Journaling, a healing practice

October 17, 2011



A few months ago, I spent a couple days at Kripalu, a center for retreat and renewal, during those days I took a workshop on the healing qualities of journaling, and it made a great impact on me.

As a teenager, I had a secret journal where I would write my feelings and thoughts. Later in life, in moments of conflict, I sometimes wrote letters to a loved one, mainly to put my thoughts in order and/or communicate them accurately. And finally, I was encouraged to write again during psychotherapy sessions.

The fact and the matter is, when we write, we put our thoughts in "raw" format, writing is a direct way to express ourselves, just as some forms of art can be: painting, dancing, playing music, etc. But I find it more revealing.
Writing is a great way to look inward and a great outlet for negative emotions, let alone the fact that it helps us put things into perspective and discover unseen issues that are affecting our well-being.

"We do not write in order to be understood; we write in order to understand."
- C. Day Lewis, The Poetic Image.

Here is what happened to me at the workshop: As I was following the presenter's instructions, I started writing non-stop and without thinking; the words started flowing from my pen and I cried as I was writing them... my written words were giving me an answer to something that was creating a lot of pain and stress in my life, and that I had not seen (or refused to see...).
The moment I wrote the words, I felt calmer, lighter and relieved; the fact of finally knowing what the problem was, made me feel a lot better. This experience really impacted me.

There was a lady, who was attending the workshop with her grown up son, she shared with us how she had used journaling all throughout her life as an outlet for her negative emotions and how it had helped her be a better mother; she would put into paper all those distressful emotions, so that they wouldn't come out as "negative reactions" directed at her children. She said she rarely re-read her diaries, but she always felt calmer after writing.
She also mentioned something very important: she was aware that what she wrote did not reflect who she was, just her present emotions. We are NOT our emotions, we are much better than that, but sometimes we feel we are horrible because we feel horrible emotions, this is NOT true and it is good to keep it in mind.

Writing is a tool, used by many therapists, to help people focus, analyze problems, feel better, stay calmer, etc . Looking back, keeping a diary as a teenager was a very important practice and quite common amongst my peers at the time. Teenage girls (and boys) often face emotional turmoil, a roller coaster of feelings that can make them very unstable; keeping a diary may help them channel their emotions more positively, and it gives them an outlet for feelings that they can't or won't share with anybody else.

Anyway, my point is that everybody can use writing as a tool for feeling better, staying calmer, managing conflict, etc. If you are interested in trying this out, here are some tips that I learned at the workshop:

As with any other practice, the key is doing it! It is not enough to know about it or believe in its efficiency, the only way to take advantage of its benefits is by actually practicing it!
I can't stress this enough, because most of us may find great tools or practices, but making the commitment to devote time to them on a regular basis is a whole different thing...

So try to set some time aside to write; it can be 5, 10, 30 minutes, it can be twice a day, every day, every other day, once a week, whatever works, but commit to it!! If you are experiencing any negative feelings, do it as much as you can.

You can just write in a diary format, but here are some cool options that you can try out:

Drill Down
This is a timed non-stop writing. You write non-stop for about 3 minutes, about anything! (use a timer, so that you are not constantly watching the clock), Then, look at your text an circle 3 words, the first that catch your attention, then write those 3 words, make them into a phrase and write again non-stop for another 3 minutes. This is the exercise that revealed my issue, the key is to write non-stop, to allow things to flow without your thought process interfering.

Ask yourself what is coming into your life right now and write about it, and then ask what is leaving your life now and write about it.

Pick a Topic or Question
Pick a topic or question and write about it, example: "I am obsessed with..." or "What I need now is..."

Time Travel
If you have a little time, do a meditation/visualization exercise, close your eyes and picture yourself facing your 16-year-old self and have a conversation with him/her, ask your younger self whatever you want and listen to the answers. Then do the same but with your 95-year-old self. Then write the conversations, mainly what they said to you. You can work with a specific issue that you need advice or guidance for.

Write a Letter
You can write a letter to someone you haven't been able to communicate with or have been avoiding. You may want to send the letter to that person, or not, either way is fine.
You can also write a letter to yourself, or write a letter from your body to you!

Recapture a Memory
Recapture a memory and write about it.

Gratitude List and Wish List
If anything, just write a list of the things you have and are grateful for, and a list of those things you would like to have, in a wish list format.

Other ideas just for the fun of writing. Make it up!

Secret Word
Have somebody write or tell you a word, ANY word, and write about it. You can also open a book or dictionary randomly and pick a word, but the best is a word that you did not choose yourself! Just write about it!, you can time it.

Alpha Poem
This is one of my favorites, pick a word or name and create an alpha poem.

Imaginary Life
Make up a story about an imaginary life.

So take out your pen and paper, or your computer if you prefer, and off you go! into the magic of the written "world".

Have a great week!

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