The Importance of Journaling

I’ve had so much pressure put on me these days I think if I write them down I’ll feel better.

The first line from Book One: Christine’s Diary 2/20/80-6/20/80
February 20, 1980 – I’m 15 years old at the time

I am a huge advocate for journaling. I find it to be a great way of downloading and organizing my thoughts —a way to work out all the crazy details of what life throws at me. It gives me to have the space and time to sort out things. I have been journaling on and off for the last forty years. My mother hated that I kept a journal when I was a teenager. She read it, invading my privacy, betraying my trust. She felt it was for my own good. She wanted me to destroy my diary but it meant too much to me, I was 16 years old and gave it to my boyfriend at the time for safe keeping. It was ‘our diary’. He kept it for twenty years or more and returned it to me, still in the same manila envelope I had sealed it up in two decades earlier. He never opened it. Reading it today is hysterical and I am so glad I have those memories preserved, I had forgotten so much.

Book One is on top of the Red Diary Book IV, the diary which got me into so much trouble. I must have been watching a lot of M*A*S*H in 1981. My current journal is peeking out to the right with the flower design.

I journaled very little in my twenties. Gun-shy that my privacy, my trust would be betrayed again by those around me. I tried to start again when I had children in my late 20s, early 30s – I wanted to have at least a record of some of the milestones they were experiencing—a sentence here, a paragraph there is all I could muster. I was blocked. Mom’s voice echoing in my head telling me that it was dangerous to write things down. Someone could read it.

During a particularly difficult time in my life, little by little, I turned to journaling to quiet my mind. I began writing more in my notebooks. I had finally unlocked a part of me that had been closed off. The dam that was keeping me from being able to express myself on paper was beginning to weaken. Thankfully it burst. That was close to 18 years ago and for over a decade, I have kept the same routine every morning.

Notebook, pen and coffee – the trinity of my morning

I am an early bird who enjoys waking up when it’s dark, no matter what time of year. I head straight to the kitchen and brew myself a cup of coffee when the time is four something a.m. The dogs get a morning snack while we wait for my water to boil. For the last 10 months, I have been using an AeroPress to make my coffee. I used to use a Keurig, but we discovered too many times the minerals that built up in the reservoir, and sometimes something green looked to be floating around if we forgot about rinsing out the reservoir…So now I boil water in a small teapot with a thermometer so I can achieve the perfect temperature for coffee. I love coffee and don’t ever want to live without it, but that’s another blog article waiting to be written. After the coffee is made and the dogs have had a treat or two, we head into my den, my sanctuary.

I sit at the desk that was once my Nana’s, it’s an old secretary that would close if I ever cleared enough of my clutter away. Nana would be shaking her head at my constant mess and the look of her old desk. Usually very little of the dark brown wood is exposed on the writing surface, my journal sits upon a few notebooks, catalogs, mail and my calendar book. The few times I have cleared my desk, the clutter appears within hours much like magnets are attracted to ferrous medal. It’s organized chaos, I know pretty much where everything is when I need to retrieve things from the pile. The idea of keeping the desk clear enough to be able to shut it up when I am not using it seems absurd to be since I am always using my desk.

Journaling Helps Mindfulness

Journaling, for me, has become a form of meditation. It’s one of a couple of ways I meditate besides my time on the cushion. This may seem contrary to what most people see meditation being. Many believe to meditate they must have a clear mind. Many don’t attempt mediation because they think they will never be able to stop the rolling thunder of thoughts they constantly have. I am able to help quiet my mind by writing my thoughts about what’s on my mind first thing in the morning, so I don’t drag that load of thoughts with me throughout the day. There is no turning off of our brains, but you can learn how to control the volume.

I am trying to be more present as I go through life in these very distracting times and I find that journaling helps me to be more mindful. There is something about putting my thoughts down and seeing them visually that I find helpful. I am always encouraging my children to journal, even if it’s an artistic journal of daily drawing or a combination of words and drawings. Sometimes drawing when you can’t find the words will help.

My children are all adults now and came to visit us recently; everybody had their heads in their phones. I miss the days when you left the house, and your phone didn’t come with you. It didn’t used to be like this when I was raising them, the technology became more invasive since they moved away from home over 5 years now. You could focus on what was around you and not be so concerned with the distractions that our phones present today. Again that’s for another blog post.

There was a time when I was trying to get back to writing in a journal but was afraid to write down my thoughts. My mother’s voice in my head, saying that someone would read them and use my words against me. I tried to type a journal and use passwords to lock the entries. But now I have no idea what the password is all these years later, which is just as well. Some thoughts may be better off forgotten.

I never liked typing my journal out. It seems so impersonal. I prefer to handwrite things out. The first draft of my memoir is handwritten in three notebooks. I love the feel of pen to paper. The sound it makes as I carve each letter out into my notebook. Sometimes in the silence of the morning that is all I can hear, a sound which I find soothes me. I have a specific pen I like to use too, the Pilot G-2 .07 in black ink. The ink flows smoothly and never pools. I have had that issue with other pens. This pen feels nice and comfortable in my hand which is important since I can write for hours. When I was writing my book I would write for three or four hours at a time without a break; however morning journaling is usually an hour, sometimes two. I also have a certain style of journal I prefer to use over others: Pen+Gear. It is the perfect size and has a decent number of pages per book. It takes me anywhere from three to four months to fill one of these journals. I also love to decorate my journals the way I would have in high school or college. I don’t know what I will do with all my journals one day. They were helpful to me while I wrote Xine’s Pack of Strays & Others , helpful reminders of certain details here and there. Perhaps I will have a bonfire in our wood furnace, so as not to burden my children with their mother’s leftovers one day. 

A collection of my journals. The one in front I just started a couple of days ago.

“In the diary you find proof that in situations which today would seem unbearable, you lived, looked around and wrote down observations, that this right hand moved then as it does today, when we may be wiser because we are able to look back upon our former condition, and for that very reason have got to admit the courage of our earlier striving in which we persisted even in sheer ignorance.”

Franz Kafka

Getting Started

If you want to start a new routine of journaling. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Write as much or as little as you feel comfortable with. I would recommend trying to set as side at least two minutes of your day to start. You would be amazed at what a busy mind can write down in two minutes. And if you can’t think of anything, write down what the weather is like outside. Every one of my journal entries begin with the day, date and time that I started writing. I usually also note the time that I end but not always. I also write down the weather outside. I have a weather station that sits atop my desk so I record the temperature and wind speed if there is any. We can gale force winds on the mountain. All these little details get my pen flowing and my mind starts to spill out onto the page.

When journaling don’t worry about how say things or sound. What is important is getting the thoughts – however raw on to the paper. We carry so much with us on a daily basis, It’s a challenge to be in the present in the moment with distractions so in our face, an overload of information being thrown at us and worries about the future playing on a repeated loop in our minds. Taking a few minutes for ourselves is more important than ever. Sometimes you need to be able to vent and not have anyone judging you. Sometimes just writing down what’s bother ing you can help.

Ceremonial Burn

Burning your thoughts can be extremely cathartic. When my mother was really upset she would sometimes write her thoughts but then she would burn them. Her old boss at the Stork Club, Sherman Billingsley always advised her to never write anything down and if she did to burn the pages and the pad she wrote in. I haven’t burned anything in years however, I have a letter that I plan on writing that I don’t expect to be very nice. I will burn that letter in a cathartic ceremony to free myself of thoughts that no longer serve me. The recipient is dead so it’s really the only way to “deliver it”. I don’t wish to carry these things in to the future with me. Writing things out certainly helps in being able to not only work through things but to also help in letting go as well.

Creating New Habits

I have been trying to live a more mindful life in the last year. It’s not something that I woke up one day and said to myself, “Self, you should be more mindful.” No, it was a way subtler shift than that. 

My mother died in February 2021. I had to double-check that since I am terrible with times and dates. The last two and half years are feeling like more like five. I have trouble sometimes remembering how old I am sometimes. But I blame my best friend partially for that since her birthday precedes mine by six months. For half a year, referring to us as whatever age she was, even if my birthday was still 4 or 5 months away.

Then there is how I think about birthdays in general: when you have a birthday, you have just completed that year. You just successfully finished living the 1st, 10th, 25th, 36th year…of your life and are about to embark on living the 2nd, 11th, 26th, 37th…When I explained this to Mark one day, he didn’t like my reasoning as sound and correct as it was. I just made him a year older. No, I didn’t – he and many others have been thinking about this all wrong.

New parents understand this initially as they watch their children go from hours to days to months old. “How old is your baby?” Three months becomes six months. But they don’t stop there. “How old is your baby? “Nineteen months old.” The answer is seldom “One and a half years old.” 

But all that has little to do with what I originally started talking about, which was trying to become more mindful. I was 56 when my mother died, and I felt very untethered. It was too much – my mind racing around with all sorts of things, too many things. Life had been so unsettling that I felt as if I was clinging to a boat on high seas, and the storm would not pass.

Mark is my anchor and my navigator. As an offshore sailor who has crewed on teams sailing from Newport to Bermuda, he understands life at sea and lived through calm waters that churned up in moments forcing him to hold on for dear life and try to navigate through the storms. His mind, too, races, and he also was looking for a way to be able to settle it.

Together we decided to try to create a new habit of meditating daily. Now we made a mindful decision right there but didn’t recognize it as our first step towards living a more conscious life. The app we use is Insight Timer. I’ve written about this app before, and I guess I just can’t say more about it since it has helped us so much. As well as the guided meditations, there are many talks and lecture series which you can also listen to.

Mark wanted to learn more about Taoism and Buddhism, so we listened to lectures like the Taoist Principles for a Prosperous Life and Practicing the Tao Te Ching by Solar Towler; Exploring the Basics of Buddhism and Exploring the Fundamentals of Zen Buddhism by Silas Day. We listened to The Power of Tao: Live a Life of Harmony & Balance by Olivia Rosewood, as well as Learning From The Masters by David Gendelman. Every morning before we sat for our meditation, Mark and I would sit at the kitchen table drinking our coffee, eating breakfast, and listening to a session of one of the lecture series. For the most part, each session is no more than 10-25 minutes long but lasts 10 to 30 days. For 200 days, we listened and learned so much from these courses.

In my March 2022 post A Year of Mindfulness and Meditation, I talk more about Insight Timer and one of our favorite teachers, David Ji and the courses we took of his that we found to be so incredibly helpful. It was in his Forty Days to Transformation course which delivered a transformation in us – solidifying our new habit of mediation. I won’t repeat myself more than I have here in this post; just suffice it to say that I will forever be grateful that we took that course.

With mindfulness, I have discovered that I am consciously becoming a more grateful person. In the past, I took many things for granted. Perhaps age has something to do with that. We tend to be young and naive – we don’t know any better since we are newbies to experiencing life. Some people learn that lesson earlier than others, and some never learn the lesson. When choosing to live a mindful life, you don’t take things for granted. You live in the present moment, understanding that the past is done and the future isn’t something to waste your time worrying over in the present. You do that, and you miss what’s happening here and now.

Our cell phones and laptops have distracted us from being present. I have become increasingly aware of this and purposefully try to limit my time on these devices. Today’s children spend way too much time playing on their phones and devices – and our parents worried the TV would make us a bunch of couch potatoes! Which it did. No mindfulness is going on when you are staring into these electronic opiates. Which is precisely what they are and were designed to do.

I am glad I have adult-aged children who benefited from running around in the woods and spending time in the woods camping or on a mountain skiing. It’s not to say that my son didn’t have his video gaming phase. Call of Duty was his game of choice that he and the Cavemen played. The Cavemen are his friends and were so called when they dubbed my basement The Cave and spent as many nonschool nights overnight in the Cave as they did in their own houses. If I were raising a child in this day and age, it would be very different and challenging. Knowing what I know, I wouldn’t be handing out video games, laptops and cell phones. I would probably also be homeschooling as well. But that’s for another blog post. I’d like to think that at this point, we would have a much more mindful approach than we did in the past.

In being more mindful, I have been able to set more goals for myself and achieve them. For the last few years, I have been active in the Goodreads Reading Challenge, which has you set a reading goal for yourself. I always wanted to be a reader. I was a very slow reader in school and didn’t enjoy reading then. They always told me I needed to practice, practice, practice. I just wish there had been audiobooks around then. If it weren’t for the audiobooks, I wouldn’t be able to achieve my lofty reading goal, which I set for the age I will be at the end of the year – 58 this year. So far, I am thirty-seven books in, three of which were physical hardback books!

The other goal that I set for myself was to write and publish a book. I am happy to say that in the last two years I have been working very purposefully on achieving this goal and seeing it through fruition. I would not have been able to do this without all that I have learned about mindfulness in this last year and half. In many of the guided mediations I have listen to in the last 446 days, many of the instructors have you plant a seed of intention. At first when I listened and was instructed to do this, I had so many things I wanted to accomplish I didn’t know what to focus on. I have many seeds in my bag to plant. I settled on one of the seeds that I had been holding onto the longest. And that was to write and publish my book.

Currently my book is in the hands of a publisher and it will be published. Thanks to the seed of intention that I planted, focused on and fertilized. I don’t know where this mindfulness and meditation will ultimately lead me. I am just focusing on the present moment, and presently I must start the laundry and get back to selecting photos that are going into the book. Namaste.