Your Hero/Heroine’s Journey: A Journaling Exercise

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You have probably heard the advice, “flip the script” or “change the story”.  When we see our lives as a story in which we are the hero or heroine, it can help us shift our energy and give us an interesting third party perspective on things.  All good stories are about the resolution of drama of some kind.  Situations and problems arise for the characters on the pages and they are dealt with and resolved in a variety of ways.  A story can take many twists and turns along the way before ultimately coming to an ending, be it happy or sad or somewhere in between.

If you were the hero or heroine of YOUR story (which you are, of course), how would you want the drama that you are currently facing to play out?  How do you want to show up in YOUR story?  All heroes and heroines face challenging circumstances and somehow manage to transform or rise above them in some way.  That is what makes them compelling to us.  Really put yourself into that heroic energy.  This is especially important if the drama you are dealing with has left you feeling powerless and victimy.  Yes, things are hard.  But you, my dear hero/heroine, can do hard things.  This is just the beginning…the raw material that makes your story one worth telling.  Choose a situation that you are currently facing and write about it in the third person.  For example, “Kristi came home from running errands this afternoon and realized, much to her dismay, that one of her chickens had escaped into the neighbor’s yard.  Again.”  (True story, by the way). Describe your current drama in exquisite detail.  See yourself in the story.  Know that we are just setting the scene for you to step into your greatness.

Now, with courage, wisdom and grace, describe what happens next on your hero/heroine’s journey.  It might be helpful to consider what someone you greatly admire might do in that same situation.  What would Oprah do if her chickens kept escaping from her yard?  Write the journey from the third person perspective again.  Bravely allow your story to unfold.  See it through to your desired resolution of the drama.  Once again, exquisite detail is helpful here.  In this telling of YOUR story, you are profoundly strong, wise and resilient.  Really let yourself step into that role of hero or heroine.

When you are finished, read through your story start to finish.  Underline parts that resonate with you.  Does it inspire you?  Does it help you see possibilities that you hadn’t before?  What small steps can you take today to move yourself into this heroic energy, to flip the script, to change the story?  Journal briefly about what it means to step into this heroic role in your present life.

Two Letters: A Journaling Exercise

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We are continuing our work with unsent letters this week.  This week’s exercise is broken down into 2 parts.  IT IS IMPORTANT THAT YOU COMPLETE PART I IN ITS ENTIRETY BEFORE PROCEEDING TO PART II.  DON’T EVEN READ THE INSTRUCTIONS FOR PART II UNTIL YOU HAVE COMPLETED PART I.

PART I

We will begin by writing two very different letters:

Letter 1:  Our first letter will be to someone in our life who is frustrating us….someone who is maybe driving us a little crazy with their behavior.  In this letter we want to let this person know exactly what it is that they are doing that is annoying us and what we think this person ought to do differently.  Don’t hold back!  Really give them the honest truth about how you feel.  This is for your eyes only so there is no need to spare anyone’s feelings.

Letter 2:  The second letter will be to someone we deeply admire, someone we believe is doing great work in the world.  In this letter we want to let this person know how amazing we think they are.  We want to gush about their stellar qualities and what we so admire about them.  And then we want to take a moment to tell them what we hope they will do next with their considerable energies and talents.

Once you have decided who you want to write to, take out your journal and a pen and write your two letters, spending about 15 minutes on each one.  (SPOILER ALERT:  The impact of this exercise will be greater if you STOP READING NOW AND WRITE YOUR LETTERS BEFORE PROCEEDING TO PART II.)

PART II

Once you have completed your letters, go back and cross out the names of whoever you wrote your letters to and write your name instead.  This is an exercise in recognizing other people as our mirrors:  What frustrates us about other people is often something we are doing ourselves.   As my old therapist used to say, if you can spot it, you’ve got it!  It may be manifesting differently or to a different degree in your own life, but you will most likely see some (or a lot) of yourself in Letter 1 if you read closely.  Take a moment to read through it compassionately and reflect on how you are indeed embodying some if not all of the traits of this person who is frustrating you in some way, shape or form.  This is not meant to be an exercise in judging ourselves or others.  It is meant to help us notice how we can be blind to our own behaviors and how we can use our irritation and frustration with others to reflect on our own life.  We can’t control the actions of others, but we can see in ourselves what we haven’t been seeing and adjust our actions and behavior accordingly.

The same goes for Letter 2:  You would not hold deep admiration for someone if you did not already possess the very qualities you admire.  They may be latent or buried, but they are there.  Let this person be a glimpse of what’s inside you waiting to be revealed.  Pay close attention to what you told this person you were looking forward to them doing next.  Are you giving yourself some kind of instructions here about what you need to do next?

As you compare the two letters side-by-side, notice that you’ve revealed some aspects of yourself that may need some work AND a beautiful vision of what you already are under the surface.  Write a synthesis of the two letters.  What are you being told that it’s time to let go of?  What is it time to step into? What next steps have revealed themselves through this process?

 

 

Recognizing the Voice of Your Intuition on the Page

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In the journaling world, we often refer to the process of listening to the still, small voice inside.  But what does that mean, exactly? Whose voice is this and what does it sound like?

The still, small voice is your intuition.  It’s the quiet whisper of your soul, a part of you that is connected to something greater.  It offers comfort and wisdom.  It offers guidance.  It is both you and beyond you.  When we begin the practice of journaling, we start to see many different aspects of ourself appearing on the page as we write.  Our voice sometime sounds whiny, angry or fearful.  And sometimes we sound joyful or profoundly grateful.  This is the beauty of journaling:  We give all aspects of ourselves a chance to speak.  We simply write down what comes, and we welcome it.  But sometimes the writing process intersects with a moment of transcendence as something profoundly wise or helpful comes through the pen and on to the paper.  How does this intuitive voice stand out, particularly since it is quiet, still and small?

1.   The voice of your intuition is always kind.  It does not judge or berate you.  It does not tell you that you are a lazy good-for-nothing.  It offers unconditional support and encouragement.  Sometimes if I’m trying to access this voice and I’m having trouble, I will ask a question of my inner self and then write a term of endearment as the first word of the response back, something like “Sweetheart…” or “Dear One…” and see where the answer goes from there.  Our intuition is always looking out for us in a loving way.

2.  This inner voice may sound incredibly wise, so much so that when you go back and read over what you wrote you might think, “Did I write that?”  It is a voice that may be almost unrecognizable as your own.  It is both you and beyond you.  Here is an example of something I wrote while journaling that felt like it came from me and beyond me at the same time:

“Someone must be the shining light in the window to guide others home.  Let yourself be that light.  Not the bright sun overhead, but the lamp that quietly illuminates the darkness.  Softening.  Allowing the mystery to exist.  The shadows to lengthen and deepen.  This is the light the world needs now.”

Trust me, I am not this wise on my own.  But as an open and willing participant with something greater I am able to access personalized wisdom like this.  And what a profound gift it is to receive a beautiful, encouraging message from your higher self.  It is reason enough to establish a journaling practice.

3.  Your inner voice may offer advice that is both simple and complex at the same time.  Like the example I offered above, the wisdom that comes forth is often poetic and cryptic in some way while offering very simple instructions.  In this case, the advice as I read it is that by being yourself you help others.  Simple but deeply profound.

4.  The voice of your intuition has a tendency to see the big picture of what is going on, but it only offers a tiny step or two when it comes to what’s next.  Sadly, our inner self is usually not in the business of delivering a detailed road map that will get you from here to there.  It offers love, encouragement and an invitation to trust the larger process and then maybe an inkling of what to do next.

5.  Your inner voice has a strength, certainty and directness to it.  It doesn’t guess, suspect or think maybe this or maybe that, it knows.  Not an arrogant kind of knowing, just a sense of plain and simple truth.

6.  Intuitive wisdom comes with a particular feeling in the body.  If we are paying attention, we notice that our bodies are incredibly fine-tuned instruments, capable of detecting truth and wisdom with subtle physical sensations.  When you are reading through your journal, you may read a sentence and feel a profound sense of relaxation or inner freedom.  Or something you wrote may land in your chest or your gut with a deep and calm sense of knowing.  These sensations are different for everyone, but as a general rule, true intuition feels peaceful and open in the body whereas something that is not true for you feels tight and constricting.  Practice feeling wisdom in your own body:  Write something down that you know is false and see you how feel when you read it.  Carefully note the physical sensations.  Do the same thing with a bit of wisdom that you know to be true for you.  Get to know and trust these feelings as you read through your own writing.

List Making and What You REALLY Want: A Journaling Exercise

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List making is such an ingrained part of our daily lives that we often don’t consider it a journaling technique.  More than just a reminder of what we need to do today, lists are an excellent way to generate a lot of information in a succinct manner very quickly.  In her book, Journal to the Self, Kathleen Adams suggests creating a list on a chosen topic that is 100 items long.  Why?  Like many other journaling techniques, list making benefits from giving yourself the time and space on the page to work through that which is at a conscious level.  As you keep writing past a point at which you might have otherwise stopped, you tap into information that lies just below the surface in your subconscious mind.  You may be surprised by what shows up towards the end of your list when the conscious mind has exhausted its efforts and the subconscious has an opportunity to weigh in!

You can write a list on absolutely any topic whatsoever.  A few ideas include:

100 things I am grateful for

100 things I need to/should do

100 things I’m afraid of

100 things I would do if I had more time

100 things I’m worried/stressed about

100 topics to write about

100 things that I love

100 things I want to make

Your list can be about anything at all that sparks your interest or feels like it might be therapeutic for you.  When I’m feeling overwhelmed, for example, I love to make a list of 100 things I need to/should do.  Getting these things down on paper gives me a chance to capture them.  From there I can sort through them and choose what to tackle now, what to save for later and what to forget about altogether.  It is a very centering, clarifying process.

When making your list, feel free to repeat yourself as many times as an item pops into your head.  The fact that it is entering your thoughts more than once is something to note in and of itself.  Also, don’t worry if your list entries don’t make sense.  Just keep numbering on the page and continue writing.  This process benefits from moving swiftly, letting whatever pops into your head make its way on to the page.

Once you have completed your list, it is helpful to go through what you have written and put your items into categories.  You will probably find that your list breaks down into 5-7 categories.  For example, if you wrote a list of 100 things I’m worried about, you might find that 30% of what you worry about relates to money and finances, 20% to health, 20% to your relationships, 20% to daily tasks that need to get done and 10% to your job.  This can give you some clarity about what you want to do next.  Maybe you choose to tackle some of those daily tasks that are weighing on your mind but are also easy to cross off the list and then resolve to taking a serious look at your budget and financial outlook when you have more time over the weekend.  List making can help you focus your energy and generate productive and inspired action based on what comes up for you.

For today’s exercise, we are going to make a list of 100 Things that I Want.  Take out your journal and pen, and when you are ready, began making a list of 100 things that you want.  These can be tangible things like a new house or a jet-ski, but they don’t have to be.  Maybe you want a career that gives you a sense of purpose and meaning or for your partner to stop nagging you about the way you load the dishwasher.  ANYTHING at all that you want right now in this moment, put it down on the list.  Remember, repetition and nonsensical entries are just fine.  Don’t overthink, just write.  Keep going until you reach 100 items.  This should take you 20-30 minutes.

When you are finished, set your pen down and begin reviewing your list.  Notice that for every item, for everything thing that you want, there is a feeling state that you hope to achieve by getting this thing.  For example, if you wrote down that you wanted a million dollars, what you really want may be a feeling of security or comfort, or perhaps freedom.  If you wrote down a cabin in the woods, perhaps what you really want is a feeling of peace or connection with the natural world.  Or maybe you said you wanted to start running or practice yoga on a regular basis.  Maybe your underlying desired feeling is vitality.  All of our desires are fueled by a way we want to feel.  Go through your list and begin identifying what feeling states you desire based on the items on your list.  You will probably find that most of your items fall under 5-7 desired feeling states.  When you are finished categorizing your items into feeling states, tally the number of items that fall into each category.

Now that you’ve categorized and tallied your items, notice what it is that you really want, the desired feeling states that lie behind the items on your list.  These feeling states are available to us all the time in our daily lives, and by finding ways to access them more frequently in small, attainable ways, the easier it is to move in the direction of the things that will help us feel the way we want to feel.

When we are unaware of the feeling state that lies behind the want, we can get into a position of thinking that getting a particular thing is like a magic bullet.  More money=freedom.  A cabin=peace.  Running=vitality.  As I’m sure you’ve experienced in your own life, this is not necessarily so.  There are people with plenty of money who feel trapped.  There are people who own cabins who feel anxious and upset.  There are people who run regularly who feel exhausted.  Sometimes what we think is just the thing to fix everything is actually not.

But when we are in touch with how we want to feel as a starting point, that can change everything.  Beginning with our daily lives, if we desire a feeling of peace, maybe we begin a meditation practice or simply find more moments for quiet during the day.  We note what peace feels like and move in the direction of things that generate a peaceful feeling inside of us.  Freedom may be as simple as going for a bike ride or making what you want for dinner tonight rather than what others expect you to make.  We note what freedom feels like and move in the direction of things that make us feel free.  You have the power to consciously move towards things that make you feel the way you want to feel.  And away from things that don’t.  Find the feeling and continue to move in that direction.

Most importantly, this way of being keeps us from the “waiting to start living” syndrome.  In his book, A New Earth:  Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, Eckhart Tolle says:

The “waiting to start living” syndrome is one of the most common delusions of the unconscious state. Expansion and positive change on the outer level is much more likely to come into your life if you can enjoy what you are doing already, instead of waiting for some change so that you can start enjoying what you do.  Don’t ask your mind for permission to enjoy what you do.  All you will get is plenty of reasons why you can’t enjoy it.  “Not now,” the mind will say.  “Can’t you see I’m busy?  There’s no time.  Maybe tomorrow you can start enjoying…”  That tomorrow will never come unless you begin enjoying what you are doing now.

There is no reason to wait to feel the way we want to feel.  There is no magic bullet.  We can dance and play with these desired feeling states beginning with what’s right in front of us in this very moment.  Maybe, as it turns out, you won’t need that yacht after all!  Maybe it was a feeling of adventure and aliveness you were after.  Where can you find that now?  Today?

Dialogues: A Journaling Exercise

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A journaling dialogue is essentially a conversation on paper between you and someone or something else in which you are writing both sides of the discussion.  This dialogue can be with absolutely anyone or anything.  Some ideas for dialogue partners include but are in no way limited to:

Any person, alive or dead

Someone famous you admire and whose advice you would love to receive

An illness

A part of your body that hurts or an aspect of your body image that is uncomfortable or unsettling to you in some way

Money

Time

An emotion or feeling

A creative project

Your job or career

Your creativity in general

Procrastination/Your resistance to taking action on something

Circumstances in your life

A material object

Your authentic self

This is your opportunity to ask questions and have a conversation with someone or something in your life that needs some insight or further exploration.  It is usually written in script format, as if you were writing dialogue for a play:

ME:  Asks question or makes comment.

DIALOGUE PARTNER:  Responds.

And the conversation continues from there.  Try not to rush the discussion, simply let the dialogue proceed in a relaxed and unhurried manner, as if you were talking to a good friend.  You may even experience some silence in between responses.  That’s okay.  Let the conversation flow as it wants to.

With that, please take out your journal and a pen.  Review the list of possible dialogue partners above and choose someone or something that you would like to gain insight from in some way.  Remember, this is just a preliminary list of ideas.  Feel free to choose whatever or whoever you want for your conversation.  Once you have a dialogue partner in mind, close your eyes.  Take a few deep breaths and let your body begin to relax, feeling present and open.  In your minds eye, picture yourself somewhere in nature that you find particularly soothing.  It might be the beach, the forest, the mountains….whatever setting calls to you.  Really put yourself there…feel the air, hear the sounds and smell the scents that you associate with your particular natural setting.  Take a few moments to really let this come alive for you.  Once you feel present in your vision, imagine that there is a path in front of you leading to a comfortable place to sit down.  You began walking along the path and take a seat, settling in to this space.  Imagine that there is another path on the opposite side of where you are seated that leads towards you.  You began to see that someone or something is slowly making their way down the path.  As they get closer, you begin to make out their appearance.  This is your dialogue partner.  Let them take whatever form they choose.  There is no right or wrong embodiment for this entity.  Simply note their appearance as they sit down next to you.  Take a moment to comfortable in one another’s presence.  Feel the energy of openness and honesty between you.  It is clear that this is a sacred space where you can say or ask anything that you want.  Once you are ready, open your eyes and begin having a conversation with your dialogue partner on the page.  Spend 20 or 30 minutes here talking to one another.

As the conversation comes to a close, thank your dialogue partner for the insight and wisdom they have shared with you.  If it a conversation you want to return to, let your partner know that and ask if you can return to this space to continue the dialogue at another time.

This can be an extremely powerful exercise that can yield surprising results.   Read through what you wrote with compassion and curiosity.  Underline or highlight any particular insights you received for further reflection.  You can always use the wisdom and insight from your dialogue partner as a prompt for your next writing session if you want to dive deeper into what you’ve discovered.

 

 

Using Quotations as Prompts: A Journaling Exercise

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Sometimes it is helpful to have a starting point for your writing, a question or phrase that stirs the mind and soul from a particular perspective.  We call these questions or phrases journaling prompts or springboards as they help launch you and writing in a new, and possibly unexpected, direction. I particularly like using quotes or snippets of poetry as prompts.  A quote or line of poetry can sometimes resonate with something deep within us in a way that a mere question or phrase cannot.

I have compiled a list of quotes to use as springboards for your writing.  Choose one that you feel drawn to and write it at the top of your page.  Set your timer for 15-20 minutes and let your writing take you where it wants to go from there.  Please refer back to this list throughout the month for writing inspiration. Prompts are particularly helpful if the idea of stream of consciousness writing feels daunting because you don’t feel like you have anything to say.  Let these wise words be your starting points.

“Live in each season as it passes: breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit.”

-Henry David Thoreau

“We are earthen vessels that hold the treasure.”

-John O’Donohue

“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.”

-John Lubbock

“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love.  It will not lead you astray.”

-Rumi

“We need the tonic of wildness.”

-Henry David Thoreau

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

-Mary Oliver

“Stop pushing the not knowing away

Embrace the mystery

Look for the hints

Follow the clues

It’s just a game, after all.”

-Unknown

“Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.”

-Thomas Merton

“I think the best thing I can say is to follow your bliss. If your bliss is just your fun and your excitement, you’re on the wrong track…Know where your bliss is. And that involves coming down to a deep place in yourself.”

-Joseph Campbell

“I would like to live as a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.”

-John O’Donohue

“When food is prayer, cooking is not an effort to the soul.  One has only to quiet the ego who ever natters, “faster, faster!”  No.  The soul says instead, “slow is life giving, why would anyone ever run faster and even faster toward death?”

-Clarissa Pinkola Estes

“The notion of the day as a sacred space offers a lovely frame for the creativity that a day can bring. Sadly, in modern life, the day is often a cage where a person can lose youthfulness, energy and strength.”

-John O’Donohue

“Creativity lies not in the done, but in the doing.”

-Julia Cameron

“Help the world by leaving a trail of who you are.”

-Mark Nepo

“Your playing small does not serve the world.”

-Marianne Williamson

“Imagine treating yourself the way you treat people you love.”

-Geneen Roth

“Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.”

-Rumi

Creating a Vision: A Journaling Exercise

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We are dependent on imagery as the beam that guides us.

-Christina Baldwin

In the modern world it is easy to move unconsciously through our days.  Taking care of what and who needs taking care of becomes a reactive experience, one that feels a lot more like going through the motions than living an intentional life. We all have dreams, things we hope to accomplish, creative projects we long to pursue.  And we’ll get to them as soon as we clean the kitchen, fold the laundry and drop our daughter off at dance class.  Sound familiar?  One way to tap into what we long for, what we desire, is a journal writing technique known as visioning.  Here, we will take the time to answer the fundamental questions of living a more intentional, purpose-driven life:

Where am I?

Where am I going?

How do I get there?

Visioning is an extremely powerful, if not magical, exercise.  Once our mind has a vision, it’s easier to bring that in to reality because it already exists in thought.  And if you can imagine it, you can do it.  Getting that image down on paper also helps us bring color and detail to our vision, and it helps us chart a path to get there.  In her book, Life’s Companion:  Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest, Christa Baldwin puts it this way:

Daydreaming is not the same as visioning.  I tell writing students that the beginning of a story is like the threshold of a doorway.  You want the reader to feel confident enough in the imagined world so that s/he will step into the story’s reality without hesitating.  Visioning is the same kind of threshold.  We need to create a reality so real to us that we will step into it with a sense that everything we need is present.

But before we began thinking about where we want to go, we must first figure out where we are.  This is your foundation.  Your current reality.  Your starting point.  There are probably some things you love about your life as it is now and probably some other things that you wish were different.  Please be as honest as you can with yourself about your current situation.  This writing is for your eyes only.  Telling the truth about our current reality helps us clear out the energy of resistance to what is (i.e., constantly wishing something wasn’t the way it was) and simply accept the starting point.  That’s all this really is…a clear snapshot of where you are beginning.  With acceptance comes a feeling of letting go.  We stop pushing against what simply is our current state of reality and we free up our energy to put towards the possibility of what could be, what we long for.  With the freedom of acceptance and the beginning clearly in mind, it’s easier to envision where we want to go.  With that, please find your journal and a pen.  Let’s take 10 or 15 minutes and simply write in response to the following prompts:

This is where my life is right now…

This is what’s working in my life and what isn’t…

 Once you have finished, set your pen down and congratulate yourself on the brave step of really seeing your current situation.  Let that simply be as it is.  No need to push against anything.  No need to wish anything away.  Simply bask in a moment of true acceptance.  Of letting go.  Of being where you are right now.  Now, I want you to picture a calendar in your mind’s eye.  Flip the pages forward…July, August, September….keep going until you get to one year from today.  See that page in the calendar in your mind.  Now imagine that the date is indeed one year from today.  What are you doing?  What are your surroundings?  Who are you with?  What are you wearing?  What are eating?  What does your ideal day, your ideal life, look like one year from now?  Be as specific in your vision as possible. See, taste, hear, feel, smell the details.  Make it come to life.  Now when you are ready, open your eyes, turn to a fresh page, and write a journal entry dated one year from today.  Describe your vision for where you are a year from now.  Do not hold back!  Let this be your vision.  What you truly desire and long for.  This is your opportunity to play, dream, fantasize on paper. Take 20 minutes or so and flush this out in as much detail as possible.

When you are finished, read through your vision.  Does it light you up?  Fill you with longing?  Get you excited about what’s to come?  Good!

But we’re not done yet.  Turning our vision into reality generally has three components:

An honest starting point

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A clear vision based on true desire and longing

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ACTION

If you are a spiritual sort, like me, visioning may be your strong suit, but the truth of the matter is that without action our vision will remain just that…a vision. What actions can you take to start you moving on the path from here to your vision?  Brainstorm those in list form now.

When you are done, start a new page in your journal. Write at the top, “Where I am” and at the bottom write the date a year from now or a few words describing your vision.  Draw a line connecting the two.  In between, write the various action steps that came up for you during your brainstorm session in boxes along that line.  These are the steps that will help get you from here to there.

Let this action plan be fluid.  Let your vision evolve.  Just find a way to act, to participate in the creation of your vision. To move forward on the path.  It is not set in stone.  The important thing is that you keep moving and adjust as necessary as you move forward.  Refer to your vision often.  This is your blueprint for moving forward.  Let it guide you and inform your choices.  Revisit or repeat this exercise whenever you feel stuck or distanced from a beautiful, inspiring vision of what’s next for you.