Category Archives: Journal exercises

The Friday Review No. 1

go away bag

Dear Reader,

As promised in my last post, my intention is to update you on my progress in resuscitating my creativity on a weekly basis, and Friday seems as good a time as any.  So here we go.

Friday Review No 1:

Well, the week got off to an excellent start with the aforementioned post and recovery plan, followed by a day of frenzied ideas for blog posts.  I’ve sketched out 12 in total so far, so you’ve got lots of exciting content to look forward to.

And then the wheels fell off the waggon.

I received news of a not-unexpected but nevertheless devastating medical diagnosis for someone close to me.  It was hard to cope with all the emotions that came up as a result.

Instead of forcing myself to take action, I simply sat with those emotions, and felt them.  And slowly, slowly, the pain began to lift.  I know this is only the beginning of a diffcult and life-changing process, but I also know that my creative practice is not only going to help me get through this new phase, it is also going to feed into my future work.

I was worried my plan for creative recovery would be completely derailed before it had even properly started, but thankfully, that hasn’t happened.  I have kept my appointments with myself this week to do my writing practice, thoroughly enjoyed then, and even (imho) done some good work.  I have discovered some new blogs about writing, which I hope to share with you in future posts.  I have continued with my reading adventure, though Umberto Eco’s habit of dropping into Latin in ‘The Name of the Rose’ has proved something of a labour to me, since I don’t understand Latin.  But I am keeping on keeping on.  And thats the point.

This is what I learned:

How to journal when you need to get stuff out, but you just can’t face explaining.

Let me introduce you to your friend in extremis, the list.

Yes, dear reader, the facts are too horrible to cope with, but you know getting them on paper will a) get some of the poison outside your body, and b) begin the process of helping you to see not only some context, but also how to navigate your way through the battlefield with your sanity (or at least most of it) intact. This is the moment when you each for your pen and make a list.

Write down a list of what happened:

This happened.

and then this.

(I used bullet points.)  And what you remember:

I remember the paper on the desk when he told me.

The phone showed the duration of the call so far.

The consultant will do x,y,z.

I said.

He said.

She said.

Then I did this.  And this.

Then this person rang.

Just getting the facts down on the paper relieves you from having to remember them, or to explain them in future to your diary.  You don’t need to give any detail.  Just bald facts. You don’t need to write them out at length.  Just make notes.  And then let them go.

Now is not the time to analyse.  Just be with the feelings.  You can go back to your usual journal practice of writing at length when you are ready.  But only when you are ready.

The important thing is not to neglect your journal during the crisis.  If you do, you will begin to feel that the mass of painful information you have to record is building up into a barrier that will stop you from using your writing to coach yourself through in the future.  Even if you just sketch down a couple of bullet points every day until you are ready to write more, you are keeping that mountain cut down to size.

This is what I have done this week, a completely new approach to life crises for me – before, when things have happened, I have written nothing, and then felt unequal to the task of resuming when so much has changed.  I’m so glad my creative muse rescued me this time with the idea of the list.  It eased the pain immeasurably, made me feel so much less overwhelmed by events.  I offer this technique to you, in the hope that it may help you in any challenges you may meet.

With love,

EF.

 

 

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Journal Friday: Bear Time

Rose Quartz for healing and a bear for intuition.  I keep this stone by my bed to remind me what energy I need in my life right now.

Rose Quartz for healing and a bear for intuition. I keep this stone by my bed to remind me what energy I need in my life right now.

Norfolk is hunkered down under leaden skies these days, waiting for the bitter northerly winds to blow in from Scandanavia.  They’re late this year, as everything is.  The weather is unseasonably mild.  We still haven’t had a proper frost.  As a result, nature is confused.  A delphinium is still flowering under my window.  The last of the trees to drop their leaves, the oaks, are finally strewing the garden with dulled copper, a month overdue because we haven’t have a gale to tug them from the boughs.   More than ever this year, it feels like the land is holding its breath.  Normally, it would be in anticipation of Spring, but right now, it feels like we are being held at the Gates of Darkness, keeping vigil.

We are entering Bear Time.

It is hard to feel creative when the weather is so dour.  If you, like me, are subject to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), you will no doubt relate to the desire to snuggle up under the duvet until March.

Lots of people channel their creativity into the preparations for Christmas, decorating the house, planning parties, conjouring an endless stream of fancy food for their guests. I put up some twinkle lights in my bedroom the other day.  It was just a simple little thing, but it makes me feel snug and cosy when I settle down to bed at night, and often when I wake in the morning.

Midwinter has always been a festival of lights, and it is important to remind ourselves with candles and twinkle lights that the sun will come back.  As I settle down in my ‘bear cave’ for the winter, I find myself needing to remember that more than usual.  Its been a tough year, one way and another, but this is a time to go down deep and reflect on what I’ve learnt, a time recognise what I have achieved this year, and to think about what happens next.  While we are still submerged in caring for our elderly relatives, and will be for a long while yet, it is easy for everything else to be subsumed.  So I am taking this time to submerge myself in quiet time, put the annual shopping marathon on hold, and take care of my own needs.

I cannot look after others if I don’t look after myself.

This is true of all of us, not just those who, like me, have a chronic illness.  I find myself surrounded by people who are chronically stressed and harrassed, many of whom have gone through major life-changing events this year, and who are about to dive into the Christmas Rounds without taking a moment to stop and be still, to take care of themselves.  The result of this will no doubt be a round of really nasty illnesses on the other side of the festive season, when we all fall into the chasm of January!  I for one don’t want to go through the misery of the last two years again, when I lost two or three months at the beginning of each year, first to influenza, and then labyrinthitis!

You can use your diary to slow down and take stock.

Journal Exercise:

Plan yourself an evening alone.  Send Husband out to the pub, get the kids to bed, pour yourself a glass of wine, light a candle and sit down with your journal.  Some gentle music might help.  Take some time to reflect, enjoy the stillness, and then write what you need to get out of your system:

Where are you now?

What is going on inside your body right now?  Any aches or pains that need tending to?

Are any emotional issues niggling away that need to be talked over with the person concerned?  (Don’t leave it, because its bound to blow up during the Christmas season, making you and everybody else miserable.)  Can you write this person a letter in your diary, saying all the things you want them to know?  (This way, you can be brutally honest, knowing they will never see it.)

If you’ve been through a tough time lately, maybe you could take some time to write about the good things in your life, to focus on something positive instead of pain or loss.  Even if you feel so bereft that you can’t see anything good, maybe just writing down a simple list of basics – having a roof over your head, food in your belly, the freedom to write a list and say what you think, the chance to be able to learn to write at all – could help.

When writing out your feelings, express the first words that come into your head, because they are invariably the most authentic.  Even just making a list of words can help.

You could channel how you feel into a drawing, painting or collage.  This could be especially helpful if you feel that the emotions you currently have are ‘unacceptible’ or ‘bad’.  Perhaps you feel angry, jealous, hurt, self-pitying, and that these are not ‘allowed’.  The fact is, though, that:

Everything is allowed in your diary.  There is no need to judge yourself. 

Instead, express your feelings, even if those feelings feel hard and scary, and you will find that you move through them far more quickly.

The only way out is through.

Take the time to honour where you are right now, no matter how hard that feels for you.  It is important to experience our emotions rather than bottle them up, otherwise they always come back to bite us when we least want or expect them.  And you can take my word for this because I am an absolute PhD in it!

I hope that as we head towards the Christmas melee, you can find some time for yourself.  I hope that you are able to nurse your wounds and nurture yourself.  I hope that you can use your journal to practise self care.  Because self care and creativity go hand in hand.  And creativity is the beating heart of human existence.

Happy journalling,

EF

 

Journal Friday: Returning to the Journal

VW desktop

This time of year (autumn) is always a time of new starts for me. Husband is a University lecturer, which establishes a certain kind of seasonality in our house – we live according to the academic year, just as we have since we were kids. And on top of the usual stationery-buying frenzy I get at this time of year, I find myself stopping to reassess where I am too.

In truth, its always good to stop off on the seasonal journey to think about where you are in your life, and where you want to go. Life coaches encourage us to do this on a quarterly basis, and to be quite frank, I think it’s a good wheeze. It is hard enough to find time in a busy life to stop and think, but like the prayer bell in the monastery that reminds the inmates to focus on God at regular intervals, the seasons are an automatic prompt to stop and take stock.

This year has been a time of huge shifts for me, changes in my role as wife, care-taker, aunt, friend and woman. I have felt new currents in my creative life starting up, the drive to take my photography more seriously, the sense of a new mission, a new message in my work. It is a time of change, of departures.

Pagan theology tells us that autumn is the time to reap the harvest of what we have sown during the productive seasons of the year – not only of Spring and Summer, the active months, but also of the deep, dark percolation of the Winter that preceded them, before we go down into the dark once more, into that time of thinking, rest and meditation. We need to think about what we have achieved, assess the fruits of our labours, celebrate them, and prepare to settle into a time of productive hibernation during which we can incubate our hopes and dreams for the future.

Well, hooray for the journal, then!

I have been taking time to settle back into my journal-keeping, and to use it in a more constructed way. I have never really used the technique of guided journaling before, by which I mean writing from prompts designed to explore the psyche.   I’ve always been more of a ‘stream of consciousness problem solver’ kind of diarist. In the midst of upheaval, especially during the summer months, I find it hard, therefore, to keep up such a regular journal commitment, because it often takes time to write and write until you’ve found the answer.

Recently, though, I have decided to be more conscious about what I am doing with my diary. I have set out to explore myself and different aspects of my life in a structured way, in the hope that it will guide me to new paths, and help anchor me through the current storms. I’m using visual means too. Nothing fancy. (I’m still pretty blocked about my drawing.) I’ve been collaging instead. Gala Darling’s ‘Radical Self-Love Bible’ Programme has been invaluable with this, a plethora of prompts and eye-candy to help you explore yourself on paper, through collage and writing. I’m not much good at discipline, of course, and though I am half way through the programme now, my ‘bible’ is pretty lightweight. I tend to fall back on my familiar old notebook on a day to day basis, but Gala’s approach is challenging me just enough to make me think about where I am going with my diary, and that’s enough right now.

Journal Exercise:

This weekend, I am planning to retreat to my journaling practise and do some conscious assessment. I’m going to take time to recognise the enormous changes I have gone through, and the achievements I have made so far this year. I am going to consider my intentions for the coming dark months, and work on an emotional strategy for handling Christmas, which is always a difficult time for me. I mean to use my journal to ground myself in who I am, and who I want to be. And to think about where I am going.

If it proves a productive, positive exercise, I ‘m going to repeat it on a seasonal basis.

Would you like to join me?

Why not take this weekend, or some time during it, to sit down in a quiet place with your journal, and think about where you are in your life, and where you want to go.

  • What have you achieved in the last nine months?
  • What ‘babies’ have you birthed, literal, creative, emotional or otherwise?
  • What are you most proud of?
  • How are you feeling right now, physically and emotionally?
  • How would you like to feel?
  • What small, achievable steps can you take to move towards these intentions?
  • What flashpoints can you identify in the coming three or four months? Can you explore why they affect you? What could you do to ease your path through them?
  • How can you celebrate yourself at this point in your life?
  • What creative voices are calling you right now?

If you find the idea of a more conscious journaling practise interesting, you might like to explore Tristine Rainer’s seminal book, The New Diary.

If you want more guidance about deciding where you want to go in life, take a look at Danielle LaPorte’s The Firestarter Sessions, and The Desire Map.

Kate Courageous’s wonderful website is full of rich wisdom and worth exploring.

Happy Journaling,

EF

 

Journal Friday: Smorgesbord

Diary Pile 2I’m feeling a bit rough at the moment, so I’ve been spending a lot of time surfing the internet.  Its a good thing to do when my brain is mushy like this.  I have trouble parsing long  blocks of text, so little blog posts and internet sites are just the thing to keep my mind occupied and spark new ideas.

So I thought I’d share some of my journalling current faves with you:

I just bought this book.  Its written for teenagers, but its a brilliant introduction, and I am really enjoying dipping into it.

Loving this artjournal site.  So much eyecandy!

I love Bronwen’s Artful Life blog, and I really fancy trying her method of creating an art journal from a vintage book.

Have you come across creativebug.com yet?

I recently came across the idea of the Bullet journal, which was new to me.   Its a kind of cross between a to do list, a project planner and a journal.  Might be a great solution if you are pushed for time and looking for a way of combining recording your life with planning it!

On a similar theme, you might be interested in the whole idea of sketchnoting.  Check out the website of the Sketchnote Army, a pretty breath-taking archive of how to record information graphically.  You could combine Sketchnotes and Bullet journals, and you don’t have to be able to draw…

Lorraine Bell’s planner is delicious!

My Pinterest pinboard on organisers is continually growing.

If you love Moleskines, their myMoleskine site will bend your mind!

I love Plannerisms!

Well, that should keep you going for a while!  Hope you have a happy and creative weekend,

EF

 

 

 

 

 

 

Journal Friday: Solitude

Shadow Selfie

Shadow Selfie

I’ve been making huge leaps this week, but one of the results has been a deep gloom opening up inside me.  The exact opposite of the feeling of exhilaration I SHOULD been feeling when I make massive learning gains with my creativity.

(Did you notice the Bingo! word there – give yourself a pat on the back if you picked out the poisonous SHOULD in that sentence!)

Instead of bouncing around like Tigger on a coke spree, I feel like a sodden blanket.

Why?

Because writing is a solitary art.  And human beings are social animals.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m the first to admit that I need to be on my own a lot.  I like my own company.  But there are also limits.  If I get left on my own for long periods, I get mournful, bad-tempered, sick of myself, sick of everybody else.  I start feeling like I want to stab myself in the forearms with a compass point.  This is obviously not a good place to be.

Husband has been out pretty much every night this week, playing sports and meeting up with business colleagues.  He has commitments that sometimes pan out like this, and I’m fine with that.  But occasionally it means I get a week like this one.   I’ve been on my own from eight in the morning till eleven at night for four days on the trot.  Thats enough time on my own for me to go slightly round the twist, to over-react to everything, and end up in a grumpy hole.  From whence no writing, or anything positive, emerges.

I’ve spent a lot of time struggling to get out of my grumpy hole.  “I ought to be able to get over this, I SHOULD have worked out strategies by now to combat this,”  I told myself.  (There are two Bingo! words in that sentence, can you spot them?.

But then I thought maybe the thing to do was to allow myself to feel the feeling of misery, and then perhaps it would leave.  In other words, not to fight against it, but to be with it, and see where it took me.  Because lets face it, after 44 years of living with depression, I can safely say that a) the odd blue day is a doddle compared with the major depressions I’ve experienced, and b)  I know I get this when I’ve been on my own too much, so maybe I can work out what its trying to tell me.

It turns out that its trying to tell me that I need to get out more.

I get exhausted.  That is part of my ongoing health problems, and I need to take account of that, but I also need to accept that one of the basic needs I have is for a change of scene, and seeing people.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be conscious socialising.  It can be just getting out into town, seeing other human beings in the street in their infinite variety.  Maybe two days a week would be good maintenance treatment for me.  To get out, to see the world, interract with it.  And rest at home the remainer of the time.

(I should probably point out that I live in the middle of nowhere, literally, and I can go days without seeing anybody, which can be very isolating.  We are two miles from the nearest village, not a distance I can walk, so it is not like I can just pop out to the corner shop for a natter and some social contact.  Given that we can only afford one car, and that Husband’s access to work has to take priority, getting about has to be carefully planned.)

I need to take this awareness of my own needs forward.  I’m enjoying my writing so much, but I need to take care of myself too.  And that means going in to work maybe a day or two a week with Husband, settling down at the library or the cafe, and writing there instead of at home.  So that I see people.  So that I have the stimualtion I need.

Journal Exercise:

You may not have the same ‘shut-in’ issues that I have, but I invite you today to examine the ordinary activities and lifestyle factors that help you to be creative in a regular way.  Do you need to drink more water, take regular walks, get a new chair because the one you have gives you back ache, and makes you reticient to sit in it to draw or write?  Does eating dairy give you sinus headaches so that you feel all fuzzy, and you can’t think straight?  Do you need a holiday, a long bath, a place to work where next door’s dog isn’t barking?  Maybe your partner could look after the baby an hour a week so you can have time on your own, or perhaps you need to get up an hour earlier so you can be peaceful with yourself before the rest of the family rises.

Spend some time exploring in your journal the basic things you need to operate at your best: good food, 8 glasses of water a day, cuddles, exercise, Whatever your core requirements are.

Now write about the little things that you could do for yourself that would help you to function above just the basic level of proficiency that you explored above.  Think about the times when you have been really crackling creatively.  What made those times special?  Are there factors you could replicate, to recapture that sense of being in the flow?  What really makes your motor run?  It could be listening to rock music while you work, hanging out at the cafe, carrot cake, more cuddles, or anything else.

A note of caution:  The whole myth about artists having to be self-destructive is exactly that –  a myth.  Try copying F Scott Fitzgerald or Jack Kerouac, and drinking to promote creativity, and I can guarantee what you will end up with is not increased creativity.  You will just end up being dead.

All the actions you take should be self-caring and self-nurturing.

I hope that you can uncover some new ways to nurture your creative flow, or maybe just work out how you sabotage yourself with having too much of one thing, and not enough of another, as I do.  Writing is a solitary act, but you don’t have to be on your own to do it, as I have been reminded this week.

Take care of yourselves, and happy creating,

EF

Journal Friday: Core Practices

Diary Pile 2I’ve been experiencing something of a ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ lately, a deep, dark journey into the Underworld.  Being creative has been a distant dream.  The only space or energy available has just been for survival.  That said, I’ve realised that there are three core practices that have helped, and continue to help me keep (relatively) sane.

Core practices are those habits you keep going, no matter what.  Activities that keep your engine running even when there is no energy, space or time for anything else.  You keep up these habits through the times of joy and abundance, and those of despair, desolation and drought.  They help sustain you, and keep you in a state of awakened readiness for when the next shower of inspiration comes.  They are part of the minimum requirements that you need to function as a happy, healthy human being.  They are different for everybody, so yours might vary from mine, but they will give you the same comforting, nurturing continuity in your life.

I started thinking about this idea the other day, when I heard Jamie Ridler talking about them in her recent podcast.  The core practices she sites are Movement, Meditation and Morning Pages.  Morning Pages are a practice popularised by Julia Cameron in her book, The Artist’s Way, and I’ve written a little about them here.  Cameron herself would probably site Morning Pages, Walking and the Artist Date as her core practices.

If I had to name mine, the three things that have kept me going in recent days against the tide of despair, I would say they are yoga, meditation and journalling.

Yoga helps me to keep grounded inside my body.  Even when I am very ill and have little energy, a single pose can help.  Yoga eases the chronic pain I live with, and gives me a sense of achievement.  I like doing it outside in the garden in the summer, but usually my yoga mat gets spread out on my study floor.  I light a candle, ask for a blessing on my practice, and do a few asanas.  I also enjoy doing a few poses before bed at night, as this helps calm me from the day’s stresses, but also helps counteract the tension my body builds up during the night.  If you fancy having a go, you might find this website helpful.

Meditation is something I am trying to do.  I’ve been trying to do it for years.  It occurs to me now that maybe thats the whole point.  Even when you get good at it, you are still battling the butterfly nature of your mind as it dances about between the shopping list and the peerless beauty of Benedict Cumberbatch’s mouth, or something similar!  Lately, I’ve had quite a bit of success with the Insight Timer app on my smartphone, and I also like Susan Piver’s free meditation instruction sessions – ten minutes out of your day for such huge benefits has to be worth a try.  When I get it right, when I manage to concentrate on my breath even for just a tiny bit, I experience a sense of peace, achievement and oneness.  I’ve tried Vipassana body awareness meditations by Jon Kabat-Zinn too, and they are really good.

Journalling.  Do I really need to add much about this?  I’ve been writing continually on this blog about journalling practise since I started a year ago, explaining the benefits and the pleasures of keeping a diary.  I’ve been doing it for 40 years this year (erch!  Is it really that long?), and I can tell you that it has saved my life more than once.  Check out my other Journal Friday posts to find out more.

Journal Exercise:

Get out your journal and take a little time to ground yourself.  Take a few breaths and be present within your body.  Then think about your life.  What are some of the things you do regularly that sustain you emotionally, physically, spiritually.  Spend some time writing about them, about why they help you, why you do them, how they nourish you.

If you have trouble zeroing in on one, two or three things you do in this way, try thinking about your minimum requirements for a happy life.  What do you go nuts without?  When your life gets a bit haywire and you find you feel out of control, what are the things that have slipped?  It might be anything from drinking enough water and eating fruit daily to spending time with friends and family, walking the dog or reading a good book.  Make a list of the things that you know you need in your life to sustain your wellbeing.

As always, don’t get too draconian about either of these exercises.  Remember these are not the things you think you OUGHT to be doing, or what your friends are doing, although they may be things you might like to try, but haven’t yet.  Take time to explore.  Be gentle and compassionate with yourself.  And if you can’t identify anything yet, allow the answers to evolve over time.  Gently ask them to come to you.  Ask yourself what you need in your life right now, and enjoy your discoveries.

Happy Creating,

EF

 

Journal Friday: Lists

Your house and your life will be full of lists.  Most likely shopping lists, most infamously, To Do lists.  We all make them.  They are the most efficient way to remind your brain about the important, and the not-so-important things.

But did you know they can add an extra dimension to your journal practise?

We keep lists because they are an easy way to record a series of items, whether they are things we already possess, things we need to get (like shopping lists),things we need to do, or remember, or worry about, or understand.

Lists also allow us to create hierarchies within them.  You can order your list in terms of importance or urgency.  You can use each item as a heading, and include a sub-list beneath it.  Or you can just scribble items down in the order they come into your head – which is in itself a kind of order, though the meaning of that order may only be understood by you.  And yes, I do use mind maps too, but I don’t find them half so useful, because they don’t have the implied order that a list does.  You have to impose the order on them afterwards, which seems a waste of time to me – why not do it as you go along?

I like using lists in my diary to gather together thoughts that are floating about in my head which don’t really fit anywhere.  For instance, the other day, I made a list of all the items I wanted to buy which would need to be saved for:  new spectacles, a juicer, a steam floor cleaner, and other things.  Each of these items came from a separate train of thought:   ‘I can’t see to read these days, I need to get an eye test’;  ‘Maybe drinking green juice would help me feel better’;  ‘Its really muddy outside and we are trailing a lot of mud into the house, and I am fed up with mopping the floor all the time, maybe there is a quick alternative.’

None of these things really go together.  Normally, I would put them under headings like ‘Health care’, ‘Diet’ and ‘Housecleaning’.  But I don’t have a place to record any of these ideas (I confess – mea maxima culpa – I don’t keep a Home Management binder or a GTD planner, shame on me!)  They are all good ideas, but if I don’t write them down, they will get forgotten, and I will no doubt then waste valuable mental energy thinking them up again, or coming up with new solutions.  Now I have a list recorded, I can forget about it until I need it.

Something else I have been doing for years is using lists to help with emotional challenges.  I frequently get myself into a state of profound anxiety by worrying about half a dozen things at once.  Or sometimes more!  Usually, when I get like this, I find myself struck down with a migraine, so its something I prefer to avoid, if I can.  Out comes the diary, then, and away I go, writing down a list of all the things I am worried about, and why.  I may end up with pages of bullet points.  Then I revue them.  Usually I can see a pattern emerging, and I can work out that there are one or two core issues coming up that the sheer volume of worries are masking.  Once I have identified what is really wrong, I can make a list of things I can do about the problem – because taking action of some kind, however small, always makes me feel better.

When I am feeling completely overwhelmed by everything I feel I have to do, I take the time to make a list of everything.  Then I can identify the SHOULDS I am imposing on myself can rule them out, because they are usually neither Urgent nor Important* in the grand scheme of things.  Also, writing all the things I have to get through somehow makes the mountain less intimidating.  Life seems more manageable when you can get it down on a sheet of paper.

(*Knowing the difference between Urgent and Important is crucial when you have limited resources.  Urgent is something that has to be done NOW.  Important is something which needs to be done as a matter of priority for your future wellbeing/happiness/security etc.  For example, Urgent could be putting the laundry in the machine because you won’t have any clean knickers tomorrow if you don’t.  Important is getting your tax return in to avoid late filing fines.  Of course, tax returns could also be Urgent, if you are within a few hours of the deadline, and the laundry might be Important if tomorrow is also the day when you have an interview for a potentially life-changing new job!  But you can see the difference.  Urgent changes your immediate future, whereas Important is more long term.  Which is why a list helps you to identify which is which!)

I also really like using lists to explore an idea.  I give myself time to visualise the concept in my mind, for example, that of Bear energy, which I was talking about the other day.  Then I do a word association around that idea, writing down all the words and feelings and thoughts that pop into my head in a list which depicts what that idea means to me.  I can then use that list as a starting point for exploring deeper meanings and related areas.

I mainly use lists to dump everything out of my brain because I invariably have a cranium so full of stuff that something has to be offloaded or I will go mad.  Quick, thumbnail sketches of stories, plans, thoughts, worries, household jobs, recipes, things to tell my husband when he gets home, and food items we have just run out of, all end up on lists in my journal.  It has only been through writing this post that I have begun to realise how addicted to lists I actually am!

The other thing about lists is that they are easily accessible when you read them back.  Even a series of one word items can remind you of a whole Mind Palace of thoughts.  And once these thoughts are outside your head, you can use your brain to come up with lots of lovely new ones!  What liberation!

Tips for Keeping Lists:

  • Make sure you label your list especially if it is connected with a word association or particular project.
  • I often scribble lists on loose sheets of paper that I find hanging around the house, and stick them into my diary later – this means I feel I can be as messy as I want with the list because I am not messing up my nice, neat diary page. (When the list is stuck in, I can decorate it and make it nice if I like.)
  • If you make several lists on several sheets, stick them in your journal together so they make sense on reading back.
  • Give yourself space when you make a list.  There will always be something else you want to add!

Journal Exercise:

You could use any of the techniques with lists that I have mentioned above, but you might like to try this one, from the field of Gestalt therapy.

This technique can help you access unconscious feelings that are causing your trouble.

Do you have an ache or pain that has been grumbling away recently?  A dogged headache that resists all medication, a sprained ankle, an aching hip?

Take out your journal and sit quietly, away from noise and distractions.  (Give yourself plenty of time for this.)

Focus your mind now on the part of your body that is troubling you, and really dive deep into experiencing the pain, ache, or discomfort, or whatever feeling is going on there.  Let the feeling fill you up.  Connect with it.

Now take out your pen and, continuing to focus on the feeling.  How would you describe the feeling?  Whatever word first pops into your head, no matter how unlikely it seems, write it down.  Now focus again and look for the next word.  And the next.  Keep going until your mind empties and no more words appear.

Now read back your list.  Are there any words that particularly jump out at you?  Any themes that seem apparent?  Some unlikely or seemingly unconnected words may turn out to be linked to things that are going on in your life, in friendships, your career or family.  They may remind you of emotional issues you have not confronted, or point to something in your life that feels unfinished, unfair or unsatisfying.

Now take some time to journal about the words that seem most meaningful to you.  Allow yourself to explore what comes up and see where it takes you.  You may find yourself planning a new adventure, resolving old conflicts, or seeing situations in a new light.  It can be very enlightening.

You may feel this exercise is a bit mumbo-jumbo, but I assure you, it’s a great way to access things going on in your head ‘behind the scenes’ so to speak, and it can explain a lot.  You may also find it difficult to start off with, but practise and you will find it easier over time.  You might even want to have a friend help you by writing down the words that come up as you concentrate on your own body.  And if you get a recurring pain in the same place, you can go back to your list and do the exercise again, and compare the two to see if something new comes up.  You may even find, as I frequently have, that the pain you focus on is significantly reduced or even disappears as a result of its ‘being heard’.  It’s is a great way to use lists, and I encourage you to have a go.

Happy list-making,

EF