How Your Journal Is Already Teaching You Mindfulness
By Beth Jacobs, PhD
Here is some good news: if you are engaged in any kind of journaling practice, even if you’ve just tried to journal one time, you are developing mindfulness skills. Journaling is an automatic tool of mindfulness. Like with any tool, from a pencil to an arc welder, understanding of mechanics and careful development of skills are useful, but it’s encouraging to know such a ready tool is at hand.
Basic components of a journaling practice overlap with mindfulness training.
Some ways these practices mesh include:
- Both practices are chances to stop and observe. Simply interrupting the gears of daily life is a vital first step.
- Both practices broaden perspective. When we write or work to develop awareness, we create a slight cushion between perception and experience. There is a little breathing room or zooming out that elicits clarity.
- Both practices decrease unnecessary judgment. Writing for just ourselves or viewing life dispassionately brings enormous relief from nagging and habitual internal evaluation.
- Both practices synthesize different experiences and encourage an inclusiveness of view. They cure the tunnel vision of constant goal-oriented behavior.
- Both practices are mental resets. They clear out filters and fragments of thought and refresh the mind. They help us step out of time’s constrictions.
People have been drawn to journaling and mindfulness training more and more lately because these essential components address a terrible deficit in our culture. While more real and destructive deficits and conflicts clearly exist in the world, there is often also a sense of being mentally overwhelmed that makes everything else harder to address. Our attention spans and depth processing have been compromised. Many people feel a strong pull towards practices that help the mind itself, so that other problems are more manageable.
Mindfulness training was first systematized as a therapeutic, and a religious, practice by the early Buddhists, about 2600 years ago. Mindfulness training then consisted of a very rigorous system of concentration and insight development. The basics of that system are still available to us and the benefits of it are still as remarkable as they were then. A regular practice of even minimal and simple training has been shown to reduce symptoms of psychological and physical stress, and to help creativity and well-being.
Mindfulness and Journaling
The same general statement of benefits and proof can be made about journaling and that is not coincidental. For those who are inclined to write and enjoy the idea of writing just for themselves, these same benefits accrue. The more we understand the components of mindfulness, the more we can experiment with journaling techniques, fine-tune awareness through writing, and develop our minds in exactly the ways we individually appreciate.
I truly love both practices and don’t write about the benefits just because I have read the research reports. I have lived with them for decades and felt what it means to both break down my understanding and then also to weave my insights into my practice. An old Zen master said you can tell how your practice is going by asking the people with whom you live. Things definitely feel clearer in my life. I’m so thankful for the practices and the people who helped me to develop them. I’m also so thankful that the practices are becoming more and more accessible and that one of our greatest tools is as close as a pen or a keyboard.
About the Author
Beth Jacobs, PhD. is a valued and much loved member of our IAJW Journal Council. She is also the creator of the Writing for Emotional Balance online course, as well as the NEW Mindfulness and Journaling course. It is a self-guided course that you can do at your own pace. This course offers a soothing learning and calming oasis, it feels like a mindfulness course and writing retreat all in one!