I was having problems at the moment. It felt like my emotional walls were coming crashing down, pressured between what I knew in my gut feeling was right but out of fear of judgment and the guilt that might come with it. I’ve been here before. So I opened my journal and went back to check that point again. As I looked back at that moment and what I had written, it felt surreal. In that moment, my former self was leading and coaching me forward — in this one.
The reality: We all fight, stumble and get our butts handed over at one point or another (sometimes over again). Life is difficult. Sometimes it can feel almost impossible to find our way around as we are overwhelmed with responsibilities, challenges, and change. We’d all like to think (or hope) that our rational mind takes charge in anxious moments of turmoil, but our emotions can hijack us. Instead of moving us forward, our emotional responses can exacerbate chaos and create confusion. Brené Brown addressed reality when she said that we don’t think of beings who feel occasionally… but of “emotional beings who think occasionally.”
The obstacle: Everyone benefits from being able to throw off, process and synthesize emotions. It shouldn’t be a question of gender that women are more skillful, equipped, and ready to accept their emotions and importance. Across generations, men have been taught to resist dealing with emotions because we fear judgment, ridicule, and banishment from the tribe. It takes courage to break out of this camp of thought. This is especially true if you grew up in a culture of “go it away,” “suck it up,” or, my favorite, “rub some dirt into it.” We feel the emotions, but instead of facing them and processing them, we bottle them up. Then they can later appear in stressful, toxic patterns that can affect our health or our relationships. Processing emotions without writing them down can feel like trying to perform brain surgery on yourself and frustratingly trying to remove, examine, and understand why we feel the way we feel.
The solution: Journaling is one of the best self-care and wellness practices I’ve ever discovered to gain clarity and resilience. Journaling allows us to get thoughts out of our heads and onto paper, creating a more reflective and objective perspective on what we’re going through emotionally. It allows us to solve our problems, get a clearer perspective, emphasize the positive, and provide mental breathing space to work through difficult challenges. There is no formula for it, so don’t get in your own way. Just write what you feel, take it out of your head and onto paper. And yes, I recommend writing it because there is a magical combination of pen, paper and a hand in motion that it simply doesn’t fulfill on the computer.
The benefits: Journaling is a recurring practice that allows you to capture the emotional turmoil and put it on paper so you can research and understand it. It allows us to question and fact-check the stories we’re going through ourselves about what we’re going through, elicit our own nonsense, show compassion in our struggles, and become a better friend and coach for ourselves. It allows us to create valuable decision-making space between what we think and feel and how we react to it. In my many years of journaling practice, I see the direct impact on the days I write versus the days I don’t write. When I journal, I am calmer, more patient, more empathetic, solution-oriented, empathic towards myself and others, more resilient, and I feel the stability of inner peace. I’ve unloaded the emotional baggage. Essentially, I’m happier. When I don’t write a journal for a few days, things feel bad.
I am an enrolled member of the Ottawa tribe and have served groups such as Intel Corporation, NASA, Mayo Clinic, Disney, the US Army, and over 500 tribal nations over the past 25 years, showing them how they can apply our warrior principles in practice to remain strong and resilient, brave to lead and serve at our best.
Traditionally, our warriors had to “vent” in order to release the pain of trauma, loss, and struggle so that they were not followed or burdened on the journey ahead. This came from the emotional cleansing process during the ceremonies and enabled them to remain strong in their role as warriors. We can do that for ourselves if we incorporate this sacred journaling season into our own lives. My tribe has two ways of learning: Kendoswin is “head learning” or logic, important in the world but not completely. Bokadwin is learning that comes to us in silence, reflection and solitude. It is profound, creates life-changing clarity and can come to us when we write a journal. It is a gift that we give ourselves. We can’t offer that if we’re constantly in hyperstimulation mode, drowning from distraction, and walking around with burning hair. We must take time off or it won’t happen. Journaling is a discipline, a practice, and a ritual.
Here are a few guidelines to create yours.
What you need: There is nothing fancy here, just a pen or pencil and a notebook.
When to do it: Start with five minutes a few times a week, even writing just a few sentences is great. Once you get into a rhythm, take more time and exercise your thoughts to get easier. Build up at least 3-5 times a week for 10-20 minutes. It can work anytime during the day, but I think morning is best because it gives clarity and peace of mind before the chaos of the day begins. In the end, the day can also be powerful.
Where you do it: Wherever you can find some peace and quiet. It could be at your home, in the park, or in a coffee shop.
Here’s how it works: Just write. Write how you’re feeling, what you’re thinking, and release whatever emotion you want. Be outrageous and vulnerable. There are no rules and no limits. And not a verdict. This is from you and for you! The most important thing is that the more honest your sharing is, the more powerful this will be as a practice. The last person we should lie to is ourselves. Some days you write half a page, some days a few. What counts is that you do it.
Why: Read the article again!
D.J. Vanas is a registered member of the Ottawa Tribe and a former US Air Force officer. He is a thought leader, speaker, producer and author of three books, his latest being The Warrior Within (Penguin Random House). D.J. shows groups such as Intel, NASA, Subaru, Disney, the US military, the Mayo Clinic, and over 500 tribal nations how to use traditional warrior principles to stay strong and resilient, lead courageously, and do our best regardless of the circumstances. He also hosted the PBS special Discovering Your Warrior Spirit. To contact D.J. or to make inquiries about lectures, please visit www.nativediscovery.com
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