writing later if that plan is thwarted.
- View this as a time to meet with yourself, even if you are writing to discover new layers of who you are.
- Accompany journaling with another pleasurable activity like sitting outside, listening to background music, or sipping tea.
- Write through the moments you “don’t have anything to write.”
- Or don’t. Perhaps, just sit and breathe.
- Experiment with writing a poem.
- Make a list of things for which you are grateful.
- Use prompts like: Write about your ideal day. Write about a loving memory. Scan your body for sensations and write about what you notice. Etc.
- Write your rage. All your feelings. But especially the ones that society invites us to silence.
- Be flexible.
- Do what you need to do to ensure your privacy.
As you begin to journal, be aware that not all breakthroughs will come during the actual writing process. Some will come at seemingly random times during the day. Just as a daily yoga practice has benefits that extend throughout the day, so does a journaling practice. Trust the process. Perhaps, you will gain an overt awareness of how journaling is benefitting you and maybe that will happen as you are writing. And, perhaps the results will sneak up and surprise you. Recently, I surprised myself when someone asked me about my new office. I rattled off a three-year plan that delighted me at the moment because it seemed to come from nowhere. I hadn’t remembered thinking about it before, but it was there and already written inside.
There is power and strength in being heard, validated, witnessed… and held, the way the cover of a book holds all of its pages. No matter what you are going through, if you are feeling uncertain, seeking answers, in want of hope and clarity, give journaling a try. There really is no wrong way to do it.
Creative Resources to Encourage Children to Journal:
Children also benefit from journaling. Yet, they don’t always want to write. It can feel like another homework assignment. Here are some creative ways to encourage journaling. First, to prompt or not to prompt. It kind of depends on the child. Some will want some guidance or structure. Others will want to dive right in. Second, allow them to pick out their own journal. Third, respect their privacy. Let them know that they can show you whatever they want to share, but this is a place for their private thoughts. Fourth, model the practice by having a regular time to write in your journal.
Below are some other creative ideas to encourage children to build a journaling practice. I am including artistic ideas for children who don’t want to write or may have difficulty writing due to a diagnosis such as dysgraphia. One of my children has dysgraphia. He enjoys typing instead of writing. He also enjoys–like really enjoys–drawing and creating stories in blank comic books and flipbooks. Trust that storytelling, similar to journaling, is a valuable form of self-expression and self-discovery. Oftentimes, children are working out their own issues and concerns among the characters and in the story-telling themes. Still, it is important to honor their privacy. If you, as a caretaker, hear a story and are concerned about your child’s storytelling, consult a therapist.
Some of these items may help:
- Plain blank comic book
- Colorful blank comic book
- Blank flipbooks
- Prompt journal
- Creative art prompt journal
- Mandala drawing with writing prompts
- Gratitude journal
(Note: I explored the healing metaphor of nature in this blog post inspired by the same yoga retreat.)