By Shirley Vanderbilt
Originally published in Body Sense magazine, Autumn/ Winter 2003.
The attic of the mind is full of clutter — bits and pieces of to-do lists, fragments of conversations gone wrong, fears of the future and regrets from the past, cherished memories and hopeful dreams. What do you do with all this stuff? Do you store it up and let it accumulate dust like Grandma’s old trunk, or do you take it out, examine it and put it to use?
Journaling — applying pen to paper and letting the words flow — clears the mind and frees the soul. This writing of words from the heart can take you on a journey of self-discovery. It can help you solidify dreams, heal old wounds and find a sense of self.
There are no hard and fast rules for journaling, but you will likely find that writing down your thoughts on a daily basis can become a sacred ritual — a space in which your life takes on new meaning. By using the free-flow of journal writing to unravel muddled thoughts, you might begin to see your life in a different light. Journaling can help you identify your fears and find ways to overcome them. It unloads those too-full trash bins of negative thoughts, while giving your soul the freedom to express without criticism from others. Over time, you may discover that by getting in touch with your feelings and putting them on paper in a concrete way, you become more balanced, focused and at peace.
While any blank page will do, some people find the writing experience more joyful and self-satisfying by indulging in an exquisitely designed journal from a bookstore or craft shop. You can even add an exotic touch by writing with a pen in your favorite color. Whether you choose the kitchen table or a comfy, overstuffed chair, find a place to write that affords you uninterrupted space and privacy. Allow thoughts to flow in whatever form they come. Put aside the urge to censor or correct yourself as you write. Just keep the movement going.
The art of journaling is unlimited in its application. You can write for the sake of getting feelings on paper, or you can use the craft for a specific purpose, such as identifying and reinforcing goals. Words, as part of our body/mind connection, have the power to transform our thoughts about what is possible in our lives and to manifest those possibilities. They give validation to our dreams and a structure for setting them into motion.
Writing can be a tool for diffusing feelings of anger and frustration, whether directed at ourselves or toward another. Counselors and psychologists often recommend writing a letter, not for the purpose of actually sending it, but just to release those pent-up feelings. You may also try writing a letter to yourself, offering forgiveness for perceived failures, encouragement for goals not yet obtained, or simply words of love and praise because you are worth it.
Many people facing the challenge of a life-threatening illness or a devastating loss of family have found that documenting their healing through daily journaling helps ease the pain and fear. Thoughts and feelings, too raw and intense to express through conversation, can be given over to paper and pen without requirement of explanation or response. Through journaling, hearts can be healed, bodies appreciated and sensibilities restored. In fact, these journals transformed into books oftentimes find their way to best-selling lists as a sharing of thoughts to comfort others on a similar path.
Another aspect of journaling, the expression of gratitude at the end of the day, can foster a sense of peace and acceptance in our lives. Sara Ban Breathnach, author of Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy (Warner Books 1995), encourages us to keep a daily gratitude journal. Every night write down five things for which you are grateful on that particular day. Through this practice, you are putting into action the universal law of increasing abundance by expressing gratitude for what you already have. Giving thanks for the positive events of the day, whether big or small, leads to a heightened sense of prosperity, despite existing problems. You begin to see and appreciate that your life is truly full of gifts.
Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way (J.P. Tarcher 1992), recommends a daily ritual of what she calls “morning pages,” to awaken creativity. In the quiet moments of early morning, go straight to your journal and write three pages, in one continuous flow, of whatever comes into your mind or heart. Cameron says this exercise is somewhat akin to meditation — fostering personal insight and connection to an inner source of wisdom. Using this method over a period of time, the dedicated writer of morning pages can experience an unleashing of blocked creativity and freedom from their internal critic.
Should you share your journal with others? There may be times when you feel compelled to do so out of a desire for reinforcement or affirmation, or even consolation. If you choose to share, do so wisely, knowing that positive, forward movement in your life calls for positive reinforcement. Make sure you only disclose your writings to those who are supportive of your aspirations. But more importantly, remember your purpose. For the most part, this is an inner journey you embark on to clear out your own clutter, recognize and honor your dreams and reflect on your personal growth.