20 Tips for Journaling and Meditation
Underlying truth unites all of us, regardless of religion or lack thereof, and we empower ourselves and others when we seek the truth in all things. Complex interpersonal dynamics, along with cultural pressures and expectations, can put us in sticky situations where we are invited to deceive ourselves and/or others. We often turn away from what is true in our own hearts and understanding, casting it aside in favor of comfort, status, or even safety.
For our own well-being, as we navigate the messy jungles of the world – social, professional, or otherwise – it is vital to embrace and encourage honesty. In order to relate appropriately to the world, we must identify and find refuge in places where we can be completely honest. Whether we’re alone or with others, we need to be able to explore, make mistakes, learn, and grow – without being threatened, judged, or ridiculed. Honesty is a skill that requires awareness and courage, and it is a skill that can be practiced.
Merriam Webster defines honesty as “fairness and straightforwardness of conduct” and “adherence to the facts.” That’s simple enough. But what happens when there are no clear facts? What if you’re dealing with your own heart which, unfortunately, does not broadcast memos and statistical reports for easy dissemination and action? In cases of the heart, and many cases of the mind, honesty is far more than just “not lying.” In its purest, most courageous, and transformative essence, honesty enables us to confront our own motivations, fears, and assumptions.
When we are uncomfortable, the temptation to be dishonest grows. Dishonesty could be as simple as not recognizing or fully acknowledging something to ourselves – especially if it involves a sense of shame or sorrow – or it could involve outright lies to others. Dishonesty in any form can be a slippery slope; it can prompt us to think and act in ways we otherwise wouldn’t, if we were just more comfortable, trusting, and sensible. When we are in the place of crazed tension created by lies or unacknowledged truths, it pollutes our hearts and minds. It can be difficult to extricate ourselves, to emerge from the waters of dishonesty to firmer ground.
Conversely, if we muster courage and reach for the truth within and around us, and especially when we live and share the truth as we understand it with others, that darkness recedes. Light can approach our hearts once again and make us more comfortable, confident, and creative. The very act of acknowledging first-hand that some part of our hearts is inexplicably tender can make us wiser and stronger. Personal honesty, when it comes to our hearts, enables us to discover the truth.
In these days of divisive news broadcasts, conflicting opinions, and information overload, it can be difficult to pursue and discover truth. The gentle signal of heartfelt honesty in our lives can get distorted by nearly anything: the ignorant, the unwitting person who misunderstands, the intentionally deceptive, and the sheer cacophony of perspectives and opinions. With the many discouraging headlines in the national news recently, addressing everything from integrity and investigations to falsehoods and firings, I feel it important to share some tips I’ve learned about honesty, for several reasons:
1) They might help someone.
2) It’s important to be reminded of the high and good in life.
3) Any change for the better can have a huge impact.
In my life, I’ve found two major refuges which invite and encourage me to be more honest: journaling and meditation. These two activities have helped me (and continue to help me) confront myself and the world, to venture into the gray space between black and white with minimal judgment or hindrance, and to be as honest as I am capable of being. Honesty in these two activities is not so much a goal to be achieved as a practice to be honed. Inasmuch as journaling and meditation encourage honesty, they offer the opportunity to explore; and in exploring, to learn; and in learning, to grow.
With that being said, I’d like to share some thoughts about both activities and encourage anyone who doesn’t already write or meditate, to consider trying one or both. Below are 10 Tips for Journaling and, following that, 10 Tips for Meditation, because ultimately the “March for Truth” happens every day.
10 TIPS FOR JOURNALING
(Note: I recommend having an actual journal, not just writing on a computer. For that reason, several of these tips relate to writing by hand.)
1) Write about anything. You could write about work, a cartoon, your fireplace, a loved one, or even your shoes. Anything. The point is to explore, to practice thinking and communicating. Writers observe. It doesn’t matter what. Interestingly enough, the more you write, the better an observer you will become of the world around you, your own bodily sensations, and the endless chattering stream of your own thoughts.
2) Be as honest as possible. You don’t have to get into the nitty-gritty of every little detail, but try to make sure that everything you put on the page is as close to what’s in your heart as you can get. Vague-honest is fine, but specific-honest can lead to genuine revelations. It’s great to write about what you had for breakfast, but if you can admit that you actually like so-and-so, or feel such-and-such way, that’s getting you closer to a place where you can discover new things.
3) Don’t worry about making mistakes. It doesn’t matter if you accidentally misspell something, or write the wrong word, or lose your train of thought and let a paragraph just drop. Just write. Anything. Write in it upside down if you want to! Follow your thoughts wherever they might lead, and then practice redirecting the focus.
4) Let it be messy. Write in cursive, print, or just draw. Put some stickers on different pages, glue in receipts or mementos, cut out newspaper articles and use it as part-scrapbook. Staple stuff on the pages, if you want to save it and can’t glue it in. Draw diagrams and charts; or maybe draw Winnie the Pooh. Consider writing about why you might be keeping whatever it is. If your personality can handle it, let it be messy.
5) Get the right gear. Get a journal you actually like. Consider practicalities. Does it need to be small enough and light enough that you can carry it around with you? Or will it only be at your house? Do you want to be able to rip out the pages easily, or would you prefer it to be like a normal bound book? Maybe it has a cool cover, or sits perfectly flat when open. Maybe you prefer college-ruled to blank pages.
6) Try not to judge what you write. Just get it out of you. Let it be absurd, nonsensical, offensive, rude, hateful, ecstatic, thankful – whatever it is. Just as long as it’s as honest and open as possible.
7) Write as specifically as possible. It’s easy to say that a person was “hot” or a “jerk” or whatever, but define the behavior, mannerisms, and details. Illustrate the person or situation for yourself. Search for the right words to capture what you’re trying to say. The more specific you can force yourself to be, the more you will actually learn in the process. Writing this way can help you uncover your own observations, innate assumptions, and values. Don’t be arrogant. If you journal consistently, you will surprise yourself with what you write.
8) Be grateful. Don’t use your journal as a secret complaint-box. Think of things to be grateful for. Write them down. Consider writing as much about other people are you write about yourself or your own life. Explore everything. Consider having a separate journal, or a section of your current journal, dedicated exclusively to what you are grateful for, and listing a few things in it daily.
9) Get mad, get dirty. Put it all in there. Curse. Praise. Wonder. Just don’t say no to yourself or crush your own thoughts and feelings, whatever they might be. This is where you can get stuff out.
10) Be smart. If you can’t trust the people around you, lock your journal up, keep it in a safe/secret place, or even – depending on the content – consider destroying it after you’ve written what you want to. It’s your call. The main thing is: you need to trust that for as long as you want your private thoughts to remain private, they will remain so. Otherwise, your subconscious will likely not let you be as honest as possible. You must feel safe sharing the ideas, even if it’s just with yourself.
10 TIPS FOR MEDITATION
(Note: Entire books have been written about meditation and how to do it. I cannot possibly do it full justice for two reasons: 1) I’m not an expert and 2) this is only a list of tips. However, take what you will from the following points. I hope that any or all of them may be helpful.)
1) Sit up, relaxed and straight. Yoga was invented to help meditation practitioners make their bodies strong enough and flexible enough to endure the stress of sitting in meditation for long periods. Sitting in an active pose can be very strenuous and sometimes even painful. Sit in as straight and relaxed a manner as possible, and listen attentively to your body. Every impression you have in meditation, whether it’s a thought, an emotion, or a physical sensation, can be used to bring you into a new place of deeper awareness and, ultimately, greater peace.
2) Return, again and again, to your proprioceptive awareness. Proprioceptive is a big word, but a simple concept: it’s the awareness of your body. For example: what does the big toe on your left foot feel like right now? Not what do you think it’s feeling, or what do you think it should be feeling, but literally what is the big toe on your left foot telling you? It sounds silly, but our nerves throughout our bodies tell us things constantly. Most of the time, these stimuli flit at warp speed completely beneath our conscious radar. However, in meditation, the powerful practice of becoming more aware of our bodies literally strengthens our ability to consciously assimilate more information. You can survey your entire body in this manner, becoming aware of each part, actively relaxing each part. (This is also a beneficial practice in normal day-to-day activities.) It’s like learning a new language, and meditation helps you to become more fluent in it.
3) Every meditation is different. Some meditation sessions can be like walking through emotional minefields or garbage pits; others might be full of joy, peace, and extraordinary experiences. Try to relax and just accept whatever comes. Breathe through it all.
4) You may have the urge to bolt – or maybe just go do something else. Try to find or create internal “tools” or tactics, whatever they might be, to help you stay within the moment, sitting as still and fully aware as possible. Consider visualizations or shifting your awareness between your thoughts, your breathing, and your body awareness. Let your mind or heart freak out if they need to, but try to stay still and aware. Meditation is ultimately about connecting with truth and it can feel like a messy road full of mud, monsters, potholes, and dead-ends. Carry on! It’s worth it. Breathe.
5) Be ruthless. Be ruthless in making yourself as relaxed, aware, and open as possible to warmly welcome the tenderness of your own wild heart. If you find yourself hiding from something, or criticizing something, or otherwise closing down love and awareness, find or create a route by which you can get through the pain or fear you are experiencing. Often you can do this kind of trouble-shooting by yourself, whether it’s by focusing on something else, or doing a visualization, or just breathing. Sometimes, however, you might need to find a technique from someone else. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Just find whatever works for you. Find the means to relax and expand your awareness of the present moment. Breathe.
6) Consider having a small “toolbox” of visualizations. At first, you may be restless or thinking about a whole bunch of other things, especially if you’re upset about something or haven’t done meditation before. Some people recommend that you “watch” your thoughts as they rise up, without attachment; however, I’ve found that can be difficult in the early stages of meditation. I often employ active imagining because it helps me to focus my mind and thus quiet my thoughts. So I’ll use two or three short visualizations to get calmer and quieter, to relax and then expand my awareness, sometimes shifting between the visualizations as though they were tripod-legs to steady my awareness. I’ve never heard of anyone else doing this, but I wanted to throw it out there as a possibility for others because it works for me.
7) You can never meditate in the wrong way. Aim to deepen awareness. Do your best. Stick with it. Done.
8) Your stillness will invite your heart to shine. (The red color is intentional as this is crucially important.) The heart is an *exceptionally* tender thing. Your heart is a gorgeous, timid, wild animal, and the subtlest of cues will send it running for cover in the forest of your awareness. Very few of us are actually in touch with the deepest parts of our hearts during the average day. Sometimes, because of whatever trauma we have endured or been exposed to, and how we reacted to it, we find it necessary to actually coax our own hearts out into the open. You cannot tell your heart to do anything. That will only make it disappear from your consciousness. You can only gently invite it and see if it might come out to greet you. It is important to relax and give your heart the safety and space it needs to come forward. This means being in a place where you feel physically safe and secure, as well as suspending self-criticism, judgment, and expectation as much as you can. It means breathing and letting things “be.” The heart is a real force, powerful and transformative: its gentleness can illuminate you, make you realize new things, and renew your spirit and enthusiasm. When you stop telling all the parts of yourself how they should be, when you instead listen and observe, radiant Truth can finally rise up, like rays of sunlight from a hidden sun.
9) Mudras, chakras, and auras are worth investigating and exploring. “Mudras” are hand positions that you can use to connect with different parts of your body and awareness. “Chakras” are wheels of energy. “Auras” are fields of energy. If you want to develop tools to get deeper into meditation, all of these are worth learning more about.
10) Consider meditating with others. Sometimes being around other people can inspire us to be more disciplined, reverent, and adventurous. Consider attending a group meditation or participating in a local meditation center. Their sessions and classes can be helpful, and you may very well learn something in an offhand conversation that helps you for the rest of your life.