Wisps of steam rose from my tea cup as I set it on my desk next to my laptop. Instead of lifting the laptop lid, I reached for a handbound journal, closed my eyes, and slowly took a breath in, then let my breath out. Breath in. Breath out. And again. Breath in. Breath out. I opened to a blank page, numbered it, and wrote the date. For the next ten minutes or so, I wrote in response to the query, “How did you meet Spirit in the past 24 hours?”
When I’m at my best, this is how I center myself before starting my work for the day. I must admit, though, I haven’t been at my best for some months, having convinced myself that I’m too busy, have too many deadlines, can’t afford to “waste” valuable minutes in this practice.
I’ve felt the effects of abandoning the meditative journaling discipline that nourished me for many years. Thanks to the Ben Lomond Quaker Center, which accepted my proposal to lead a workshop about this practice, I’m once again starting most days journaling in a contemplative way.
For most of my adult life, writing has been a vehicle for me to understand what I believe, feel, question, and know. For the past twenty years, I’ve recognized writing as a Spirit-led creative process through which I come to know God and to understand God’s presence in my life. I’ve also viewed writing as a way to minister to others, an idea that was validated in 2000 when I attended a Pendle Hill Quaker Center workshop, Writing as Ministry, led by Tom Mullen. Since then, writing has become both my work and a spiritual discipline.
I also learned the craft of bookbinding, and I’ve been making hand-bound journals, for myself and for sale, for nearly fifteen years. Through this skill, I’ve come to believe that the journal itself can be an important part of the expression of what it contains.
Journaling has always been a part of Quaker practice. In 1972, Howard Brinton published Quaker Journals following his study of the 300 journals in his own library; he estimated there were probably about 1000 Quaker journals, including those not in print (I suspect there are thousands more now). Brinton found all the journals had several things in common: simplicity and truth in writing; personal experiences, experiences in early childhood, and dreams were only written about if the writer believed they had religious significance; and humility. He also found they recorded similar stages of development: divine revelations in childhood, then a period of youthful playfulness (usually looked back upon as a waste of time), an experience of a divided self, and finally, following the leadings of the Light.
Mary Morrison, a writer and former Pendle Hill teacher, has this to say about journaling in her pamphlet, Live the Questions: Write into the Answers: “A journal is an instrument of awareness, through which we can watch what we do so we can find out who we are.”
That finding out who I am has led me back to my journal. It’s no surprise that questions about calling have risen again, as I’m completing two major projects. For nearly three years I’ve been focused on BOUNTY: Lopez Island Farmers, Food, and Community, a book to be released in mid-October. At the same time (and for nearly two decades), I’ve worked on a memoir, Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance, that’s in production with Homebound Publications for a September 2017 release. Now, I’m living the question, “What next?”
Maybe it’s not wise to admit my lapse in contemplative journaling as I’m preparing to lead a workshop to support others in this practice. Then again, readying myself to teach when I’ve been humbled by my own struggle likely will make me more sensitive to those who have resisted a journaling practice or have, as I’ve heard from many participants in past workshops, tried and “failed” at filling blank pages. The calm and centeredness I’ve felt as I’ve returned to journaling as meditation only strengthens my appreciation of this valuable tool.
So. Tomorrow, I’ll again set my mug on the desk, plant my feet on the floor, reach for my journal, breathe in and out, in and out, in and out, and pick up my pen.