Why I Journal: A personal testimony of trial and inspiration

Why do I journal? The simple and yet most revealing answer is that it frees me. It separates my truest self or my soul self from my ego, letting me see the real me and my own reality with restored clarity. Journaling helps me remember that I’m doing just that — restoring my clarity, meaning that clarity was there before and that I’ve simply adopted all these things that aren’t really me. I was merely trying patterns of attitudes, behaviors and actions on for size until I realized they weren’t for me and woke up to what fits best. Journaling awakens me. It awakens me to truth. And I’ve found that truth fits best.

But these are things we discuss in my therapeutic (aka conscious) journaling program. I want to get a little more particular and tell you why I personally journal. As with most people and their life’s calling, I did not choose writing, writing chose me. It’s only after over 20 years of devout practice that I’m figuring out what this common saying means. I wrote because I thought that’s just what everyone does. Everyone talks. Everyone breathes. Everyone must write. Or so it seemed from my earliest memories. People were always writing letters and articles and stories, I thought that’s how I should communicate and express myself too. No, I’m not in my 90s reminiscing of letters to my sweetheart at war during television’s days of novelty; rather, I grew up in the ’90s, but nights in my room with my tiny blue diary my mother gave me were much more exciting than the Full House reruns my sisters were watching and the Nintendo games they were playing.

In my youngest journaling years (I started when I was four years old with the miracle gift from my mom), my writings were mostly simple recordings of my days and admission of the range of feelings I was beginning to experience and explore under life’s ever-evolving circumstances. But it was these simple diary entries that brought me my first and most profound journaling blessings. My writing was expanding my awareness. I became cognizant of my feelings and how they changed with situations, I was conscious of what happened each day and how circumstances from seemingly random days were actually single brushstrokes on the grand painting of life’s bigger picture. Journaling was my art form and also a science because it was an experiment with an outcome I could hypothesize and later critique.

Over time, but not much time as I was still an adolescent, I began to realize and appreciate life’s gradual stages and personal changes that my journaling revealed to me. It became apparent that life is lived in seasons, with behaviors, values and beliefs changing like the colors of a tree’s autumn leaves. It also became quickly clear that journaling was empowering; I could freely release any of these behaviors and attitudes, welcoming a new season just as a tree greets winter upon shedding its leaves.

These remain my most valuable personal reasons for journaling today: journaling’s ability to empower the writer and to expand his or her awareness. My 20s until somewhat recently showed me seasons of depression so gloomy that I really didn’t know if the clouds would ever recede to reveal the light. Journaling, however, revealed to me that I am the mover of my clouds. After all, our clouds are only fluff and fantasy that our minds make up. Of course, it wasn’t always that simple to me. But I found that journaling got my energy moving, making it possible for me to move my clouds of darkness and depression. Writing down my hopes in times of sorrow had the same extraordinary power as consciously writing down our intentions and visions, because that’s what I was doing (without yet realizing) — setting my intentions, which many of us know today has power that can truly move life’s mountains.

Moreover, I experienced a few times where I simply could not find anything positive to write about and didn’t want to aid the descending power of my downward spiral any longer. But I knew I couldn’t altogether give up writing — my form of self-expression and creativity and life — so I meditated on what I could write about and “gratitude” came to me. Like intention-setting, gratitude writing also gets energy moving. Journaling stimulates the amygdala, the part of the brain in the limbic system that controls memory processing, decision-making and emotional reactions. It also stimulates the prefrontal lobes of the brain, creating neural pathways, just as meditation does. I like to think of writing as a purification process, burning my forrest of old habits, and replenishing it with a crystal stream of clarity and higher consciousness.

This clarity I’m blessed with post-journaling has guided me in making many positive and major decisions in my life. Journaling revealed my need to find balance and joy, thus guiding me to set related intentions, which I believe caused a series of events that led me to move to a meditation retreat where I found my spiritual path and some truths about my higher aspirations, including mydharma (or purpose/path of righteousness). It’s almost hard to believe that several years ago, I was in an abusive relationship where I feared many things, such as safety and the destruction of my true essence; I feared I would be broken. It wasn’t physically harmful, but the emotional manipulation was so subtle yet intense at times that it was hard for me to tell what was real and what wasn’t, or how bad things actually were.

This is where journaling again was my saving grace. I strove to be truthful in my journal entries, though sometimes I didn’t know what the truth was and other times I wanted to conjure up a fantasy life story because I didn’t want to admit the shameful truth. Before long I had page after page of truth illuminating the problem and the solution. When a situation is that subtle, it’s hard to tell what the problem is, let alone that one even exists although things certainly feel wrong. During that season of my life, I was training to become a counselor for survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and human trafficking. It was almost unbelievable how precisely scenarios taught in training about victims of abuse matched the pages of my journal. Recognizing this similarity helped me realize how wrong my situation was, and gave me the courage and strength to not only leave, but to accept and process the transition and to make it a permanent departure, as my training showed me how damaging and dangerous my experience was and could be. My writing gave me clarity so crystal clear that I looked back over my journal entries and the fact that I was in not only in an unhealthy but an abusive relationship became glaringly evident — so much so that I almost felt embarrassed or even stupid to not have always known. But my writing also showed compassion for myself and the situation, which allowed me to let go and move on with grace and dignity.

Journaling helps me navigate the seasons of my life, through times of light and darkness, joy and sorrow, peace and disruption. It’s my gatekeeper of decisions and truth. It has helped me learn my evolving passions and truest dharma, which has encouraged me to make big life decisions. I was always interested in film, but focused more on the art and structure of the written word in college, majoring in journalism and working as a human rights journalist in my early career. Reporting on such issues inspired me to get involved more intimately, leading me to become a state-certified peer counselor and get a Master’s in American studies where I focused on gendered violence. In working with survivors of abuse, I saw that counseling, though miraculous in many ways, did not always help the client in the way she hoped for. This is when I suggested journaling to clients, knowing how helpful it had always been for me, and from this my journaling program was born. But within the last couple years of guiding people to live in their own self-expression and creativity and craft their own stories, I realized how important self-expression, creativity and storytelling are to me. Journalism and teaching journaling allows for some self-expression and creativity, but I knew my soul was calling for a deeper and more expansive experience. Many journal entries helped me realize that documentary filmmaking would be a perfect platform for the self-expression, creativity and social impact that I long for. So I applied and was accepted to the documentary filmmaking graduate program at Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, and will begin this fall.

I share these seasons of my life’s story because I frequently facilitate my journaling program to survivors of abuse, including domestic violence, sexual assault and sex trafficking, and I feel it’s important to make known that journaling is empowering and healing on infinite levels beyond what my story solely reveals. Journaling gives us the awareness we need to identify our issues, and the insight we need to process and accept them and move on. In addition to counseling centers, I also facilitate my program at spiritual retreats and centers. Introspection is an ancient and deeply transformative spiritual practice. It is known as swadhyaya(self-study), the fourth niyama (or yogic “do” or way of right living) of the great sage Pantanjali’s eight limbs of yoga. But this is only my story — a single story out of the countless transformational stories of those who journal. For me, journaling has been empowering and spiritually awakening. What has journaling been for you?