For so many people across the world being forced to isolate and bunker down as we ride out this wave of giant shifts, the power of a journal to both quiet the mind and record this extraordinary time is important.
As an introvert (sans children – I can’t imagine how tough it must be for parents right now) I’ve always loved copious amounts of solitude. But I know that for others, weeks of isolation stretching out ahead might be a bit scary. You might even feel robbed and poor – I was thinking of this for extroverts, whose idea of richness is parties and get-togethers.
“Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is richness of self.”
There’s beautiful ways to make solitude a rich experience, and journaling is one of them. It’s also an incredibly helpful way to take time out each day during what is, quite frankly, an ever-changing maelstrom. Even just recording the changes in the situation from day to day can give you some breathing space and perspective that hey, what you’re going through is unique, challenging, and life-changing.
Feeling rich in solitude
Journalling is such a beautiful way to call ‘slow down’ on the world. By having some time out to reflect on what’s changed and how we’re coping, we also start to observe all the skills and tools it’s taken us a lifetime to build up. It’s a chance to take a birds-eye-view of our life, our dreams, our current situation and what might be the most positive outcome of everything.
But it takes practise and discipline to get quiet enough to give ourselves the space to reflect – particularly if you’ve never written in a diary before, OR, you’re having trouble switching off from the endless cycle of news updates.
When I was 18, I did a survival course in the wilderness called Outward Bound. It’s very interesting as the premise was that sailors who had been through storms before – regardless of age or level of fitness or bodily condition – were more likely to survive during a tidal wave or other kind of emergency at sea. It was all about teaching resilience – something researchers understand now, that previous experience with challenges like survival increase resilience in future conditions.
We hiked in a group of 12 strangers, prepped and carried our own food, had to navigate up and down mountains in the ACT and New South Wales, and at about the day 17 mark, we had 3 days of solitude with nothing but a tarpaulin, sleeping bag, rations of food and water and our notebooks and pen. Reading material was strictly forbidden. The idea was to reflect and process what we’d just endured.
After 17 days of hiking all day and blisters and bruises all over my body, I loved it. I slept. I listened to the birds. I wrote and reflected. I thought about how different and clear everything had become, now I only had my one can of baked beans and my milo and water to eat. I had tuna, too, but didn’t want it.
I think that’s when I really understood the power of journaling. It was breathing space to reflect on the mountains I had (literally) conquered in the two weeks prior. It was a chance to consider where I wanted to go after Outward Bound, the kinds of things it had taught me, the ways in which it had changed how I interacted in the world.
The most challenging part of Outward Bound, for me, had been all the group interaction. We had to do EVERYTHING as a group – cook, prep the camp, navigate, consider everything from everyone’s point of view. The chance to lie down on my mat and not have someone wanting me to keep walking when I was tired was bliss.
But some people couldn’t handle it. Even though it was forbidden, a fellow group member came into my space, telling me he was going stir crazy. I think I threw him my can of unopened tuna and said a few words of encouragement to him, but made it clear I was loving the quiet. Now – that was only three days, and it had a clear end-point. I don’t know how I would have gone being plunged into 45 days of isolation with no practise, as the Parisians are right now.
But here are some ideas…
If you haven’t kept a journal before, let alone been through something of this magnitude (who has?!), you might not know where to begin.
But just begin with today.
What are you seeing? How are you feeling? How far have you come in the last week? What has changed for you?
What are you noticing around you? How have the noises changed? What are you eating, drinking? Who have you spoken to, connected with? What do you now care about?
What no longer matters or seems relevant?
Go into the quiet
Apparently Paris is so quiet you could hear pigeons cooing this morning. I mean that is just an unreal kind of anecdote for the year 2020. One day you will look back at these journals and marvel at what happened from day to day.
Yes, extended periods of uncertainty are unsettling, and it can be hard to focus. But journaling during this time can be a good discipline to both quiet the mind and remind yourself how rich you really are.
In the imagination, we can be anything and anywhere – how wonderful is that?
Journalling at the end of the day is a lovely way to quiet the mind, too, and here are three helpful reflections to think about:
1: What was my best or favourite thing that I experienced today?
2: What new thing did I learn?
3: Who and how did I connect with the world and give?
I’ll end with a quote from one of my favourite diarists, May Sarton:
“There is no doubt that solitude is a challenge and to maintain balance within it a precarious business. But… time without solitude is even worse. I lose my center. I feel dispersed, scattered, in pieces. I must have time alone in which to mull over my encounter, and to extract its juice, its essence, to understand what has really happened to me as a consequence of it.”
In a time like this, there’s so much that we all need to process. Journalling is the perfect place to do that – in peace, and without judgement. Give yourself a gift of 15 minutes, then 20, then extend it to 30, or 40. Away from the news, away from what you think you should be watching or reading or listening to. And just reflect on what all this means to you.