The holiday season is here and many of us are feeling pretty darn Bah Humbug. We’re stressing about what we’re making and baking, how to decorate our home, how to manage family dynamics, and what we should get our various “loved ones” for Christmas. Let’s face it: the holidays can be more stressful than enjoyable. Grab some time and space for your self. Power up your Journal write now. Pick any or all of these categories:
Think about what factors in particular cause stress for you around the holiday season. Is it hosting a dinner or party? Is it worrying about family members getting along? Is it juggling your finances? There are a lot of contributing factors that can cause anxiety around the holiday season. If you can identify what specifically triggers your stress, you can start to look for solutions. For example, if you normally host an extravagant holiday dinner party and money is tight this year, you can brainstorm alternative ideas, like hosting a potluck dinner or scaled back cocktail party. I’m sure your Journal will have all kinds of ideas.
2. Family Members
The holidays are often the one time of year you get to spend time with family from near and far. This can feel like a mixed blessing sometimes. You may have a few family members who get on your nerves or cause anxiety when you are in close quarters. Before you see your family this year, take some time with your journal and write about each person you will see. Write down their names. Then, next to each name, write down what actions, personality traits, etc. are most likely to upset you. After that, you can begin journal writing about confronting and dealing these feelings of anger, stress, or animosity. Look for ways to accept and process these feelings before your family gathering, and you’re guaranteed a happier and more carefree experience. When you’re done sorting through your negative feelings, do the same exercise, but this time, focus on the positive about each person. What about your family members makes you feel happy, relaxed, or loved? I’m sure your Journal is at the ready to help you out with this biggie.
Although the holidays can cause stress, they can also lead to great happiness. Take some time leading up to the peak of the holiday season for journal writing to reminisce about holidays past. What are your fondest holiday memories? How old were you? Where were you? Who were you with? What were you doing? Why do these particular memories stick out in your mind? While you’re reflecting on these memories, try to remember what the holidays are truly about: giving and being thankful. Just today, my Journal reminded me of my Mom’s homemade donuts and I remembered I still have some boxes of holiday pictures…time to bring them out for a few laughs.
Our “Stress Free Holidays” eWorkbook works well with your Journal and it’s now 20% off. Just enter STRESSFREE at checkout and you’ve taken the first step to your best holiday season ever. WriteON!
It’s 5:00 am. Do you know where your journal is? From my teens to now I have struggled with a sleep disorder, and as a result my journals have been filled with the meanderings of a sleepy 5:00 am mind. However, since I work for myself I am blessed with being able to set my own schedule, which can be enjoying the quiet of the midnight hours. During those hours I find both solace and the muse, and I write in my journal as a reflection of my day and as a clearing for my mind. To me journal writing is not journal typing. I always have to have a journal and a purple pen to write near at hand.
As a result of going to sleep at midnight or 1:00, lying awake at 5:00 am often feels like the middle of the night. Sometimes middle of the night ravings have been known to instigate golden threads of true inspiration. More often they contain illusions – believing my tired mind is a shooting star passing the moon or the opposite pendulum that I might as well be whale shit, my writing, and life are worthless. Neither extreme is helpful in the long run. As an immediate solace, my journals are always priceless. I often ask myself how do I sort out the golden threads from the illusions?
Although in the moment I can be mesmerized by the luna-cisms that come to me in the middle of the night, often they sound outright crazy in the clear light of day. Sometimes, even while I am writing these luna-cisms I know they don’t make sense, still I have to honor the process of writing from the inside out.
Acceptance is a key to the hunting and gathering of journal writing. Hunting because I am examining the underlying reason why I am awake. And gathering for me is wrapping up all the disparate threads of thought into a wheat sheave of pen on paper. I simply write what is on my mind, allowing myself the freedom to explore and feel the response to what I explore in the process. For me, writing a journal has no specified outcome or goal; it is simply the process. When I am truly writing from a place of acceptance, the golden threads gleam on the pages and in my mind. I can clearly see the difference between the inspiration and the dross.
Practice is another key to sorting out the golden threads of inspiration. After years and years of journal writing I know what the thrill of true inspiration feels like in my body. There is magic in me and around me; unlimited possibility for true creativity emerges easily. The rush I feel hangs out in my solar plexus and then spreads to my limbs. The memories of these moments are captured in both the product – poems, articles or blogs - and the process of writing.
Perhaps going back to my intention for writing is the most important factor. Am I allowing the hunting and gathering to naturally occur and reveal the magic in me? Or am I trying too hard for answers, stressing myself to be perfect, or focusing on a result? Instead of hunting for those golden threads, maybe the best thing we can do is just “write-on.” Simply putting our pens to paper to see what evolves may be the key to healthier journaling. If we build the field, the inspiration will come.
About the Author - Mari S. Selby
In addition to “Lightning Strikes Twice”, Mari S. Selby is currently working on an anthology; “Awaking the Hero Within: Stories from the Cancer Tribe”. Over decades Mari has published her poetry in anthologies, almanacs, magazines and newsletters. Mari is a lifelong compulsive journal writer, she has also taught and led writing groups and workshops. Today, Mari is a contributing writer for the “San Francisco Book Review” column, “After the Manuscript”.
For over three decades Mari has comforted and assisted hundreds of people as a family therapist, healer, and spiritualadvisor. For the past 15 years Mari has been the director of Selby Ink, a publicity and marketing firm.www.selbyink.com Selby ink promotes authors who make a difference, and helps those authors to develop name recognition through traditional publicity efforts as well as social media. Selby ink specializes in the following genres: body-mind-spirit, relationships, environmental issues, and social justice. You can also find Mari S. Selby on Facebook, or Twitter @selbyink.
Start Your New Year off write! Take the 27 Days Self-Discovery Journaling Challenge:
To my mind, one of the coolest uses of journal writing is playing with words. When you sit down to write something, usually there’s some reason for doing so, something you want to communicate to someone. In your journal, that someone is yourself. Still, you write because you have an urge to share ideas, stories, feelings, and the like.
Now think about this: before you communicate or share (even with yourself), maybe it would be enlightening to explore more fully the way words – the building blocks of your communications – work, and the extent of their power.
Most of us use words we’re accustomed to, the words we use in speech and that habitually run through our brains. But if we stop for a moment and let imagination play around those words, it’s fun to discover what we didn’t know we knew.
So try a session or two of journaling around word play.
1. Synonyms – Start with any old word you want. Like, for example, kitchen or purple or homesick. Then write as many synonyms as you can think of, or make up. For instance:
kitchen – cooking place, hearth, oven, stove, food preparation station, yummy creation room
purple – dark blue, lavender, violet, royal color, work color, sunset, old ladies hue
homesick – lost, afraid, disconnected, sad, lonely, blue
2. Antonyms – Try coming up with words that are the opposite of what you start with. Such as:
kitchen – bathroom, bedroom, desert, swimming pool, anorexic, fast
purple – black, white, foggy, pink, colorless, drab
homesick – comfortable, secure, loved, connected, confident
3. Free association – Now let your imagination open to whatever naturally connects to the word as you freely let it roam around your mind:
kitchen – flavors, warmth, work, creativity, memories
purple – velvet, crowns, grandma, veins, grapes, mountains
homesick – nausea, fear, melancholy, Mom, friends, yesterday, the past
How does this kind of exercise help you? I can think of a few ways it can make us stronger and happier.
- It lets us appreciate the world around us more fully. It is no longer just a kitchen, but a locus of satisfying experiences.
- It opens us to a wider understanding of our life. Now purple is not just a color (an adjective describing something), but it has become a range of impressions and feelings.
- It helps put our obsessions in context. No longer do we simply feel homesick; now we see more clearly why we feel that way and what we might do about it.
You may have thought that journaling was all about your life and experiences, but even more fundamentally, journal writing is about words and the energy that they contain. Play around with them intentionally, every now and then. You’ll realize their power and possibilities, and open up ever more enthusiastically to their inherent magic.
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One week left of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)! Every November, hundreds of thousands of people participate in this fun, creative activity. The premise is simple: write a novel in a month. However, carrying out that premise can be intimidating! You might think, “Write an entire book in a month? How is that even possible?” But have no fear: if you’re participating this year, journaling can help you through those frustrating moments, and your writer’s block and help you finish up on time. Here are just a few ways your personal journal can come to the rescue.
NaNoWriMo Meets Journaling
1. Flip Through Your Past Journal Entries
If you’re having trouble developing a character or plot line, try pulling knowledge from your own life. Go back to past entries and re-read. Dig into very real emotions and events. In your own words, you’ll find a gold mine of information. If you find an entry talking about someone in particular, you could try incorporating that person’s qualities and traits into one of your characters. You can also look at past events that have been influential in your life. Your personal journal might show that a series of small events lead to a bigger, life-changing event for you, which may help you tell your story. Let your journaling inspire your novel!
2. Dissect Each Character
Make a list of every character-- from main to miniscule-- in your story. Then, take a page for each character. Write his or her name at the top. Then, one by one, go through your characters and flesh them out-- even those who might have only been mentioned once. What’s his history? What’s her personality? What are their daily routines? Develop each character as much as you can in one sitting. You’ll be surprised at how often getting to know a character better will move a story along. Developing characters like this provides them with motive, which can influence your plot in any number of ways.
3. Free Writing
Step away from your computer and forget about your novel-in-progress for a minute. Just breathe and try to relax your mind. Then set a timer for five minutes and do a completely open free-writing exercise in your personal journal. Write down whatever comes to you in those five minutes. It doesn’t matter how insane or off the wall those thoughts are. Write them down. After your time is up, go for a walk. Then, come back and look at your free-writing. What’s interesting to you right off the bat? What did you spend the majority of your time writing about? Sometimes these exercises can give you insight into your own subconscious and can be useful when working on a creative project like a novel.
How are you and your journaling doing with NaNoWriMo? Do you see the finish line?
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This is a post about how we can use our journals to go deeper into being still.
Why would we want to be still? In our culture, we tend to equate stillness with boredom: no movement, no noise, nothing doing. We tend to prefer action, movement, stimulation.
But for many of us, being still now and then is extremely important. In addition to the still hours when we’re sleeping, we need times when we’re able to be awake yet silent and unmoving, in a quiet place. Some people meditate or pray, or go somewhere with a view to contemplate, or listen to peaceful music.
You can create your own silence when you journal, even if the world around you is noisy. All day long, you interact and respond, go and do, get there and get it done. When you sit down with your journal, you enter a different, opposite place, where it’s all about listening intuitively.
If using journaling to be still is new to you, try it like this:
- Be sure your body is as comfortable as possible.
- Count your breaths for a minute or so.
- Make contact between your pen and the journal page. Let the pen drift across the paper, with no express aim or thought.
- Let the scribblings begin to shape words or pictures, in their own good time.
- When you slowly become aware that your awareness has been absorbed by the journal, excluding the outside world, take a brief moment to savor that attention and then put down your pen.
Please don’t think this is vague or woo-woo. As they say, “What can’t be said, can’t be said; and can’t be whistled either.” You have to actually try out this sequence to realize its power.
There are a great many benefits to countering the craziness of everyday life with periods of being still.
- We give our bodies, our muscles, a break.
- We calm and center our helter-skelter thoughts.
- We allow a moment for the spirit to enter.
- And we habituate ourselves to mindfulness, a widely recognized aid to healthy functioning.
Journaling’s power never fails to meet the need. Sometimes I wonder, is there anything your journal can’t do?
A cool tool for your stillness journaling is to use my book of quotes. Just read one and let it dance around your thoughts as you journal. This kind of prompt can produce deep stillness quickly! Download the ebook for free.
Are you a planner? I suppose there are two kinds of people: those who like to plan ahead and those who would rather be spontaneous. Nonetheless, there are many situations that go a lot more smoothly with a little forethought. If you are bored with planning but know that you need it occasionally, your journal can make the task more fun and rewarding.
Some people like to plan what clothes they will wear tomorrow before they go to bed each night. Others wouldn’t dream of it: how on earth can they know what they’ll feel like wearing in the morning? I don’t think there’s much benefit in forcing yourself on such an issue.
But consider the benefits of planning ahead your to-do list for tomorrow. If you take a few minutes before you stop work for the day to create a list for tomorrow, you increase your chances of waking up motivated, confident, and ready. By making that list last night, you prepared yourself for today’s challenges and are that much more likely to achieve whatever goals you’ve set.
That’s an obvious situation that is better with planning. And things like taking a trip, building a career, getting married, completing an important project, or providing for a dependent’s welfare all clearly are better undertaken with some kind of prior strategizing.
So if creating a plan is not your favorite thing, what can you do to make the process more attractive? Use your journal! Here are a couple ways:
- You can, of course, just do regular planning in the pages of your journal, writing down lists and making mind maps. This is a good way to include the Before and After of your experiences, which will help you remember when you re-read later on.
- If you’re impatient with lists, make a separate section of your journal and title it Coming Up. You can visit this section just now and then or every day, selecting whatever routine works for you. Write here your dreams, expectations, mental images, fears, desires and whatever else is connected with tomorrow, or with the event that is coming up. Be sure you stretch your imagination a bit, so you’ll include both the surface and the more down-deep impressions that come when you think about the future.
The second method is unconventional, and might even seem to fall short of true planning. But conventional plans are often over-ridden by real life, so it’s really no big deal that this offbeat way to plan seems undisciplined. Neither method is foolproof!
When we plan, we pause to imagine the future before it happens; as opposed to barreling thoughtlessly into the future with eyes shut and mind confused. It’s simply that pause, the moments you devote to being open to your intuition, that journaling allows. By consciously and respectfully opening to what might come, we can move into tomorrow with greater optimism and strength.
The way we get along with other people is a big indicator of our personal happiness. If our relationships are easy going and generally supportive, we're much more likely to feel confident and secure. But if we don't get along well with the people we regularly encounter, the effect of that negative energy can be overwhelming.
Much as we may want to create our own realities, the fact is that other people impact our lives and moods. Family, friends, and co-workers are powerful influences on our days. No man or woman is an island: we face our lives together and we're always inter-dependent. So how can we better control our inter-dependencies to ensure that they are they are nurturing and peaceful?
As we usually recommend, take this question to your journal, to your Inner Coach. Ask, "How can I become more adept at maintaining my relationships so that I can feel better supported?"
One immediate response might be to become more accommodating, more tolerant, less judgmental. It's true that the less we criticize others, the more trusting they're likely to be. But simply becoming a "yes person" isn't a good answer. You want to promote your own strengths while harmonizing with others: this is the ideal.
So explore possibilities in your journal.
- How can I be strongly supportive of the other person?
- What parts of myself are most representative of who I want to be? How can I express that?
- What in my life or my personality builds a barrier between me and the other person? How is it possible to work around that barrier? If work-arounds are not possible in the present circumstances, is it worth changing things significantly to open up to the relationship?
- What is the worth of the other person to me, to my heart and to my faith?
- Write out a description of the best-case scenario, an ideal picture of your relationship with the other.
It is such a tender story, the one that tells about our love for another person! Use your journal to make sure that your story is one of courage, honesty, and sincere effort. Because that other person is worth it, and so are you, and so is your relationship!
Are you struggling with a question or a problem that has you in a bind? Mari L. McCarthy, founder of CreateWriteNow, can help untangle the threads. Contact her now.
by Eleanor Vincent
About six months after my 19-year-old daughter Maya died, I remember walking home from the commuter train station in so much pain I was not sure I could make it. When I reached my driveway, I was choking back tears. I looked up and saw a giant Redwood tree, the furls and gnarls in the bark, the majestic branches, and the strength coming from that tree went straight to my soul. In that moment, I realized that, like the tree, I had to stand through all weather until the storm passed.
When the unimaginable happens, how do we go on? This is the question Swimming with Maya attempts to answer. How do we get back up after life knocks us down? As a memoir, my book is a very personal account of one woman’s journey. It is not a self-help book, but it is inspirational and motivational because it shows how I became more resilient than I ever thought I could be.
Resilience is mysterious! For me, it’s a combination of divine grace and luck of the draw. I’ve always been an optimist. Perhaps I was born that way, or maybe I absorbed it as a child by watching my mother and father.
Both my parents were professional actors and my Dad’s motto was “The show must go on.” Even under trying circumstances, my parents expected me to go out and do my best. I saw both my parents do this against tough odds so I picked it up early.
I learned to find humor in almost any situation. The saying “Tragedy plus time equals comedy” rings true for me. While I can’t quite get there with Maya’s death, I can remember plenty of other difficult experiences and laugh about them. Humor figures in some parts of Swimming with Maya, and in almost everything I write there is always a dollop of irony. I try not to take myself – or life – too seriously!
The geriatric psychiatrist Helen Lavretsky, MD, writing in Psychiatric Times, says resilient people are characterized by commitment, dynamism, humor in the face of adversity, patience, optimism, faith and altruism. My type-A father was naturally gifted with six of the seven traits, but Dad was not a patient person.
As my father aged, he faced challenges that would have defeated many. He recovered from colon cancer surgery and a broken hip, and until his death at the age of 92, was president of the resident’s council at his nursing home, despite his advancing dementia. His final illnesses forced patience upon him.
Whether by nature or nurture, I have followed my father’s example by handling setbacks with renewed determination. My default setting is always humor and a belief that I’ll do better next time. Try telling me I can’t do something, and I will prove to you that I can!
The death of a child is considered one of life’s worst events. I won’t sugarcoat it – I thought losing Maya would kill me. And for the first two years after she died, I clung to any life raft I could, including the image of that Redwood tree. But after 21 years of mining the gifts of grief, being inspired by people like my Dad, and learning to take really good care of myself, I can truthfully say my life is better than ever.
Deciding to donate Maya’s organs and tissues to strangers in need (altruism) was a huge factor in my recovery, and in the way my surviving daughter Meghan dealt with the loss of her sister. We were privileged to have something miraculous came out of something horrific. That gave us hope. Having hope motivated me to keep on keeping on.
In Swimming with Maya I recount our journey in detail. Please enter to win a copy of my book, and thanks to Mari for hosting me today.
Eleanor Vincent is an award-winning writer, and current New York Times Best-Selling Author whose debut memoir, Swimming with Maya: A Mother’s Story, was nominated for the Independent Publisher Book Award and was reissued by Dream of Things press early in 2013. She writes about love, loss, and grief recovery with a special focus on the challenges and joys of raising children at any age.
Find out more about this author by visiting her online:
About Me: http://about.me/eleanorvincent
How aware are you of the moods you experience? Sure, you notice bad moods and other powerful emotions, but are you sensitive to the mood that’s predominant in any given moment of your life?
You might want to consider this concept in your journaling. Becoming more attuned to your current mood is a smart and efficient way to keep things balanced.
Here’s what I mean. Strong emotions bring about moods that possess us. Other, less insistent moods pervade all the rest of the time. Since we are always under the influence of one mood or another, it’s useful to see how this reality shapes our days - and even how we can rise above it.
- Say you are not much of a morning person, and you awake every day to a loud alarm clock. As your image in the bathroom mirror slowly focuses, what precisely is your mood?
- When you climb in the car for your commute and as you complete the usual trip, what mood prevails?
- Suppose you get some work done before the deadline, and you know you’ve done a good job. What mood comes over you?
- What’s your mood when you talk with your friend, when you pay for groceries, when you walk to the bus stop?
- What mood came over you today after supper? What is your mood right now?
Journal your recollection of the day. What moods came and went? By keeping this kind of record, you can start using moods to understand yourself and your perceptions far more easily.
- The jangling alarm clock leaves me feeling anxious, even fearful.
- My commute is actually when a peaceful mood comes over me, because it’s the only time I have all to myself.
- When I’m successful in my work, it makes me feel ubër ambitious and creative.
- Time spent with my friend Annie always brings on a giggly mood.
- Right now my mood is confident, maybe a little devil-may-care.
By making note of moods as part of your journal writing, you objectify them. I’m not saying we should try to become immune to moods; that is probably impossible anyway.
But if you know you’re being influenced by a mood, then you know it will pass. You don’t have to be fatalistic about it, or be a slave to your moods. You can engage with them with care and interest. But, with journaling practice, you can also learn to let them go whenever you wish.
- Despise your obnoxious alarm clock? The fear it instills is merely a mood.
- Love your infrequent quiet times? Recognize the mood and figure out how to reproduce it at will.
- Wish you could be more successful? Learn to build up productive moods and minimize feelings of discouragement.
- Enjoy time spent with friends? Recognize the quality of the mood such time brings you so that you can even more fully appreciate it.
Want to control your moodiness and feel more able to face whatever challenges may arise? Your pen and journal will show you how!
by Barbara Stahura, CJF
When a brain injury happens, the familiar story of a life can be altered in ways not possible with any other kind of injury or illness. So much you knew about yourself—the wealth of information you depended upon to lead your life—can blur or disappear, leaving you stranded and struggling in an unknown place. Along with cognitive and emotional challenges, you may face challenges with your physical abilities. You can feel as though you’ve been kidnapped to an alien planet where nothing is familiar and you are lost in dangerous territory.
Family caregivers can feel equally bewildered, as well as terrified. I certainly did when my husband sustained a serious traumatic brain injury nearly a decade ago. But my journal offered a safe sanctuary where I could pour out my deepest thoughts and feelings without judgment or criticism. Writing somehow made them more manageable. Despite being diagnosed with secondary traumatic stress, journaling allowed me to hold on and cope with the overpowering uncertainty, fear, and anxiety.
As I’ve found during six years of guiding journaling groups for people with brain injury and family caregivers, telling your story through journaling can enhance the healing process. “Healing” here does not mean restoring your injured brain to its former functioning or your life to the way it used to be. Instead, it means finding healthy ways to become aware of, accept, and acknowledge what has happened so that you can move forward into your new post-injury story. Journaling, for even five or ten minutes at a time on a regular basis, can help release you from yearning for the past and open positive doors to your envisioned future.
How to journal
There are no rules in journaling, except perhaps to date all your entries. So don’t worry about correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation. You need not be a “good” writer. Simply write in whatever way is comfortable for you. You can write on paper or use a keyboard. If a brain injury prohibits you from doing either, you can speak your entries into a recording device, use speech-recognition software, or find a trusted confidante who will scribe your words without judgment or changes.
Keeping your journal private allows you to write honestly. But if you write an entry that you never want anyone to read, you can tear it out and destroy it. The benefit of journaling comes in the writing, not in preserving what you write.
To begin, you can simply pick up your pen or put your hands on the keyboard. But it’s helpful to create a structure for yourself by starting with a prompt (for example: Today I feel… or, Brain injury has…), experimenting with various techniques such as Dialogue or Unsent Letter, or even setting a time limit.
Especially if you’re writing about a traumatic experience, don’t simply begin writing with no structure in place. Even something as simple as a five-minute limit can help you avoid writing yourself off an emotional cliff with no way back to safety. Stop writing if you feel yourself getting unusually upset. And over time, try to keep a balance between positive and negative so that you don’t end up endlessly ruminating on the darker aspects of your life.
After a brain injury, you might not be able to write much or for very long. Do whatever you can, and please don’t judge yourself harshly. As your condition improves, you will be able to write more. If you’re a caregiver, you might have difficulty finding time for self-care, but know that you can journal in only five or ten minutes at a time. A small journal will fit in a purse or pocket, and you can write wherever you are.
As you continue journaling, you will have written memories of your healing and of how far you have come since brain injury altered your life. And there, in those words on the page, you—whether survivor or caregiver—have created the foundation on which to build the new story that will carry you into the future.
Barbara Stahura, certified journal facilitator, guides people with brain injury, family caregivers, and others in harnessing the power of therapeutic journaling for healing and well-being. Co-author of the acclaimed After Brain Injury: Telling Your Story, the first journaling book for people with brain injury, she also presents journaling events for state Brain Injury Associations, trauma survivors, the National Guard, equine-facilitated therapeutic groups, and others. A member of the Therapeutic Writing Institute faculty and of the Lash & Associates Speakers Bureau on Brain Injury, she lives in Indiana with her husband, a survivor of brain injury. http://www.barbarastahura.com