Steppingstones to a new life

Yesterday morning in my journal I wrote:

I am blessed with abundance. I am blessed with the answer. I am a magnet to all the resources I need. What is the answer? I need to know what path to go down today.

This morning I wrote:

Oh, lawd! I feel like a puzzle piece just snapped into place. Thank you! Yesterday I wrote that the answer would come. Yesterday I didn’t know… but today I have my next step in life.

Ira Progoff calls them Steppingstones. They are the moments, the decisions, the experiences that have carried you to the place you are today. Today, the dissonant notes of my life came crashing together and fell into perfect harmony.

I was raised in a fundamental church. As a child I felt loved and cherished surrounded by many “aunties” and “uncles” in a family which segregated itself from, while living and working in, The World. But by the time we moved to America in my early teenage years, the shiny veneer of this community had begun to tarnish.

The next fifteen years were ones of anger, grief, denial and pain. I do not exaggerate when I say I was experiencing the after effects of trauma – emotional trauma. By my early 30s after much reading and self-exploration through journaling, I had finally come to a place of peace and acceptance. I was still searching for meaning in a spiritual sense but at one with the knowledge in my heart that I believed in one thing – Love.

And then last week someone said something to me that ripped my wound open. It became very clear to me that I needed to purge this pain and grief once and for all. But how?

From age 5 I wanted to be a writer. From age 13 I kept a diary. From age 22 I kept a journal. At age 33 I began to call myself an Aspiring Writer and realized I wanted to teach others how to journal. And at 35 I told the world I was a Writer and a Certified Journal Writing Instructor. Two different things. Similar in their love of words but not the same. I started two blogs, one just my musings and the other for journal prompts. I’d write personal essays for various outlets and then I’d go out into the world to share my love and passion for the power of journal writing. I want to empower everyone I meet and I am passionate for them to believe in their dreams, their talents and their potential. Two different worlds: words for me, words for you.

From the moment I was handed the certificate that claimed I had a Bachelor of Arts degree and all the “rights and privileges pertaining thereto” I wanted to go onto grad school. Problem was I had no idea what to go for. 16 years, two states, 5 houses, 7 cats, 2 children later, and approximately 5012 journal entries later, I finally figured it out.

When I finished my certification as a journaling instructor I thought I wanted to go on to study journal/poetry therapy but the medical implications of that did not appeal to me. But I also wanted to write – creative writing. How could I tie my two writing worlds together? I wasn’t sure what to do next.

Then I discovered there is such thing as a self-designed degree in Transformative Language Arts. Very few colleges in the country offer this program and the one recommended in my field just happens to be in my home state, only two hours away from where I live! And because it is self-designed I can incorporate both creative writing and journal writing. But how exactly?

Yesterday while pondering in my journal the next step with my journal workshops I had written that there might be “a slight pull towards religious people.” Why on earth?! Because I want to understand the thinking and maybe help those who have experienced the similar “religious trauma” as me. I wrote, “I’ll look into [grad school] today and see if this is the direction I want to go. What new worlds could that open???”

Then today: Light Bulb! I could write a book as my Masters study – my religious trauma and the healing I get from writing about it and how I could then help others with similar issues.

Stopped in my pen tracks! Fear. Excitement. Doubt. Overwhelm. Combination of both worlds. One giant therapy session! Yesterday I didn’t know I’d be able to combine this curiosity about religion and a degree. And today I have an answer. THANK YOU!

Steppingstones. When you step from one to the other you may feel like they are islands, isolated and disconnected. Just a way to get from here to there. But then you reach a new shore and you turn around to see, that although they are all different – some big, some small, some wobbly and scary – they were all leading to the same place.

And when you bring your journal along to record each step, it can serve as travel agent, telescope, compass, map, and travel log. Today mine is a celebration of self-exploration. Where to next?

Prompt: What are the steppingstones in your life that have gotten you to where you are today?

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P.S. Please visit my page for articles on Journaling for Kids, Organization, and almost everything in between.

Quoting Natalie: Shake loose your mind

I try to shake loose my mind, so something fresh can fall out… This process acts like a sifter – sand falls through and bright nuggets come to light.

–Natalie Goldberg, Thunder and Lightning

Writing for creativity

While Natalie talks about “writing practice” in her book Thunder and Lightning (as she did in Writing Down the Bones) to clear the mind and stimulate creativity for the serious writer, the exercises are no different than what we do in our journals. We write without fear, without self-judgment to brush away the cobwebs of the mind and to stimulate the (re)creation or ourselves. Through free-writing — taking out the garbage, as Julia Cameron calls it — we make room for the good stuff. We are able to get past our everyday thoughts and right into the heart of the matter.

When you shake something you have control over it. It, whatever that “it” is, no longer functions under its own power. Shaking your mind through unrestricted writing allows the creative side of your brain to supersede the analytical, critical side. The gems have the opportunity to form and fall onto the page.

Writing through pain

This is important for professional writers, of course, in order for them to hone their craft – or any creative soul, for that matter – but it is also vital to us in everyday life. We can use the shaking up to remember, to uncover deep beliefs, and hidden dreams, and to heal.

Writing about our personal traumas has been proven to aid in the healing process. Seeing the images and feelings associated with our painful experiences actually changes the way the brain processes and understands the memory. This allows us to get past it. By writing about whatever slips from the tip of your pen you will eventually uncover the “nuggets” of your pain.

Look around you right now. What do you see? A book on the table. A toy on the floor. A banana. Coffee cup. Whatever it is, write about it. You may start with the snow-covered car outside the window and end up in your aunt’s living room or in the library at college. Wherever you go, go with it. Go there. Enjoy the ride. Shake it all loose and discover those nuggets.

Connecting hand with mind and heart

Writing… digested our sorrow, dissolved and integrated our inner rigidity, and let us move on. I don’t even remember what we wrote about. It didn’t matter. The effort of forming words, physically connecting hand with mind and heart, and then having the freedom to read aloud transformed us.— Natalie Goldberg, Thunder and Lightning

I read this quote last night just before falling asleep. Dreams began almost immediately – so immediately I wondered if I was hallucinating instead of sleeping. I can only describe the vision as an elliptic flash of lights, racing back and forth between my head and my hand. Its meaning was obvious: There is electricity when one engages the hand in tune with the head and heart, just as Natalie said.

There is also healing.


My mind is saying…

My heart wants to say…

You can set yourself a time limit (say 10 minutes) or write for as long as you need to.

Jour du Journal: Let me hear your body talk!

Dialoguing with your body aches and pains to heal the past.

Yesterday I had my very first massage. It was only a short one, a chair massage at a wellness fair. But in that 5 minutes the masseuse was able to tell me that I “ran cold” and that I’m “tightly strung.” Yup (brrr!) and YUP (just ask my kids if I’m tightly strung!).

Today I have been trying to keep my shoulders down and back, but I have been holding myself in a protective stance for so many years that my body has adopted this position as the norm. I’m not even aware that I am tensed up until I unclench my shoulders and find they are able to go down at least an inch. It’s like in so many novels I read where the character doesn’t even realize he is holding his breath until he lets it out.

Like a tree, our history is etched in our centers. Our bodies hold our traumas, our illness, our emotions. At some point in my past I felt the need to protect myself and so my shoulders came up and forward in a pathetic attempt at keeping vulnerability at bay. And so now, although I may not longer feel so vulnerable as I did as that scared child, my body is in the habit of trying to protect me. Massage therapists, energy healers, and other body-spirit specialists understand this and help us undo the messages of the past by loosening and expelling the hurts of the body.

How can writing also help unwrite the messages of the past? First the past has to be acknowledged. Find the pain and talk to it.

For today’s journal exercise, I want to you to think about where in your body you feel pain. Or, like in my case where I currently have no physical pain, relax each part of your body area by area to see where you are most tense. If you have to work to relax it, it was too tense!

Now, take that part (or those parts) of your body and have a chat with it. So, for example, I would write something like:

Me: Hey Shoulders! Why you so het up? Always hanging out near my ears…

Now let your body “answer.”

Shoulders: To keep you safe. Protect you…

This may feel silly at first but just keep writing and your inner knowledge will come out if you give it time. Ask why. Explore all the reasons you might be “sore” in body and spirit. Work on your body, work on your mind, together they will help each other heal.