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Easing the Journey Through Shadow & Light

  • Dawn

A Few (More) Ideas from an Inveterate Journaler

Anti-Anxiety Tool of the Week: "Thanks for sharing."

This is my own quirky twist on an informal tradition in a number of Twelve Step programs. In many of those programs, after someone has finished speaking, everyone says, "thanks for sharing." That's it--just "thanks for sharing." And then the next person shares. The group says it to everyone, no matter what each person has said. It acknowledges the value of every person, without approval or disapproval, without any editorial comment.

So, sometimes when my anxious "monkey mind" is in its maelstrom mode of "what if?" or "how come?" or "but he said!" or "oh no!" I try to remember that any attempt in the past to wrestle or argue or engage in any way with that crazy obsessive part of me has only made things worse. I don't need to try to fight my monkey mind, I don't need to interact with it, or even really listen to what it is saying. I can just compassionately acknowledge it, say, "thanks for sharing" and go on to something else. That often works pretty well.

A Few (More) Thoughts from an Inveterate Journaler

Last week I talked about the joy of using images in my journal. This week I'll share the kinds of dialoguing I do there.

My first discovery of the use of dialog in journaling was back in the mid-1980s, not long after I moved to Charlottesville. A wise and lovely older couple in the church I had begun attending took me under their wing, introduced me to a lot of people, and clued me in to various Charlottesville (and spiritual) opportunities.

Word alert! Word alert! Before I go on, let me say to those of you who are squeamish about the word--or concept--of God: You could do the following exercise with some higher or deeper or wiser part of yourself, or perhaps with a character who has appeared in one of your dreams. It's the same principle.

In any case, one day Bob, my new friend, said, "Can I suggest a great way to pray?" I nodded, happy to hear his wisdom on the topic. "Take a piece of paper," he said, "and write a letter to God on one side--say anything you want. Absolutely anything! I mean, pour it all out if you want to. Then, turn that paper over." He paused. "And write the answer you think you are getting on the other side. It's that simple. I've found it to be extremely helpful."

Like Bob I've found this to be a great practice. Once I turn the paper (or journal page) over, I wait, trying to set my conscious, controlling mind aside and let the more intuitive, fluid part of me listen and "translate" into words the ideas and images that come up.

Sometimes something comes right away, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes there are direct words, sometimes there aren't. I don't edit a lot--unless words or feelings come up that are judgmental, mean or very harsh--those are not characteristics of the God of my understanding. If that happens I back up mentally and listen again. But it's rare.

What I almost always get is acceptance and compassion--though I confess to an occasional (usually gentle--and necessary) kick in the butt. I also get a lot of wisdom. It is quite amazing how much wiser those parts of me--and/or my Higher Power--can be than my conscious brain or what I call my "daily self." If you have read Elizabeth Gilbert's book, Eat. Pray. Love., you will recognize the very similar process she describes.

Occasionally nothing happens. But that's okay too--silence can a gift and a good teacher.

These days instead of letters I tend to do ongoing dialogues; I've found that to be a much more dynamic process. I use very simple icons (a heart, a star, etc.) to indicate who is "speaking" at the time.

I also dialog with what Carl Jung would have called archetypes--animals, trees, The Fool, The Queen, etc. You could see them as parts of yourself. You could see them as angels. Or you might think of each of them as one aspect of God's diamond-faceted brilliance. Elephants for instance, are huge and strong, wise, wonderful and dusty, able to communicate over long distances, and very loving with their families. Here too I use simple icons to help differentiate who is saying what.

When I first started doing this kind of inner dialog I was worried. Was it crazy to be talking to myself like that? So I checked in with a very experienced therapist. He said, "You're just fine. What you need to worry about is when those parts of you aren't talking to each other, when they, and you, have no idea the other aspects are there."

One other mode of dialog you could use features the nurturing/protective adult self and the inner child/children. To delineate between the different parts, you can use different colored ink for different ages (say, your five, ten and fifteen year old...or whatever) and/or you can use a form of dominant/non-dominant handwriting. I do both.

For those not familiar with the latter, it seems that when you write with your non-dominant hand (I'm right-handed so for me that would be my left hand) it can help you access your child self, since it is awkward and unpracticed and looks kind of like a child's writing.

It can take a little while to get used to all this, and to allow those different parts of you to speak, but what comes up can be very interesting!

You can further refine the non-dominant hand method in the following way--it's not as complicated as it sounds:

  • Young child (5 y.o. or there about): use your non-dominant hand by itself

  • Middle grade child (maybe 10 or so): use your non-dominant hand near the bottom of the pen and dominant hand nearer the top. You use both your hands to control the pen but you let the non-dominant hand have more control. The idea is that the middle grade child is beginning to mature but is still mostly a child.

  • Adolescent: Dominant hand near the bottom of the pen and non-dominant hand nearer the top. You use both your hands to control the pen but you let the dominant hand have more control. The idea is that the adolescent is a young adult, but still has some aspects of a child.

I am careful to be kind to myself in all these conversations, and to offer those child parts what a healthy parent would offer.

This kind of thing may not be everyone's cup of tea but I find it fascinating. And very helpful.

And how do I know it is God? Or an archetype or child part of myself? I don't. Not absolutely. But I take the chance. And it's been well worth it.

Until next time,


Photo credits:

Monkey, Jamie Haughton, unSplash

Journal, Yannick Pulver, unSplash

Letter, Debbie Hudson, unSplash

Woman journaling, Gift Habeshaw, unSplash

Elephant, Hu Chen, unSplash

Pens, Girl with Red Hat, unSplash

Mother & daughter, Sai de Silva, unSplash

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