I love Roselle’s glorious list of distinct things she keeps in her journal. It is a fabulous analysis of how as writers we use our journals to capture snippets and interpretations of the external world around us, as well as accounts of what we find in our inner world too. All serve as sources of inspiration or springboards for our work.
Yet a certainty I have arrived at after years of reflective writing practice is that we do not need to be inspired to write. Reflective writing itself gives us inspiration. Or at least allows us to get below the surface, into the boundless resourcefulness of our being.
When writers look within we get to work past our writerly persona and remind ourselves who we really are on the inside. Once we know this we learn anew how to meet and re-present the worlds we notice with the greatest amount of authenticity and insight.
To deepen our reflections here are three of my favourite journaling habits that regularly free me and bring me a sense of expansion, clarity and intuition.
One often hears about keeping a gratitude journal and if you’re anything like me you might recoil at its apparent worthiness. But also if you’re anything like me you’ll want to run at it anyway, because there is something attractive and wholesome about expressing gratitude.
The challenge here is to complete the daily prompt ‘I am grateful for…’ three times, each time naming a different thing for which you feel grateful. Many businessmen I’ve shared this exercise with have burst into laughter at the idea of being grateful for something completely different in every single response. But that’s the expansive discipline of this exercise.
In my journal I’ve expressed gratitude for sunshine, birdsong, my early morning cuppa, my comfy bed, my deep sleep, the promise of the day ahead.
When things have got really tricky and I feel I’ve run out of things to be grateful for I’ve turned my gratitude on unlikely things – like anger, disappointment, and sadness.
I can’t imagine the businessmen would approve, but reflecting gratefully on the things we would naturally resist and reject is powerfully transformative. It always reveals many new perspectives that were previously hidden from view.
One of the earliest journals ever kept is Japanese courtier’s Sei Shonogan’s Pillow Book. In it she makes lists of things that make her happy, irritated and proud. Reading it you get a sense of each separate item being considered and savoured – a worthy exercise in acknowledgement, appreciation and understanding. Having read Roselle’s comprehensive list of journal contents a similar feeling settled within me.
Using our journal to make lists helps to reignite our sense of purpose. For a further shot of energy, try making distinct lists of your positive attributes it’s normally tempting to collapse together, like talents, skills, gifts, interests and commitments. Not only will you experience something akin to all your vertebrae clicking into alignment as you disentangle things, you may also discover how much (or how little) you value your abilities.
For me this is the most thrilling and revealing aspect of our inner landscape that journaling helps us to mine.
I love that we have a body that allows us to experience the world and each other sensually. So often writing can feel like an exercise of the brain, and more specifically of the left hemisphere. Nevertheless I have a strong conviction, based entirely on my own subjective experience, that journaling integrates both hemispheres of the brain. It connects our imagination with the fine motor skills needed to push the pen across the page and form meaning out of inky marks.
This is a phenomenon of infinite wonder to me – and that having learned to write we each have this facility – to commune with our innermost self, our intuition and what Marion Milner calls the sagacity of our bodies.
To tune into the wisdom of your body and receive its message, check in for a moment and feel where you might have any physical tension. Then give it a name, engage it in dialogue and take down its words as if you were its stenographer. This is a stunningly effective exercise which exposes us to raw truths that have the power to transform not just our writing but our entire lives.
May these exercises bring a new dimension to your journal, your writing and your life!