I was sitting in the middle of my dining room floor with a stapled stack of papers in my hands. I had read these papers before, but I still found myself surprised to have rediscovered them while hunting for a pen in a drawer.
I began to read:
“I was born in Rochester, Minnesota, in September, 1879. In 1881 my young parents, Hans and Christina and my brother, Aflre, fifteen months older than I, and myself, left the Rochester farm of my grandparents where we had been living. As we boarded our covered wagon there was much crying from those who were left behind, my Civil war veteran grandfather, grandmother and four aunts, who thought they would never see us alive again.”
In my hands were pages from a journal of my great-great grandmother Amelia, given to me by my grandmother the year before she passed away.
The journal chronicles memories from Amelia’s life, beginning with her travel in a covered wagon from Rochester, Minnesota to Montana.
I paused and felt a surging moment of gratitude.
What an incredible gift to hold these pages and read these words. Throughout the pages, I learn how my family came to the land in Montana that remains in my family today. I read about how the town of Big Timber grew with the repositioning of the railroad, and the many people who came to live there. I read about my courageous great great GREAT grandmother, who traded her sewing machine for five head of cattle and became a successful rancher – no man needed. Quite the big deal in the late 1800’s.
Amelia also shares personal memories from her childhood — the memory of plentiful wild berries and fish, trapping beaver in the river, and how snakes would occasionally get into their house. She shares the memory of a prank she and other pioneer children played on a boy they didn’t like, which could have ended very badly (but thankfully did not).
One of my favorite pages from later in her life describes how some of her family and friends took a trip through Yellowstone National Park in a lumber wagon pulled by horses, the year before it was open to automobiles. It took them two and a half weeks, hauling food and camping equipment (tents). They washed their clothes in the river and explored.
It appears I’ve inherited some of my adventurous spirit from my great-great grandmother.
Her memories are detailed. I was sitting on my dining room floor, 50 years after Amelia passed away, and she was sitting before me sharing her story.
I have often expressed my love of journaling in conversations with others. I have stacks of journals. STACKS.
It is an amazing gift to record the story of your life. Journaling serves us in so many ways, which continue to morph and expand the longer you commit to it.
The Gifts of Journaling
Gift One: Journaling honors our life story
I don’t need to dig too deep here, as I believe the journal entries I rediscovered from my great-great grandmother pretty much validate this statement. Maybe this doesn’t quite resonate with you because you feel like your life isn’t interesting enough to record. You may think: “Who wants to read about my day in the office and taking my kid to soccer practice?” My response? FUTURE YOU. When we journal, we record our story as our lives play out before us. We can literally freeze a moment in time. In thirty years, no other book will be as special to you as your own.
Gift Two: Journaling gives us the power to see our lives from a new perspective
Memory is an amazing thing, but memory is fleeting. Memory is also impacted by our feelings and emotions in the present moment toward whatever it is that we are looking back on. This can cause us to block out whole relationships or experiences from our past, because the most recent memory is dominated by sadness or a difficult emotion.
For example, reading back on a journal entry from the beginning of a relationship, you may see yourself blooming in the wake of a new love. What qualities shined out of you? Did other relationships in your life improve because you were happier? If the relationship ended badly, you may look back at this phase of your life and think: “Bah! He/she was a JERK and horrible person. What was I thinking?” Annndddd – that’s that. But when you have written about the experiences before things went badly and feelings changed, you can see the soft, sweet side of yourself that opened and became vulnerable to another human.
When we look back and tell ourselves all phases of our story, we can see our life and memories from a new perspective.
Gift Three: Journaling helps us recognize our blessings
I’ve read back in my journals about things as mundane as a morning sitting in Luke and I’s first apartment, watching snow drift outside and laughing at my cat as she stalked the pigeons that perched in the parking garage across the alley. All the sudden, I remember that phase in my life more deeply. I had no job, so I would sit in the apartment and apply to positions while Luke was gone at work. I was lonely because we were new to the city and we hadn’t made any friends yet. My cat Nico was a little fluffy ball of fur that brightened my days and made me laugh. My grandma lived in town, so she and I would meet for dinner at the Olive Garden if Luke had to work late. We would laugh and talk about random things and I’d share how the job hunt was going. We always had dessert, usually of the chocolate variety. We swapped off who paid the check, and always tried to score some extra chocolate mints from the server.
As mundane as these details of my life seemed at the time, I smile reading this journal entry now. I am grateful for the time I had with my grandma, who has since passed away. I am grateful for my cat, who kept me company in those times I felt low. I am grateful for the incredible community of friends I now have. I am grateful for the beautiful spacious home I get to live in, and the job that supports my love of adventure with enough vacation time and money to go out and see the world.
I’m reminded of the blessings in every phase of my life.
Gift Four: Journaling helps us to see our patterns of behavior
In yoga, we often talk about samskara’s, which are impressions that sit on our soul as a result of our emotional patterns and experiences. Negative samskara’s are like scars, and they tend to be at the root of a lot of our emotional suffering. These samskara’s can originate in a number of ways, such as living your life to please others, fear of speaking or living your truth, believing the internal running commentary that you are not good enough, prioritizing everyone else’s needs above your own, drinking too much, not getting enough sleep, spending time with people who bring negativity into your life… the list goes on.
If you commit, journaling can become much more than recording your life for the experience of reading it later. It can become an amazing journey of self discovery and a tool for living a happier and fuller life. When we journal from a true, unfiltered perspective, fully vulnerable and open, we eventually have the ability to see our samskara’s laid out before us.
I have learned so many things about myself in this way. In my journals, I can see waves of self-doubt roll across the pages. Yes, I’ve known that this is something that I struggle with — it’s not like journaling gave me a face-palm moment of recognition. That said, journaling has shown me the true impact that this doubt can have on my sense of self worth and my day-to-day happiness. Since recognizing this samskara for the true crutch it was becoming, I’ve begun to understand how to help myself in times of need. When I am inspired and feel proud of myself, I write myself little love notes to read when my sense of worthiness wavers. In these notes, I remind myself of all the ways that I am special and talented. I write out words of support, love, and encouragement, and then I write down an example experience that shows future me how these words are true.
In short – you are the only person in the world who knows your whole story, and therefore, you are also the best person in the world to learn from and seek advice from.
Journaling has completely changed the way I relate to myself. I am constantly observing the patterns of my inner thoughts, and with conscious understanding, I can use these experiences to grow from a place of loving awareness.
So, do you want to begin exploring the world of journaling, but you aren’t sure how to get started?
Tip One: Go buy yourself a legit journal. They are like $6.
I am a firm believer in journaling on paper. Yea, you could journal on a tablet or computer, but our relationship with technology is heavy these days. The internet, Facebook, Instagram (or whatever your distraction of choice) will be looming in the background, and can take away from your experience. Journaling is a very intimate activity with yourself. Put away the phone, get a cup of tea or coffee, sit in your favorite chair and write what comes.
Tip Two: Don’t judge your entries.
I have journal entries that are nothing more than me describing the weather and some weird ass dream I had the night before.
I have other journal entries with self-realizations so profound that I kind of can’t believe they came from me. (This is basically my whole journal from Costa Rica.)
Don’t judge it. Don’t worry about someone else reading it. Just write it down.
Tip Three: Don’t worry about someone else reading it.
I’m serious. If you can’t NOT worry about it, keep your journal in a drawer at work or in your car glove compartment or something. If you censor yourself journaling, it can become just one more way you are living your story for other people. Let it flow out.
(And as for any future great great grandchildren reading it? Well, they will know you better. The bright beautiful parts of you, the things that inspired you, and the amazing experiences you lived as well as the darker sides of you, the weights you carried and the things you overcame.)
I have journaled most of my life, and I am still learning all that it has to offer. I have seen myself grow in my love of adventure and expand in my practice of yoga and mindfulness. I have seen my relationships shift and bloom, and how much I have changed since I’ve gotten older. I know the times of the year when I get depressed, I see patterns of unhappiness and happiness laid out before me. I am reminded to treasure my outer experiences, and to be soft with my inner experiences.
My great great grandmother ends her entry with the following words:
“My life has never been empty.”
Fifty years from now, I will have journals to remind myself of the same thing.
I hope you will too.