Putting pen to paper with Andrea Leda, a master coach, teacher and spiritual leader versed in journaling as a mindfulness practice.
Over the course of the last year and a half I have written nine unsent letters, some of which I had intended to stick a stamp on and didn’t, and others that I knew would never see the light of day. Some of the letters were filled with gratitude. Others were drafts of forgiveness. And a few, undoubtedly, were written to prove a point – to whom remains to be determined, although if you’ve ever addressed a letter to someone else with the core of the subject matter being “I’m doing great, despite you”, well, I’d venture to say there’s a good chance you’re writing that letter to yourself. At least I know I was. What I didn’t know then, but realize now after sitting amongst the audience of August’s Myndful Mornings’ session with Andrea Leda, was that this practice of sitting down and writing letters, was itself a form of mindfulness. A veteran of the trade having received her first journal at the age of 14, Andrea graced the August audience with vulnerability and craft, framing journaling (and unsent letter-writing) as an avenue for mindfulness and inviting a warehouse filled with 50 early morning risers to pick up their pens.
THE TREASURE BOX OF YOUR LIFE
Within the first 10 minutes of Andrea’s Mindful Morning session on the practice of journaling, it was abundantly clear that she had a way with words as she began August’s We Myndful Morning with a powerful message,
“Whether this is the first time you write, or the last time your write, or the beginning of something that you do, please know that it is worth writing your life down. You are worth the words, the thoughts and the things that are tucked inside of you.”
This statement begs the question – why don’t we write down our life experiences? As Andrea noted, we as humans are not particularly good at remembering the things that happen – we think we do, but we’re not nearly as in touch with those things as we believe ourselves to be. For these reasons, journals become, as Andrea described, a treasure box of life’s moments that likely would one day be forgotten.
BEATING THE WRITER’S BLOCK
So why don’t we do it? Or more specifically, what has kept Andrea’s students or clients from journaling? As she shared, Andrea found that generally the three most common reasons people state for not journaling is due to 1) not having enough time; 2) fear of others reading what we write; and 3) not knowing what to put down. However, there are several tools that Andrea shared that can move us out of our writer’s block and help us get comfortable with the practice of journaling.
First and foremost, it’s important to remember that journaling is a practice. As with most things in life from meditating to marathon training, forging any form of practice takes time. With journaling, Andrea recommended creating a habit of sitting down and setting a time, a day and in a place in your home where you’re going to write. Make sure that the practice you begin to carve out is approachable – maybe it’s a matter of writing once a week and building from there. Once you’ve set aside the time, set a timer and see what happens. Andrea reminded us that It’ll be uncomfortable at first, but with time and patience we’ll find a flow with our writing.
YOURS AND YOURS ALONE
Acknowledging the fear of others reading what we write, Andrea reiterated that journals are yours and yours alone. Whether you feel the need to tuck your journal under your bed, lock it away or proactively ask that those in your life don’t open what you write, you are under no obligation to show your journal to others and it’s perfectly normal (and not excessive) to protect your practice.
PUTTING PEN TO PAPER
Personally, this third reason – not knowing what to write – is what has historically kept me from keeping up with journaling. In tackling this piece of the practice, Andrea had several suggestions for ways to fill the journals we keep:
- Guided visualization and meditation. Take a few minutes to follow along a guided visualization or meditating can help us tap into our mindfulness, becoming more aware of how the current state of our bodies, our minds and our intuition.
- Use a prompt. Prompts are helpful in getting us out of the thinking mind and into the feeling space. Whereas process journaling flows from our stream of consciousness, prompts are a great tool if you want to get access to something you may not be thinking about. Prompts are simply just creative questions that can get you thinking about topics that you otherwise may not ask yourself. Both process journaling and following a prompt are powerful modes of journaling practice available to us depending on our preference. Take a peek at some recommended prompts listed at the end of this recap.
- Set a timer. If you’re new to journaling, start with five minutes and incrementally build more time into your practice.
- Put pen to paper. Don’t journal at a computer – writing your thoughts down on paper will slow you down, but that’s a good thing. It allows more time to process our thoughts and admire the beautiful personality of our handwriting.
- Abide by no rules. Anything and everything can go into your journal. There’s no right or wrong way to do it. If you want to burn your journal, burn it. What you write and what you do with your journal is entirely up to you.
- Date your entries. Even if it’s just the month and year, dating your journals allows your writing to serve as a catalogue for your life, if that’s what you’d like them to be.
IF YOU’RE AFRAID TO READ IT, DON’T READ IT
Andrea ended August’s Mindful Morning session with soothing advise for those of us that don’t want to see or remember what we’ve written,
“Imagine that everything you’re afraid to write down is doing something else in your life internally. So, if you’re afraid to read it, don’t read it.”
Sometimes it can be cathartic to look back at the things we wrote. There are also times when it can feel painful, in which case you can let the journal bear the weight. Journals can become a place to lighten our load, practice mindfulness in the moment and move us creatively. Regardless if they are filled with unsent letters or the dramatic, angsty musings of a 10-year-old who “wished that someone would notice I’m alive in the art room” (OKAY teenage Tess, slow your roll), all of these things are more than fine. As Andrea would say, they are perfect.
JOURNAL PROMPTS TO PONDER
Choose a prompt, set a timer for 7 minutes, and write.
Posed by Andrea Leda, a master coach, teacher, spiritual leader and August’s Mindful Morning speaker.
1. What is my next right action?
2. In 10 years my life will be…
3. What am I avoiding?
4. I want to overcome…
5. What is my heart’s desire?
6. If I released my fears…
7. The next step is…
8. If I spoke my truth I would say…
9. I feel most at peace when…
10. What would I do if I knew I could not fail?
Posed by the organizers of We Myndful
1. I wish I was in the habit of…
2. Five years ago, I never would have imagined that…
3. Maybe it is okay that I love…
4. I forgive myself for…
5. It is going to take more time for me to…