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  November 26, 2001

Homework That Heals - Journaling

Last week I wrote about the practical aspects of directing your own process between formal therapy sessions. Homework can be beneficial to your healing process - when and if it feels right for you.

From my own experience and the recommendation of other primal veterans, the first homework I like to suggest is journaling. Writing down thoughts and feelings is a very simple and effective way to develop clarity and nurture integration.

Thinking often creates isolated "loops" that leave our issues unclear. In contrast, when we speak with a non-judgmental listener, our thoughts and feelings come "out of hiding" and can often take on greater clarity. When we write in a journal, a similar effect is created, and has the added advantage of being something tangible that we can access again and again.

Some people consider journaling to be too "heady." They just want to primal and let their body make the connections. Fortunately, our heads are a part of our body, a part of our whole selves. The upper cortex, or thinking brain, is an essential part of who we are, and we would not be able to function without it. Healing is about allowing a balance to be restored, not continuing a denial or oppression of thinking.

To feel deeply, we have to relax and let our attention move from the thinking brain to the body and sensation. The depth of this shift in consciousness varies in degrees. If, for instance, we "drop" into feelings and memories imprinted at a very early age, the shift of consciousness is profound. When we come "back" to normal adult consciousness, it is not unlike waking up from a dream that must be written down before it fades from recall. It is therefore highly recommended that primal experiences be recorded in your journal as soon as possible.

For full integration, a typical primal takes the following path through the different levels of the brain and body:

1) Present Problem - a present-day problem is intercepted and stated by the thinking brain
2) Present Feeling - the feelings of that problem are focused upon in the body and given expression by the feeling brain centers
3) Descent - feeling "deepens" and leads to a descent into the traumatic origins in the visceral and feeling brain centers and body
4) Expression - the traumatic sensations and feelings rise from those regions into adult consciousness (the thinking brain)
5) Insight - as the past-imprinted root trauma connects with the present-day problem a flood of insights and "connections" occur
6) Awareness - regained organic connections result in a new awareness and feeling of clarity

All parts of the experience are equally important. Part number five, Insight, is more likely to solidify in the bodymind with the assistance of discussion and writing. Talking and writing imprints the experience into the upper brain because words and symbols are one of the favourite formations of that organ. Every time we write or read our entries, the imprint of the new experience is reinforced into our awareness.

I recommend that you write down a synopsis of every session as soon as possible after the session. When I was seeing a therapist regularly, I would often find a nice place to sit and write before I went home from a session.

I prefer journals with blank pages so that there are no restrictions on my expression. I can write at different sizes and angles, scribble doodles and draw pictures. Go to a bookstore, stationery, or art store and find a journal that feels good in your hands, opens easily, and will sit comfortably as you write.

You can write in your journal every day if you wish, but generally a few times a week will capture what you are working through. Consider this a "feeling journal," and besides session work, focus on feelings, feeling issues, insights, dreams, and life problems.

Some of us are very self-critical and self-conscious about expression and writing. Remember, there are no right and wrongs. No one is marking this. Your handwriting doesn't have to be neat. No need to fuss over spelling, grammar and sentence structure. Point form and phrases are fine. Allow yourself to write as if you were talking to yourself. Think on the page.

Reread your journal regularly, and feel free to use it as a reference for session work. Many of my clients read from their journals to refresh themselves and inform me of their process between sessions.

Do yourself a favour. Keep a journal.

* * *

Homework That Heals - Introduction
Homework That Heals - Journaling
Homework That Heals - Meditation
Homework That Heals - Reading
Homework That Heals - Movement
Homework That Heals - Diet Adjustment
Homework That Heals - Expression
Homework That Heals - Rest

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