A Hug from the Universe: A Reflective Journaling Exercise, with Lori Ann Roth

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Suddenly, I felt a wave of peace and love surrounding me. It was as if I was receiving a giant hug from the entire universe. The feeling was of immense joy and love going into me, around me, and through me. I started to cry because the love was overwhelming.  “Thank you, thank you” was all that I could say as the tears streamed down my face. The gratitude I was experiencing was so large, the entire world, sky, and universe was involved.  I realized that I am not alone. Someone, something loves me; loves me so much. I had never experienced that kind of love, peace or joy before in my life. When it went away, I felt so much calm. I was very relaxed but energized and joyous. I felt lighter and part of the world.

Some say it is God; maybe a spiritual presence. Others say that it is my body accessing parts of the brain that produce these types of sensations. I just know that the emotion was beyond wonderful and I categorized it as a gift. I didn’t have that experience for another 7 years. I chocked it up as an anomaly. Then it happened again during similar circumstances. I wondered if I could re-create that emotion/feeling anytime I was feeling down and needed a giant hug from the universe. So, I started to find what was similar about both times.

That first instance happened when I was writing in my journal on my deck in Virginia; I was 48 years old. Journaling is a habit for me – ok, not a habit but a way of life. I journal almost every day. The second time it happened I was 54 and had moved to Florida. I was writing at night because I couldn’t sleep. Both times I was outside, it was quiet, and I was alone. So, I started to experiment with my journal.

I call this new journal the being journal.  Many of us, myself included, are do-ers. We get things done.  Most of us believe this is a great characteristic. I am an achiever! However, I realized that when I was doing, I was not be-ing. Each time I felt the “hug” I was not doing anything.  After much thought and analyzing, I wrote down the process and wish to share it with you. It may work, it may not. It has worked for me, not all of the time, but more often than not.  I can recreate this sensation.

Get Your Hug from the Universe

  1. Choose a place in nature where you will not be disturbed, and it is quiet. I always sit down.
  2. Write down all of your thoughts down.
  3. Write until you have nothing left, until there are no more thoughts.
  4. Put the journal down and take some deep breaths. Breathe in the air and the moment.
  5. Breathe normally and just be. Each time my eyes were open, and I observed the nature around me. 
  6. At this state, you will feel relaxed.
  7. Feel grateful (don’t think here) for all that you see, experience, and sense.
  8. Just be and take in everything.

That’s all there is to it! Then the sensation or the “hug” envelopes me. 

In my experience, this process works best when I don’t overthink it. I have friends who say this is a form of meditation or mindfulness. That is fine with me. Whatever you would like to call the process to create your “hug” is perfectly ok.  Using a journal helps me to get out of my head and into the place of love, gratitude, and joy.  Hopefully, this will work for you. I wish for you to experience this true joy. This hug from the universe. Good luck and let me know if you have any other journaling exercises or experiences that work for you to bring you joy. 

Lori

Clearing Clutter in a Pandemic: Gentle Guidance from Clutter Coach and Journal Therapist Carolyn Koehnline

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What a time we’re living in.

Some of us are on the front lines of this crisis. Some are scrambling to do work in a new way. Maybe you, like many, are finding yourself sequestered at home, with unexpected, unstructured time. If so, you may be thinking, “What a perfect time to clear clutter. Now I can do every unfinished thing on my to-do list.”

Before you put that pressure on yourself and dive into your most overwhelming cluttered areas, here are some thoughts about how to bring gentleness to the process, inviting your journal to be a supportive companion along the way.

Start by Clearing Internal Clutter

Don’t expect yourself to be constantly productive or consistently plucky and optimistic. In a single day, I notice that I can be hopeful, grief-stricken, grateful, angry, and courageous. I can also be both terrified and curious about where all this will take us. We are all recalibrating, taking in new information every day, catching up to changes, losses, restrictions, and unexpected blessings.

Self-judgement is a kind of clutter. It will only get in the way. I encourage you to practice compassion with whatever thoughts and feelings come and go. Reach for people (at a safe distance or within your germ bubble), pets, poems, nature, music, and anything else that calls out your best self and helps you be kinder to yourself. Or reach for your journal and invite it to be the kind listening ear or voice of reassurance that you need. Even taking a few minutes to describe your feelings can help clear some internal clutter and help you feel more able to focus and function.

Identify Doable Projects

These days, we tend to be especially aware that our lives are full of uncertainties. There are so many big events that we can’t control. And one way or another, we’re experiencing limits and losses, big and small. So, not every project is appropriate right now. Some may be too unwieldy and chaotic. Some may leave you too emotionally raw. I encourage you to start with projects that feel calming to work on, can be completed fairly quickly, and will give you some peace of mind to accomplish.

You might want to begin by opening to a fresh page of your journal and listing some possible projects. Even small acts of transformation can be uplifting and help you feel more comfortable in your home. Organize a sock drawer. Clear some emails. Create an emergency kit. Write a letter. Mend some clothes. Fold some laundry. Glue some things that are broken.

Consult Your Hat

If you’re not sure which project to start with, make a list of twelve things it would be helpful to accomplish. Number the list and throw corresponding numbers into a hat. Then draw one randomly. Whatever you pick, that’s the project you work on. When you’ve completed that project, you can declare yourself done for the day, or choose another item from the hat.

This strategy can keep you from overwhelming yourself or spinning your wheels. You are giving yourself permission to do one thing at a time instead of everything at once. What a relief! For fun, you can also throw in other kinds of items.
Read a chapter of my novel. Spend an hour with my watercolors.

Have Regular Dates with Your Journal

Once you’ve accomplished some smaller clutter-clearing projects you may feel you’re ready to take on bigger ones. I strongly suggest you break them down into smaller steps, take breaks, and pace yourself. And plan on regular dates with your journal along the way.

Clearing clutter is a powerful thing to do. Making clear choices about what to keep and what to release from your home, head, heart, and schedule can be a way of bringing order to chaos and saying needed goodbyes to open space for new beginnings. It can give you a feeling of forward movement and empowerment at a time when you might otherwise feel stuck or in limbo. It can also be physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging.

Let your journal be your own private place to make your plans, find clarity when you start to get overwhelmed or confused, express your feelings, and celebrate your victories. Don’t forget to invite it into your process. I have no doubt it will be ready and willing to help you.

Carolyn Koehnline, LMHC, CJT offers coaching and online classes in transitions, clutter clearing, befriending time, and creating a more artful life. Visit www.GentleApproachCoaching.com for more information. You can access her online school, “A Gentle Approach to Clutter” here. And click here for her free monthly newsletter.

This article was adapted from Carolyn’s “Gentle Approach” newsletter, March 2020.

Nature Journaling: Infuse Your Writing with Words from the Wild

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Any opportunity to examine life through a new lens is a gift. The time we spend outdoors provides a different vantage point. The smells and sounds that flood the senses as we walk in nature shifts thinking and puts us into a more mindful state of being.  

What is Nature Journaling?

Nature journaling is simply the act of recording observations we make in the wild. These can be about the sky, bird songs, and trees we encounter, or about internal revelations that surface as we walk. Sketches, paintings, poems, and narrative text are all methods used to record these moments.

The Benefits of Nature Journaling

  • Nature journaling sharpens our focus. When we stop to record observations, we look more closely at details. We see more. We notice patterns.
  • Time in nature helps declutter and quiet overactive thinking.
  • New ideas and creative inspiration grow roots in the wild.
  • Inspired learning takes hold as we learn to identify new birds, insects, flora and fauna.
  • As we cultivate deeper awareness of nature’s cycles and rhythms, we become better stewards of the environment.
  • Time outdoors is invigorating and infuses all forms of self-expression with vibrant energy.
  • Multiple studies show a correlation between time in nature and mental health.

How to Get Started

Just like most journaling techniques, there is no right or wrong way to keep a nature journal. Some journals are filled with words, while others burst with bits of art and treasures collected on walks.

You may choose to journal while you are out on your walk. If so, you’ll only need a lightweight journal, pen, and art supplies. Or perhaps you’d prefer to carry home a few souvenirs from your walk—an acorn or a bird’s feather as reminders of moments to write about when you return home.

Nature Writing Prompts

Its liberating to be out in nature without an agenda, task list, or actual plan. And yet it can also be grounding to enter a new environment with one’s eyes turned to a goal or purpose. If the latter point resonates, take some of these ideas on your next walk in the wild.

  • Experiment with leaf rubbings
  • Revisit a special spot each week for a year and note the changes the seasons bring. Make measurements. Note changes of color. Observe plants going to seed or just about to blossoms. Sketch or write about the processes at play.
  • Keep a catalog of birds, flowers, trees and insects you spot. If you see something you can’t identify, snap a photo or make a sketch. Bring home the picture and look it up.
  • Carry an animal tracks identification book and follow wild “footsteps” through snow and mud. See where they take you, and write about the places you wind up.
  • Create nature stamps with goodies collected on your walk. Decorate your journal with them.  
  • Bring a question on your walk or a problem you are wrestling with. Walking in nature provides new clarity. When you are able, write down what you discover.

Nature Journaling with Children

Nature journaling is a way to get outdoors with your child and connect them with the environment in meaningful ways.

This moment together can be relaxing and grounding. It will evolve naturally with little preparation on your part. There’s no need for much structure or planning. Rather it’s a time to move slowly with your child—or to race through a nature-made obstacle course if that’s their thing! It’s a moment to wake up to the amazingness of everything that surrounds us.

Help your child see what’s happening beneath their feet and high above their heads. Guide their eyes toward the complex ecosystems that surround them. Count how many shades of green and brown your child can see. Encourage the use of all five senses as they walk. What do they see, smell, touch, hear, and (if you know how to safely identify wild foods) taste?

When your child is ready to rest, find a warm sunny patch of grass. Drink some water, and then pull out those journals. You may be amazed by the ways your child fills the pages.

Unleashing the Power of Expressive Writing

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It’s an enormous honor to welcome Dr. James Pennebaker back to our podcast. Affectionately known as the “father of expressive writing,” Dr. Pennebaker is a pioneer in the field of research that examines the profound benefits of expressive writing.  

Dr. Pennbaker is a Regents Centennial Professor of Liberal Arts and Professor of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin.He is a social psychologist and the author of hundreds of articles and many books including The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us and Opening Up by Writing It Down.

You can hear our conversation or read highlights of the interview below.


Unleashing the Power of Expressive Writing, with James Pennebaker


On the back of Dr. Pennebaker’s guided journal, Writing to Heal, he observes the power of expressive writing. “The simple act of expressing your thoughts and feelings about emotionally challenging  experiences on paper is proven to speed your recovery and improve your mental and physic health. Expressive writing will leave you with a stronger sense of value in the world and the ability to accept that life can be good even when it is sometimes bad.”

With an evident sense of humor, Dr. Pennebaker tells us about his first experience with expressive writing. Early on in his marriage, tension would sometimes rise. During a rough patch, Dr. Pennebaker retreated into his bedroom where he wrote down his feelings. The whole process took less than 15 minutes. Emerging from his room lighter, he had a fresh perspective he promptly shared with his wife. The act of writing down strong feelings provided much needed clarity and he was surprised by the power of the experience. Although this writing session marked a turning point, it would be several more years before Dr. Pennebaker formally began research on the benefits of expressive writing.

“The simple act of expressing your thoughts and feelings about emotionally challenging  experiences on paper is proven to speed your recovery and improve your mental and physic health. Expressive writing will leave you with a stronger sense of value in the world and the ability to accept that life can be good even when it is sometimes bad.”

The Benefits of Expressive Writing

Dr. Pennebaker’s research spans decades, and many other prominent researchers have followed in his footsteps to prove the benefits of expressive writing. Positive outcomes include:

  • Faster recovery from surgeries
  • Mood regulation
  •  Improved sleep
  • New insight that facilitates effective problem solving

How Expressive Writing Works

Dr. Pennebaker’s approach is pragmatic. He observes that journaling is not magic nor is it a panacea that can cure all of our problems. Rather, he describes it is an action that provides time to stop, pull back, and assess a problem from a different vantage point. “Expressive writing helps us organize our lives and put things together in ways we have not thought about before.” He notes that upheavals no longer appear as significant when we see them on paper.

How to Get Started with Expressive Writing

Dr. Pennebaker reassures us that there is no wrong way to approach expressive writing. For many years, he suggested people write for 3-4 days for 15 minutes at a time about a single issue that needed resolution. Over time, his research shows that similar goals can be accomplished in fewer days for some and that others might need more time. He encourages us to be our own scientist and to figure out what works best and do it.

Tips to get your started:

  • Focus on a single issue that’s bothering you.
  • Write about that one issue for brief stretches of time each day. This is likely to take anywhere from 1-5 days. Stop writing when the issue no longer troubles you.
  • Experiment with a variety of methods. Typing, handwriting, using your non-dominant hand are all worthwhile methods to explore.
  • Avoid the temptation to ruminate. If after five days you are still rehashing the same issue, give yourself permission to try something new like exercise, yoga, or meditation. Expressive writing can only succeed if it’s moving you toward a new way of thinking. This technique is not about dumping all our feelings onto a page. Rather it’s about taking a single issue and growing our understanding of the feelings it brings up so that we can work toward positive change.

Other Therapeutic Forms of Expression

We were curious to know Dr. Pennebaker’s thoughts on other therapeutic forms of expression and wondered how they might work in conjunction with journaling.

Dr. Pennebaker spoke of research done under his guidance by a dance therapist. She wondered if expressive dance might yield similar outcomes as expressive writing. Her dissertation findings were interesting.

She established 3 groups. The first group use expressive movement. The second group used expressive movement and writing. The third group did only exercise. Groups 1 and 2 reported their experiences to be positive, but only members of group 2 reported long-term benefits. Dr. Pennebaker’s student concluded that movement gets us in touch with deeper feelings and experiences and words help us to solidify longer term change. Art therapy works similarly in that someone is given materials to shape as they wish and then has an opportunity to discuss the process and the issues that arose.

Your Action Plan

If you found this conversation helpful, you might also enjoy our conversation with Deborah Ross in which we discuss journaling’s effects on the brain.

Journaling with Kids

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If you journal, you probably already know the reasons a consistent writing practice is helpful. Expressive writing helps us tune into powerful emotions, regulate daily habits, and organize our thoughts. Journaling fuels creativity, productivity, and mindfulness. But even the most avid of journalers might be surprised to discover the ways journaling can help the children in our lives experience the same beneficial outcomes.

My youngest kiddo is nine-years-old and lives with a chronic disease. As we navigate the challenges that this illness delivers, my husband and I try to provide our child with all of the best tools. As parents, we are committed to ensuring he has access to healthy foods, exercise, sunshine, and the medicines he requires. We check in regularly to discuss the emotions that may be welling up inside. For a long time, I felt like we had all the bases covered.

But although I’m a writer and a committed journaler myself, it never crossed my mind that this could be another tool to add to my child’s toolbox. Out of the blue one day, while my mind was on other things, my son asked, “Mom can I get a journal like yours and write in it with you before bedtime?” We’ve been journaling together ever since, and I’m in awe of what a meaningful part of his day it’s become.

When we started, I imagined my child journaling about monthly visits to the hospital or about taking unpleasant medicines.  How surprised I was to see that he filled his pages instead with drawings of the snow that’s fallen, play time with friends, and lines from a book of quotations he finds helpful. (Still quite young, my child shows me the pages of every entry he writes before we turn out the lights. I feel so fortunate!)

In writing with my son, two significant points stand out to me. Initially, I’d provided my son with all kinds of tips to help him make the most of his journaling experience believing he’d use this tool to process his disease. When he showed more interest in drawing pictures of the snowman his dad built him, I was reminded of the inner wisdom that resides in all of us. My son instinctively knows how to use this tool in a way that resonates for him. The second gem I gleaned was the fact that kids are watching us all of the time. They see the ways we care for ourselves (or don’t), and they will mirror our behaviors.

Our nighttime ritual is a simple one. We get in our jammies, grab our journals and special pens, hop into bed, and then we write. Usually ten minutes does the trick for my son, but the amount of time doesn’t matter. It’s the ritual of the act that grounds us. When he tells me he’s finished, my son likes to share what he’s written. I know this won’t always be the case, so I especially treasure this last part of our routine.

Tips to Get Started

If there is a special child in your life who might enjoy journaling,  here are ideas to help get you started.

  • Share your journaling practice. Show the child your journal, the special place you sit to write in it, and tell them about your process. If the child expresses interest, invite them to begin their own journaling practice.
  • Take your child shopping—to a store or online—and find a journal that they feel excited about. Make this event a moment they’ll remember always.
  • If your child is artistic, consider gifting them with an unlined journal with paper that’s durable enough to absorb paints, sketches, and collage work.
  • Journal with your child. Your enthusiasm is contagious.
  • If your child is young, writing might be tiring. Offer to be their scribe and write down all of the words for them. If the child is older and has difficulty writing, assure them that using a keyboard is okay.
  • If your child is on the younger side and you think they might enjoy this, invite them to share what they’ve written, while also assuring them it’s okay to keep ideas to themselves.
  • Remind your child they can fill their journals with so much more than words. Art, collage, ticket stubs from a fun event can all be drawn, pasted, and scotch taped to the pages of their journal.

Get Started with a Prompt

Many young (and older) journalers are enthusiastic to begin writing but have difficulty getting started. Writing prompts provide a starting point and will help keep your child’s pen moving.

I wish that I could see ____again.

If I could know the answer to any question it would be____.

Today the best things and worst things that happened were____.

I wish my best friend knew____.

I feel proud of myself when____.

I am good at____.

I wish I was better at____.

Even though I know ____ isn’t real it still frightens me.

I want to learn about____ because_____.

Someday I will visit____.

When I grow up my house will be____.

Nature makes me feel____.

You know this child well. If you like, create your own prompts that you believe may inspire them.

The way we present prompts to kids can be part of the magic. Maybe you give them one special idea to write about. You might also provide a list of prompts that they can choose from. Or how about filling a jar with prompts and each morning they close their eyes and choose one. Every day can be different if that method appeals. Other children will be comforted by a predictable rhythm and routine.

Among the most important gifts we give our children is the confidence to believe in their feelings and the curiosity to want to know more. Journaling is one way to facilitate these lessons. Enjoy!

An Exercise to Practice While Sheltering in Place, with Merle R. Saferstein

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In 1974, I participated in an Ira Progoff workshop in which we were given a values clarification exercise asking us to list twenty things that bring us happiness. Upon completion of the list, we were given a number of questions related to what we had written.

Based on that exercise, I have created the following exercise which I am currently using in journaling circles and legacy classes which I am facilitating.

List ten things that brought you joy prior to sheltering in place.

List ten things that currently bring you joy while sheltering in place.

  • Now that you are sheltering in place, do you see anything different about how you are bringing joy into your life?
  • What do you miss the most from before?
  • Do you think you might add something new to your life after, and if yes, what would that be?
  • Prior to sheltering in place, how did you reach out to others? Currently, how are you reaching out now? What does that look like for you?
  • Is there any way that you feel a shift in your core values since sheltering in place, and if yes, how does that look to you?
  • What did you learn from doing this exercise?
  • When I reflect on this, I notice….
  • When I reflect on this, I feel…
  • What makes me happiest these days is…

Journal to Connect with Your Guardian Angels

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We say it on the podcast all the time: there isn’t a wrong way to journal. In fact, the beauty of this tool is its flexibility. There is a journaling method out there for everyone. Our goal at Journaling.com is to help you find the methods that resonate best for you.

My conversation with today’s guest, angel journaling expert Dede Lyons, shines light on a writing approach referred to as Angel Journaling.

Dede is an empowerment coach and founder of the Feel Good Express lifestyle program. She is creator of The Feel Good Journal. Dede began journaling in 1990 when she purchased Louise Hayes The Garden of Thoughts journal. A few years later she received an angel reading and attended a “learn how to talk with your angels” class. Since then she has channeled guidance and wisdom from her unseen helpers to guide her through all of her life endeavors.

The experiences Dede recounts in our conversation surprise and inspire. To learn more, listen to our interview, or read below to see highlights from our talk.


Journal to Connect with Your Guardian Angels


Our conversation opens with Dede sharing a series of events that led to life-changing realizations. After an unexpected professional set back left her shaken and vulnerable, she went to her hair salon for some much needed self-care. On the way to the appointment, just before stepping onto the subway, Dede caught a glimpse of the cover of Time Magazine on a newsstand. Its images of clouds and angels caught Dede’s eye, and she bought a copy to read on the train.

When Dede reached the salon she confided in her hairdresser telling him everything that had gone wrong that day; she also showed him the magazine article about angels.

Dede’s story got the attention of others in the salon, and soon everyone was sharing their beliefs. “You are in the perfect place in your life to benefit from an angel reading,” someone told her. They suggested she visit Trudy Griswold, an expert who could help her connect with angels.

Over time, Dede met with Trudy, studied with her, and began to cultivate an angel journaling practice that was deeply meaningful.  As she connected with her angels, she could hear their wisdom, and Dede learned that there are unseen helpers all around. This realization has been a source of tremendous peace for her.

Angel Journaling

Angel journaling is the act of writing to your angels to share what’s on your mind as well as to seek guidance. This form of writing, Dede explains, cultivates connection with your unseen helpers.

Inspired by all that she was learning from Griswold, Dede began angel journaling almost immediately.

Angel journaling makes people feel safe and connected, Dede explains. “When you write and make a connection you feel like you have this whole support group that you cannot see that is there to help you.”

Angel pages, Dede notes, nicely complement Julia Cameron’s popular technique referred to as “morning pages,” which involves writing free-form every morning to release fears and worries that block creativity and joy.

Dede’s Process

1. Similar to Cameron’s morning pages, Dede pours doubt, frustration, and fear into a notebook. Those pages are immediately shredded and the negative feelings are released.

2. Next she focuses on gratitude. Sometimes the thoughts that surface in this moment are written down, but Dede finds it equally effective to celebrate her thanks in the shower or while looking in the mirror. Dede emphasizes this action does not have to take a lot of time or be written on paper to be effective.

3. Steps 1 and 2 put Dede in a place where she is ready to communicate with her angels.

Dede’s Tips for Angel Journaling

Dede has designed a lovely angel journal—a blank lined book with quotations on each page and images to inspire your process. Whether you use her book or another, Dede suggests keeping your angel journal separate from the book you use to do other forms of journaling.

  1. Find a sacred place to sit with your journal. Turn off all of your devices. Light a candle.  
  2. Set an intention to connect with a beautiful like-minded being.
  3. Open your heart chakra—this is an opportunity to communicate from your heart.
  4. Hold an angel stone or another object that feels comfortable to you.
  5. Close your eyes and visualize stands of angels.
  6. Start writing. Tell the angels hello. Announce that you want to share something and would also appreciate answers. Write as though you are writing to your best friend. Share things that happened that day. Ask questions. Seek guidance.

Your Action Plan

Whether you consider the messages you receive through this practice the voice of your angels or your own inner wisdom, Dede’s methods are powerful and provide comfort.