Standing in a hotel room in the Sunshine State, I accepted a call from the nurse at my doctor’s office. “Your recent results from your yearly physical indicate you are completely healthy on all accounts except one — you have a severe vitamin D deficiency.” Thoughts of a sailor’s teeth falling out from Rickets and other maritime diseases crept into my mind as she continued…”a vitamin D deficiency can cause moodiness and depression…” I began losing her as I retreated further into my mind. Sure, I had been especially moody lately, but I naturally dismissed it to recent work and family stress.
Two days later I was home again and faced with life altering news that sent me into a dark cave for a time, and slowly as I began to emerge from underground, I noticed the sun shining and recognized an opportunity for personal growth by allowing myself to be nourished by light and knowledge. Many of the lessons I’m learning began surfacing as I focused on the beauty of the sun shining and began to explore the inner depths of my mind through journaling.
Most of my writing in the past four years has been public writing via blogging for my personal blog and contributing to several other professional blogs. However, I found in the midst of a personal crisis, I couldn’t write for the public. Instead, I journaled to make sense of my life.
And then, as often happens, a brilliant post from Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings reached my inbox. In this post, Popova talks about how several famous authors, including Virginia Woolf and John Steinbeck used private writing to become better public writers. Woolf supposedly said she used informal writing to “loosen the ligaments” for formal writing, and Steinbeck wrote 276 private letters about the nature of creativity to a friend while he was writing East of Eden and didn’t mail the letters until his novel was complete.
Inspired by these great authors and one terrific blogging coach from National Blogging Collaborative, I decided to think about what I’m learning from all my private writing. Not to share my personal thoughts from my journal but to share what I’m learning from the process.
to be reflective
In Plato’s Republic, we see images of humans chained to benches facing a wall. It’s as a man, or shall we say woman instead, leaves the cave and sees the light of reality. This analogy works perfectly with how I’ve been learning to leave my dark cave and to see reality. I’ve always thought of myself as a reflective person. All those psychology classes in college kinda forced me to be reflective, but when you’re faced with challenging life circumstances, you dig deeper into who you are and what you need from life. All that introspection makes for even stronger self-reflection. I’m learning I have the capacity and willingness to know more about who I am, my life’s purpose & the essence of my life.
to pay attention to details
In her poem, The Summer Day, Mary Oliver reminds us to think about what we will do with our “one wild and precious life.” For me, this means paying attention to the details, and I’ll tell you (as would many of colleagues and family members) I’ve never been someone to pay attention to details in life. Journaling, however, is teaching me the importance of paying attention to details. As I embrace this one big life I’m living, I’m learning to pay attention and to live in the present instead of dwelling on the past or fretting about the future. For example, I might record that I enjoyed Tazo Earl Grey hot tea and Eggs Benedict for breakfast while on a business trip to Colorado. This matters only because it’s forcing me to stay in the present, and who knows — when I write a memoir one day, the specific details might matter more.
to be grateful
In Heaping Spoonful of Gratitude, Kindra Hall writes about her experience with keeping a gratitude journal, and she shares how when it’s turned into another to-do item to check off the daily list, gratitude journals can lose their impact. I’ve found keeping a gratitude journal along with my daily journal is a specific task helping me focus my attitude on the positives in life from the sun shining and the birds singing, to moments when I get to hear my older son play guitar or see my younger son score a goal on the soccer field. I’m grateful for life, even the challenges, and for what I’m learning.
to acknowledge my creative potential
My journals are filled with ideas, snapshots of life, expressions of emotions, quotes, songs, and dialogue. I’m living life more deeply and fully these days, and the curiosity that comes with living deeply and fully enhances my creative energies. I’m trying out writing from different points of view. I’m reliving childhood memories. I’m using words to sketch portraits of people in my life. I’m solving problems by writing about them.