Jacqueline Gautier


August 01, 1998
An Adventure in Self-Discovery ™

Often when people hear the word "journaling" they associate it with keeping a diary. This association is deeply rooted historically as far back as tenth century Japan when ladies of the Heian court journaled their reflections of life and love in "pillow books." A millennium later the world continues to be moved by the incredibly earnest and articulate entries made by Anne Frank during the Nazi occupation.

Journaling can therefore be about keeping a diary, but it can be much more.

Handwriting is connected to the movement of your heart. The process is kinesthetic (energy resulting from motion). Primary thoughts carry tremendous energy because they are unencumbered by the ego.

Journaling is a pilgrimage that engages our hearts and souls. It is a collection of tools, techniques and ideas which stimulate the thinking process and unlock doors to our feelings, intuitions, motives and lessons. Famous journaling expert Natalie Goldberg says, "If you go deep enough in writing, it will take you everywhere... To do a writing practice means to ultimately deal with your whole life."

Journaling is a centering, steadying, empowering and enlightening process. Likened to a meditative practice, one becomes intimate with their personality and all its fears, foibles, and quirks. In time we come to view it as a bridge to our spirituality, grace, wisdom and power.

One of the basic tools of Julie Cameron's highly successful "The Artist's Way" creative recovery program is a daily journaling practice of three pages of Stream of Consciousness or flow writing first thing in the morning. Of these "Morning Pages" Ms. Cameron states, "Writing by hand is not merely writing, it is 'righting'... If we follow our hand, which follows our thoughts, that hand will point to the proper trail -- True North."

Direct benefits of journaling include increased clarity, focus, creativity, self-trust, and an undeniable release of stress and negative emotions.

One can employ a "smorgasbord" journaling style which in short means to date each entry and let your pen take you where it will. Your whole life and all its aspects are written up in one journal. Or you may prefer "a la carte" journaling where different notebooks are used for specific areas of one's life -- for example, green for finances, yellow for unbeat topics, red for career, blue for relationships, and purple for dreams.

The types of journals one uses for entries can vary from elaborately bound and decorate books to spiral notebooks, three ring binders, artist's sketch pads, or even cocktail napkins.
There are a myriad of journaling techniques one can employ. These techniques are likened to the tools in a toolbox. Each one is very useful in its own way and some are better suited for particular tasks.

Springboards, like diving boards, launch you in a particular direction. There are two basic springboards: questions and statements. Posing a questions tends to engage our "right" brain, where we seem to be able to explore feelings more readily, such as "What are my greatest fears?" Statements, on the other hand, tend to engage our "left" brain where we can access thoughts and facts: "My greatest fears are..."

Leading journaling therapist Dr. Ira Progoff is credited with developing the very popular Dialog technique. Dialog is an exchange between yourself and someone or something else. You play both parts. In a journal it looks somewhat like a movie script:

ME: You are taking up so much of my energy!
FEAR: Well, pay attention to me: I'm here to tell you something!
One can dialog with persons, events, circumstances, the body, emotions, material objects, and inner wisdom.

Another favorite journaling tool is List-Making. While we are all familiar with grocery lists, journaling lists are an entirely different species. One example of List-Making would be "Lists of 100" where one chooses a subject such as 100 Things I Want to Do, 100 Fears, or 100 Things I Like About Myself, and then attempts to make 100 entries. The trick with this journaling tool is to write very fast. Repetitions are acceptable; the words do not need to make sense. List-Making is a wonderful way to clarify thoughts, brain-storm, access a lot of information quickly, focus attention and get below the surface. (Hint: the presenting issue is not usually what's really going on!)

A very powerful and healing journaling tool is the Unsent Letter. Journaling specialty Kathleen Adams refers to Unsent Letters as the three C's: the promote Catharsis, Complexion, and Clarity. They are used for expressing deep emotions such as anger or grief. One very frank journaling student refers to them as "an emotional enema -- the move the crap right out of you." The beauty of the Unsent Letter is that because you have no intention of actually sending it, there is no risk of hurting someone. This fact alone removes the internal censor and allows one to be completely truthful. In my journaling classes, once students have written their Unsent Letters we perform a small ritual where we crumple the letter into a ball, throw them into a fire-proof receptacle, repeat in unison three times "I release you," and then burn them. They often report an unburdening sensation through this act.

Another popular journaling tool goes by several names: Mapping, Webbing or Clustering. This tool is fun and is used extensively in brainstorming sessions. You begin with a key word or phrase and place it in the centre of a page, then you begin free-associating. Every time you get a word or phrase you write it down and connect it to the previous word with a line. It will eventually go all over the page. Because of its associative nature, Mapping accesses the subconscious mind as each word anchors a memory. Mapping invites the integration of the left and right hemispheres of the brain and results in random sequencing.
My personal favorite journaling tool has been touched upon earlier in this article -- Stream of Consciousness or Flow writing. Julia Cameron's "Morning Pages" are simply a daily practice of this technique. Stream of Consciousness writing invites the subconscious and unconscious minds to empty themselves onto the pages so one can witness and sort through what shows up. It is one of the most intuitive journaling techniques available. For myself, the golden nuggets generally show up on the third page. I am a dedicated "lifer" to the Morning Pages and never cease to be amazed at the ideas that come up during the daily exercise. They allow me to whine, dump, rant and create.

The issue of privacy with our journal is an important and delicate one. In my classes the question frequently arrives, "Should I share my journal with my lover, wife, husband, mother, sister, child?" and generally a lively discussion follows. Ask yourself the question, "Do I want to share my intimate thoughts and feelings?" Many people are uncomfortable with divulging this information and understandable so. While writing your personal thoughts, observations, dreams and fears in a private journal can never be wrong, reading another's private writings without their permission is an overt act of violation.

My journal is my closest friend and not for anyone else's eyes. I protect it and am loyal to it and in turn it continues to honor me with creative ideas, love and nurturing. Undoubtedly if it were shared, my internal censor would kick in and the journal's authenticity would suffer.

We have explored several tools in the journaling toolbox; there are many more. No matter which technique one utilizes, the fact remains that once one takes up the pilgrimage of the journal they enter into a most intimate and rewarding relationship with the self.

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