Journaling for Body, Mind, and Spirit

Three Buddhas of Body, Mind and Spirit representing mental health

Journaling is a very potent mean to enhance physical and mental health, by addressing the needs of the body, mind, and spirit deliberately and cohesively.

I am about to attend the “Change Your Mind” Festival in Sligo. There should be live entertainment, plenty of stalls with Huga represented, comedy, demonstration, etc… A celebration of mental health in all its aspects. Journaling is often associated with idle teenage girls scribbling about their latest crush, or being misunderstood by the wider world. At any rate, it seems to be a phase in the process of growing up, before acquiring a stiffer lip and ‘getting on with it’. Apps are replacing journals to quickly increase productivity, convenience, and efficiency and keep emotional wallowing at bay.

Yet Journaling is a very potent mean to enhance health, be it physical or mental. Indeed, they address the needs of the body, mind, and spirit deliberately and cohesively.

Focus the Body

Planner and self development
No space for those in my mass produced planner

Let’s start with the body. Traditionally, like most people, I would have relied on a mass-produced planner to help me organise my time and energy. I would have chosen it with great care, yet its mass produced format never catered for my particular rhythm, needs, and priorities. My life became a succession of appointments, meetings, and to-dos. A treadmill devoid of sense or meaning, an auto-pilot following other’s diktat.

With apps focussed on convenience, speed, and efficiency – I felt no closer to being meaningfully productive. Bullet Journaling is a technique to increase mindfulness about how we spend time and energy.

‘Intentional living is the art of making our own choices before other’s choices make us.’ Richie Norton

Both “Bullet Journaling” and “Mindfulness” have become somewhat faddish terms thanks to Pinterest fancy graphics. In truth, bullet journaling is a method; using a blank notebook (sometimes with dot-grid), that develops intention and relevant habits. It is not about fancy drawing, it is about intentional living, i.e. organising the time and energy available mainly through the process of reflection and increased self-awareness.

‘Intention’ differs from ‘goal’ as one is a journey, the latter the destination. Of course, ‘Intention’ is meaningless without a purpose, which is made real by setting goals and assigning priorities. Recording little wins and meaningful moments becomes feedback on whether intention matches actions. As the distance from the daily humdrum expands, so is perspective. Purpose becomes clearer. ‘Reacting’ becomes ‘responding.’

Bullet journaling sharpens ‘Intention’ and clarifies ‘Purpose’ while strengthening the relevant habits and perspectives. Purpose and action are not only harmonized, they also reinforce each other.

The result is a greater self-awareness with a conscious understanding of why we are doing what we are doing. It integrates and balances personal needs with the demands from our environment. Highlighting the big and small wins provide a meaningful sense of accomplishment, improve self-perception and promote an attitude more in-tune with the path chosen. It is an essential asset since our easily distracted brain seems to be more wired to record the negative over the positive. That’s true productivity.

journaling and self-organisation
Keep it simple, reflection is what matter

But, I would like to be clear: Life is what it is. Bullet journaling is not going to turn a tedious job into a marvelous one. The vast sources of frustration of the mundanity of the day-to-day do not vanish.

Bullet Journals are not about self-centered indulgence. They do not shield against responsibilities; however unpleasant, instead they highlights how those frustrations and compromises may build toward higher purpose and goals. By highlighting the little gems that indeed do make life sweeter, it helps uncover more nuggets through greater awareness and astute use of time and energy.

The benefits of such an approach are medically proven. Indeed, mindful living is associated with a greater sense of control over one’s life, which does reduce stress and anxiety. In turn, sleep, blood pressure, and memory benefit accordingly. The body truly benefits.

To summarise, bullet journaling:

  • Sharpens intention, clarifies goals
  • Consciously and consistently organises time and energy
  • Strengthens relevant habits and perspectives
  • Shifts ‘reacting’ to ‘responding’
  • Harmonises intention and action

Sharpen the Mind

A personal diary, also referred to as ‘journal intime’ is also a blank journal, sometimes lined. In it, are recorded the little things that are either worth keeping, or maybe not. So often, people would have a topical one for keeping (Pregnancy, Travel, Bucketlist…) and one for venting pent-up emotions or record the journey of life. Whatever the narrative (for keeping or venting), writing and recording about life is a way of clearing the head from overload. It can preserve the texture of a valued present experience that risks being absorbed by the past. It can also establish a connection between thoughts, feeling, and behaviour which can highlight a pattern of thoughts that may or may not be supportive of a purposeful life.

‘And you? When will you begin that long journey into yourself?’

Rumi

By exploring our shadow side, we can develop perspective and acceptance, hence restoring trust. Or we can learn to let go of circumstances that are less than ideal. It can turn overriding anxiety and depression into concern and sadness while anger and hurt becomes benign annoyance and disappointment. It does not deny their existence, but it helps to explore the various perspectives associated with such events and gain a deeper understanding.

Additionally, it also supports accepting our less palatable self and embracing our failings or shortcomings. If journaling supports positive habits, it also helps to dismantle unhealthy ones; however addictive, by recording the success and struggle of the journey and the commitment made. Only by accepting those, can we make peace with ourselves and move on, stronger, wiser and more self-compassionate.

words of self-compassion
Self-Compassion to better embrace

When dealing with anxiety, journaling offer a safe space, away from preying eyes. Often worry baits us with the expectation that we ought to come up with a solution.

In reality, the ‘right way,’ or solution is a matter of ‘the best way at the time.’ A lot about life is about tinkering, adjusting and adapting. There is no “right” solution. Often there isn’t even a solution, we waddle our way through.

Writing allows the shift from stimulus-reaction to stimulus-response. Choice, agency or purpose can be revisited away from judgment. Anxiety can be particularly debilitating after a trauma. Yet, as writing takes over from thinking (as if the pen takes a life of its own), a difficult experience can be sensitively confronted, processing the event into a coherent narrative. By establishing distance with the raw emotion, one can reflect on life before and after. Over time, it hopefully will become possible to feel gratitude for the unexpected positive outcomes.

Loving Kindness journaling
Loving kindness toward all

Depression also benefits from a safe place. Often, depression is over-simplified as “not being happy”. Add to this a feeling of total disempowerment and guilt in being stuck in a stand-still of brooding and ruminating and it can be very difficult to recover from a bad patch.

However; like the Medusa, happiness cannot be stared or looked at, as it will consume you. Happiness is the result of matching beliefs and action. Hopefully, those are based on goodwill and positive thinking. Journaling helps to clarify those beliefs and focuses on supporting actions, highlighting patterns of thinking that undermines or stops one’s journey. Are situations always made more awful than they are? Is the slightest frustration sure to set you off? Is there a pattern of total damning or rigid expectations of self or other?

‘As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.’ Mahatma Gandhi.

To summarise, a personal diary:

  • Develops sel-compassion
  • Assists the process of remembering or letting go
  • Highlights pattern of thoughts, positive and negative
  • Clarifies thinking by expanding perspectives
  • Explores choice and consequences

Enrich the Spirit

awareness words
Taking our place

Bullet Journaling and personal diaries are great tools that allow the creator to live in the moment more fully. They channel and focus efforts, clarify and establish perspective, enrich our experience. However, we are human – aspiration, inspiration, and access to higher realms are essential for our sense of belonging to the universe. That sense of belonging is what makes us radiant, i.e. gives us a sparkle.

Yet, as above so below, as inside, so outside – self-awareness and reflection are fundamental aspects to connecting with our higher self and allowing ourselves to truly shine. Indeed, we become most valuable to ourselves and to others when we cultivate the best in us. Especially those closest or dearest to us.

Awareness; about ourselves or others, relies heavily on honing observational skills. By observing more, one notices the goodness around and become more grateful and caring. We also get in touch with our intuition. Walking down a bland path, you may notice and value the hedge that brims with berries and medicinal plants.

The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper. W.B. Yeats

Bible journaling helps finding guidance and purpose
Making wisdom yours

To clarify, journaling for the spirit also relies on a blank journal. At the simplest, it can be a topical gratitude/quote journal. Likewise, Bible journaling is also a popular form. This is where the Bible becomes a canvas for creative expression. Ultimately, whichever the medium, one reaches for something bigger than ourselves to become a full member of the cosmos.

To be clear, this kind of journaling is not about religion but about our relationship with an evolving spirituality. So be it:

  • Recording or embellishing inspiring or thought-provoking literature (quotes, wise saying, poems or scripture)
  • Developing the discipline of recording something to be grateful about in times of hardship

It is about integrating positive messages and associated values and strengthening a sense of resolve, purpose, and resilience. Through the quest for higher meaning, positive self-perception nurtures the satisfying feeling of having grown and gained integrity.

By seeking reference outside our own frame of experience, pain can get released, trust might be rebuilt, the present appreciated, the heart softened, purpose validated and hopefully faith allowed to flourish. We can embrace what the Buddha calls ‘Loving-Kindness’.

To summarise, spiritual journaling:

  • Sharpens awareness of self and the world around us
  • Enshrines positive messages into our value system
  • Develops resolve and resilience
  • Promotes the sense of self-improvement
  • Nurtures personal integrity

What to Take Home

Journaling; done mindfully, is about meeting our own goals and improving the quality of our life, i.e giving direction to the body, focussing the mind and nourishing the soul. The messiness of scribbling on a blank page allows us to refine emotion and our thinking. Only too often, the efficiency of an app tricks us into reaching for a false sense of control, without review or reflection. The act of writing, drawing, scribbling or rubbing gently keeps us ‘in touch.’

Reformulating, exploring pro and cons and honing vocabulary makes interpersonal skills more nuanced. The improvement in handwriting and design skills over time is rewarding. And if some people prefer to express themselves in words, others instead draw, and that’s ok. The result is the same, and both can be done with a blank journal. Personally, I perceive any other format to be an infringement on my space.

I have experienced the benefits of journaling at all levels. Hence, it is from a place of genuine care that I can say that:

  • Writing reconnects us with our physical skills
  • Journaling helps establish positive habits, nurtures an attitude of goodwill and strengthens values
  • Journaling integrates body, mind, and spirit into a coherent whole.

Ultimately, it is from being ‘whole’ that healing can take place.

They said it better:

In the end, just three things matter: How well we have lived, how well we have loved, how well we have learned to let go.

Jack Kornfield

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