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Rediscovering the art of the journal as a processing tool during times of despair.
I was 18 when I wrote my first poem.
It was an experience that sculpted the rest of my life as a writer and as a survivor, meeting trauma and processing it for the first time through language.
Writing this crumpled little mess of a poem at 18 was my first artistically rebellious act, carved out of the fine limbs of the English language like soft wood.
The journal I scrawled this poem into was soft-bodied: light blue with bird faces sketched on the cover, physically small. It fit into the back pocket of my green carpenter pants. Gena was there when I bought it. She was my soul mate at 18 and there was nothing we couldn’t take on together.
I parted the pages of that journal all summer to write feelings, memories, antidotes to depression, romantic notions of the world. The journal was an ally of mine, holding my hand next to Gena. It was a safety net for my internal chaos as I stumbled through the universe of academia, blossoming into adulthood.
But what happened to my allegiance to writing on the page? I’m sure it was lost during the pandemic, that gaping void that changed the fabric of reality.
Though I had more time, there was less journaling. It was all too much to process. Looking back, I believe I moved those emotions from mind to body while hiking, not processing on the page anymore. That’s okay. I think different modes of processing and therapeutic inquiry serve us at different times of trauma and unraveling.
During the pandemic, my process for processing just happened to be movement. I was working on somatic therapy, hiking, dancing, biking. The amount of unrealistic reality that churned into the ether that year was too much for a journal entry. The virus was such a somatic fear for me; I felt viscerally tense about getting sick and not recovering. It is only logical to me now that I used my expressive movements to work through those fears.
Yesterday, I picked up a journal again. There is a stack of them pushed into some old crates in my bedroom. I was heading to a work training and thought there might be notes to record. There wasn’t. But while I was waiting for the training to begin, I opened up the journal and just began freewriting, the way we used to in class at Naropa. My contemplative education was peppered with freewriting activities and process notes at the end of class. The feeling of doing a freewriting activity was so refreshing to me after all of this time, like taking another big inhale that you weren’t aware you needed.
I realized that journaling allows me to take the thoughts ringing inside of my head and process them in real time. I get to minimize them into smaller segments, scrutinize them for clarity, and finally make sense of what they mean within my world.
Yesterday I wrote: “You know who you are and that is essential.”
I’m so grateful to have stumbled upon this rediscovery while living in a time that is experimenting with artificial intelligence, pushes constant virtual connection, engages with unprecedented, horrendous news cycles daily. I need this. The word unprecedented has lost all meaning here. I need to use this practice again to sustain myself during this time of frustration, general chaos, and grief.
We are all tangled up in the mistakes of our civilization, challenging the repetition, while facing the qualms of our dying Earth. There is so much despair, constantly we unravel, and in the midst of all of this, I had forgotten the power to process. We aren’t meant to process the vast amount of information that comes our way through the internet. Endless scrolling and reading feedback is so overstimulating for our brains and bodies that at some point we begin to go numb for self-preservation.
We aren’t meant to live a life numbing our senses to the world. We aren’t meant to live on autopilot or in survival mode. I think journaling is the first step in reminding yourself who you are and how you’re going to connect with your purpose on this planet.
Write down your processing plan or care plan (call it whatever you like!) Journal about your processing needs.
>> How can you process this information? What tools do you need to use?
>> What does your body need?
>> What does your mind need to sustain this hard moment?
>> Consider what feels right to you. What doesn’t work for you?
>> What resources do you have in your toolbox to lean on in times of hardship?
>> What tools and skills do you need to strengthen?
>> Which tools would you like to gain?
Comment below to let me know what you’ve come up with! I’d love to connect.