Essential Principles, Practices and Panaceas, A – Z: Journalling

journalling haiku

Journal writing is a voyage to the interior. Christina Baldwin

I’ve written about journalling, specifically about how I started with ‘morning pages’ as advocated by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way, in a previous post on self-care; it is one of the most self-caring practices I do, and I don’t envisage myself ever stopping. I seldom start my morning pages in a low mood these days, but I used to, and, nine times out of ten, by the time I’d finished my three sides of uncensored longhand writing I felt much brighter.

I wish I’d started journalling years ago; so many forgotten memories I could have recorded. The journals I started thirteen years ago, however, have proved invaluable in writing my first memoir; I look forward to mining subsequent chronicles for parts two and three of my Transforming Trauma to Tranquillity trilogy (now there’s a bit of a tongue-twister!). I’ve documented my odyssey from quivering, traumatised wreck to resilient, spirited wise-woman.

In the years since I began this most fulfilling practice, I’ve moved from venting my frustrations at the injustices I endured, through trying to make sense of the bizarre circumstances of my life, to discovering who I am by going on an inner exploration. Ultimately, journalling has helped me to heal, to grow, and to integrate the ‘shadow’ parts of myself that waged war within my psyche and stopped me from not just living my best life, but from living, period.

What has made journalling such a transformative practice for me, I believe, has been a desire to transcend my limitations and achieve the growth potential, available to all human beings, as proposed by Abraham Maslow and, later, Carl Rogers. Without this desire, I suspect my practice may have crumpled into the kind of rumination that inhibits rather than liberates.

Using prompts enhances journalling practice, helping you to travel deeper into your psyche and ensure that what needs to be brought to light isn’t left behind. Anything can be used as a journal prompt; including:

  • Questions; for example, what is it that I really, really want from my life? Write your question at the top of the page then answer it using stream-of-consciousness writing until you’ve said all you have to say.
  • Divination; using Tarot, I-Ching or Runes, examining the interpretations in depth to glean what you can from them. I have also used bibliomancy in this way, opening a suitable book arbitrarily, analysing what is presented to me. I’ve even randomly opened a dictionary, stabbing with my finger, eyes closed, choosing a word to contemplate, usually with serendipitous results.
  • Third-person journalling; this can be used to good effect to gain an alternative perspective on a given situation (as, no doubt, does writing in the second-person, which I haven’t tried but will now I’ve reminded myself of it).

Is it obvious that I get enormous pleasure from journalling?  It can, by turns, be fun, revitalising, soothing, confidence-boosting and motivating – sometimes all at the same time. The potential gains available through keeping a journal are myriad; a Google search brings up hundreds of thousands of pages on the benefits. You can find 100 reasons to start journalling right here.

My favourite journalling website belongs to Amber Lea Starfire; it contains a wealth of information, including many prompts that I have used for clarification and enlightenment, confirming for myself Pat Conroy’s assertion that: writing is the only way I have to explain my own life to myself.

Journalling doesn’t have to be a written activity – you can sketch, doodle or collage if writing isn’t your thing. Or you can try creative journalling – using combinations of any or all of these methods.

As with all of my Essential Principles… you really don’t have to take my word for it. A good quality, A4 notepad can be cheaply purchased, as can a biro. Then all you need to do is set aside forty-five minutes and let rip (some people prefer to use technology to journal; if that appeals to you then go for it). If you get a sixteenth of the satisfaction I get from journalling you’ll be more than happy. You have nothing to lose but negativity and stress. What you have to gain can be summed up by Robin Sharma:

Writing in a journal reminds you of your goals and of your learning in life. It offers a place where you can hold a deliberate, thoughtful conversation with yourself… The starting point of discovering who you are, your gifts, your talents, your dreams, is being comfortable with yourself. Spend time alone. Write in a journal.

Write on!

Essential Principles, Practices and Panaceas, A – Z: Forgiveness

forgiveness haiku

To err is human, to forgive, divine. Alexander Pope

People who hold bitterness towards those who have wronged them are hurting no-one but themselves. Someone clinging to self-righteous anger, for example, isn’t harming the person towards whom that anger is directed. The rage is contained within the person who won’t forgive (it isn’t can’t – forgiveness can be incredibly difficult but it’s always an option); those toxic emotions are circulating in the body and psyche of the injured party.

It’s the wounded/fragile ego that won’t forgive; it distorts your perceptions, making you think that holding on to a grudge is somehow beneficial for you. It isn’t – it victimises you. Forgiveness frees you from victimisation and reconnects you with your essence. It’s as simple as changing your mind – which isn’t to say that it’s easy.

Some people’s behaviour is inexcusable – but you are in charge of your response to that person’s actions, no matter how appalling they are. I’d hazard a guess that anyone who sets out to deliberately harm someone else has to be suffering inside, either through unhappiness or even mental illness. If you’re at peace within yourself then you feel no need to lash out at another person.

Can you forgive someone for being despairing, or ill? Or does holding a grudge make you feel better?

Forgiveness fosters resilience. It’s easier to bounce back if you haven’t been punctured by wounds that you received from what amount to scared, sad, unhappy or poorly people.

Are you empowered enough to rise above another’s failings? Nelson Mandela is one of the greatest role models for forgiveness I can think of; through forgiveness, he was able to develop compassion towards his oppressors. This made it possible for him to rid his country of the evil of apartheid and bring democracy to all South Africans.

In the words of the distinguished gentleman himself:

As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison… Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.

It is vital, too, to forgive yourself for the mistakes you make. Are we hard on others, because we deem ourselves unforgivable? Condemning others is more often than not a projection of the judgement we feel we deserve. It stands to reason, then, that if we can forgive a wrongdoer it will be easier to forgive ourselves; tolerating shortcomings in others makes it easier to tolerate them in ourselves.

It comes back to David Richo’s five ‘givens’ of existence – this is how life is so it’s in your interest to let go of resentment and anger when things don’t go your way, or when people don’t behave how you would like them to. The choice is yours.

One way to practice forgiveness is to write a list of the names of people who you feel have wronged you. (If it’s a long list then it might be an idea to select a few people at a time, starting with the least destructive transgressors) Beside each name, write in as much detail as you can what they did, describing how it made you feel. Don’t let your ego stand in the way of your expression – if someone really hurt you, fully sense that vulnerability.

Once you have vented all of your feelings, take your list outside and set light to it, saying as you do so, ‘I release all of the pain you have ever caused me; I am no longer willing to be held captive by your heartless behaviour’ (or feel free to devise your own statement, using whatever language helps you to let that s*&% go!).

Then it’s time to absolve yourself, this time listing the names of those you feel you have mistreated, apologising and asking for their forgiveness. When you burn this list, say words to the effect of, ‘I forgive myself for any sorrow/trouble I caused’.

You can repeat the exercise as many times as it takes for you to be able to wholeheartedly forgive.

Is it possible that embodying forgiveness can transform our world? Gordon B. Hinckley seems to think so:

The willingness to forgive is a sign of spiritual and emotional maturity. It is one of the great virtues to which we all should aspire. Imagine a world filled with individuals willing both to apologise and to accept an apology. Is there any problem that could not be solved among people who possessed the humility and largeness of spirit and soul to do either – or both – when needed?

Gandhi said that the weak struggle to forgive, that forgiveness is a trait of the strong. What’s your preference?

Essential Principles, Practices and Panaceas, A – Z: Divination

divination haiku

Divination is the quest to understand more about the past, present, and future. In other words, Tarot readings are an attempt to understand ourselves better and discover how we might live better in the future. Theresa Francis-Cheung

Divination, usually described as esoteric practice concerned with foretelling the future, is actually a method by which you can shine a light into your unconscious and find answers to your most puzzling questions.

There are those who are suspicious of occult practices; ‘occult’, however, simply means ‘hidden’, ‘covered over’, ‘secret’. As such, divination practices enable you to uncover that which is concealed and is an excellent means of exploring your psyche. As Benebell Wen suggests:

Fear is dangerous, not the tarot. The tarot represents the spectrum of the human condition, the good, the evil, the light, and the dark. Do not fear the darker aspects of the human condition. Understand them. The tarot is a storybook about life, about the greatness of human accomplishment, and also the ugliness we are each capable of. 

I have used various means of divination over the years; when I was suspended in the shockwave of trauma I found comfort in the ancient wisdom held in the I-Ching and the Tarot in particular. So relevant was the insight and encouragement they provided, I continue my practice to this day and find it not only illuminating but also deeply satisfying. Whenever I feel unsure about a decision, or the direction I want to go in, a reading always brings clarity.

The I-Ching, also known as the Book of Changes, operates from the principle that everything in the universe is in a constant state of flux; it shows us how to look for the opportunities inherent in change and helps us to shed our fear and resistance in the face of uncertainty.

Jung said: Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate. In other words, patterns of behaviour tend to repeat themselves until you address the cause of the behaviour. Jung himself utilised the power of the I-Ching with his patients as he believed that it reflects the hidden inner knowledge we all possess.

Trauma survivors often bury distressing memories deep in their psyches, I know I did, but long-term this can do more harm than good. I’m grateful that I had the desire and support I needed to overcome PTSD; I have no doubt that divination complemented my therapy.

An example of the guidance offered by the I-Ching can be found in a reading of mine from 2014, in which I asked the question: How do I best help myself?

The coins produced two hexagrams, transforming lines in the first emphasising the possibility of change. The first, 55: Abundance (Feng), urged me to do what I feel to be right, to share what I have with others, to rid myself of sorrow, melancholy and care, and to shed light on all shadows in order to eliminate them. The second, 16: Enthusiasm (Yu), counselled me to listen to my intuition, speak my truth (communicating it in such a way that other people understand it), to reimagine my situation, identify a purpose and act on it.

It could be argued that generic advice such as this is relevant to anybody in any situation; I wouldn’t disagree. What mattered to me at the time was that it was meaningful to my circumstances; it inspired and helped me to move forward.

In addition to regular I-Ching readings I’ve found the Tarot invaluable as an aid to self-discovery, healing and personal development. The cards of the Major Arcana describe the Everyman journey, from our beginning as The Fool, through life stages that encompass difficulties, seduction, frustration, grace, love, fear and growth, until we reach completion as symbolised by The World. This is a spiral journey, each culmination leading on to higher level paths as The Fool seeks greater enlightenment.

The more I use my divination tools, the stronger my intuition becomes, enabling me to have complete confidence and trust in the decisions I make. It occurs to me that practicing divination provides alternative perspectives on challenges, bypassing limited ego thinking and tapping into universal truths, ancient (essence) wisdom that is as necessary and pertinent today as it ever was.

If you would evolve your consciousness, take Sasha Graham’s advice:

Tarot is always whispering to you. Tarot weaves truth, stories, secrets, and tales. All you need to do is slow down and listen.