Since we’ve all got a million things to do, I’m going to keep it short and sweet here on the site until the New Year. I hope these bite-size journaling tips will help you survive the season. Happy holidays, if you celebrate them. If not, enjoy some tranquility for the rest of us. 😉
It’s easy to get swept up in the glitter and glow of the holidays.
Whether you’re a big fan of the Yuletide, or you’re just trying to survive it, journaling can keep you grounded during this tumultuous season.
Shopping, cooking, entertaining, trimming the tree, setting up the guest room… there’s so much to do! Self care often takes a back seat to the urgency of entertaining, gifting and travel. It’s essential that you carve out a slice of time to honor your own needs.
Even if you can only find 20 minutes a day for journaling, stick with it. The little retreat will help center you, unload stress, and remind you what’s important. (Hint: YOU!)
Sometimes we need to shift our schedules a little bit to accommodate journaling this time of year. I’m a creature of habit and I get flustered when there’s a change to my schedule. I thrive on a framework. So I try to make adjustments that at least allow me to keep doing the things I need to do, like journaling, even if they’re not at the usual time.
Keep your journaling requirements flexible for the next few weeks and you’ll bend instead of breaking.
Remember that journal writing only a few minutes a day is always better than skipping it altogether. And sticking with journaling through the month of December will put you in a great spot to start the New Year off right.
We’ve got a lot of hidden wisdom locked away in our beans.
Wisdom we’ve either forgotten or can’t yet access. And I’ve found a method for teasing it out.
We’re going to get a little metaphysical today. This can twist your noodle in a bit of a knot, so don’t hurt yourself. (Feel free to smoke the funny stuff and read some Carlos Castaneda, if you’re so inclined.)
I’ve talked about writing unsent letters before, even touching on the letter to the self. Let’s take that to a whole new level.
If we picture our desired future selves in full detail, we can then ask that future self how she got there. This puts us in touch with the wisdom we already have – the wisdom that got us where we are today.
Daydreaming your way to wisdom
The other night I was relaxing, lying in bed thinking, watching movies in my head as I often do. (Many an exasperated teacher has berated me for “daydreaming” – like that’s a bad thing!) And the image of my future came to me in gorgeous, vivid color.
I saw with absolute clarity exactly what I want. Not only physically, but emotionally. Spiritually. Creatively. Financially. This whole world appeared in my head, fully formed, and it was mine.
When I say specific, I don’t mean “I am living in a two bedroom house in Seattle with dogs.”
I mean, my house on Delridge has a view of the sun setting behind the Olympic Mountains, and the floors are glossy Douglas Fir hardwood, and two retired greyhounds are sleeping in front of the slate fireplace while I drink pomegranate tea out of an earthenware mug and pick lavender from the garden.
I saw what I was wearing, I saw the interior color of my vintage car parked in garage. I could picture my email inbox – who was writing me and with what news. I could picture my bank account, my social calendar, the contents of my kitchen cabinets.
So I decided to ask my future self how she got there. How she achieved those results. What steps she took. What choices she made.
Here’s a slice of the journal entry:
I stumbled upon this epiphany last night and suddenly I’m able to see that all my scrappings – all my cave hiding and furniture moving – is just fear.
It’s just a refusal to acknowledge that it’s time to level up. It’s all struggling against the beautiful forward movement that wants to grow organically.
And I see this older, wiser, more confident version of myself smiling compassionately, knowing about the struggle, and extending a hand in invitation to stop. “You’re making this harder than it has to be,” she tells me.
Because I think I’ve already got some of the same wisdom that my future self has. I just don’t have access to it – yet. So maybe writing myself a letter would help me tap into it.
Huge lightbulb going off. Amazing idea. (Every once in awhile I impress myself.)
Letter to the Self
I decided to try the exercise and ask my future self for some guidance. I began the letter:
“Dear Future Kristin,
This is a little awkward since we’ve never met. But I just feel like I know you.
(Of course, I can’t take anything 100% seriously! 🙂 Anway…)
Just recently I’ve been able to see you clearly for the first time. And the chasm between where I am and where you are is huge. The details baffle me.
But I can see how I felt a year ago, what I knew then (and didn’t know, mostly) and the amount of knowledge and skill I’ve developed over the past 12 months.
I know if I looked too far ahead I would have been parlayed. I had to focus on one thing at a time, on what needed to be done NEXT.
So I know better than to get overwhelmed by the unknowns. I trust that more will be revealed.
In the meantime, I’ve got a few questions for you.
What came out of this exercise is pretty amazing. I wrote the questions. And then I used my imagination to conjure up my future self. And I answered those questions from her point of view.
I discovered that I instinctively know which details will sort themselves out, and which will require attention.
I feel like I’ve found a new mentor. My future self has so much wisdom to share.
Whenever I get stuck and I’m unsure what to do next, I can just picture myself standing on those fir floors stirring my mug of tea, creativity fulfilled and spiritually content. And I ask myself, “What would Future Kristin do?”
Because getting there is no different than getting where I am now, if you ask my past self.
What does your future self know? What is he or shy dying to teach you? What do you most need guidance on?
Picture the person you want to be and the life you want to have. Picture it in startling detail. And then ask the person you’ve become to reveal the way. Because she’s already done it.
Get out your journal and ask her how.
Humans are social creatures.
Even introverts (like me) seek out and depend on interaction and support.
There’s a synergy that takes place when a group of likeminded people come together with a common interest or goal. It’s that whole Gestalt thing – the result is greater than the sum of its parts.
We can harness this power to accomplish things we previously thought impossible.
One great example of this is going on all around me right now: National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo hopefuls commit to writing an entire novel during the month of November. That is, 50,000 words in 30 days.
NaNoWriMo started as a crazy dare among friends. But others soon heard about it and wanted in. While some of the less stable among us are motivated purely by the insane challenge, most find the community surrounding NaNoWriMo to be the best part.
We accept the challenge not only because it seems crazy, but because we want to be a part of the community doing the crazy, too.
Thousands of novels are written every year in 30 days, purely because of this community. It’s pretty amazing if you think about it. Especially when you consider that most of the participants have 1. never written a novel before and 2. probably wouldn’t have written one at all without the challenge and community.
I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo several times. I’m not doing it this year because I’ve got some big goals on their own tight deadlines. But I’ll definitely do it again.
Through NaNoWriMo, I’ve completed a novel in 30 days twice. Another year I participated by blogging 50,000 words in 30 days, which I found much easier than stringing together a coherent story in as much time.
I’ve organized “write-ins,” where a bunch of people who’ve met on the NaNoWriMo website get together locally to write at a cafe or diner. These write-ins are powerful events. Half a dozen or more people all hammering out endless words with the common goal of creating a work of fiction in a ridiculous amount of time.
Writing, by its very nature, is a solitary act. It can be isolating. The more prolific a writer is, the more time that writer spends alone. So write-ins and online community help to dissolve that feeling of being in creative Siberia.
We share war stories, encouragement, ideas, comic relief. And we celebrate our success together at the end in wrap-up parties.
I can honestly say I never would have written a novel in 30 days without the NaNoWriMo community.
There are other places in my life where I experience the same camaraderie and support. My scooter club, my Artist’s Way group (which I started through craigslist), the nutritarian forum I’m a part of online.
And especially, you folks. On the Journaling Saves Facebook page, in the comments, via email. The support of my tribe is essential to my survival.
Journal Prompts for Community
Where in your own life do you benefit from community? Here are some journal prompts for exploring the topic of community and how it can help you.
- What community do you already have in your life that needs your nurturing to grow?
- What amazing things could you accomplish in your life right now with the proper support? Does that community exist? If so, can you become a part of it? If not, can you create it?
- What communities have you been a part of in the past that resonated with you? What about that community was so powerful? Was it the common goal? The individuals?
Journal on these for a few pages and see how important YOUR tribe is to your survival.
For a while I managed a cat rescue and adoption center a few days a week.
That’s where I met Madonna, a fluffy gray and white feline with big gold eyes and a chip on her shoulder.
Each day at the center I’d let the cats out of their kennels to stretch and play. It was a struggle to get Madonna back in her kennel. She did not like to be touched.
In fact, she’d be perfectly happy if you left her totally and completely alone. Forever.
Madonna sat in her kennel, cleaning her face, scowling at every prospective adopter who came into the shelter. It was nearly impossible to set up a visit because she pitched a fit each time we had to move her. There was usually a towel involved, and sometimes gloves.
Things were not looking good for Madonna.
Then one Saturday Tegan came in. She was gruff, curt, and wearing fatigues. Tegan had survived a hard life. Her face was scarred. As I spoke with her, I realized her scowl amazingly mirrored Madonna’s.
Tegan walked along the rows of cats, hands in her pockets, dark bangs covering her eyes. She stopped in front of Madonna’s kennel. Madonna licked her paws indifferently.
“I want to visit with Madonna,” she said with finality.
I shared a glance with one of the volunteers. Part desperation, part disbelief. I swallowed audibly. “Okay, but you should know that Madonna is a little antisocial and does NOT like to be touched.”
Tegan leaned toward the fluffy gray cat and confided, “Me neither, sister.”
I told Tegan to have a seat in the visiting room, sparing her the sight of Madonna wrestled into a towel, kitty-burrito-style, for transport. I dropped the surly feline off, hissing, and closed the door behind me as I left.
Half an hour later, I realized I’d abandoned the pair in the visiting room. I panicked, fearing I’d find Tegan dead and bloodied, Madonna standing triumphantly on her chest, fangs dripping.
Instead, I found Madonna asleep in Tegan’s lap, one paw extended. She had been purring so forcefully that Tegan’s right leg was damp with drool. Tegan looked up when I entered. “I’d like to take her home now.”
Dumbstruck and not wanting to jinx the miracle, I retrieved a cat carrier. I paused, afraid of the explosion sure to happen when stuffing Madonna into the cardboard box. Even the most laid-back orange tabbies resisted this part.
But Tegan lifted the drowsy cat slowly from her lap and placed her without fanfare into the box. With that, Tegan and Madonna began their life together.
A few weeks later, Tegan came back. My stomach bottomed out when I saw her. I was certain Madonna had shown her true colors and was being evicted.
Tegan sat down across from me and slid a battered photograph across the table. She had clearly been carrying it in her pocket and handling it often. It was a picture of Madonna, snoozing in a sunbeam on the window sill.
“She’s the best thing that ever happened to me. I just wanted to say thank you for bringing us together.”
I promptly burst into tears.
Tegan’s eyes welled up, too, and she brushed them away hastily with her fist. “She loves the window sill and I was wondering if you had one of those cat shelves I could hang up for her.” I did. I tore the price tag off as I handed it to her. Then I loaded a case of food and a big sack of litter into her car.
Finally I worked up the nerve to ask her. “What’s your secret? That cat hated everyone she ever met here.”
“Well, I let her be who she is. She wants to be left alone, so I leave her alone. And I love her as-is.”
Acceptance at Face Value
Imagine if we embraced this philosophy. If we let everyone in our lives be exactly who they are and loved them as-is. Ourselves included.
Do you love as-is? Or do you require a warranty?
- Who in your life is begging to be accepted as-is? Who around you most needs to be loved and embraced for who they truly are?
- Do you accept yourself with all your quirks and imperfections? Do you love yourself even with that chip on your shoulder?
Get out your journal and explore some of these topics in writing. Love as-is and acceptance at face value is easier said than done.
Practice in your journal, starting with you.
Worry is the new human condition. The economy, global warming, in-laws.
Even little things cause us to fret on a daily basis. Traffic, deadlines, Starbucks instant coffee.
Growing up, my sister had a tiny wooden box filled with miniature people. Their brightly colored clothes were fashioned from embroidery floss. She kept these worry dolls on her dresser, and I’d often open up the box to hold them.
My sister is an energy worker. Even back then, the worry dolls were infused with her energy. They fairly crackled with electricity when I held them in my hand.
Worry dolls are an old folk remedy for anxiety. Each night, you take your tiny people from the tiny box and lay them out. You tell each one a worry. There’s half a dozen of them. So if your life is a disaster, you may need to invest in the expansion pack. Or a therapist.
My sister’s worry dolls were very attentive listeners. A few times, I even dared to tell them my troubles. I wondered if their power was transferrable. And then I feared I’d bump one of her solutions out of the queue so I stopped talking to them.
The power of this floss and wire family lies in the confession. Humans have a desire to unload, to express themselves, to be heard. It helps us deal, helps us move on.
Most religions embrace some form of confessional or prayer ritual. Psychotherapy is based on the worry monologue. And who hasn’t enjoyed a teary heart-to-heart with her BFF?
Just like confessional booths and worry dolls, our journals provide a perfect avenue for voicing our troubles. Our journals are always there with time and space for us. Journals always listen and never talk back. (Except for that time I went without sleep for 72 hours…)
Like most of you, I’ve had some troubles lately. Nothing big, mostly irritants. The garbage truck plowed into my parked car on Thursday. Then someone stole my credit card to purchase STD tests on eBay. But even these small inconveniences create tension.
Sometimes I find it easier to deal with big whoppers, like death and unemployment, than the little stuff, like parking. Giant problems propel us into Crisis Mode and new resources open up.
I’m very good at dealing with large-level catastrophe. (A few years ago I was voted “Person You’d Most Want Present at the Apocolypse.”) But the daily stuff, not so much.
So lately I’ve been turning to my journal, much like my sister’s worry dolls. In confessional mode, one at a time, I list my worries. No introduction, no context, no solution. Just a bulleted list of my current troubles.
It’s quite possible that the Universe rises to the occasion and decides to solve a few of these. (The garbage company is cutting me a large check that I can use for something more inspiring than repairing my 30-year-old VW Golf.)
Or perhaps the relief I experience from this process is simply the power of the confessional at work.
Either way, I’ll take it.
Do you have worries? If not, check your pulse. The rest of us could benefit from trying this exercise at the end of each day. No solutions, explanations or rationalizations. Just get out that notebook and list away.
Tiny dolls optional.