Tag Archives: self-awareness

Too much, not enough or just right?

I had a sleepless night. Felt like I had both nothing and everything on my mind. Weird.

There’s a song by REM (appropriately named band given last night’s wakefulness) featuring the line “Oh no I’ve said too much – I haven’t said enough”. I find it’s a lyric that describes a frequent feeling of mine.

The REM song is called ‘Losing my Religion’. Its lyricist Michael Stipe claims it’s about romantic expression. To me it reflects a particular type of existential angst. A struggle between love and fear. Am I too much? Or am I not enough? Or who the hell am I anyway?

As I drove home from the school run this morning Petroc Trelawney on Radio 3 declared that today is 10 613 days since the Berlin Wall was broken; a barrier that stood for 10 613 days; built from fear, torn down from love.

It’s a statistic that made me reflect suddenly on what has happened in my life since then. A degree, a marriage, children, the dot com boom, three different addresses, bereavement, career change, a book published, lots of new friends made, as well as lots of love, quite a few fears and many, many, many hot dinners – some of which have been quite frightening in themselves. I’ve probably torn down a few walls of my own too.

I don’t really think I can judge whether this has been enough or too much. Probably best to say it’s been just right. That love has triumphed often over fear. And there’s always more to look forward to.

If you are minded take ten minutes to run the mental movie of your life over the past 10613 days. What has occurred in your life? What has been just right about it? And what more is to come?

 

 

 

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What outcomes are you attracting?

Today was the day my Mum was scheduled to have complex spinal surgery. My plan was to drive the 159 miles to be with her. So at 9am I began packing the car and getting ready to leave. I then received a phone call from my brother asking me where I was.
“I’m still at home” I replied.
“Good,” he said. “Stay there. They’ve just cancelled the op.”
Over the course of the ensuing ten minutes I came to understand that the surgeon called a halt to the proceedings because the operating theatre had the wrong table in it.
I began to feel angry and sad, and confused. I heard the tears in Mum’s voice. She’d been terrified of this procedure, and to have it denied her in the eleventh hour was piling on the agony. She was even gowned up and had a line drawn on the skin of her back to mark the incision point.
Yet the surgeon refused to proceed with the wrong table in theatre. He explained that he was not prepared to risk it as he has to work within a tenth of a millimetere from a nerve that if damaged would result in paralysis.
In a quiet moment of reflection after I put down the phone I realised that everything is working out perfectly.
Through this aborted process Mum got to see how much care and attention was being paid to her.
For example, there were 6 people on the team for her op – plus the lead surgeon – and including one guy who’d driven 189 miles to be there. Mum was the only one on today’s roster. All these people had gathered just for her.
 And the fact that the surgeon was prepared to send everyone home and cancel the op rather than run the risk ought to offer Mum a good deal of reassurance about his conscientiousness and duty of care.
I then realised something quite bizarre:  that between us Mum and I managed to attract the cancellation. Through her fear and my resistance to her fear together we have conspired to co-create the eventuality of this operation not going ahead.
In other words, while she was harbouring mortal fears about the procedure, I was pressing for optimism, healing and mobility. We were pulling in opposite directions, and in the process managed to cancel out the op.
I am blown away. I am so grateful for this lesson. And I am also appreciating that Mum and I have another chance to prepare for this operation with less fear and resistance, and more trust and confidence.
Everything is working out perfectly.
In the light of this my reflections are that journaling can be a very powerful magnet for our lived experience. However we express ourselves in writing can play a part in how we shape our lives.
So if we frequently use our journals to rant words of anger and bitterness, then we reinforce angry and bitter experiences in our reality.
If we use our journals to write our appreciations and love letters, then we enhance our reality with loving and appreciative experiences.
In fact, whether we write it or not, our lived experience will be affected by how we feel.
And it’s important to know that there isn’t always a counterweight (my resistance to Mum’s fear) to neutralise our fear, anger or bitterness. Sometimes we create our own momentum, and whether it’s good or bad, positive or negative, the more we feel it, the more we attract it.
Pay attention to the outcomes you are attracting. And use your journal as a tool to reinforce the feelings that will create the outcomes you desire, rather than perpetuate those you don’t.

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Lessons from Milner – expressing thoughts in their wholeness

Uh-oh.

It’s not quite been 20 years but there is something of the Rip van Winkle about the sleepiness of this blog.

Since reading Marion Milner my approach to journaling has shifted. And it has resulted in my living more – and writing less.

This has always been a conundrum for me. Reflective practice ought not to stifle action. It ought to stimulate action and ensure its enhanced authenticity. Being a lover of action I guess I’d always felt a bit awkward about the reflective bit and have always wanted to strike a respectable balance between the two.

Through Milner I have discovered a fascinating journaling trick which has been like super-charging my life with lightning.

Here’s what she says:

“I must learn to maintain a vigilance, not against wrong thoughts but against refusal to recognise any thought.”

At first I didn’t want to accept that I too may have been refusing to recognise certain of my thoughts. But then when I did, and when I then began to express those thoughts in my journal, things really started to shift in my outer life.

Our inner censors are so insidious and wily. No matter how articulate we are in talking about them, no matter how aware we are of their strange potential to sabotage us, they always find a way to sneak under the radar.

I noticed my inner censor was acting all rational on me. And who doesn’t want to be rational, right? But it was hiding in plain sight, making me think that rational is good, rational is me – when all along it jolly well isn’t.

My inner censor was stopping me from dreaming, and even though dream-like thoughts would nudge at me these were typically not the ones I would write about.

Suddenly when I took Milner’s advice things started to happen. It felt different to express all my thoughts – especially the ones that my inner censor would have been carefully corralling previously. But the results have been transformational.

Try it. Don’t let your inner censor lull you to sleep. Pay attention to the dreams you have when you’re awake. Be vigilant. Be alive.

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What has journaling helped you achieve?

I’m curious. For all you dyed-in-the-wool journal writers out there – what are the things that you have made possible for yourself just by keeping a regular reflective record of your thoughts and experience?

Maybe it’s something small but incremental. Or maybe it’s something way more significant and challenging.

Recently I got some feedback from one reader that The Journal Writer’s Handbook had made her think so differently about what she was doing with her life post-retirement that she went out and booked a 3 month round the world cruise. Wow.

And another reader who struggles with insomnia was simply delighted to have had a good night’s sleep after spending a few minutes scribbling down her thoughts before turning out the light.

For me the reflective way has helped me cure my back pain, supported me through times of grief and disappointment, and continues to inspire me with new ideas for writing.

So over to you – what would you never have done without your journal?

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How journaling can reconnect us with our community

Walk into any good quality stationers and browse their journal shelf and you will doubtless find a notebook designated as a Travel Journal. This is for recording thoughts and reflections in places we visit, on holiday, or as part of a conscious effort to be ‘away from it all’, in places that aren’t part of our usual itinerary.

But what about journaling in places that are already familiar to us? That form part of the landscape we already call home? What can that do – to us? And to the place?

Yesterday I had the privilege of leading a group of journal writers through a short workshop in response to our surroundings. These were Old Town Gardens in Swindon, Wiltshire, UK. We used the Bowls Clubhouse as our base – whose members could not have been more accommodating or welcoming – and enjoyed an hour and a half of companionable journaling and reflective discussion.

First, everyone was invited to choose an inquiry from our specially created washing line:

Washing line of inquiry

Then we all embarked on a meditative stroll around the park, allowing our bodies and our minds to slow down and notice what we notice – using our senses, paying attention to whatever caught our eye, picking up “objets trouves” along the way, seeing how our perceptions were affected by the inquiry we had selected – or not! Sometimes called psycho-geography, this is a way of seeing how our environment affects us, how we interact with it and what we take away from it physically, emotionally and psychologically.

Upon our return we enjoyed a few minutes writing about our experience – what we noticed, what memories were evoked, what was important to us about the place, what connects us to it, what feelings and emotions arose, what insights occured.

And then we shared something of our reflections in a respectful and open discussion.

Everyone went away feeling completely relaxed and connected – to each other, and with renewed fondness for the place. We all experienced something of the power of community journaling, and glimpsed the potential of how this type of shared mindfulness, through the medium of reflective writing,  might help us re-shape our relationship with the environment, and with the places we each call home.

Bandstand

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Happy beads

What can emerge for us in our journals if we take a few moments to ask ourselves “What is the most important thing that happened yesterday?”

According to Marion Milner, 20th century British psychoanalyst, artist and author of A life of one’s own, An experiment in Leisure and Eternity’s Sunrise, we can tell something is important when it shifts us somehow, when we feel a physical response to something, or when a memory or object brings with it a particular warmth.

She describes her ‘important things’ as beads, each of which she describes in exquisite detail in her journals, and these beads she believes give her clues about what makes her happy.

The challenge in this practice is first and foremost to notice when you are moved by an important thing. It requires a particular level of self-awareness to distinguish between an authentic response and a more standard, conventional, only-to-be-expected reaction.

So perhaps the inquiry ought to be made more specific: “What is the most important thing that happened TO YOU yesterday?”

Happy bead threading!

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When journaling isn’t enough

It’s been a time – two weeks in fact – of scattered, unfocused thinking and desultory journaling. Even my brand new journal with song-birds on the front has left me uninspired – making me wonder whether their characteristic flitting and pecking has been part of my problem.

Realising I’d filled over 20 pages of my new notebook without acknowledging it and reintroducing myself, I tried the Dear Journal exercise. Predictably I got quite a ticking off from my inner guide. At one point she told me “It’s not generally my style to give you a bollocking but the amount of day-dreaming and unproductive moping you’ve been doing has got beyond a joke.” Ouch.

But still my writing felt like it had no meat. No juice. Plenty of whining but nothing insightful.

Avoiding sentences beginning with I didn’t work. My inner critic just taunted me instead with a sneering ‘we- know- what- you’re- doing’ remark.

With things still feeling knotted and tangled, distinctions were what I needed, to sift through all my commitments and tasks and to try and see the wood for the trees. But a list wasn’t going to cut it, there was too much going on. So I resorted to mind-mapping. Thank goodness. Shift began.

Exhausted last evening I could only manage to read a few pages of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men before sleep took over. But today, feeling refreshed, I took myself off for a walk in the beautiful town centre park near my home. I met a journaling friend and we shared some great ideas, then took a stroll to look at the trees, plants, flowers and wildlife. Gradually I felt clarity returning. My body began to smile again, and this evening, after a lovely dinner and a refreshing glass of wine, I’ve finally managed to return to this blog post, which is now in its fourth iteration after as many days. It’s a great relief to think that shortly I’ll be pressing the Publish button on it.

What I’ve learned from all this reinforces the advice I give in The Journal Writer’s Handbook: that sometimes on our voyage we need to find safe moorings and replenish our stocks. That sometimes journaling isn’t enough. For me this time I needed to reconnect with the trees and the squirrels and the birds, which, sure enough, just sat and sang.

Blossom in Old Town Gardens

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