Who ya gonna call?: Your journal, your friend

Originally published in my “All Write!” column in the Rutland Herald, Feb. 22, 2016 under the title, “Your friend at the end of the pen.”

ANTIQUE PHONEI think most would agree that the best kind of friend is the one with whom we can be free to be ourselves — our perfectly imperfect selves. With a friend like this none of the regular rules apply. We can leave the dishes in the sink when they come over, we can be dressed in our hole-iest sweatpants, we can say inappropriate things.

How many of us have that kind of friend? The one we can call any time, at exactly the moment we need them, to listen to our hurts and worries or joys? Who can be completely trusted with deepest secrets and problems?

Even if we do, sometimes there are situations and feelings which we aren’t prepared to discuss with another person (or it’s 2 a.m. and even your best friend wouldn’t appreciate being woken up to hear you gripe about your boss). This is exactly why a journal can be the best friend there is.

Kathleen Adams, author of many books written about the benefits of journaling and expressive writing for the personal writer, the client, the student, and many other populations, wrote in her first book, “Journal to the Self”:

There’s a friend at the end of your pen which you can use to help you solve personal or business problems, get to know all the different parts of yourself, explore your creativity, heal your relationships, develop your intuition…

However, based on what I hear people say to me all the time when I ask them if they write a journal, many are still resistant. Many times that resistance is based on memories of school-age rules — and sometimes rulers on knuckles — when it came to writing. So, let’s look at some of these things.

You shouldn’t write if your handwriting is awful? You can’t spell? You don’t believe you have anything important enough to say? And you have to write every day, right?

Nope.

It is your journal and rules do not apply! You can write whatever, however, whenever you want. In other words, you can be (or discover) exactly who you are and what you really feel and think (as opposed to what you “should” be, feel, and think). Just as you can with that best kind of friend.

Let’s say you are angry with your spouse and you know your words would hurt him/her. Get out your journal and write all those hurtful things on paper. Purge them. And once you are calm(er) you will be able to tell your loved one how you feel minus those hurtful words. This is productive — and loving. You can also use the journal to practice what you will say before you engage in the real conversation.

Your journal can take anything you say, whether it is angry, hurtful, illogical, or downright depressing, and keep it safe. Your journal is a place where you can purge your feelings and thoughts with no fear of judgment or retaliation. Swear, yell, cry, complain… whatever you need to.

Suppressing emotions or keeping them unexpressed is damaging to your health, and alternatively, expressing them in any extreme fashion can be detrimental to your relationships (and maybe yourself). The most helpful and healthful solution is to vent within the safety of your journal.

Writing in a journal is a gift of friendship to yourself, a friendship where you can be yourself completely, without judgment. The journal is a friend to lean on, rely on, and trust, where the rules don’t apply. Especially at 2 a.m.

Prompt: What I can’t tell anyone else is…

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Yes! I Will Speak

From http://sensualblissvoyager.wordpress.com/2012/03/05/throat-vishuddha-chakra/

I stumbled across this poem today that I wrote two years ago during grad school. I don’t remember writing it and it’s far from the best poetry ever written. But it’s fierce, and I like it.

Yes, I will speak my truth although you tell me it’s not true
Yes, I will cry even though it forces you to touch your own frozen tears
Yes, I will yell when my chest hurts from holding on too tight
Yes, I will breathe into my belly and find my own creation there
Yes, I will tell you how I feel even when it doesn’t fit the shape you have molded for me
Yes, I will say what I need and I will do it even if sometimes it is not best for those I love
Yes, I will allow my body to speak to me not just to yours
Yes, I will move with rhythms of the earth not your man-made march
Yes, I will love with my presence as well as my body
Yes, I will be fierce when I, or others, are wronged
Yes, I will sing when I am sad, full of joy, and searching for inner peace
No, I will not be silent to ease your dis-ease
Yes, I will release the wisdom caught in the web of your lies, told to centuries of my mothers
Yes, I will shout the words lodged in my throat
Yes, I will speak
And, yes, and you will hear.

Prompt: “Yes, I will…”

Stop striving. Start listening.

This is a follow-up to this post: On a mission (statement)
credit: Joanna Tebbs Young

credit: Joanna Tebbs Young

I’ve written of Serendipity and Synchronicity before. There have been many examples of it in my life, such as the time two women showed up to one of my workshops out of the blue. It “just happened” that these two women were from the very organization I had been trying to connect with the previous week but from whom I had, frustratingly, received no response. Turned out they had never received my email, but had picked up one of my brochures and felt my work was perfect for their organization.

These occurrences always seem to happen right after I have had an emotional break-down of epic proportions. Crying. Blubbering about giving up. Despairing. Wondering how I will ever make things work.

You see, I forget. Every. Single. Time: I can’t make things work. I get caught up in trying too hard, striving, driving to do and be more. Without even realizing it I do this. It’s an unconscious thing.

Instead, I have to remember to allow things to happen organically. I have to be open to possibilities. And above all, I must be authentic and truthful with myself.

So, here is the latest series of synchronous events.

First, I have been trying to find work in a particular industry for a while. Reason being: it seemed the only possibility for any real money. However, even as I was pursuing it my gut was saying to my brain, “Hey, up there! I’m not so sure about this!” But I kept pushing anyway.

One meeting that made me feel a little ill, then another. But still I put together proposals and hoped for the best.

Then, one day, during a writing exercise (as described here), I realized I had it all wrong. This wasn’t what I wanted to do. Instead I created a new mission statement.

As soon as I did that, I felt clearer.

And things began to happen.

1. The director of an art center asked me if I’d like to teach a summer workshop for teen girls. As my graduate research was focused on the loss of voice experienced by girls at adolescence and how expressive writing can help reclaim it, this is a perfect fit for me. I put together a proposal (one that didn’t prompt my stomach to yell at my brain).

2. During a conversation around this same time, someone pondered if my work might be a good fit for enrichment classes in independent schools, for which this person had quite a few connections. I thought “That sounds exciting. Maybe so…” and filed the idea away. Until…

3. While putting together the art center’s summer class proposal I was asking for some wording input from parents of teen girls. This prompted one mother to suggest I put in a proposal for an enrichment class at her daughter’s independent school. Because I already had a proposal in the works, I was able to tweak it and send it off immediately.

4. Because I now had a proposal specific to an enrichment class I could now contact the person who had suggested enrichment classes to me the previous weekend and say, “Hey, hook me up with your connections!” That person asked if I had a flier she could give out. Well…

5. I had that very day been designing one. As soon as I created my new mission statement a couple of weeks ago, I had decided I needed to put together a new flier. With this additional, potential audience in mind I re-worked it slightly and soon it will go to print.

6. Meanwhile, I discovered a conference, for which I registered, is coming to a neighboring town focused on mentoring young women, and I was just asked, thanks to a recommendation from a wellness director at one college, to run my intro to journaling workshop for students at another college.

Trust. It is a difficult, difficult thing to do, especially when the bills are piling up and walls seem more numerous than open doors. But I believe it is these walls and road blocks that signal you’re not on quite the right path, often it’s close to the right one, but if it’s slightly off, you will get the message. The Universe likes focused aim with the target being your authentic passion.

Eve Ensler said in one video (I apologize I’m not sure which one), and I paraphrase: Happiness is action… and giving away what you want the most.

I felt silenced as a young girl (and not so young) woman/person. I want to be heard. I want a voice. This is what I want to give to other people. Once I articulated what it was I wanted and needed and really heard myself say it then things began to click into place.

I have no idea where, if anywhere, any of these recent events will lead, but it feels like a step forward through an open door, instead of trying to smash through a wall.

Prompt: I’m trying too hard to… What I really want to do is…

Writing Practice: The roles my journal plays

(I originally wrote this post, with the title, “Writing Practice: How I learned to use my words,” for the Transformative Language Arts blog’s series highlighting TLA practices.)

journal-with-lockWriting is my life. Day in, day out, I am writing—four weekly columns, magazine articles, and my journal—or I am helping others get their own words down. And I am living this life today because I began practicing at twelve years old.

At twelve I started recording my life in a turquoise diary with a lock. At 22, I became addicted to writing stream-of-consciousness style thanks to Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages. At 32, I began passing onto others through workshops the incredible benefits of writing I had experienced. At 42, I am a published writer.

And it was in my journal that I set a path for this future. I envisioned a life filled with words and using words I laid a road in that direction.

I remember sitting in my cubicle at the bank where I was a Trust Account Assistant or scribbling in my journal at the coffee shop during my lunch break imagining the day I’d be sitting at my own desk, writing in front of a big sunny window. I didn’t know what I’d be writing; I just knew my fingers and my heart ached to churn out words, not crunch numbers.

In my twenties, I tapped out the beginnings of an historical fiction novel and a mind-numbing autobiography on a dinosaur of a word-processor whose sheer size overwhelmed my small antique desk. Meanwhile, each morning I was turning out pages upon pages of handwritten drivel.

Back then, if anyone asked, I would say I was a writer. To the inevitable next question of “Oh, what?,” I’d respond sheepishly, “Mostly just a journal right now.”

What I didn’t realize then, as I penned on its pages my fears, excitements, dreams, it wasn’t just a journal, it was a journey. A journey towards my future.

Or as Natalie Goldberg would say, I was practicing. Writing practice. I was learning to write—and, more importantly, to become myself. Having no audience but myself, I was learning to write and be from a place of intuition and inner truth.

Like meditation, prayer, yoga, running, etc., it was a practice of self-care that helped calm, heal, and energize, so that with greater confidence and understanding I might face the world knowing who I am and what I wanted for myself. By practicing to see and accept my own foibles and paradoxes, I was learning to interact with others with more empathy and emotional maturity. I was learning the need for safe and sacred space in which to write one’s own truth. I was learning how to help others write theirs.

Checking in with myself on an almost daily basis—How am I feeling? What do I want to be doing? What could that dream have meant?—I was also learning to be observant. Then, by honing the skill of observing the personal, the minutiae of my life, my experiences, my feelings, and weaving them into a more universal story, I was learning to become a better public writer.

Today, whether it’s to write an article, help a client get writing, navigate the hills and valleys of everyday life, or envision my next future dream, I always feel more capable when I have practiced and processed my life and emotions through the free-flowing, free-of-judgment words of my journal.

***

Here are a few of the specific roles my journal practices:

Best Friend. It is always there to lend an ear to my concerns and hopes regardless of whether I require its services at 6AM before the kids get up looking for breakfast and a lost sock, at 10:30PM when I need to process the day before I call it a night, or at 3AM after waking from a bad dream.

Therapist. More than even a best friend could, my journal helps me through difficult situations—helping me be more self-aware and accepting. I ask myself hard questions about how I’m feeling, why I might be reacting a certain way; the paradoxes, the biases, the conflicting emotions. I try to always be truthful with myself and accept the answers that flow onto the page. I dig deep and unpeel the onion that is the emotional body: the memories, the triggers, the yearnings.

Personal Secretary. Being self-employed and working from home I am constantly juggling my schedule and brain space. When the inside of my head resembles the starting line of a marathon, my journal helps me sort through it all, to see what needs to split from the pack and take the lead, and what needs to sit it out for a while.

Creative Partner. When I was writing my memoir and thesis during graduate school, many essays and vignettes began in my journal, where, without the pressure of “perfection,” the words (and memories) would start to flow. When I couldn’t quite see the connection between some concepts I would take them to my journal, write through my confusion, ask myself questions until it clicked. Or, when faced with a particularly difficult memory, I would write it out first, let the tears, anger, hurt flow into the safe pages of my journal before I wrote the more emotionally-controlled piece for school. These days I use the journal to generate ideas for new workshops or consider themes and threads for my articles and blog posts.

Clickage: When it all comes together

I’ve been a tad hard-of-seeing, for probably, oh, let’s see. Ever.

I don’t mean with my physical eyes (although when I finally got glasses for long-distance in college I was amazed to find that objects in my surroundings actually have edges). No, what I am referring to a general lack of focus when it came to What I Do.

That question: So, what do you do? Ack. That one’s been hard to explain ever since I started down this road of teaching others to journal. Hmmm, what? Yeah, I help others start journaling. I facilitate workshops to explain and demonstrate the benefits of introspective writing.

The response is usually one of three: 1. Oh. Hmmm… How ’bout ’em Yankees (at which point I say, Oh. Hmmm). 2. I tried journaling once. I don’t have time for it. 3. Why would I need to be taught how to journal?

For those who get it, the response is usually, Wow, that’s really cool. And then: Who do you work with (meaning what at-risk population)? Yes, journaling/expressive writing is excellent for many groups of people who are otherwise voiceless, disenfranished, hurting, and/or direction-less. But my path has led me to help those one wouldn’t generally think of as voiceless: anyone who has ever had the urge to put pen to paper and/or is looking for that something deeper which – intutively – they know they have inside.

However, one of my struggles, with this population, and with the journaling-thing, in general, is the multi-facted nature. “Seekers” are, by definition, seeking that ineffable Something which will be different than their neighbor’s, their husband’s, their best friend’s, because they are individuals with different experiences, different complexes, different longings.

And journaling cannot be pigeon-holed. Its benefits and uses are so diverse that if I’d have to choose in which category it belonged, I’d have to check off Wellness, Creativity, Spirituality, Self-Development, Therapy, and even Business Tools.

This has been the cause of my lack of focus. I can facilitate workshops, give presentations, and coach private clients in any of these areas, so coming up with a title for myself — and my branding — was so hard. In general, I’ve gone with “Writing for Well-being,” but that is vague and doesn’t touch on the other aspects. I needed a niche and a way of marketing myself which wouldn’t scare people off with the touchy-feely, woo-woo, spirituality aspects with are inherent in any kind of deeply creative work.

But moreover, I needed to understand my personal mission — where the heart, the root of my passion, lies. I knew that being able to visualize and name what one envisions is how it becomes real and do-able.

I have been saying for a long time that I believe the reason we are here on earth is to work towards our potential. I LOVE watching a student/client have an a-ha! moment which clarifies in their own mind what it is they WANT/NEED to do. The tag-line on this blog is “Reflection + Re(dis)covery = Self-Confidence,” and I have seen workshop members grew in confidence before my eyes.

I was told last week by an interviewer that he reads between the lines of each of my weekly columns and blog posts the message to not be afraid, to be brave, and to do the things you yearn to. That was so good to hear, because, Yes! I want everyone to do that!

At the conference I attended a couple of weeks ago, it was reinforced/clarified that what I do, and what I love to do, is tell stories in order to teach and inspire, and that this is such an important job, because, as one presenter said, “the brain is wired for story.” I started to brainstorm around the idea of “the power of story” as a focus for my work.

I have an eleven-year old daughter in whom I am trying to instill the confidence and umph (the “fuck you,” Mary Karr calls it in her memoir, Cherry) that it was taught (implied) to me that girls shouldn’t have. I want to empower my daughter. I want to empower every little girl (and boy) who lives inside a frightened adult today. And I know writing/creativity – story – has the power to do this.

Having a voice is having a sense of self. Voicing our stories is what gives us validation and clarity. And connection. We hear our story, the one unique to us, on the page, and then when we are given a chance to share it, and someone exhales and says, “me too!” we learn we are not as alone (or weird, or awful, or wrong…) as we thought we were.

Today, all these thoughts, ideas, and knowings clicked together — I experienced that great gut feeling of what I call Clickage. And so, I can now name What I Do is:

Empower others through the power of story. I help give Voice through Writing.

Yup, I can see clearly now.

 

W.O.R.D.S: God, Goddess, Godde (or Cleaning up Pee)

The W.O.R.D.S. Project (Words Open Resonating Depths of the Sacred): An alphabetical search for questions.*

Granted, it’s easy to live connected to the Source when the sky is

Open and the sun is shining, and the flowers bright. But when life

Dumps reality on your head a hundred times a day…

Damn it!

Every day is a lesson in remembering what we so easily forget.

I’m a mother. I’m more familiar with bodily fluids, especially little boy pee, than I ever could have imagined. This past week as I was down on my knees once again wiping up my son’s attempt at aim, I thought:

I’m more than this!

There’s a question that has been nagging at me for a while: How can one be spiritually-minded — in the moment, at one with The All … however you personally choose to define it — when there is all this life?

Oh, I’ve heard it before: Make folding laundry a meditation, pick up those little stinky socks like its a service of love for the greater good, pay the bills with non-existent money as an invitation for more “wealth” to come your way.

When you’ve bent down for the 9th time in 5 minutes to pick up another red, plastic foot-lancet, when the bug hits when the deadline is looming, when the officer is at the meter at precisely the moment the time expires, you’re not exactly ready to come over all Rumi.

In Christian circles, such as the one in which I was raised, any sadness, overwhelm, despair, frustration, anger… any “negative” emotion, was a clear indication of one’s lack of faith. “Pray harder,” “Take it to God,” “Ye of little faith…” In non-Christian, new(old)-age circles, this attitude tends to manifest in language such as not living in the moment enough, not mindful enough. “Just pray!” becomes “Just meditate!”

I rebel against this attitude. I don’t find it helpful because it feels like just another reason to feel bad about one’s “imperfect” self; that I’m not trying hard enough, that I’m not enough. But I am human after all, and I am going to get frustrated at life’s little annoyances.

And to those who will say, meditation/praying does work: I know this. Journaling, creating mandalas, walking are my forms of meditation and they do calm me. But I do not want to feel I am not doing it enough or right, or that if I was doing it better I wouldn’t feel the way I do. That demeans my feelings, my emotions. I refuse to judge my emotions.

But that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to feel calmer, less anxious, less angry, and less grossed out by yellow-stained bathroom floors. And that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t prefer to live knowing I’m part of a bigger purpose; part of a bigger Something, a pulse in an energy with which we are all vibrating.

If I could know, really know, in my deepest depths that I am connected to everyone and everything on and around this planet, both living and beyond, would that late payment charge bother me? I really can’t say.

Source, spirit, god, goddess, godde, nirvana, transcendence, love… these, in my opinion, are all one-in-the same: something one can experience. That opening of the heart when one realizes we are all connected. It can happen, it does happen, to some more than others. It is what makes us part of the divine.

But what makes us human is the constant forgetfulness that keeps us asking questions, keeps us on our toes… and in the end makes even cleaning up pee an opportunity to laugh at our human inability to aim correctly all the time.

Prompt: “I always forget…”

~~~
*This project is an off-shoot of the work I did for my graduate degree where I used Words to help heal from my negative indoctrination from “The Word.” Words are powerful agents for transformation! (Thesis/Final Project: Calling Little Gypsy Home: Reclaiming Voice Through Expressive Writing and the Sacred Feminine; Memoir: Sing from the Womb: Leaving Fundamentalism in Search in Voice.)

The W.O.R.D.S. Project: Calling (Or, how do I know my bliss?)

The W.O.R.D.S. Project (Words Open Resonating Depths of the Sacred): A weekly alphabetical search for questions.*

Can you hear the calling of your soul?

And are you really listening?

Listen, listen with your heart,

Listen with your breathing

In, and your breathing out.

Notice how your body feels when

Guiding words vibrate within.

“It was his calling to be a doctor.” “Midwifery is my calling.” “I was called to be a writer.”

Our calling. What does this really mean? And who’s calling?

Some would say it is God who is calling us to our destined path. Well, maybe so – if you believe God is happy to let you do whatever it is that sets your soul free and your spirit soaring. Unfortunately, some believe that those things that make a person happy and fulfilled are contrary to God’s will and so they stunt their own potential in pursuit of unclear message of what it is to be acceptable to God.

That’s not my idea of a divine, higher source of wisdom. For me, divinity IS the journey towards, the search for,  as well as that itself which brings us FLOW (when we lose time doing something we love and have a talent for – our gift). It is the quest for, and the experiences of, transcending the monkey-mind of ego; that place where we are challenged, yet loving it (even during the difficult spots).

We know what these experiences are, what activities can bring us to that place, but we don’t always know it. Contradiction? Not really. Deep, deep inside, in that place that resonates when we hear and recognize some innate truth — when we catch our breath, or our eyes suddenly smart with tears — that is the place of true, gnosis: Knowing

But, as humans in a head-mind “body,” we’re not very good at accessing that spot on a regular basis. It’s deep down there in the body. In our cells, not our thinking mind. We have to listen very carefully to connect to that place. And many times we’re doing everything except that which resonates, that which causes us to flow  beyond, below, and above our critical, fearful, rational ego that tells us we SHOULD be doing this, that, and anything else that will make us respectful, scripted members of society – perfectly.

But that place is calling. That place which knows what your Purpose — our Bliss — here on earth is calling out. And if you listen carefully, very carefully — and it might take some practice, a lot of “walking” around down there — you will hear your Higher Wisdom speaking to you, reminding you what you probably knew intuitively as a child: Your Calling.

So, who’s calling? You. Divine You.

I write this as a reminder to myself because my “calling” has become a little hoarse lately. I thought I knew — and I know I’m on the right path — but the exact destination (or journey, because life is a journey, not a destination) seems to have shifted. But that’s how this thing works: Listen, take a step, listen again, take another, sometimes in the opposite direction than you thought. And that is exactly perfect. Whatever step you take it is enough and right for today for tomorrow you can take another.

~~~

*This project is an off-shoot of the work I did for my graduate degree where I used Words to help heal from my negative indoctrination from “The Word.” Words are powerful agents for transformation! (Thesis/Final Project: Calling Little Gypsy Home: Reclaiming Voice Through Expressive Writing and the Sacred Feminine; Memoir: Sing from the Womb: Leaving Fundamentalism in Search in Voice.)