from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Monday, 20 February 2012

the artist as spider's web: journaling

OK, OK, I will stop banging on – for a little while – about the right-on-ness of mindfulness. Am sure I'm repeating myself, anyway.

Today (and yesterday) I've been pole-axed by a strange headache. I should be teaching a class for the Poetry School, but instead have been languishing on the sofa by the fire. I have discovered, for almost the first time in my life, the benefits of that thing other people mention – what's it called? Is it a 'nap'? (Actually, if I think of it as a 'siesta' it seems cool.) Anyway, I liked my brief taste of it, and might try it again.

Just to prove to you I can think of other things besides Zen teachings, I thought I'd post here another of my pieces from MsLexia magazine, published in early 2009. (Help! Hope this one isn't a repeat.) This piece, like some of the succeeding articles, is on the benefits of journaling – core practice, in my opinion, not just for a writer but for a human being.

Now it's back to the sofa for me.

The Artist as a Spider’s Web
‘The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider's web...’ Picasso

… and so is the artist’s (writer’s) journal. The journal has been at times not just an anchor but also a lifeboat for me. Interesting, isn’t it, that the things that might help us the most but which require a little time and attention are the things that so easily go out the window at a time of crisis. So for the last two-plus years when my family has experienced serious illness and a tragic loss my journal has remained almost empty. When I came to pick it up the other day with renewed commitment I couldn’t believe that I could have let such a crucial practice – and personal support – slide.
    For me my journal is part of my meditation practice; but it’s more, besides, including my creative treasure-box. I encourage you now, if you don’t possess one, to go out immediately and buy the most sumptuous blank-page hardback notebook you can find, and a pen with which you’ll really enjoy writing in it.

‘Journal’ is a bit of a misnomer, conjuring up as it does simply a diary – the ‘daily record of events’, says the Concise OED. My journal is a great deal more than this. Journal-writing can be a profound tool for entering a more conscious relationship with the way we live out our lives on all levels. It does not matter whether the writing is lists, single words, phrases, snatches of incoherent ideas, quotes, poems, jottings, philosophical speculation or tumbling stream-of-consciousness writing. The process will be aided by images: from dreams, as symbols, as photos, drawings, clippings, colour. Mine includes postcards, scraps, feathers. It’s friend and confidant, repository of thoughts and feelings, and it’s where I work the greater picture of my life out.
    And there is a whole well-established movement that uses the journal specifically as a therapeutic tool, in the service of enhancing one’s sense of personal and transpersonal meaning. In 1966 Ira Progoff, in the States, started the Intensive Journal Process. ‘The journal is an open-ended means of gaining a perspective on where you are in the movement of your life…[it can also help to] achieve on the practical level the goal of fulfilling one’s seed potential,’ he says. It happens that the process itself deepens one’s perspective, so that it becomes a very effective way of living a more fulfilling and creative life.

In addition to storing creative ideas, journaling can be used:
•    to create a deeper relationship with one’s inner life
•    to draw inner and outer lives together
•    for a better understanding of life themes and patterns and how they play themselves out in one’s life
•    to explore significant periods, people, places and events in one’s life
•    to explore the dilemmas we encounter, decisions we make or need to make, and paths taken or not.

More another time.

At a Journal Workshop, Ira Progoff (Tarcher Putnam 1975/1992)


  1. I liked yesterday's post! I was particularly struck by what you said about mindfulness etc being a subversive path. That explains a lot (of the opposition I've encountered)!
    And it's good to be reminded about the importance of journalling too. Some practical suggestions for enriching one's journalling would be great - and/or a workshop??
    Commiserations about the headache. Keep napping. Wasn't it Dali who said that his most creative time occurred when falling asleep or waking up?

  2. And a memory chest as well. When I dare to reread an old journal I realise how full my life has been, and how many days of rain, or sun there were then!
    But best of all now, is to realise how tortured I felt, and how much happier I am now. Meditation and I guess a bit of ageing ...
    And I thoroughly recommend a siesta, especially when the fire is smoldering quietly and the dog also thinks it's a good time to rest.

  3. Thanks both - and also for the affirmation re mindfulness, Belinda. Tried that 'nap' business again today - I could like this! :-)

    Belinda, will post more on journaling soon. I have done and do run workshops on this sometimes - will let you know if I offer one in my 'lair' down here.

    Veronica, does Jenny also use a different surname?


    1. I think she uses the same name, but with a hyphen.
      :) X
      It's thanks to mindfullness, really. When I feel that sownward spiral I ask myself if I really need to go any further. When the children were young I suffered from GUILT... I think it's a mother's disease...

  4. Oh and Veronica - v glad to hear what you said about having moved into a happier place, psychologically speaking :-) x


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