Journaling for Health and Well-Being
Try journaling for a healthy mind. Thirty years of research has consistently weighed in on journaling’s mental-health benefits.
In her book A Course in Weight Loss: 21 Spiritual Lessons for Surrendering Your Weight Forever, Marianne Williamson writes that
…journaling is… a tool for cultivating your highest self, as applied not only to weight but to any area of your life. Journaling is a way you listen to yourself, by making it clear to yourself what you actually think and feel. The more room you give yourself to express your true thoughts and feelings, the more room there is for your wisdom to emerge. In listening to yourself, you learn from yourself. In listening deeply to the voice of your heart, you reestablish relationship with your true self, so long denied.
Writing about your feelings demystifies them, keeps them from rolling around and around in your head without arriving anywhere, and gives you a little distance from them. It helps you remember that YOU ARE NOT YOUR FEELINGS. Your higher, purer self is the “you” that God created, and it is that self whose voice provides such honest clarity when you’re journaling.
Occasionally, when I am journaling, my writing segués into an intimacy with God that is tantamount to prayer.
Dreams, Emotions, Gratitude
My practice – which is by no means the only or the best way to go about journaling, and which is therefore continually subject to change— is to sit down at the computer first thing in the morning, every morning (or so… give or take… usually; quite often, sometimes); open my journal document; and set down anything I can remember about my dreams.
According to the Dreams Foundation (www.dreams.ca), dreams “offer a private means to explore inner reality and to gain unique, undeniable, personal experiences.” In addition, “there is overwhelming evidence that [dreams]… can be used to improve waking life,… [offering] opportunities for fun, adventure, wish fulfillment, creativity, deep personal insight and healing, and all this at no cost and with no line-ups!”
Check out the Dreams Foundation website for more information and dream exercises.
CONCERNS, WORRIES, EMOTIONS
After recording the snips of dream I can recall, I write for circa ten minutes about whatever’s bothering me. If I’m thoroughly and completely happy, I express my joy instead… but usually there’s at least one little weed I can nip in the bud. (Do weeds have buds?)
When I was working as the “marketing person” – we didn’t have titles – at an architecture firm, I shared an office with the “graphic-design person,” a real sweetheart who was younger than my youngest child and whose name was David. He was a wizard at design but he didn’t have a lot of experience in marketing or in the special skill of promotional writing – the text for print ads, proposals, reports, and so forth.
My job had recently been created. The employees weren’t used to working with me, so when they wanted ads, media releases, and other marketing services, they strode right past my desk to David’s, whereupon David graciously suggested that they talk with me about the concept and the copy before getting David involved in the design.
David and I worked beautifully together and did a lot of spectacular and effective work, and in due time the satisfied employees returned to our office, walked past me, clapped David on the back, and said, “Great work, Champ,” or words to that effect. It made me crazy, no matter how often I reminded myself that there were people in the world with real problems, matters of life and death, conditions such as famine and epidemics run amok.
So I was both annoyed about being overlooked and ashamed of myself for being annoyed about such a petty grievance. Journaling helped me (a) realize that I had a legitimate concern, and (b) come up with a solution. Here’s a journal excerpt (me talking to me):
Bill Brown did it again — gave the assignment to David, then came to me as David suggested. I reminded BB of the “usual process.” We worked out the ad concept, Bill approved the text, David assembled the ad, and it was perfect – right on the money. And then, as predictably as the night follows the day, BB took David out to lunch, that’s how grateful he was for “a job well done.” I was so furious and so hurt [at being ignored, excluded], I came close to quitting on the spot.
Why were you furious and hurt?
Because I’m at least 50% responsible for the success of the ad, and I want to be given credit where credit is due.
Why? What difference does it make as long as the work is done well?
Because it feels bad to be ignored or overlooked and it feels good to get strokes for good work.
Because it feels good to feel good.
Right, uh-huh. But why do you need the strokes to feel good?
Well, two reasons. First, it reassures me that I really am doing good work. Second, we waste time and lose opportunities. If people came straight to me, we could develop the concept and see if the ad fits in with other marketing the firm is doing or consider supporting the ad in other media.
Why do you want reassurance about your work?
AFTER A FEW MORE questions and answers, it became clear (a) that I was confident about my work and was, in fact, getting positive feedback from David and from my supervisor; and (b) that better coordination — achieved by making me the designated go-to person for marketing and promotion — would probably improve marketing effectiveness and would save resources. A little research confirmed “assumption b,” which became the basis of the proposal I developed and took to my supervisor for discussion, which in turn brought about a well-justified policy change.
JOURNALING FOR GRATITUDE
To educate yourself for the feeling of gratitude means to take nothing for granted, but to always seek out and value the kindness that will stand behind the action. Nothing that is done for you is a matter of course. Everything originates in a will for the good, which is directed at you. Train yourself never to put off the word or action for the expression of gratitude.
— Albert Schweitzer
An article on the UMass/Dartmouth website, “The Importance of Gratitude,” offers evidence that feeling grateful is good for your health. Researchers such as Martin Seligman, Robert Emmons, and Michael McCullough are turning their attention to the study of gratitude and its relationship to health and mental well-being. Among other findings, they’ve shown that
- People who keep gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercise more regularly, have fewer adverse physical symptoms, feel better about their lives as a whole, and feel more optimistic about the coming week….
- Daily discussion of gratitude seems to correlate with lower levels of stress and depression, and higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness, energy, and sleep duration and quality.
- People who think about, talk about, or write about gratitude daily are more likely to have helped someone with a personal problem or offered emotional support.
- Those inclined toward gratitude are less concerned about material goods, are less likely to judge their own or others’ success in terms of wealth, are less envious of wealthy people, and are more likely to share their possessions with others.
- Daily gratitude practices may help prevent coronary artery disease.
BY THE BY…
Wayne Dyer is quoted on mindbodygreen.com as follows:
Be in a state of gratitude for everything that shows up in your life. Be thankful for the storms as well as the smooth sailing. What is the lesson or gift in what you are experiencing right now? Find your joy not in what’s missing in your life but in how you can serve.
If I were Dr. Dyer’s editor, I would argue strenuously for “Be grateful for…” in place of “Be in a state of gratitude for….” Do you agree? Why or why not? (Explain your answer below. It will not count toward your final grade.)
Has Wayne Dyer Missed His Plane?
I have a bone to pick with Wayne Dyer, but first let me give credit where credit is due.
Through his prolific authorship and his accessibility as a speaker and talk-show guest, Wayne Dyer has given vast exposure to “New Thought” (New Age, Holistic Spirituality) principles that are genuinely life-affirming and liberating. Dyer’s work has been important in reanimating, in public discourse, ideas from ancient sources — at least as old as the Hebrew prophets, coursing through the ages by way of Jesus and the Buddha, Marcus Aurelius and Aristotle, Rumi and Hafez, transcendentalism and Christian Science, the Unity and spiritualist denominations, A Course in Miracles, and contemporary writers such as Marianne Williamson, Joan Borysenko, Robert Holden, and Deepak Chopra.
Dyer’s impressive role has been that of a translator or interpreter, slipping complex ideas into the everyday idiom. His felicitous phrasing speaks to the learned and the poorly educated alike, affirming not merely their worth but their inherent divinity.
HE REMINDS US THAT WE MATTER
In a world where computers bobble our frantic phone calls and we interact more often with machines than with humans, Dyer’s is a comforting voice. Yes, it challenges us to take responsibility for our circumstances, but it doesn’t leave us dangling; it also celebrates our intrinsic power and creativity, which enable us to transform our lives.
Dyer has made a vital contribution to spiritual thought. That contribution has in turn made him a celebrity. Was there a trace of bemusement in Dyer’s declaration that he ranked third after Eckhart Tolle and the Dalai Lama on the 2011 Watkins 100 Spiritual Power List (the “100 most spiritually influential living people”)? (On the 2012 list, Tolle and the Dalai Lama changed slots and Dyer was listed thirteenth.) Well, it hardly matters for a man who no longer seeks God but is God.
Okay, I get that. I won’t quibble over the distinction between being Divinity and being a vessel for the Divine. If (a) God is everywhere, and (b) human beings are of God… well, one can hardly be one-half or seven-eighths divine, can one?
Other teachers, including John Lennon, announce with impunity that Love is all there is. That being so, then Wayne Dyer, and you and I, and, I suppose, Caligula,* are love throughout, and according to this tenuous chain of logic we may reasonably assert our divinity.
ME, BEING PISSY
Even so, listening to Wayne Dyer on his weekly radio program, I struggle not to feel that he has ascended to a place beyond my comprehension. Perhaps that comes of his having been healed of leukemia by John of God. Perhaps I strenuously disagree with Dyer’s position on antidepressants and ADHD drugs – remedies in celebration of which we lesser mortals bow down to the heavens eight or nine times a day. Perhaps I sometimes wonder if Wayne Dyer has not lost touch with the distressingly hyperactive, the woefully underemployed… in short, with the ninety-nine percent of us who have not yet learned to manifest near-perfect health, copious prosperity… even the wherewithal to zip down to Abadiânia for a psychic-surgery session with John of God.
Oh, I’m just being pissy for no good reason. Maybe John of God is the Real Deal. Certainly the planet has been blessed with men and women who have extraordinary mystical and medical gifts. Wayne Dyer deserves our thanks for drawing public attention to the likes of Anita Moorjani. I applaud his vision and courage as a spokesperson for the legitimacy of a truth for which science is not the sole testament. He has reinstated, alongside science, much older realities… those of mystery, enchantment, and childlike wonder… of miracles both rare and commonplace… of infinite possibility wherein scientific certainty seems ludicrous indeed.
OH, TO BE ORDINARY!
In a radio promo for his 2012 book Wishes Fulfilled: Mastering the Art of Manifesting, Dyer disparages all that is “ordinary,” then goes on to depict the ordinary human being in a way that makes me salivate. Ordinary people, he says, go dutifully to their ho-hum jobs, pay their bills, fill out sundry forms in the time allotted, and presumably present themselves at their suburban homes when the workday is done, perhaps sitting down to a family meal, weeding the tomato patch, romping with their two-point-four children, reading bedtime stories to the toddlers, reminding them to brush their teeth, tucking them in, and at last enjoying missionary-style sex with their spouses after the lights go out.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with this scenario, Dyer stipulates, after which he paints with eloquence the higher calling of the soul, which [he says] seeks beyond all else expansion, with even greater fervor than it longs for happiness – although the soul that is denied expansion is, he laments, “miserable” — which allegation moves me to point out that happiness, in the sense of not being miserable, is therefore at least commensurate with expansion as something every discriminating soul desires.
More than at this teleological inconsistency, however, I bristle at the scorn (if scorn overreaches, I’ll deal down to condescension) with which Dyer dismisses ordinary people leading ordinary lives. It rankles on two counts, the first selfish, the second philosophical:
- Wayne Dyer’s “ordinary” embodies all I ever wished for. When I had ordinary, I never failed to celebrate my rare blessedness. Outside the stability and contentment of marriage and active motherhood, I pay bills on time at gunpoint. I have known gaping loneliness that would welcome the intrusion of rowdy children and an ordinary man who loved me. If he carried in the groceries as well, I’d stick ‘til death and beyond.
- There are no ordinary people, and an “ordinary life” is an oxymoron. The fact of human life is always extraordinary, verging on miraculous. The face of any man or woman who has experienced three-quarters of a century displays elation and disillusionment, ease and exertion, and the courage sometimes required to take yet another conscious breath. The octogenarian doesn’t exist who has not one morning awakened in an unfamiliar universe. Live long enough and you must learn to navigate a course from which all known landmarks and guideposts have vanished.
When the time has come, in this incarnation or another, for greatness or glory, we cannot escape it any more than the fetus can remain immobile in the womb. Life’s engines urge us on at the pace of the tides and our own natures. The most impassioned exhortations will never make the sap rise out of season.
Not having so much as laid eyes on Wishes Fulfilled, perhaps I speak in ignorance of its penetrating wisdom, but my comments relate only to the radio promo. If by not reading the book I deprive my soul of a one-time-only opportunity to enlarge, my soul will have to muddle along, puny and pitiful, refused even a glass of ale in bars where only confident, robust souls are served.
I should be more charitable to a man who just slipped ten notches on the “most spiritually influential” list. To be fair, Wayne Dyer speaks to millions, resonating with greater numbers than the Pope, evidently, whose Watkins rank is a pathetic thirty-fifth. Dyer has earned his wealth and fame. If his center has shifted under them, his is not the first; it won’t be the last.
* When several kings came to Rome to pay their respects to [Caligula] and argued about their nobility of descent, he cried out “Let there be one Lord, one King”. In AD 40, Caligula began implementing very controversial policies that introduced religion into his political role. Caligula began appearing in public dressed as various gods and demigods such as Hercules,Mercury,Venus and Apollo. Reportedly, he began referring to himself as a god when meeting with politicians and he was referred to as Jupiter on occasion in public documents. (Wikipedia)