In this episode of LivingUpp's Conversations with Smart People, I talked with Mari L. McCarthy about the powerful self-care practice of journaling.
Mari is the author of Start Journaling For The Health Of It ™ Write Now! and she's passionate about helping health-conscious women heal the issues in their tissues.
In this interview, we're talking about therapeutic journaling, which makes me super happy as an avid journaler myself.
There's no doubt about it, journaling is an art. It can be done using endless formats and mediums, and there just isn't a "wrong" way to do it. Here's a summary of our interview:
"Therapeutic journaling is basically a form of therapy where your journal is your therapist," says Mari. "And you're using the writing process to help you understand your thoughts and feelings."
The three areas that Mari sees people struggle with the most fall under these three dimensions: financial, systemic (physical) and relational. So if you're feeling stuck or unsure of what to write about, start there.
While some life issues do require help from a professional therapist, journaling can be a good way to address some of the issues that pop up in daily life.
"I got into journaling for purely physical therapy purposes," explains Mari. After an MS exacerbation, Mari lost feeling in her body and needed some immediate relief.
"I was introduced to the Morning Pages by Julia Cameron, and as I got into the process it was such a spiritual, magical, mystical, therapeutic situation," Mari explains.
You might be surprised by what you uncover through the journaling process.
"I became left-handed in a relatively short period of time," Julia says, "because I realized I always was left handed and in early grade school the nuns changed me." Mari also rediscovered her love of singing and other authentic pieces of herself.
"I have found that there's nothing my journal can't help me with," Mari says.
Therapists have used journaling as a form of experiential education in their practices for years. One study puts it this way: "As a glass mirror reflects a visual image, the paper mirror reflects
students' inner worlds and making of meaning."
Journaling is a powerful practice that connects us to ourselves more deeply.
One of the biggest benefits is that it helps us manage our mindset. It helps us identify our choices and make decisions about where to go next. In many ways, it gives us permission to live.
Taking time with yourself is an important part of self-care.
"The biggest tip is to not overthink it," says Mari. "The easiest way to get started with journaling is to write a sentence or question at the top of the page," suggests Mari. "Just write fast!"
Writing fast bypasses our fears and our inner critic. Because the truth is, we all wrestle with fear and criticism when it comes to writing and creating. Maybe you had an overly critical English teacher in school. Maybe someone told you a long time ago that you weren't good at writing and you believed them.
For the sake of journaling, set aside those beliefs and fears and JUST WRITE.
Give yourself permission to write freely and be okay with whatever comes out. Give yourself space to flow. Whether you write for 5 minutes or 5 hours, giving yourself the space to release and reassemble your thoughts can be a magical process.
Mari has over 300 journal prompts on her website, and you can access them here.
And if you're wondering what to do with all the journals you fill up over the weeks and years, consider setting aside some time at the end of each year to re-read your journal entries. This practice not only helps you release what you don't want to carry over into the new year, but it also helps you celebrate what you've accomplished.
But that's certainly not a requirement of journaling. Mari puts her completed journals directly into the trash. "There's only one right way to journal and it's your way," says Mari.
The beauty is, you can always change your mind about how you do things. If you're looking to use journaling as a therapeutic process, just make sure it actually feels therapeutic for you. Trust the process and stay open to how things unfold on the page.
The journaling experience is about connecting with your true self and exploring who you truly are.
"For the last year or so, I've been doing a somatic meditation. The focus during the meditation is on your body and being open to the process. I often put this practice together with journaling," says Mari. "Journaling is about truly developing a relationship with yourself."
The thing about self-care is that it requires some experimenting. In order to really know what supports you, you're going to have to try some things out to see what happens.
Over time, your preferences may change. Maybe you'll find a new style of journaling that works for you. Maybe you'll be drawn to doodling or some other form of expression.
Self-care is personal and so is journaling.
Mari's parting message is this: There's only one right way to journal...your way.
You can learn more about her books and the art of journaling here:
Have a thought about journaling? Leave a comment below.
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