“Verbal portrait” does not mean that the words were dressed in their finery. They came out in the journal as I lived them – raw. Not photoshopped. And in that natural form, owning the experience just as it emerged, every so often, an entry managed to touch my soul.
Usually the writing is only a couple of sentences or a couple of paragraphs. It’s like a caption that triggers a flood of memories. Watching a Polaroid photo develop before my inner eye, only in words. Ninety percent of the Soul Prints have to do with the joy in my life. Painful experience prompting spiritual and psychological epiphanies also warrant an SP, always a reminder of the 17th century Japanese Haiku, “Barn’s burnt down. Now I can see the moon.”
My journal is filled with personal semantics, not because I am trying to write in code, but because I have always understood my life best through the imprint of my writing. Words are as important to me as angle and light are to a photographer. One word can express the integration of years of psychological and spiritual searching, just as a photographer studies a person to capture his or her essence. As the click of a camera freezes a moment in time, so does writing Soul Print on top of a journal entry, knowing I merged with that moment, owned it, “got it.”
When I finish a journal, I go back and copy each SP into the Soul Print journal. This ritual feels sacred, a commemoration of my life’s blessings.
For the first 13 years, I color coded the Soul Prints, placing a dot for areas of my life – not unlike you would write a caption under a photo. Yellow – spiritual life. Light blue -my work as a journal workshop facilitator. Green - my work as a writer. Red - relationship with husband. Purple - friends and family. This coding proved very handy when my husband and I had a horrible fight. “Please, let me read you the red dots in my SouI Print journal,” I implored him.” It worked!
Rather than wading through dozens of journals for the past 21 years containing more than their share of pain, I just have to pick up my two Soul Print journals and remember the very best of me. The seeker. The creator. The lover of people, of life, of words.
It’s especially helpful when I am down. Even just holding the unopened book in my lap and staring at it reminds me of research about interacting and exchanging gazes with one’s dog. A study says that both dogs and their owners experienced rushes of oxytocin in their brains. What a wonderful quick fix my Soul Print journal is when I merely gaze at its cover!
As a facilitator of journal workshops, a common complaint I hear from journalers is, “I get discouraged with journaling because it’s the same venting over and over.” I have pain in my journals too, unresolved issues repeating themselves decade after decade.
But I have trained myself to maximize the magic of that “Golden Hour,” like a photographer does – that hour before sunset or sunrise when there is a softening, a glow over everything. A Soul Print. To be captured. And stored.
A Soul Print journal is not the same thing a gratitude journal, which is also very beneficial. This is living your life on the page and being alert to those moments whose imprints transform you.
Anais Nin, a 20th century author most studied for the diaries she started writing in her adolescence and continued for six decades until her death, has said, “We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” My practice of Soul Prints allows ongoing licks of life – living it in the moment, in retrospect when writing the journal entry, yet again when copying into Soul Print journal, and thereafter whenever I need to nourish my soul.
Joan Leof has been keeping a journal for over 50 years and helping others do so for the past three decades through her business, Write to Heal. She has published many personal essays. In 2015, she put twenty together in a book entitled MATRYOSHKA: Uncovering Your Many Selves Through Writing. Fatal If Swallowed: Reclaiming Creativity and Hope Along the Uncharted Path, her memoir, was published in 2011. For more information about Joan, go to www.joanleof.com.