I often suggest journal writing to my clients who are grieving the death of a loved one or dealing with a difficult life change as a useful way to deal with and befriend the intense emotions that often accompany these experiences. Some say, “oh, I’m not a good writer.” To that I reply that what is important is the act of expression, not how pretty or correct it is. In fact, the word “express” literally means “push out”, that is, pushing out all of those churning, claustrophobic and chaotic feelings in a way that gives them “breathing room” and makes them workable. The following are some tips for the use of journaling as a healing tool in grief and other difficult life transitions:
1. Write in longhand, rather than typing. The act of putting pen to paper is a physical act of expression and “pushing out” whatever is churning inside you, and in my experience it is more effective than typing. Don’t worry about your penmanship — just get it out. The appearance of your written words on the page may hold some truths you have not yet realized.
2. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar or correctness. This is a right-brained (emotional) experience, not a left-brained (rational) one. Again, just get it out in stream-of-consciousness fashion. You may be surprised at what you push out.
3. Breathe. Let your body be part of the process. Notice what you feel and where you feel it in your body. Our bodies hold more truth than our thoughts do. Feel what you are feeling and go with that. If you need to cry, do so, and keep on writing. You can let your tears fall on your paper as part of your expression.
4. Write mindfully. Stay in the present as your write. Feel your pen on the paper. Notice the textures and movement of your hand, eyes and the rest of your body. Feel your breath. Notice your thoughts, and when they wander, take a breath and come back to the pen, paper and act of writing.
5. Use letter-writing as part of your journal. Are there things you are yearning to say to a loved one who has died? It can be helpful sometimes to write those things in your journal in the form of a letter to your loved one.
6. Write down your dreams. Dreams can be a powerful source of healing in grief and life transitions, and writing them down is a great way to remember and learn from them. Keep your journal by your bed, and when you go to sleep, tell yourself that you will remember your dreams. When you start to awaken from a dream, stay in a semi-sleeping state and write down a few key words that will help you remember the dream when you wake up, and then write as much as you remember from the dream. Be aware of your emotions and body sensations as you recall your dream through writing.
7. Draw pictures. Sometimes our emotions can seem to overpower our ability to write. Just draw what you are feeling, again in a stream-of-consciousness fashion, not worrying about what it looks like. It can even be lines and shapes. This can be another powerful way to get our feelings out in a way that makes them workable.
8. Connect with a power higher than yourself. I truly believe that the more we allow ourselves to feel our pain, the more compassion we develop for ourselves and all others who are in pain. This in turn helps us connect with a sense of transcendence, whether one calls it God, Buddha Nature, Christ Nature, or the Ultimate. Allowing ourselves to feel and express our intense pain in the safe space of journal writing is an opportunity for real healing, transformation and growth.