The Power and Self-Compassion of Journaling

12 Oct 2016
Author: Lindsay Johnson
Read time: 7 min
Category: Archive

If you want to do something really kind and loving for yourself, buy a beautiful journal and a comfortable flowing pen; then set yourself down and write about the only person you truly control.

For years I attended weekend-long retreats in journal writing. A group of 12-16 folks would meet on Friday night as strangers and by the end of the weekend we were intimate companions – witnesses to the soul journeys of one another. Journaling can be a totally private activity or shared with a group of safe, supportive people. I love journaling in groups and (optionally) sharing what we have written. There’s power in having your words witnessed without judgment, advice, or inquiry – true listening. When you hear the stories of others, it often elicits feelings of compassion and the knowledge that you’re not alone in your human challenges.

In the weekend retreat, our first writing was often prompted by a question such as, “How am I feeling right now?” We’d write for about 10 minutes and then (optionally) share what we had written. This was a technique to get us ‘landed’ at the workshop, and the beginning of getting in touch with what was really going on inside us. We’re often so busy dealing with all the external details of life that, unless we are very deliberate about it, we may not take time to check in with ourselves.


You might be surprised at what would emerge if you took 10 minutes (right now) to discover the answer to this question. The process of writing brings you to conscious recognition more effectively than just thinking or talking.

Journaling is a process of self-discovery and your journal can be your closest, most intimate friend. You can pour out your heart and soul – your greatest longings, your deepest fears, expressing your anger or frustration with no negative consequences. What am I thinking and feeling? How is my energy flowing? Is my life on an intentional course or am I being tossed by the wind? Is my work aligned with my values? Are my relationships what I want them to be? Do I have any unfinished business that I really would like to address? Who am I… REALLY? The process of journal writing will bring you clarity and wisdom that you might not realize is within you. Even a simple prompt such as, “If I were a flower (or a color or animal), what would I be?” can be a stimulating exercise. See what qualities emerge. See if the writing is humorous, analytical, entertaining, or even deeply profound. You don’t know what’s there until you begin to explore.

At Hippocrates, I’ve had the very blessed opportunity to lead some classes in journal writing. Many people have had “Aha” moments from their self-discovery. One person said that she tried journaling for a while, but she got bored and stopped. She realized that her journaling had only been to record what she did that day. No wonder she got bored! In the class she discovered that journaling was much more about getting beneath the surface of life and day-to-day activities. That made it much more interesting.

Another person felt an urge to journal, but kept putting it off because she thought she needed at least an hour and a half to devote to it. When she realized how much you could actually commit to paper in a short time, she knew she could fit it into her life quite easily.

A young man in the class, who was going through a life-challenging illness, broke wide open. The prompt was to write a letter to your current self from yourself 10 years in the future. From this perspective he could envision the path that would get him through his current challenges. It’s not just wishful thinking – it’s gaining clarity about what you are creating for your life. How do I know that? I recently picked up one of my old journals and read an entry that spoke to all the yearnings in my heart and how I wanted to live. I didn’t know then how to bring it about, but writing it down and feeling the energy of it set the stage for attracting those opportunities to me. What was once a dream is now my life.

Have you ever been in love? Have you had the experience of wanting to know another person on a heart and soul level, of wanting the very best for them? Have you considered having that kind of love affair with yourself?

Here’s an exercise that will start you on that path. It’s one of my favorites and I’ve done it many times. It was always on the agenda for Sunday at the journaling retreat.

Write a letter to God. And then…Now wait…The best is yet to come…Write a letter back from God. Love, wisdom and clarity emerge from these writings that will inspire you and bring insight. Whenever you need some self-compassion, or a view of “The BIG PICTURE,” you’ll find that this exercise is powerful medicine for the soul.

With the permission of the writer, I’d like to share a brief overview of what one Hippocrates guest wrote: Writing to God, the core question was how God was allowing us to destroy the very earth that we inhabit to such a point that we are now widely contracting disease. The response back from God was quite surprising when he suggested that this moment in time was a tiny part of the larger eternity. The writer was informed that God is a spirit and has not a body like us, so fear was unwarranted since there is no structured limitation to his presence. These profound realizations, brought about by journaling helped the writer to relax and accept life’s abundance.

People ask me if it’s important to journal everyday, or if they should do it at the same time each day. I know that some get a lot of benefit from making it a disciplined practice, but it does not have to be regimented. Reach for your journal especially in these moments:

  • Something special and remarkable has happened – capture the details and feelings while they are fresh. Then you can re-inspire yourself by reading it again in the future.
  • You’re having a thorny conflict and don’t know what to do. Write “unsent letters” or journal a dialog between you and the other party, or even between different aspects of yourself, until clarity emerges.
  • You notice that your mind is playing the same loop over and over about a situation. Do a brain dump on paper – you’ll feel so much better!

By Gurunam K. Khalsa

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