Every day is a story. We usually wake up in the world of our status quo from the day before and set goals, and then challenges show up on the way to those goals. We face them, and whether we overcome them, change course, or defer completion, by night we close a chapter. Unlike a chapter in a book, though, that day’s chapter ideally doesn’t have a hook that keeps us awake and wondering what happens next.
To get closure on those daily endings, I keep a journal, following a structure I learned in yoga teacher training as a method for developing self-awareness and which I’ve taught in many stress management workshops. First thing in the morning, I record my dreams, if I remember them, and reflect on their unique and personal meanings (Recommended reading: Mindful Dreaming by David Gordon). In the evening, I record the emotions I experienced in all their complexity and variety. I consider this detailed awareness of feelings to be a mindfulness practice, but it’s also a valuable skill for writing. The next part of the journal covers the day’s events. Some are mundane, and I can skim them in bad handwriting, while others call for exploration, discerning how they related to the emotional landscape of the day.
The final line in each journal entry is something positive. It may be small and subtle or enormous and worth celebrating. It can also be an intention for the night’s fiction writing hours (I’m nocturnal and do the journal before I settle into my work). I never want to wrap up a day feeling negative or pessimistic. The human mind is naturally drawn to what’s wrong in case it requires attention. If my whole body feels great except for a twinge in my left ankle, my mind will go to my left ankle even if the twinge is trivial. Attention to the big picture and its positive aspects is a conscious choice. On a day in which difficult or painful events dominated, this space for hope and healing is even more important than on the more ordinary days when it’s easy to find some light.
With this journal, I train my mind not only to the story line and emotional depth of each day, but to gratitude. Daily.
You can read more of my essays on mindfulness in the collection Small Awakenings: Reflections on Mindful Living.