“As you move through this new stage of your life, I encourage you to buy a journal and write things down.”
These were some of the first words I heard when I entered my graduate school education eleven years ago. It was in a Q&A session with current students and staff of the Divinity School where I attended, the encouragement to journal coming from a staff person who talked of its power in helping her process her own academic journey.
Up to that point, I had not seen a value in journaling as a practice. Perhaps, it was from the stigmas I grew up hearing around “boys and diaries” (something only reserved for girls in my pre-pubescent world). Perhaps, it was more because I’d been so focused on living my life, I’d had little time to put forth an effort. Perhaps, it was just a subconscious attempt at avoiding the recording of moments I’d rather forget. Whatever the reason, that fall of 2009 found me leaving that Q&A on a quest to find a blank journal.
I didn’t put much of an effort in the first one I purchased, opting for a cheap, lined one from Walmart or somewhere similar. The months that followed would not see me diligent in writing, but I did find the experiences of putting pen to paper in the more difficult moments therapeutic.
As time went on, I found myself journaling more and more. Recording entries as my wife and I adopted our first dog, our moves, as we experienced family transitions, and as I progressed in my studies. I wrote about doubts that I had on the path ahead, and about the moments when everything was clearer than ever before.
Eleven years later, my journals have graduated from cheap, lined, books from a box store, to blank pages that leave room for creativity and processing. The pages are bound between leather covers and evoke a sense of peace deep within me as my pen touches them and my inner processing begins to flow outward. It is calming, it is helpful, and it has given me an outlet for thinking deeper about the things of life and the world.
One of my favorite practices is to go back to old entries cooresponding with the current date (I begin each entry with the date, time, and location of its recording). In this regular act of reflection, I find that the things I’d struggled with just a year or two ago, had faded with time. Things that I didn’t think I’d ever make it through, had come and gone with the seasons. This activity is a regular reminder of names, faces, places, and moments that bring a smile to my face or a tear to my eye. On those hallowed pages are some of the things that I’d forgotten, forever etched in ink.
Also in those pages is a reminder that the person I was, though always with me, is not the person I am today. As I read those old words, I am reminded that the journey of life is one of becoming, a journey of development. As I laugh at the questions, smile at the good memories, or tear up at the difficult ones, I am reminded that mine is a life of pilgrimage –– one that I must always keep walking.
So, why the long post about journaling? I guess I’m just wanting to give words to a practice that can be as helpful in processing today, as it is in reflecting on yesterday. Words have the power to heal, even more so when they are our own.
So, as you move through this new stage of your life – whatever it may be – I encourage you to go and buy a journal and begin to write things down. You never know how such a simple practice might just change your life.