An alternative Christmas list

The thought occurred to me just this morning that a lovely gift to receive at Christmas would be a list of reminders.

Sometimes it would be nice to be reminded of the things we love but always forget to buy for ourselves. Like candles, or bath salts, or underwear, or thermals, or new ink.

In my case I play golf but I forget that I need golf balls or a towel to wipe my clubs on, or a new club head cover for my driver.

It would be lovely to receive such a list from someone who knows us well, who has watched us navigate through our various activities and listened to our joys and frustrations. Someone who has taken notice, then taken the time to note it all down.

Of course you could argue that such a person would probably do as well to buy us the little things we forget to acquire ourselves. But there remains in my mind something delicious about receiving a list that begins: “I know how much you enjoy your candlelit bathtimes, and your morning coffee with your journal and fresh ink, and hitting a clean shot on the golf course, and being warm, and wearing something slinky underneath…so I suggest your list of things to remember for yourself includes….”

Sometimes the gift of acknowledgement and recognition is worth a million parcels! And next Christmas I won’t be at a loss to know what to ask for!

Perhaps our journal can play this list-making role for us. It certainly is a great tool for our self-care.

So what list of reminders would your journal write for you? Take up your pen and invite your journal to remind you of the little things that bring you most joy, that you can give to yourself throughout the year.

Happy Christmas.

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December 12, 2018 · 12:51 pm

Journaling to fit – or fit in?

I’m thinking a lot at the moment about my life and my experience. I guess I’ve always been the same. It’s always preoccupied me how I be part of the whole without losing my individuality.

Wondering how to fit in is an insidious past-time. It becomes an obsession – what others think of us, how we will be judged, whether we will be rejected.

It causes us to lead fearful and sometimes paralysed existences.

Much better then to be fit – for our own purpose.

And in my understanding this means figuring out how to be our best self. How to become aware of what drives us and inspires us; how to weigh our strengths and weaknesses, and how to figure out what we should do about these.

Do we blow our trumpet about our strengths to drown out our weaknesses? Do we justify our weaknesses and attribute them to our less than perfect life experiences? Do we blame others for them?

I’ve frequently read some very wise words about how to deal with our weaknesses. Namely, we need to accept them, and, if we’re brave enough, dive into them to see what is under the surface of them.

What needs are being expressed through our weaknesses?

Once we get that far we have a bit of a conundrum. Perhaps our needs are unconventional. Perhaps we might start worrying that fully owning our needs will cause us to be ostracised by society.

It’s tempting to allow external judgements to cause us to stifle and deny our needs. It is also important to remember that our own ego will taunt us with its own souped-up version of  external judgements to keep us stuck and towing the line.

But if we’ve explored our weaknesses reflectively and honestly, in a way that is true to who we are, then we can begin to imagine how best to fulfil our needs in their entirety, without compromising our best self.

As reflective writers, our journal is absolutely the laboratory for this kind of investigation.

Our life experience becomes the dance between fitting in and being fit for our own purpose. Our journal is the place where we can test our thoughts and imagine a life lived according to what we think, rather than what we think others think.

jigsaw-hans-peter-gauster-252751-unsplash

(I love the image of the jigsaw pieces by Hans Peter Gauster on Unsplash. It is a great metaphor for our uniqueness. And the notion that unless we know all our edges and curves and irregularities we can never know exactly where or how we fit in. But that when we boldly show all of our shape it becomes obvious who we are and that we are the only one who can complete the picture.)

 

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December 11, 2018 · 12:24 pm

Why journaling’s time is now

I’ve been a journal writer forever. And I’ve been a personal development junkie (in the nicest possible way) since about 1999.

I’ve done all sorts on this journey – trained as a coach, run workshops, taken mindfulness talks into schools when hardly anyone in schools was practicing mindfulness… I’ve even feigned a 3 year old’s tantrum in a seminar full of solicitors, to try and show them the power of perspective. It was not one of my highlights.

And all through this process I’ve kept a journal. In 2012 I published a book about it too.

But it’s only really now that I think the time for journaling has truly come.

Why?

Here’s my list:

  1. We live in a world that is becoming increasingly fake and flakey. It’s difficult to know whether we are being told the truth on numerous scores. Sorting out our own subjective reality and experience – and training ourselves to be as honest and impeccable about that as possible – is important for our sanity. Journaling supports that.
  2. We have no control over anything other than ourselves. If we want to make any kind of change in the world we need to start with ourselves as individuals. Journaling gives us that space to know ourselves.
  3. Originality and innovation start in the imagination. If we want to contribute freshness to our world we need to give ourselves permission to explore our own imaginations and escape the cookie-cutter approach of our education. Journaling totally enables that.
  4. Independence of thought is vital to a fulfilling life. Otherwise we risk following the sheeple and missing out on the reason we’re here, or, better put, the infinite number of potential reasons we’re here. Journaling gives us the power and practice to think for ourselves.
  5. Finding a purpose for ourselves, and being able to regularly remind ourselves of that purpose through reflective writing, brings us inspiration and joy in life. Then we can take less notice of the sheeple s**t. Journaling is a great vehicle for purposeful exploration.
  6. And last but not least, as with meditation, we can train our egos to calm down and tune in more frequently to the under-pinning principles that make life worth living – those of Love and Compassion. Journaling gives us a private space to do this without spiritual by-passing; a place where we can vent our shadow side and gently bring ourselves back to our Truth.

Dr Jordan Peterson advocates self-authoring to determine for ourselves what path we wish to take in life, and to figure out how to discipline ourselves to get there. I agree with him – and I also think giving ourselves time to smell the roses is important too.

Honesty, individuality, imagination, independence, purpose, love and compassion are some of life’s sweetest scented blooms. Don’t miss out.

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November 28, 2018 · 10:22 am

The benefits of journaling – on Elephant Journal

Please take a look at my new article on the benefits of journaling, published today on Elephant Journal!

What benefits do you acheive through journaling?

Do get in touch – especially if you’ve experienced any of the positives that I write about in the Elephant Journal piece!

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November 23, 2018 · 5:46 pm

Practice makes perfect

The Journal Writer’s Handbook was borne out of a desire to express the importance of developing our own independence of thought, and finding our purpose.

Reflective writing for me has always been a practice which has enabled me to develop both of these muscles.

And recently I’ve included a different practice in my day – a more spiritual one.

Since April 2018 I have committed to practicing kundalini yoga and meditation every single day. Initially I wanted to try and get into yoga for the sake of better physical and mental health, but the different styles of yoga I tried at first were missing something.

I got bored by the challenges of the physical postures, and while I really appreciated the mindfulness aspects the practice wasn’t really grabbing me.

So I allowed myself to drift again – telling myself that I’m just not one who can easily stick with routine, follow rules and be disciplined.

But as a writer who wanted to write more I knew this was not an attitude that was serving me.

I knew I needed a practice. I knew I needed to approach my life and experience with more commitment and discipline.

And as so often happens, as soon as this realisation came upon me, along came my teachers.

The Online Kundalini Yoga School popped up on my social media feed. The beautiful Tim and Marieke. Watching their videos I felt grounded, calmed, and in good, real company.

I began to learn about pranayama – breathing, asana – physical postures, mudra – hand positions, and mantra – repeating chants.

It made no sense to me on a rational level but deep within myself I felt compelled to follow and find out more. Every morning – except for a few I can count on the fingers of my two hands – I’ve been tuning in to a practice video and dedicating myself to a few minutes of meditation or physical exercise the kundalini way.

Seven months in I have achieved greater and greater clarity about my purpose, and greater ability to think independently.

But it has also given me a new appreciation about who I truly am, and what my physical, mental and spiritual strength really is.

It’s been extraordinary. So now, my reflective writing has a new spiritual edge – that of the True Me. There’s less ranting and whingeing and much more insight and depth.

It’s good to drop anchor each day into the depths of our true being.  Combining a spiritual practice with reflective writing it’s good to ground ourselves in purpose, independence and truth.

Find Tim and Marieke at www.kundaliniyogaschool.org

 

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November 21, 2018 · 10:10 am

Crisis of Conscience

The current case of Asia Bibi’s unsuccessful appeal for asylum in the UK is a blatant example of the tragic consequences of abandoning our heart-felt truth and individually held principles of compassion in favour of pragmatic, fear-based ‘damage limitation’.

Asia Bibi is a Pakistani Christian woman persecuted for blasphemy in her home country, having quarreled with some Muslim women who then brought allegations against her. As a result she was imprisoned and placed on death row. Eventually, after eight years, she was pardoned, but this very act triggered rioting in Pakistan as radical Muslims continued to call for her punishment. To escape with her life she is seeking asylum in the Christian nations of the West, but the UK authorities have declined her appeal, on the basis that it would cause civil unrest among our own Islamic population.

Writers such as Douglas Murray and Melanie Phillips dedicate themselves to highlighting the increasing regularity of this kind of politicking  on our shores. They articulate the issues far better than me, so I’m not going to even try to embellish their argument.

Instead, I’m going to express the thing that really angers me about this whole issue – namely the careless abandonment of our own courage and conviction in the face of religious and political dogma and ideology.

How can we continue to allow our individually held heart-felt knowing of what is right to be drowned out by the external moralising conscience of fanaticism?

We each have our own conscience, our own still small voice which whispers to our heart to guide us and set us right. The trouble is we do not learn to listen to it keenly enough. We do not know how to tune in to it. It is therefore vulnerable to the cacophonous rantings of ideological groups.

It is easier to follow the mob than to pay close attention to our own consciousness. It is easier to adopt the conscience of our society than to speak up for ourselves. We do not learn how to interact with our own inner voice of conscience.

When we think of conscience as morality, or as the teachings of dogmatic religion, our own interaction with its voice becomes limited. We curb our courage to question those teachings, and our conscience becomes the voice of others’ expectations around us rather than the truth of our own heart.

All along the desperate arc of Asia Bibi’s plight there are points at which the true conscience of individuals has been denied and drowned out by dogmatic moralising and ideologies. Religion and politics and media echo chambers drive out our awareness and acknowledgement of individual experiences – and paradoxically as a result we end up aggravating multiple collectives in society, rather than appealing wholeheartedly to other individuals’ sense of what is right.

It’s difficult to argue in truth that it is better to leave an innocent person to a cruel fate than to do the right thing and offer them safe haven. National authorities have abandoned the principles of compassion and justice in favour of keeping the peace among ideologues and religious fanaticists. This is yet again a huge international crisis of conscience.

The antidote to this is first to learn better how to differentiate between the individually perceived voice of kindness and the loud drumming of dogma, and then to choose to act from individual courage rather than the so-called conscience of the mob.

I fervently believe that reflective writing in a journal contributes to this nurturing of our own individual awareness of truth and possibility and what is right.

This is not a political post. This is an appeal for us all to connect more deeply and consciously with our own courageous truth.

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Filed under Compassion, Current Affairs

How to feel great at your college reunion

Whether school, college or university – how do you really feel about reunions?

I’ve just returned from the 30 year reunion of my college year. It was an extraordinary weekend.

Most of us have a morbid fascination with how our contemporaries might have aged in comparison with us. Many of us are intrigued to know how life has treated our peers. Some of us would run a mile in the opposite direction rather than find out. A handful are terrified of the prospect that few have achieved very much at all.

Inevitably over the years since graduating I’ve discovered that while I’ve been raising a family and working on my writing craft many others from my college cohort have been working on high-powered careers. Ten years ago I found the comparisons cringe-worthy, almost shameful, as my ego tried to taunt me about how little I had to show for my education.

But as we enter our fifth decade there is a different feeling. An awareness of our mortality perhaps. A realisation that for all the striving we can neither take our success with us, nor hand it on to anyone else.

Now my contemporaries and I are more open, more honest, more prepared to admit our mistakes, and more eager to know what else life has to offer other than climbing to the top of the corporate ladder and professional tree. It seems like we are becoming far more wise than clever.

At this reunion I’m happy to say I felt much more comfortable in my own skin. I learned that while others have become lawyers and bankers and headteachers and chief executives I have become myself. And that felt good.

Regardless of whether or not a school or college reunion is a possibility in your life, it’s a useful exercise to reflect in your journal on how you might bring people you used to know up-to-date on what, or who, you’ve become.

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November 12, 2018 · 2:42 pm