Journaling Part I: The Gift of Perspective


/ Photo by Lost in Scotland /

When someone contacts me and asks what can I do to develop my intuition, I’ll say, you need a butterfly net – your journal. The mind is fleeting, and the intuition is quick, so you need a container to catch these internal, wisdom-filled butterflies.

Recording your life events and making your own observations helps you gather your life experience. Your life experience is distilled into wisdom, preventing years of emotional build-up.

Do you have your 2008 journal yet? Not your daily planner where you record your appointments and responsibilities, but your journal that records all your soul’s activities: dreams, synchronicities, emotional reflections, visions, journeys, and cycles of change.

I love the design of the Sacred Journey Journal, which I’ve used for seven years now.

Having a friend without losing oneself

To give you an example from my own life: Several years ago I went through a period of struggling to understand what a healthy friendship is — when to share, when to help, and when to back away — and establish personal boundaries. Writing in my journal helped me immeasurably to gain a clear perspective.

I struggled with friendships that left me drained to the point of exhaustion. I felt like the den mother who fed all the chicks, but starved herself. It took some real self-evaluation for me to return to center, and look at the roots of that pattern.

I finally took notice of this pattern when a childhood friend contacted me out of the blue in February 2002. We hadn’t talked in years. She was a dear friend when we were teenagers. We spent our afternoons during our junior high and high school years endlessly listening to record albums. We loved music!

This friend, as an adult, married and lives with her husband and her two young daughters in another country. What I didn’t know until several months later was that she was abused by her husband. On several occasions, I’ve encountered a domestic violence situation in my reading practice. But, this was very close to home. My childhood best friend was in harm’s way.

I embarked on a campaign – a rescue mission – that’s nearly impossible at such a distance. I talked mostly with her brother who was also greatly concerned. He tried to find her some legal advice. Her family offered to visit her, to help her leave the country, to find her a lawyer well-versed in international law.

My friend refused all these attempts to help her. We were all worried about her safety and the safety of her daughters, but she wasn’t ready to directly confront the situation head on. The common problems — fear of her husband’s reaction, worries about being able to support a family on her own, a desire to hold the family together at all costs — compounded the tricky problem of international custody law. It was too much for her to take on, even with help from many people who love her.

Even though she wasn’t willing to change the traumatic family dynamic, that didn’t change the fact that she kept turning to me for emotional support. I’d get emails from her describing the most recent horrendous event – her children being hit by their father. Once again I’d beg her to consider leaving her abusive husband for the sake of her children, but she’d stake out and defend her case, like someone defending the cobra encircling the cage she was in.

I’d have panic attacks thinking about what harm her children were being exposed to on a daily basis, and the endurance she had to muster to get through each day.

She didn’t want to change the situation, she wanted to commiserate with me. I finally came to the difficult realization that she wasn’t emotionally prepared to leave her abusive husband. She was siphoning energy from me in order to maintain the status quo. I wasn’t helping her or her daughters, and in fact I was falling ill myself.

She needed a trained advocate, a women’s shelter, a lawyer. Not me. I had allowed myself to be pulled off center, and drained of my own vital energies.

Operation Redo Childhood

When an old friend from childhood contacts us unexpectedly, it’s a visit from the ghost of childhood past. We are being given the opportunity to restore order and balance. The childhood friend appears to help break a chain from a childhood pattern. The life period they represent tells you when the pattern ruled, and that it’s still ruling today. Amidst her terrible struggles, my childhood friend was also a helper. She showed up to help me look at myself in the mirror.

Since childhood, I’ve had very few internal controls for friendships, one size fits all, no distinctions, no gauge to set temperature and volume in my friendships.

I learned to be a bottomless pit for other people’s problems. I didn’t know how to set limits, or really take care of myself. I felt an odd sense of duty and responsibility with each friendship rather than the pleasure of sharing, giving and receiving. I didn’t know what a genuine friendship was, and I found myself much too often getting entangled and enmeshed in my friend’s problems.

“An enmeshed child will be highly aware of everyone else’s feelings …A clairsentient (the ability to sense other’s feelings) walks into a party and feels responsible for the woman in the corner who is being ignored, or he can feel the jealousy of his neighbor whose wife is flirting, all without awareness of his own needs. A little clairsentience gives us sensitivity to others but too much separates us from our ground and leaves us ruled by a tumultuous blend of other’s emotions that we cannot control.”
— Anodea Judith, author of Eastern Body, Western Mind

Paging through my old journals, I find another quick example of this dynamic in my life:

I lived with a roommate in the 80s who owned the condo we were living in. In that condo, my room didn’t have a doorknob. It didn’t latch. It didn’t lock. Anyone could come in as they pleased. I finally insisted that we install a doorknob.

When one has broken boundaries, or essentially no boundaries, then one is like a house whose doors have no knobs. I either had an open door policy where anyone could come in, or I left the door closed so no one could enter – two extremes, no balance.

Mother Loss, Father Loss

When you’re journaling, you get the opportunity to watch your own life movies, once, twice, three times. At first you find yourself center stage, smack in the middle of the drama. It’s difficult to follow the story when you’re in middle of it.

When you refer back to events in your journal, you take a front row seat to watch the drama, observing all your intricate moves. With further introspection, you get to rearrange the play.

I realized that my lack of boundaries connected to having a mother with emotional problems, and an absent father. My father was at war when I was born, and later we were strangers. My mother was unpredictable, kind one moment, cruel the next. Two sides – a borderline personality disorder. I was brought up in a comfortable financial environment, but emotionally I’ve mostly felt like an orphan.

I knew a woman, a financial consultant whose mother attempted suicide during her teenage years. I took note in my journal of her powerful observation: “I took care of my mother emotionally, she did not take care of me. I’ve learned love is a one-way street, and I take care of others first, and not myself.”

In homes where emotional problems reign, the children are often put in the position of taking care of the parents becoming young parents themselves. Future relationships are loaded issues — landmines — where we may fear a lack of safety or fear being consumed by relationships.

“We may convince ourselves that even the most casual of friendships will spiral into a web of obligation. Some of us might react by bringing self-sufficiency to an extreme, refusing to ask for assistance or seek advice, or lean on a shoulder when we are tired or overwhelmed.”
–Phoebe Eng, author of Warrior Lessons

I finally put the doorknobs in. I recognize I have limits, and I’m no superhero. I get tired. There are some extreme situations that are out of my range, and are best delegated to someone else. I’ve learned to say no.

I’ve learned how to have real friendships, friendships that are mutual, equal, shared. This is one of the many gifts journaling has given me. It has allowed me to be a participant and an audience member in my life. Journaling has given me the gift of perspective.

I encourage you to pull out your journal, and write, and keep writing until you become familiar with the dramas and its undercurrents. Then, rewrite it, rework it, rearrange the pieces, so it’s a new story peppered with your own wisdom. Journaling purifies and clears the psyche. Frustrations are liberated, blocks open into fountain streams, and self-hatred turns to self-acceptance and self-love.

16 comments on “Journaling Part I: The Gift of Perspective

  1. Christine Santoro says:

    I am reaching for some paper tonight! How creative to go back to old journals to see the souls story. I wish I would have kept old writings. I can go back in my memory to see the undercurrent of my life but I think that having it in writing makes it easier to follow and then understand. There is something grounded and solid about the written word that surpasses memory. It makes it more powerful. So powerful that I remember being afraid that someone might find my journal and read it! With that in mind I would rip up my writings soon after I wrote them. Your idea about writing down ones thoughts to track intuition is superb! I’m excited to do this so I can go back to it to see where I was right and wrong. I can learn how and why I got off track. I have so much I want to say about the current topic. Thank’s Michelle for putting it out there. Lot’s to think about. In relation to the current topic I want to mention a book called “The Souls Code” by James Hillman. I hope I’m not botching the authors name. Anyways, you might enjoy it. The author touches on the idea of a “souls story”. He talks about recognizing it and honoring it. Michelle, I have a quick question. Can we go back to to other topics and add comments? Or is it just commenting on the current topic? Thank’s. Have an awe inspiring weekend.

  2. I love your insight, “There is something grounded and solid about the written word that surpasses memory.” When you are journaling your life experiences, you become the record keeper of your soul’s hieroglyphics, the picture and feeling stories in your life. You stoke them, writing, reading, reflecting like tending an inner fire, and they will transform you.
    I’ve heard of James Hillman, but I haven’t read this book. Thanks for the book recommendation! I just looked him up on the web — fascinating — I look forward to learning more.
    Yes, comments are welcome on all articles, including past articles. I receive a notification via email when you comment, and then I know to read it and respond. Thanks Christine for your comments and inspiration!

  3. Radha says:

    Hi Christine,
    I look fwd to finding your responses on the site. Isnt it wonderful of Michelle to have this space for us.
    I started my journal when I was twelve. I wanted very much to be a writer – both my parents were; i would endlessly fantasise and weave incredible plots, until one night the insight came to me that my life is itself a story. It was so exciting… I’ve never stopped.. and actually now I have a book ready.. about this incredible journey.. I remember my birth and I was an aware baby – a silent nightmare in retrospect. but I dont know where to find a publisher or what to do with my book – dyou think anyone would like to read it ?
    When I re read my journals though it seems to me that I was wiser when I was younger and sadly there are times now when I just cannot write. not because I fear someone will read but becoz I think I need to change my environment… thats another story!

  4. Christine Santoro says:

    Hi Radha,

    Yes, this space created by Michele is so wonderful. I don’t know anything about the publishing world but I do know that I would read a book like your talking about. Reading about other peoples journeys can be so mind opening. Follow your dream……..I also look forward to your posts! I once took a creative writing class with this interesting woman. She teaches at UCLA and does community classes (the one I was in). She is also a published author. You may want to look into speaking with her (I’m assuming you don’t live in Los Angeles). She seemed very open-minded, spiritual, and kind. Maybe she would speak with you about the “publishing world”. You never know…..I think her name was Rachelle Bienvenusto and her e-mail (not completely sure) was kabuki@localnet.com. Maybe you could google her name. If I’m incorrect then I will try to find her correct information. I apologize to the other readers of this blog that I have gone a bit off track. Be well.

  5. Christine Santoro says:

    Hi Radha, her correct name was Rachelle Benveniste.

  6. Radha,
    You might want to consider getting yourself an agent to represent you. Here’s an excellent website that allows you to electronically send your book query and proposal to a pool of agents and publishers all at once: http://www.publishersandagents.com
    Like Christine is suggesting, acclimate yourself to the publishing world first by consulting with someone who will help orient you.
    Best of luck and find a sanctuary — a sacred, quiet place — where you can continue your writing!

  7. Radha says:

    Thank you a million times to you both wonderful kind ladies. yes, I will go ahead with my dream. Actually from writing I have now proceeded to painting as well. In the yoga i practise and teach is a process called Yoga Nidra – psychic sleep – (for more on the same see biharyoga.net), practising this lets one access the subconscious and somehow lets the creativity flow. To get back to the point – after noticing the synchronicity, how does one proceed. for example: a would be student has been in correspondence with me from the UK about attending an upcoming camp; finally it turns out he is not coming; however he seems to be an alcoholic as he seemingly casually let slip bits of info hidden amongst a host of other things – then I come to my favourite space and you’re talking about alcoholism ! I wish I could help this man, other than praying for him, at this distance I cant.. I wish I could. Somehow it seems significant that I should read his letter and then find you, Michele, talking about alcoholism. What next?

  8. Radha,
    I’m curious to know more about Yoga Nidra from your own description. I went to the website and I couldn’t find the page I was hoping to find. Perhaps you could direct me to the exact page on biharyoga.net. Thank you!
    I woke up at midnight a few nights ago and wrote the article on alcoholism. I felt like I was responding to an ache in the universal community, a cry for spiritual information and support on this subject. When we are thinking — I could use an encouraging word on a particular issue — the answer often shows up out of the blue.
    Keep praying for this student. Prayer isn’t limited by time or space, the hands of prayer reach beyond walls to uplift that person’s spirit.

  9. Radha says:

    Michele, try yogamag.net maybe there will be an issue dealing with Yoga Nidra. It is a practice from the Tantras adapted for modern use by the founder of my tradition, Swami Satynanda Saraswati. Yoga Nidra lets ones access ones sub conscious by relaxing the body/mind completely, then using visualisations and planting a seed of whatever one may want to manifest in ones life – a spiritual goal. as for the practice itself and all of the research on it, I’ll try and find something for you.

  10. Radha,
    Thank you! I found an excellent article on Yoga Nidra on the site that you recommended yogamat.net. Here’s the link to the article: http://www.yogamag.net/archives/2001/2mar01/yoganid.shtml
    This article lists the methods and the many health benefits of Yoga Nidra. It’s good for insomnia and respiratory issues to name a few (I’ve experienced both of these health issues in my life). The rotation of consciousness is really interesting — a spiral of awareness — that must balance the nervous system and chakra system. I’ll look for a class, or a video I can follow on my own.

  11. Radha,
    I realized that my previous comment about the Yoga Nidra may have been too light and may have not been showing the proper respect:
    I recognized that an introduction to Yoga Nidra in a class may be possible, but to study this sacred yoga teaching more deeply it is important to have a teacher, a guru. A spiritual teacher gives an energetic transmission of the teaching and practice that one wouldn’t receive studying by oneself.

  12. Radha says:

    Michele, whereas it is true that the Guru’s energy transforms everything, I would never think you were not showing ‘proper respect’, you are far too precious a person for that !
    I know a person in the USA who teaches the yoga we practice, I’m not very clear re her location or yours, but I’ll clear with her about passing on her e-mail and then do so and maybe you’ll have your Yoga Nidra class. If that doesnt work out I’ll send you a cd and you can practise on your own. Yoga Nidra is miraculous – actually Yoga taught and learnt properly is – its just patience on both teacher and students’ parts is sadly missing today.

  13. Radha,
    Thank you! Thank you for the introduction to the Yoga Nidra!

  14. […] Journaling Part I: The Gift of Perspective Journaling Part II: Charting New Beginnings […]

  15. Hi Michele,
    I’ve just been introduced to your beautiful blog: the purple flowers, the lettering: very inviting indeed.

    How was I introduced to your blog? I googled my name as I do from tme to time, as I am a writer, poet, and writing instructor. And there was my name connected to your blog (which at that point I knew nothing about) and there I saw a dialogue with Chrisine Santoro (a student of mine) and Radha. Radha had said she had taken a class of mine at UCLA (yes, I taught there for 15 years and now teaching through Writing in the Light of which I am founder and at Santa Monica college community college) and love it! So, thie internet is certainly amazing in this way, a small word, where we connect with people with similar interests and passions whom we have not met. Amazing. I . too know the wonder of the Inutiion, the wisdom within, and how if we become still, let judgement float away, and honor the moment, whatever response we need in comes to us; sometimes not at the exact moment but in time. We may know it by a book we are drawn to in a bookstore or by words we hear from a friend or stranger that somehow feels very personal to us, or in the way I am contacting you, just by googling my name, seeing Chrisine’s name and then…your blog on subjects so close to my heart. Poets such as Mary Oliver and David Whyte write from that place and Thomas Moore (Care of the Soul, The Dark Night of the Soul and many others) write of that place within; about caring for the soul, not curing it, caring…! It takes courage because to listen to our intuition we realize we are tapping into the Oneness of us all but having the courage to speak it before the culture has. Like Emerson wroie: “Do not go where the path may lead, go where there is no path and leave a trail.” Then we really feel fulfilled, don’t you think? Follwoing our essence, what truly belongs to us. It takes quiet to know it and great joy to express and live it and it’s ongoing, at least that is my experience. Not, you get it and it’s a done deal. More boxes to crack open and move through, more courage, more evolving, more fullfilment and contriuting to the planet: why else would we feel passionate if it were not for a purpose larger than who we think we are. Thanks for listening and blessings to you on what you do!

    Rachelle Benveniste

  16. Rachelle,
    I love the synchronicity of how several of your writing students showed up writing their comments on this spiritual blog. And they were referencing your classes in this blog — you’ve inspired them and your classes are not only nurturing their writing craft, but their spirits too.
    It does take boldness and courage to listen to the voice within. There are so many cultural voices clamoring for our attention that we have to quiet ourselves to hear our own inner voice. Writing is a contemplative practice. It is a way to listen within and honor the inner voice.

    Rachelle, thank you for your comments! Please come back and visit anytime!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *