Journal writing can be compared to practicing mindfulness. We are conscious of what we write and stay focused on the writing process without judgment and being in the present moment. Both involve being present in the NOW. By being fully conscious and present of our actions and our breath, we become present in what we do and get to experience the now. Writing is similar. I like to call them “journal entries.” In a journal entry I write what is on my mind without stopping, without judgment or without criticism.

I write to gain clarity on a situation, I write to release a cathartic emotion, I write for the sake of writing, I write to let go and I write to connect with my higher self. During the moments of writing, I’m aware of what’s being put on paper. I’m aware of my thought process, and instead of stopping myself because it sounds “crazy” or it “doesn’t make sense,” I allow myself to experience the process of writing. And when I’m done, I put it away, thanking myself for the courage and the motivation to stay present with my thoughts. Sometimes our thoughts and feelings are scary and sometimes they’re too painful to bear, which makes it easier to stop ourselves in that moment and move onto something else. Sometimes our inner critic censors our thoughts, causing us self-doubt and negativity, but because we’re aware that this may happen, we stay present with the process and keep writing. In mindfulness, we use our breath to stay centred; similarly, in journaling we use compassion to stay centred. Both teach us how to live in harmony with the world and with ourselves. Both help us cultivate appreciation for each moment we’re alive and aware.

There are many journaling practices and routines to choose from. My favourite is writing first thing in the morning and again before I go to bed. When I write in the morning, I’m creating a space for me to be aware of feelings, thoughts and issues that could and are surfacing for that day. I take that with me throughout the day so that I can stay present rather than live in the past or in the future. Every step I take, I try to breathe in and take a deep breathe out. That’s what keeps me present during the course of my working day. Then before I go to sleep, I write for gratitude. Gratitude is what keeps me present and what helps me value and appreciate what life has offered me. The writing ritual at night also reminds me of my daily purpose.

Think of a time when you felt truly present—it could be a concert you attended, a book you’re reading, a class you’re taking, a conversation you’re having—whatever it is think about what being present at that moment did to you: how did that make you feel during the experience? Do you feel more alive? Do you feel more connected? Similarly, the act of journal writing can create that sense of feeling present and alive. To function harmoniously in the world, we must be able to understand our mind and ultimately ourselves. We need to know what our triggers are, we need to know what and how we feel about certain issues, we need to be able to feel the emotion and identify the emotions, and writing about it gives it a name. The more we write, the more we’re able to understand how we relate to others, identify our pain, learn to trust ourselves and connect with our higher selves.

Imagine the journal as a large bowl that we empty all our feelings into, one by one, drop by drop. These feelings are kept safe in the bowl. That bowl is a “release bowl.” And it’s kept there without judgment and fear. No one has access to that bowl but you and only you know what you feel. And you can keep filling that bowl. Journal writing gives you permission to release. By releasing, we can heal, and by healing we can become our true self. If writing doesn’t flow easily, find prompts to help you flow. Just as in mindfulness, we use our breath, in journaling there are prompts and techniques that can get us to flow. I leave you with one that I’ve found to be very profound: When I am not doing I am ….. (write that for about 5 minutes non-stop). Happy journaling!

Anjali Mani, LMSW, has a background in Interpersonal Violence, Trauma and Holistic living. She is passionate about Journaling as a Healing Tool and strongly encourages the use of writing as a healing tool. She has facilitated Workshops on the Therapeutic Benefits of Journal Writing and is also interested in Journaling as a Mindfulness Practice. For more information, visit her blog or Facebook page.
image: Finn Porter (Creative Commons BY-NC-ND)