“Writing can be a spiritual practice. To write about what is painful is to begin the work of healing. To write the red of a tomato before it is mixed into beans for chili is a form of praise. To write an image of a child caught in war is confession or petition or requiem. To write grief onto a page of lined paper until tears blur the ink is often the surest access to giving or receiving forgiveness. To write a comic scene is grace and beatitude. To write irony is to seek justice. To write admission of failure is humility.
To be in an attitude of praise or thanksgiving, to rage against God, or to open one’s inner self and listen, is prayer. To write tragedy and allow comedy to arise between the lines is miracle and revelation.”
— Pat Schneider, How the Light Gets in: Writing as a Spiritual Practice.
I started daily journaling as a way to cope after the death of my mother in 2003. Dating back to 2005, I’ve kept my collection of entries — marking every milestone and the tiny details of living out the mundane.
As pages filled with bright-colored ink gradually matured over the years into more legible penmanship, my journals became my place of welcoming familiarity.
I consider journaling sacred with every high and every low, and the seemingly extended in-betweens that life continually offers. I see it as a medium for intimate conversations between us and the light that guides our actions.
Through every word strung together, echoing the melodious nature of what it means to be alive and human, these periods of capturing moments in journals show portals of spirituality and healing.
However, it was not until recently that I began to recognize my regular practice of journaling for what it truly was: a spiritual discipline.
When words became difficult to write, when processing thoughts began to overwhelm my mind, or when room for re-imagining the future was my only source of hope, my journal was always there, readily available.
“January 2nd, 2017
Dear Journal, I wanted to share a recap with you of what happened this past year in 2016. It’s currently 1/2/17 and we’re on the plane back from Nigeria. But, before I start, I definitely want to…”
As writers, we know all too well how hard it can be to keep writing in a world that constantly demands our attention. Between ebbs and flows; between the constant teetering of life, busyness, and rest; between jolts of quick writing sprees or extended periods; writing, not solely for the consumption of others, can be a form of spiritual practice.
Whether we find ourselves scrambling for 30 minutes of uninterrupted time, or graciously having hours on end to unpack our thoughts, writing can be a medium to give ourselves the care we need.
“The deeper self is always talking to us; it’s just that we aren’t always listening.” — Christina Baldwin
Journaling for Healing
Journaling can help you improve your mental health by reducing mental clutter, creating positive self-dialogue with yourself, processing difficult emotions, and providing insight into your thought patterns and behaviors. Whether it’s a deep thought journal, a gratitude journal, morning pages, or daily logs, these are all acts of self-care for personal healing.
Journaling is also a tool for conflict resolution. Whether through dialogue journaling (which has the writer view the conflict from all sides) or drafting a letter about the offensive situation, expressing your viewpoint of the event allows for greater clarity on moving forward and addressing the problem.
Here are two key ways to implement journaling as a spiritual practice in your life.
Write With You in Mind
Journaling to know and hear yourself is a shift from focusing on the other to focusing within. It’s a pivot from striving for public applause and, instead, honoring your true self.
It’s a commitment to discovering who you are, finding your true calling in life, without the world’s pressures to conform. This form of writing creates specially crafted hubs of time for you, by you, and with you.
In modes of grief, joy, transition, favor, curiosity, loneliness, encouragement, and more, journaling as a spiritual discipline is our constant.
“February 22nd, 2021
I’m back at home. I’ll go back to get the rest of my stuff but I’m back home. Today looks like zoom meetings, a possible writing session on basic needs/wants, and ordering womanist books for discussion. A writing preparation day both for the womanist class and newsletter. I’m still waiting to hear back from Vanderbilt on whether I got in or not. So many confusing thoughts but more clarity this week I believe.”
Create a Ritual or Routine
The process of journaling can be seen as a ritual; a routine. The intention to begin starts in your mind, and it manifests by carving snippets of time throughout the day.
I keep it a point to have my journal and pen on my bedside, within arm's reach, so that my first thoughts of the day reach those pages. I record reflections, conversations, dreams, ideas, and life events in each entry. Apps like Journey are great for those who prefer a digital format for journals.
Our world will do nearly everything it can to pull us away from writing, so we must create and protect a writing ritual in our lives. When we set aside 10-15 minutes per day to unveil our thoughts, engage with reflection prompts in a journal, or expand our affirmation list, we can write in our freest and most honest state.
I think of journaling as an act that affirms and sees the writer's hidden, overlooked, and purest core. Have a drink of your favorite brew or have uplifting music in the background — whatever makes you most comfortable. You don't have to impress anyone. This is a place where you are giving yourself the undivided time and attention you need to express and heal.
“March 19th, 2016
Resting is an act of faith. Today I’m putting that to practice.”
Spend a few minutes to free-write your thoughts. What stood out to you the most?
Special thanks to Lena Sesardic, Amber Williams, Stew Fortier, Jillian Anthony, Dani Trusca, Lyle McKeany, Jordan Jones, Chris Angelis, Jemimah Jones, and Elisa Doucette for editing this piece.