Here are 10 things I know to be true about journaling.
#1. Journaling is witnessing your own life as you’re living it. As the famed diarist Anaïs Nin once wrote,
“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” -Anaïs Nin
Personal writing is how we remember tomorrow what we did today. The witnessing of life lived with the perspective of having already moved on, brings understanding. Sometimes, we receive closure, and other times, more questions, but always, we gain a new insight and a deeper understanding of what that event or series of events meant to you in that moment, and then again after time has passed.
#2 Journaling is total freedom and by that I mean, there are no rules. What I have found to be true is so many folks need permission for someone to say, “yes, you can skip writing for a week, a month, a year.” Or, “yes, you can use pictures and collage and no words whatsoever to express yourself in your journal.” Or, “yes, you have a story to tell. You are unique, important, and you need to write it down, starting right now.” Beginning journalers may have other people’s views about writing in their head and hearts and haven’t experienced what happens when the relationship with personal writing is developed over time, and they think there’s a wrong way to do it. Nope. There are some patterns and forms that are more successful than others for dealing with certain life events, but on the whole… just like the sign says, just write.
#3 Journaling is cathartic. Finding the precise words to explain, even to yourself, just what you think about something complex, vaguely troubling, or extremely difficult, is the first step to be able to explain these things to somebody else. Especially those niggling, troublesome questions, those “where am I?”, “what just happened to me?”, and “how the f$@#! did I get here?” kinds of wonderings, putting them down on paper where you and only you can see them, is healing. Mostly because of Rumplestiltskin. Why Rumplestiltskin, you ask?
Because naming what is bothering you, that thing pulling on the hem of your dress as you stare at a room full of straw that you convinced someone you could spin overnight into gold, naming that demon or nemesis is the first step. -CVGK
Calling out that 4th grade English teacher that told you you couldn’t write, or worse, naming that unnameable dread that you really think might be holding you back in your next step, whatever that may be, is truly transformative. Name Rumplestiltskin, and, as the story goes, he self-destructs and never tugs at your sleeve again.
#4. Journaling is a time machine. Like a shoebox full of photos (yes, I’m old enough to still have those) thrown together from different eras, fashions, and locations, you can explore both your 15- and 35-year-old selves, sometimes all in the span of one written page. If you keep your journals, you can literally read chronologically the progress you have or have not-so-much made, and flip through your past, page after page after page. This is incredible to witness (especially if you have been complaining about the exact same issues for 20 actual years). You can find clues to your life, to the friends you keep attracting to you, to the issues that you are working through, and to the dreams you once had (very important stuff). Even in writing new journal entries, you can intentionally expand and contract your focus, like a zoom in on a photo, and really explore the specifics around your choices and consequences at that time.
#5 Journaling is creative. Feeling like delving into your emotional side? Try your hand (ha) at poetry. Not sure how to express some melancholia? Break away from the little blue lines and steady ball-point, and grab paint, stencils, and glue. Need to put the breaks on what feels like a tidal wave of regret? Make a list. The tighter the container, the better you can control, and purposefully limit, those scary explorations. At first, this may seem counter-intuitive, but it’s a very important piece of therapeutic (healing) writing. If a topic is very hard to write, give yourself a short time to write about it. Or write on a very small piece of paper. If you’re afraid of what you’ll find, tell it in only fragments, in haikus, disguise it in metaphor. Did you get to a nugget of truth? Grab a sharpie, hit the poster board. Write with your other hand with markers, at midnight while lying on your stomach, by the light of a candle. All of it and any of it. Write deep, write barefoot, write at midnight. This is wordcatching.
#6 Journaling is a lighthouse. Shine a light into the dark places, as much or as little as you want.
Imagine your heart has a door, and your memories, the excellent, terrifying, and mundane, are stored behind that creaky door. The act of writing in your journal takes a look around in the room behind that door and can capture what becomes visible through the light of your own writing. -CVGK
#7. Journaling is connection. With bullet journaling in 2017, I began a whole new level of introspection, daily granular reflection… how many cups of water drank, how many books read, how many days in a row did I walk my dog, did I meditate 30 days in a row like I swore I would do (again, sigh) this month? If so, what were the conditions that helped me be successful? How would I know if I don’t keep track? The bullet journal does that in abundance and with not too much trouble. The daily rhythm of bulleting (lists) and filling in little boxes with my colored markers quickly turned into a habit.
#8. Journaling is sacred. There is mystery in journaling deep. Using a technique called a dialogue, you can access inner wisdom previously untouched. By making up both sides of a conversation that you need or want to have but in some way are not able to, you are able to tap into something under your own surface.
It’s always a gift to allow yourself the time and space to enter into the sacred with your writing… light a candle. -CVGK
Invite an imaginary wise and powerful guru to join you on the pages, and ask them questions you’ve always wanted to know the answer to. Be surprised when it’s your own voice that answers you.
#9. Journaling is easier than you think. Despite the myriad technical tools, the journals, the pens (ohmygod those pens!), the tech options, there are so many right answers to beginning a journaling practice. The only rule is truly to find your pace, keep a rhythm and try to avoid the stupid censor voice telling you you’re not doing it right. In fact, use your journal to tell that little voice to go have a seat way, way, over there, thank them for supervising your writing, but you’ve got work to do.
#10. Journaling is life changing. The science of neuroplasticity tells us that if we change our thoughts, we can change our habits, thereby changing our life and how we live it. Donald Hebb, Canadian neuropsychologist, said, neurons that fire together, wire together. That means we can not only change the way we talk to ourselves through journaling, we can change the story itself. The story of your life. The one you’ve written… and the one you’re about to write.
I invite you to pick up a pen and a notebook- surely you have one laying around somewhere, don’t you? How do you start? Start here.