/ 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.