Category Archives: Journal Writing

Be the human, not the role

One of the opening social gambits to which I have long been allergic is “What do you do?” I cringe when I hear myself asking it – I want to find a different way to find out about this endlessly fascinating individual standing in front of me.

When we ask each other what do we do it’s so we can neatly assign each other a role, a level of competence and perceived importance. It’s a polite way of judging each other. And it always feels wrong to me.

The best conversation opener I have ever experienced at a party was being asked what vaguely shameful thing I’d done in my life that could get me into the papers. OK, perhaps not quite the opportunity to discover the hidden gems of a person, but certainly a long way away from the usual chit chat that doesn’t uncover anything valuable to know about your new acquaintance.

As I recall the conversation that ensued ranged over art, love, relationships, horse-racing and philosophy. Not once did I mention what I did. It was one of the best parties I’ve ever been to.

When we focus on what our role in life is we soon become slightly bored with ourselves. Instead of paying attention to what we uniquely bring as a human being, we’re tempted to obsess about the things we SHOULD do as a parent, spouse, business owner, project manager, student, widow etc. Our own list of roles is endless.

If we’re not careful we can spend our lives trying to carve out our niche, our neat little compartment, without fully appreciating the heart and soul of who we are. There really only ought to be one neat little compartment we ever need to occupy – and by that point the heart and soul are long gone.

From a journaling perspective it is useful to make a list of all the roles we have in our life – and to write a few lines about the version of self we bring to each. If you do decide to undertake this exercise, be vigilant about how the SHOULDs creep in, how you begin to compare your actual performance in the role against your imaginary bench-mark.

Another thing we soon discover is that what we’re writing against each named role doesn’t feel enough. That there is so much else that we wish to express about ourselves – and inquiring solely of our roles just doesn’t deliver it. In this situation, reflecting on ‘what’s missing’, or better put ‘what else’ can be very enlightening.

A beloved friend of mine likes to paint scenarios of things that will and will not happen. As I listen and feel rising constraint and suffocation I realise that much of what he’s saying is based on his own perceptions of the obligations and expectations associated with particular roles – with perhaps a dash of bet-hedging. Few of these kinds of scenarios are based on how the people themselves are likely to feel, respond and behave, in a given situation, were they truly left to their own devices.

This feels sad to me, and limiting. While it is important to assume our various responsibilities in life it is very often mistaken to do so under the guise of superficial roles, without the guidance of our true heart and soul.

In this sense we never shake off our responsibilities, but we do have a better chance of tackling them with originality, creativity and flair.

Gift Wrap and Pencil

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April 18, 2019 · 4:18 pm

Do you use your inner sat nav?

Have you ever considered that as well as having a satellite navigation system in your car, you also have one of your very own in your being?

And as you rely on your car’s sat nav to show you how to get somewhere, how much do you rely on your inner sat nav to show you the next right step in your life?

Our inner sat nav is otherwise referred to as our intuition or our knowing. The trouble is we have often forgotten that we have such things, and what their significance is, so we often override the directions they give us with the way we think we ought to go.

I’ve made this mistake in the car before too. Instead of following the instructions I’ve assumed I’ve known better, ignored the sat nav, and then ended up going round in circles.

Conversely, in a bizarre example of doubly betraying my inner knowing, I’ve also foolishly decided to follow the sat nav on a route I know well – and ended up in the back-end of nowhere, because I keyed in the wrong address!

The morals of these two stories are different – but with a common denominator. Firstly, in unfamiliar territory, don’t trust your mind over the sat nav; and secondly don’t override your own inner knowing just because your mind tells you you have a gadget!

Essentially our minds can lead us astray!

Yet in our culture the mind is considered to be the master of our cognitive process. As a result we do not remember to listen to the still small voice, which is the voice of our heart.

Journaling gives us heightened awareness of our inner knowing, as long as we surrender to the process of writing and allow the pen to move across the page without thinking too much where it’s taking us. It’s an adventure to hand over the steering wheel occasionally and to see where we end up, and what new insights are revealed along the way.

Often we can mistake the voice of our ego for our inner knowing – and vice versa. Like when there is an important decision to make and our mind leaps in with 15 cons to every single pro. I recently heard a good way of distinguishing our ego voice from our inner sat nav – if you hear many options simultaneously, almost out-shouting each other, then it’s the mind at play. But if the answer comes singly, quietly and assertively then it’s more likely coming from the heart.

As well as reflective writing, meditation and yoga practices really help in quietening the mind and allowing our inner knowing to come to the surface. Some say that the voice of our heart is at one with universal consciousness, the cosmic communication network that is full of creative ideas looking for a home. It’s fun to entertain this notion by stopping the ego mind chatter and opening ourselves to receive whatever single thoughts pop into our awareness.

And when they do, we need to be sure to capture them in our journal. Eventually our personalised route map will materialise.

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April 8, 2019 · 6:53 pm

“How can I keep it real?”

Realness means…

What?

It’s different for each of us. It’s worth the contemplation.

For me it is to feel grounded, active, on purpose, productive. It’s when things happen around me and I’m prepared to face them, to get curious and to find out what’s behind them.

Realness is to stay connected – to the real world, to reality, to my responsibilities.

And it is also to stay alert to new possibilities, without prejudice.

For a while I wondered whether keeping a journal might be about avoidance. That finding refuge in the ramblings of my imagination and the gazings at my navel might be a way of kidding myself out of being real.

But no. Quite the opposite.

For me keeping a journal is not to be an ostrich with my head in the sand. It is not to  daydream or deny.

Rather it’s a way of getting deeper into what reality actually is, for me. Deeper into where it lives and can be found.

And what I’ve discovered is that the most real thing there is in my experience  lives in my heart.

The more I tune into it, the more I act from that place, the more real I become: the more people tell me “You’re real.”

It’s nice.

So these days I make it my daily practice to hang out with my heart. It’s the place of courage, and, being adjacent to the breathing organs, of inspiration. It’s where love and truth and desire and joy and kindness and playfulness and curiosity are born, and borne.

I sit in meditation, and then I take up my journal and allow my pen to move across the page. The voice of my heart comes through loud and clear. The words flow. All forming coherent ideas, never forced. Or at least whenever it does feel like hard work, like squeezing blood from a stone, I know it’s because I’ve somehow shut myself off from my heart, and I am painfully denying my reality.

Because keeping it real happens naturally when we give voice to what is in our heart. Our heady ego might shoot it down – perhaps yours is right now as you read.

But listen.

You might just discern, beneath the noise, a little whisper of  reality coming from your heart.

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March 26, 2019 · 1:38 pm

How to be less conformist

What is it to conform?

Clearly if you’re behind the wheel of a car your best bet is to obey the rules of the road and travel in the same direction as those vehicles on your carriageway.

Conformity can mean safety.  Intuitively we know when safety is key. Non-conformity on a dual carriageway is literally, potentially fatally, dodgy.

But are there any times when there are risks associated with conformity?

Readers of The Journal Writer’s Handbook pose the question “How can I be less conformist, more originally me?” They are perceiving that there is a deficit that is triggered by conformity, some kind of theft of their originality.

Journaling is a good opportunity to recognise our authentic self – but that doesn’t automatically result in ease around non-conformity. We might know what’s good for us, but actually living that out in reality, other than in the confines of our private notebook, is another matter.

What would people say? How would your friends react? What would your family think?

Conforming is very much about our perception of others’ comfort; it’s about towing the line, or writing our story within the lines. It’s about following rules, obligations, expectations that are designed to make life easier, more straightforward, where we can just swoosh off one assumption onto another, like bouncing from one smooth cushion of air to the next.

Conformity is comfortable. On the outside. For others. No special arrangements or attitudes need to be adopted. Everyone, it can be assumed, is just like us.

But where our Truth is at odds with conformity, what then? Do we have to live a secret agony, having to hide who we really are from the rest of the world?

What’s the price of being true to ourselves? And expressing that out in the world? What does it take to shake off the fear that non-conformity brings?

I don’t recommend trying to drive the wrong way along a carriageway, but perhaps one small act of defiance can help us grasp who we might really be under the conformity cloak.

Baby steps. What non-conformity will you permit yourself today? And what would be its impact?

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February 14, 2019 · 6:12 pm

Journaling for truth

The reason to write a journal is not simply to have a notebook full of scribblings.

That’s not the result we journal writers are looking for.

Yes, an array of beautifully bound journals bulging with ink can look impressive on a bookshelf. They can provide “something sensational to read on the train” as Oscar Wild would have it. But that’s not the reason we write.

The English artist LS Lowry, famed for his matchstick men, explained in an interview that the reason he paints is to try and understand life. His creative task was all about enquiry rather than representation – and it feels to me that this is true of most sincere efforts to explore creatively, and to give range to the imagination.

One of my workshop attendees told me that she writes to find out “what’s really going on with me”.

And this feels closer to the truth about why we journal writers are compelled to put our thoughts on paper.

But it’s not even as if we need to spend much time re-reading and re-interpreting what we’ve put down. By moving our pen across the page and allowing words to form at the end of it, we are already engaging in a sometimes alchemical process of revealing “what’s really going on”. A cursory review, perhaps a couple of days later, can often show us a surprising profundity and thread of integrity. We may not have ever suspected what lay within us, what was ready to be expressed if only it was given a conduit.

The pen is mightier than the sword, so it is said. The pen can certainly give us access to truths we might have suspected, but never really brought to life.

So the result I’m seeking as a journal writer is to unveil my truth. To feel it emerge, and to enquire into it once it has “landed” in a form of words on the page in front of me.

Often I will refute it. It might embarrass me. But then the next layer of enquiry must be applied. What is being embarrassed? Is that the real me?

Sometimes it will feel affirmative. It is something I have long had an inkling about – how wonderful to finally give it some inky shape!

Occasionally real magic happens. I review my writing and notice a spelling mistake. But the word that I have seemingly formed in error is actually the exact word required. There is a Freudian realisation that the truth of my sub-conscious can and will emerge as I move my pen across the paper.

Our journal is the place where we can begin to recognise the power of our sub-conscious, and where we can dare to explore the effects of our ego mind on how far we are living our truth. And once its sitting there on the page we can choose what to do with it next.

What’s really going on for you?

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January 22, 2019 · 2:45 pm

Words for a New Year

2019 is here – and since I was born in 1969 this means it’s a big year.

But a New Year is big for all of us. It’s a new beginning. A new opportunity. It’s time to embrace life and make it awesome.

Around social media I’ve seen a number of coaches and writers extolling the virtues of picking a word for the year that sums up our intention for the 12 months ahead. And this is the time – in these early days of January, before we have to stop wishing everyone Happy New Year – to set that intention, to choose our word.

What is the word that encapsulates your intention for the coming year?

It might be a word that evokes a feeling, or that provides focus, or inspiration. It might be the name of a place or a person that represents that which we are aspiring to. It might be a colour; or a quality. Are you intending to have a red hot year? Or are you looking for serenity?

Something I have rediscovered over the past 18 months is my delight in dance. I began attending 5 Rhythms classes in Spring 2017 and I started to understand something new about myself that I had barely glimpsed before: namely that when I move my body to music it never fails to calm me, make me smile, feel joyful – and connected to the real me.

Strangely, when my son was very young and attending nursery school his teacher asked him one day “What does your Mum do?”

I expect she was anticipating being told about my job, which at the time was IT Project Manager. But this is not what my son knew nor could explain. Rather, he described what could only be his own perception of what I actually did most of the time he was with me: “She dances,” he replied.

There is something wonderfully surprising, yet also delightfully obvious about his observation. I always have music playing, so I always am dancing. Simple as that.

So in the spirit of this energetic truth about who I am and what I do, at least in the eyes of my now 21 year old son who rolls his eyes whenever he finds me boogieing in the kitchen, my word for 2019, the year of my half century, is Dance – with all the rhythm, joy, passion, movement, and stillness that that activity evokes.

What word will you choose for 2019? What does it evoke for you? How does it relate to your true self?

Set your intention in your journal – and enjoy responding to it as the year unfolds.

dynamic dance

 

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January 2, 2019 · 3:58 pm