Updated Journaling Technique Article Index

JTTS_Instructor_LogoI don’t write much about journaling techniques here at Wisdom Within, Ink. Although this blog is indirectly about journaling, it isn’t a “how-to” kind of place. Here, and in my workshops, I’m more story-teller than “just the facts, ma’am” kind of teacher.

However, I do know lots of techniques, exercises, and prompts to help you get writing, introspecting, organizing, and healing. Over the past six years I have written many how-tos and where-fors of journaling over at Examiner.com and I just — finally — updated the index page. Check it out! There are many, many short articles to take a peek at, all organized by category. Yay!

Click here: http://www.examiner.com/article/list-of-journaling-techniques-categorized-by-function to find a list of categories. Each topic heading will take you to a list of articles based on that theme.

If you have questions about a journaling technique or a particular issue you’d like to journal on but aren’t sure what might be the best technique to use, please let me know (click the Contact tab and send me a message).

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On a mission (statement)

Recently I met with a career coach. My intention was to see how my (rather unorthodox) skills and experience might translate into the “real” world and a “real” job. Well, you know that saying, “Physician, heal thyself”? My session with her was a clear example of how we can be blind to our own needs even while helping others.

Although she used different terminology and visual examples, the ways she suggested I figure out what I wanted to do when I grow up was practically the same as what I have my clients do with journaling techniques. In one word: visualization.

After our session I went home and go out my journal and wrote what was, in Journal to the Self parlance, a Perspective. That is, I wrote about my ideal day, my ideal life — I visualized myself already living the life I wanted. When you give yourself permission to imagine in this way, you allow for things not probable, but possible.

First, after you have acknowledged the things about your current life and career that are not what you want, you can dream about how those things would look different. You can ignore the realities of your present life and the supposed inevitabilities of future bills and car break downs and frozen pipes, and, if one is of an artistic bent like me, the “starving artist” syndrome must also be pushed aside.

This wasn’t a difficult exercise for me; I know exactly what my ideal life looks like. On paper I’m great at ignoring “realities” and “probabilities.” (I say “on paper” because in my real life, the one in which I am married to an idealist dreamer-type, I have to be the realist, you know the one who considers that we might actually need plates to eat off when we go camping or that moving across the country requires careful planning and lots of boxes, not just a truck in which to throw all your belongings in a big pile… )

Yup, on paper and in my head my perfect life trips along happily without toothaches or empty oil tanks or kids home from school due to snow for the fourth time in two weeks, bored and fighting and apathetic of my looming deadlines.

And it was on this paper that it became clear the “real” job I’ve been pursuing isn’t what I really want, but rather a desperate attempt to squeeze myself into a box, the only box I could see as a potential paycheck-producing one. On paper, the grim realization dawned that my most passion-driven, authentic life has no (immediate) guaranteed financial advantage. Crap.

However, one other thing rang out loud and clear as my words flowed across the paper: I had a mission.

Now, I thought I already had established this a long time ago. I knew that I wanted to help others find their authentic life through writing (see, it says that in the header of this blog). What I didn’t realize was that I was being too vague and that I hadn’t yet established a niche or focused in on what I know best.

I have presented journaling and expressive writing workshops and talks to business women, teen moms, tween girls, teachers, guidance counselors, stressed people, spiritual-seekers, and aspiring writers. I have written thousands upon thousands of words for my local paper about my city’s people, events, and businesses. But my personal life, my experiences, my graduate research, and above all, my own wounds all point to my greatest strength and deepest passion: Finding Voice through Writing.

I knew this but yet I have skirted around it, creating workshops of a more general nature, pursuing work that I thought I “should,” and landing myself a freelance job writing about things I care about but aren’t my expertise or passion, and for which I do a lot of brain-wearying head-writing instead of my beloved heart-writing.

The upshot of all this is, while I still don’t know my next exact step(s), I know I must keep writing, researching, and facilitating. And now I can focus — focus on the exact path I want to be on. When an opportunity arises I can ask myself if it fits my personal mission and as time and finances allow I will be able to let those things go which don’t.

And as coaches and inspirational speakers love to tell us, it is when, and only when, we focus on what we are called to do — which is usually, painfully where our own deepest wounds lie — that the people who need us and the money will find us.

So, here, dear readers, is my personal mission (most likely to get tweaked as time goes on):

To help the silenced heal their voice through story, creating new narratives to live by.

Now to stay open to the opportunities wherein I can be the most helpful and find the most meaning and fulfillment… and money; can’t ignore that very basic necessity of life!

For more information on writing mission statements, please read my Examiner article.

Prompts: In my ideal day I would be…

It is my mission in life to…

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.

The Elevator Pitch the Write Way

You’ve probably heard the term Elevator Pitch. According to Wikipedia, it’s “a short summary used to quickly and simply define a product, service, or organization… [and] should be possible to deliver the summary in the time span of an elevator ride, or approximately thirty seconds to two minutes.”

At one Goddard College graduate residency we played on this idea in a getting-to-know-you exercise. We had to walk across the room and tell someone in about 30 seconds with no prep what questions we were researching (Goddard’s Individualized MA program is all independent study). It was very helpful for me to have to summarize the myriad ideas I was looking into and state my one main point of query. One year and much research and writing later, I find I need to do this again. The Elevator Pitch for both my research and my memoir synopsis is rambling around in my head and has become more of an “… and Into the Lobby and out onto the Sidewalk Pitch.”

I saw this link today to a news story from Fox 44 news in Burlington, Vermont posted by The League of Vermont Writers: New Writers Pitch to Literary Agents.

It recounts the League’s recent Writers Meet Agents Event at its biennial conference in Burlington, where wannabe authors pitched their ideas to literary agents in a kind of “speed dating” process. Just reading about this made my stomach turn. I immediately thought, “What on earth would I say (without coming across as a bumbling idiot)???”

Time to get out my journal.

Here’s how one way to focus your ideas, not just for others to understand exactly what it is you do all day, but, maybe more importantly, for you to focus. It gives you a way to gather the harvest of fresh imaginings, colorful memories and juicy research nibblets, and then single out what you need to make the tonight’s dinner (i.e. book, essay, project, etc.).

1. Write down ALL your ideas, angles/layers, questions or descriptions of your project.

Write them in no particular order. Maybe mind-map them. Draw lines between connected concepts. (A huge piece of paper and colored pens might come in useful.) (And, warning! Whole new connections and ideas may arise while doing this.)

2. Circle or make a list of which words, phrases or themes come up most often.

Put the top ranked word/theme (or top two or three, if they are close) at the top of a blank page.

3. Just write!

Start with a prompt such as, “My book is about…” “I am studying…” “The premise of my thesis…” “The theme of my memoir is…,” and free write non-stop for five minutes (don’t stop even if it means writing in ums and ahhhs or oh crap, I have no idea what I’m writing-s!) However, you may find that after mind-mapping all your ideas, your writing flows easier.

4. Chop. Dice. Boil down. Spice up.

Re-write until you have two or three sentences that concisely, creatively, and above all, passionately describe what you are writing (but please leave out the adverbs!).

5. Say it out loud.

Read what you’ve written and then practice saying it until it sounds natural, as if you have such complete and utter clarity about your work (which you do now, right?) that you are just able to reel it off without thinking. Time yourself to make sure it is within the thirty second to two minute range.

6. P.S.  This technique doesn’t have to apply to just writing.

Think Personal Mission Statements. Artist Statements. Life choices even. (You don’t need to end up with blurb/pitch for this one unless you want to, but the process of whittling down options can still be used.) Whenever you have a sense of confusion, overwhelm, and/or lack of clarity, get it ALL on paper and let the pen do its magic.

Photo credit: d3designs from morguefile.com

Do you need a map or a box of chocolates?

I have to thank Mark Matousek, with whom I took a class at the Therapeutic Writing Institute, for his insightful article in Psychology Today: What’s Your Metaphor? Shifting Shapes In The New Year. This post is my response.

Having never asked myself what word or phrase I consider my life metaphor, and how it affects my worldview, I decided to sit down with my journal and investigate.

In many of my blog posts I write about the Path of our life, so without consciously naming it it would seem this is my life metaphor. Is this a positive metaphor? Indeed, not negative, but a little passive. On a path wandering along waiting for things to just cross my way? Partially true. But I also believe that if I trust my feet (my intuition) new avenues will open leading to new places and new people and new opportunities.

I also use the metaphor of a Journey. You need a map, provisions, traveling companions, and a destination. There will be stumbles, detours, and things to see along the way. This seems more pro-active and goal-orientated.

Life is a Path , a Journey? Does that feel true to my own understanding? Do I need to change my metaphor? What are my options? A game. A play. Paint by number. Spiral. Flower garden. Circus. Bitch. How about Forrest Gump’s Box of Chocolates? Something new to taste all the time – some you won’t like but that will make the next yummy one even sweeter. Taste life. That’s pretty good. Thank you, Mrs. Gump. But no, not quite right.

Quest? Looking, searching for Something. That’s it. Seeking. Seeking Self. Yes, Life is a Quest.

On a quest you must ask Questions to discover you own truth and your own authentic self. Questioning everything you “know” to be true, questioning authority- those old and new external voices telling your who and what and how and when, questioning your own emotional reactions, and questioning fears and self-perception. Yes, life is a Question within which, just as Rumi said, the Answers lie.

So, as in the fairy tales and ancient myths, I could be the heroine of my own story, riding through dark, scary woods of emotional unknowns and entering bright clearings as I discover new things about myself. Using my talents to create my own path towards the enlightenment at the end of the tunnel – the (w)holy grail of human existence.

This is my New Year’s Resolution: To travel with the questions and celebrate every step of the way. And maybe take a few chocolates for the road.

Prompt: My life is…?

An open letter to those who are human

C.P. Estes (author of Women Who Run With the Wolves) always addresses her readers as “Dear Brave Souls.” I do not know her exact reasoning for this but I can guess that she knows how much courage it takes to live in this world, to face the pains and heartbreaks, unknowns and setbacks. But even more than this, it takes a strong heart to live as a “wild” woman (or man), that is, one who steps out from behind the mask – our persona – shadow and all. It takes strength to live authentically, saying what we truly know, doing what we truly love, and loving how we need to be loved. So, taking a page from the book of the beautiful soul, Ms. Estes, I too shall address my readers so.

Dear Brave Souls:

I am not a psychologist but I am lucky enough to be human. I have my very own persona, ego, unconscious, authentic voice – and shadow. I have to live with myself on a daily basis and I know that I am far from perfect. But no one is! There is no such thing! I have biases, I make unjust judgements, I have anger, I have selfishness, and I also project the unwanted, uncomfortable, painful, most repressed parts of myself onto others. But I also have love and concern and hope and dreams. And I believe it is my responsibility while on this human-life quest for self-actualization – on the path of my potential – to choose love over judgement. And to be honest with and to myself. Every aspect of myself.

I doubt there is a soul in this beautiful but confusing world who does not have anger in their heart. Everyone of us have had experiences that hurt us deeply – tragically. We cannot compare one person’s pain to another. Each of us is a medley of our experiences which blend to make us the unique beings we are. Yes, we are angry, we feel rage sometimes, but these are the voices of our past. They are old recordings from our frightened egos which try to keep us safe from things no longer a threat. But our heart, our soul, knows the truth.

All emotions are messages. Anger is a particularly strong message. And those we are angry at, our mirrors. We must look at – and accept – our anger because, yes!, it is real and should not be denied or ignored. But look at it closely. Look in that mirror. There, peering back at us, are the dark parts of us we’d rather not know (and of which we may not even be aware). That is our Shadow. It tells us things about another person or event that have nothing to do with them. We are not angry with them, we are angry with ourselves. It is our own pain speaking.

Smile at those silly shadows because they are tricksters, making us believe in illusion. The reality is there can be no shadow if there is no light! 

So our Shadows are also there to teach – if we are willing to learn. We must listen to our Shadow – it is there in that scary place that we will also discover our Light. We cannot be whole until we can integrate the dark with the light (just think of the moon).

And we have tools* to help. We have the ability to listen to our true strength, our inner wisdom, our higher self, for it knows the truth. We have to listen hard and with an open mind – it may not tell us what we are used to hearing. But it is our own truth – our own healing truth. It is our truth that can take our rage and turn it to proactive outrage. It is our truth that can take our pain and turn it to strength and compassion.

We are all in this together – everyone of us. And we must forgive those who, like us, are also learning to listen to their truth and inner wisdom.

*One of these tools is to write. Expressive journaling – meaning, to write freely without thinking or editing – this accesses deeper wisdom and allows us to discover our own truth. Once we become aware – and accept – our own truth we live more authentically, and therefore, with more joy.

Prompt: One truth I know is…

Burning Rage

This is a very personal post. It is the result of trauma that occurred because my voice was muted. I see this “dream” and the writing of it is as the whisper of my returning voice (a loud stage whisper, perhaps?). 

Rage, which is a socially unacceptable emotion, especially for women, is coming forward and yelling very loudly. By envisioning it (and other emotions) as tangibles, I am acknowledging it, and learning to accept it. I must integrate it so it no longer pins me down but lifts me into action – and voice. I also see it as my body starting to speak to me, and so become part of me, as I begin to notice its pains and tightness. My body and  my psyche (one in the same) are speaking up as they work towards healing and wholeness.

~~~~

I awoke with rage lying heavy on my chest like, what was it? A steel plate. Thick, heavy, reddish brown with rust, like what you see at construction sites, pinning me to my bed. Heavier, denser than anything I had experienced. Rage. Burning rage. It stretched from my neck to the bottom of my ribcage. I was shaking from the exertion of holding it there while trying to breathe. When I woke I was curled into the fetal position, and I could not move. Didn’t want to move. I knew I had to stay there, to acknowledge this plate of anger, this shield of rage. An impenetrable, metal protective shield over my heart.

“I feel you,” I told it. “What do you want me to know?”

As I focused on it I knew I must somehow destroy it. Release my heart and lungs from this burden I had carried for too long. But what can destroy an element as thick and strong as steel?

Fire. Only fire is capable of transforming steel to something malleable. In the half-world between sleep and waking, the image of a furnace slowly evolved. I tried to fit the metal plate into its ferocious red-orange mouth. But it would not go, it was too big. I forced the fire entrance larger and larger still until finally the metal began to disappear into its depth. As it did so the image began to shrink away, further and further into the blackness at the back of my mind. And then it was gone over the horizon of my conscious.

But the rage had not. As I watched, a small slit in the center of my chest peeled open, and as when a piece of wood slowly surfaces from the below the water or a rock begins to emerge from beneath the melting snow, another metal plate crested, pinning me still. This time I was able to summon up the furnace and feed the metal into it with more ease. The heavy rage was gone but lying in its place was a straw or hair mat thick and prickly with anxiety. A goat appeared and I offered it the mat. I cried with relief as I watched – and felt – it disappear.

My chest and my heart was visibly freed of weight. My more coherent mind yearned for my body to feel the difference. Still wrapped up into myself I pictured my heart lifting and opening with its new freedom, but I could not feel it. Then I noticed more pains around my body. First, it was my upper back. Rusty, red epaulettes fit over my shoulders like a piece of Roman armor. This metal was lighter than what had pinned my chest but I recognized it as the anger I hold there. In my trance state, I quickly removed them and flung them into the furnace.

Then immediately, my lower belly. This time it was a small, blue bowl. A Japanese soup bowl filled with spaghetti and meat. I knew this to be sadness. Despair. How to abolish this? I decided not to try to destroy it but to take it in. I would eat the meat and envision it filling my body with new energy. I pictured doing this once and then again. Then the bowl filled with popcorn. I flung the kernels out into the garden and allowed the animals – the rabbit, the woodchuck, the deer, the cats – to absorb my pain. My whole body sighed in release.

My lower back began to ping. I focused on it but nothing came to me. But I had to turn from it as a deeper, heavier pain dropped into my stomach. A rock. A boulder. A lump of sorrow and fear and worry and anger sitting directly under my ribs where the two sides of the cage join. I asked it what I must do but no answers appeared. No ideas arose as what can be done to destroy or absorb a thing as solid, as ancient, as grounded as a rock.

Still curled around the now even-denser obstruction in my belly, as if it was a growing child I needed to protect in my womb, I woke fully. In my mind’s eye it was so perfectly round and near the surface it seemed I could reach in and take it out. I would be able to hold it in my palm much like a grapefruit. The sensation of its presence was making me physically sick. I longed to pull it out and throw it far away.

I wanted to feel different when I left my bed. I wanted the sensation of weightlessness on my shoulders and light around my heart. I wanted to feel my breath fill the deepest corners of my body. I hoped joy had replaced the sadness in my belly. But instead I felt shaky. Like electric pulses were running through my veins. On edge. Tears. Like I had just experienced something physiologically disturbing; an operation, medication, an accident. Trauma.

As I write this the emotion is close to the surface. Typing the words and images brings the event, the sensations to life. It was not a dream. I really cried. Tears rolled down my face and into my pillow. I felt the shudder of physical release. I may not feel free right now – my shoulders are still tight, my chest heavy, my stomach jumpy – but I know I found, and will recognize soon, some healing in the images and symbols that my unconscious offered me. It was physical pain that I felt as I imagined my rage as a physical weight on my chest. My body hurts because my psyche is in pain. The symbol of the metal plate is the psyche’s way of communicating to me in terms I can understand. In my “dream” I burned my rage and it disappeared. I may still be feeling the trauma of lying so long under its weight, but I will heal.

My heart will lift and my breath will flow freely.

Prompt: Envision or write to your painful emotions as a “thing” which you can discard or transform into something more positive.