I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World Guest post series from the community. Read on for Jo-Ellen’s reflection adapted from her book, Journaling as a Spiritual Path: A Journey to Your True Self and the Divine (Wild Ginger Press, 2022).
Journaling is Primarily a Labor of Self-Love
Journaling is a way to stay close to myself and to the God of my understanding. It is loving myself enough to want to engage in the deep mystery and truth of my own self, not only things of the past, but in the here and now. Knowing and recovering myself takes commitment. This requires me to explore my basic wants and needs, my wounds and mistakes, my joys, gifts and desires, and my relationships. I’ve needed to dig deeply to find my past and present yearnings for clues, such as those I had when I was a child and young adult, and what it is I dream about now, even if I think I cannot attain it fully in the present.
In the early years of my contemplative spiritual formation, I was invited to explore a relationship with God by spending time in nature. Journaling in nature becomes contemplative when I reflect on the mystery, awe, and wonder in the natural world. I’ve come to deeply know that all of us – and all created things – are carriers of God’s light in the grand incarnation.
My sense is that God never becomes unavailable, never stops facilitating our growth, and never gives up on us. We can be awakened at any moment, and our journals will ground us in the present, holding all the many threads, lessons, insights and experiences that have made us who we are today.
Journaling is Countercultural
Over the years, I’ve found that tending to myself and my spiritual life is countercultural – even in some spiritual and religious communities. Part of the difficulty is that so much of life is geared to explore things outside of ourselves, often at the expense of searching inwardly for answers. Being faithful to our responsibilities and finding that inner path of purpose that only we are meant to find, isn’t easy. One reason could be is that we’re so busy doing for others that we’re neglecting ourselves.
I remember when self-care initially felt selfish. Yet, reprioritizing my activities became necessary for me to be able to sink into what was most deeply drawing the attention of my soul. Taking time to discerng my priorities also presented another obstacle: I was afraid to risk others’ disapproval. Yet by committing to the process of journaling, my callings and my own transformation continue to be revealed.
Journaling is an Act of Radical Self-Care
Nurturing myself helps me value and find compassion for myself, no matter what has happened. Self-care strengthens my spirit as I find the courage to do whatever it takes to find support and make healthy changes. Caring about myself sends a signal to my soul that I am not abandoning myself, that I’m worth the trouble, and that I won’t let myself completely lose the way.
Being in a state of unknowing is not the same as losing my way. When I’ve lost my way completely, I’ve probably abandoned myself for a long time. On the other hand, a place of unknowing can include waiting for clarity or the next thing to be revealed. I may or may not already have a sense of direction of where I’m headed, but I usually have a sense of trust and peace. In the frame of self-care, I’m more likely to see my options more clearly. Journaling my experiences and returning to their important lessons provides a pattern of unfolding that begins to show me how the divine operates in my life.
Journaling Helps Me to Mourn My Losses
A wise therapist once told me, “The way you get through trauma is to process it.” So it is with sorrows, and maybe especially those I have not yet mourned. Grief is the pain inside us and mourning is how we give voice to that pain. An accompanying journal is one way that provides the sacred space and time for mourning my grief; it allows me to plan what I need to do to take care of myself during this important season, and to savor the growth and healing that follows. Keeping a journal, attending bereavement groups, contemplative prayer groups, 12-step groups and individual therapy, as well as talking with soul friends, spiritual directors and spouses, are ways to mourn and process grief with others.
Journaling Helps Me to Find My Voice
Through the process of inward listening and journaling, my spiritual growth is sustained. Journaling strengthens my voice. My voice is an extension of the listening I do and the true self I am discovering and living into. Not everyone will agree or approve of our voice, but we’re learning that this is not as important as it used to be.
Regular times of silence and solitude provide a way to listen and find my voice. Over the years, my voice has become more consistent – both stronger and more authentic – by the surprising discoveries I’ve made about life, myself, God, and others. As our lives unfold in and outside of our journals, we will know the places where we can no longer compromise, as well as the places where we need to be challenged to grow. I’m convinced that discovering the God of my understanding and my truest self are two of the most amazing, grounding, and life-changing choices I will ever make.
Copyright © Jo-Ellen A. Darling. All rights reserved.
Jo-Ellen A. Darling began to journal at age 30 following an intense episode of spiritual awakening. Thirty-five years later, her journaling continues to be an amazing inner journey of reflection and discernment, self-knowledge, creative expression, and continued spiritual growth. After completing a BA in English, Jo-Ellen wrote professionally for 35 years in the medical, technology, and electric utility sectors as well as for newspapers and other publications. In 2014 she co-edited the book On The Journey for the Kairos School of Spiritual Formation, where she received certificates in Spiritual Formation in 2011. She later completed several graduate courses at Moravian Seminary, including Ignatian Exercises: Theology & Practice, and Contemplative Communication & Relationship. In 2022, Jo-Ellen self-published Journaling as a Spiritual Path, A Journey to Your True Self and the Divine in partnership with Wild Ginger Press, now available on Amazon and other online bookstores. Inspired by the spiritual power and healing that journaling has brought to her own spiritual journey, and the compassionate and loving God who never abandons us, Jo-Ellen has offered contemplative writing and journaling retreats since 2013.