I began journaling in my teens. It was always something we’d been encouraged to do by my mom growing up, but the practice didn’t grow beyond “Dear Diary” into something more substantial until I was nineteen years old. On the doorstep of adulthood, living solo across the ocean, and with my first true heartbreak in the books, I began needing to write it all down.
Journaling has served a variety of purposes for me. Though I now practice meditation and mindfulness on a regular basis, I believe that journaling was the original means by which I slowed everything down in my high-velocity, monkey-brain, and focused on one-word-at-a-time. My thoughts were limited to the speed by which I could physically write them down. To this day, I still write in an actual journal with an actual old-fashioned pen or pencil. It’s almost contemplative for me. It slows the expulsion of my many words to a slow trickle and allows me to see and understand what I’m thinking and feeling.
I am an ambivert, which means I live uncomfortably straddled between the realms of introvert and extrovert. I really need my feelings and my ideas to exist outside of my own brain in order to organize them and make sense of them, but I don’t necessarily want to share these private things with other humans. Journaling provided the answer to this dilemma. Writing in a journal offers a safe, non-judgmental place to share all of my best and worst ideas, my feelings of torment and ecstasy, my semi-regular existential crises, my doubts, my questions, and my gratitude. And no one is the wiser to my crazy. Journaling allows me to extrovert in an introverted way.
As a deeply spiritual person, journaling is, for me, a vehicle for prayer and contemplation. Every morning when I wake, I sleepily make my way downstairs, I pour my freshly brewed coffee (set to grind and perk 20 minutes before my alarm sounds), and settle into my spot on the couch. I open my journal, I write the date, and then I wait. I listen for my own heart. I listen for God. I listen for truth. And I write it down. Sometimes the understanding that comes as I listen forms the basis for future essays, but often it’s simply the method by which my soul is centred and readied for the day ahead. In order for me to give fully in my life, I must first be filled.
And finally, journaling serves as a chronology of events, feelings, and process. Everything I have walked through in my life, joyous and horrendous, finds its way into my journal. Every conversation, whether prophetic, encouraging, critical, or destructive, finds its way into my journal. Every furious, angry response is first vented into my journal and then translated into a more gracious and appropriate format. Every confusing thought and shocking revelation is first vomited in my journal, and then hopefully later, read and understood.
“In my later teens and early twenties, I began chronicling my every joy-filled, angst-filled thought; a practice which has continued to this day. You can’t even imagine how many FILLED journals are being stored in my closet at this very moment. Sometimes the thought that I might die unexpectedly, leaving behind my innermost thoughts for all the world to see, keeps me awake at night and sleepily scheduling a giant bonfire for the very next day.” ~from The Pool
It’s always been a grave fear that my journals might someday find their way into the public realm, should anything ever happen to me. In fact, we have an agreement in my family, since many of us write our truth, that we will destroy one another’s journals in the event of our sudden deaths. A morbid, but necessary pact.
I treasured my boxes of journals for more than half of my life, but last year, I realized that, although the journals contained stories of joy and gratitude, the pages were mostly filled with pain. Journaling is how I have processed every single moment in my life.
If anyone were to read these pages, they would perceive me to be a deeply troubled, angst-filled human; one whose life has been fraught with pain, disappointment, heartbreak, betrayal, and abandonment. There are just so many sad stories! And while these events and feelings are all true, they are not who I am.
Who I am is resilient and whole, filled with faith and hope, courage and wisdom, and riches that come only from pressure, struggle, and time spent in the dark. The words on the pages denote gritty perseverance through very difficult things that allowed me to be whole and well. It’s not a story about a broken person. It’s the journey of a healed person. But I don’t think everyone would get that. And I would hate for that to be the story told of me.
And so, I decided to burn it all down. And the more I thought about it, the more it felt like a sacred event that would mark something meaningful for me. I didn’t want to lose the memories, and epiphanies, and poetry held in these books, but I did want to destroy the words that were never meant to keep; the words that had already served their purpose by transforming pain to wholeness, ashes to beauty, brokenness to strength. All of the events chronicled on the pages of these journals had already been grieved. Suddenly, hanging onto them felt like surrounding myself in little shrines to heartache, and urns containing dead things.
I carried the boxes containing the journals outside to my yard. I lit a fire and then began placing the journals, one at a time, on the pyre.
Ten thousand five hundred pages.
Two million, one hundred eighty-four thousand words.
All gone in a matter of hours.
I worried I would experience a great loss. I wondered if it would feel like a funeral for my life. I expected it would feel like a massive waste of so many words.
But what it felt like was a zeroing of the calendar.
The terms B.C. (before Christ) and A.D. (anno Domini – the year of our lord), sometimes known as BCE and CE, are used to label or count the years in our Gregorian calendar. It’s largely understood that 1 B.C. and 1 A.D. are where the calendar “zeros” with the birth of Jesus, though the year zero does not exist.
As a side note, if you ever wondered whether or not I might be a giant nerd…I wrote my undergrad thesis on “Time as a Social Construct.” There. Now you know for sure. Back to journaling…
The burning of my journals created an ending of the before and a beginning of the after. A clean slate of sorts. Though certainly, life is never without disruption, and there will continue to be all of the frustrations and difficulties that come with being a human, symbolically, I left some things behind. I lightened the load. (Read Lighten the Load here).
When I opened to the first page of my brand new journal, post-bonfire, I wrote:
“Since apparently I now burn my journals, it seems there is no sense in spending money on them. Writing hardly even seems to make sense, if only for the purpose of burning. And yet, how can I not? I guess it’s time to reframe the purpose. Journaling is not my autobiography. It’s not meant as my legacy. It’s not the whole story. It’s simply a practice by which I process and understand. And that is enough.”
“The words of my heart slip unhindered and unnoticed between the lines of my hand [as I write], only to be read and understood once they are outside of me.” ~from one of my burned journals.
Much love to you, my friends.