Summer Body

Summer Body


It’s summer, and for many of us that means added attention to what our bodies look like.

We are taught by television, magazines, movies, and advertising what is an acceptable body. Our inner critic buys into the media’s view and criticizes us mercilessly for not having what is perceived as the acceptable body.

Comparison is one of the inner critic’s favorite tools. “Look at her! She’s tall and skinny. Why can’t you look more like her?” Comparing ourselves to other people or to unrealistic media images is not only damaging to our self-esteem, but also a total waste of time. We are who we are!

That doesn’t mean we’re against improvement. Sure, we can exercise, eat healthy, and take care of our bodies. But we do these things while accepting our imperfections.

And we appreciate our body for what it can do, for what it continues to do for us each day. 


Here are some journaling exercises for understanding your relationship to your body.

1. Prompt: My body is… 

2. Prompt: How does your inner critic criticize your body? Does it do this by comparing you to other people? What does it say? 

3. Write a letter from a compassionate friend to yourself about your body’s “flaws”.


Reclaiming Peace, Reclaiming Me

Reclaiming Peace, Reclaiming Me


I recently read Etty Hillesum’s Holocaust-era diary and was struck by these words:

“Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it toward others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world.” 

I think one of the greatest benefits of journaling is that it helps us “to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves”. In what ways does it do this?

For me, journaling is a way of thinking in that it provides me with a place to put my thoughts so they’re not stuck in my head where they will be fodder for endless rumination. With my thoughts on paper, there is more room in my mind for being present in the moment, and this, in turn, reduces my stress.

Instead of my thoughts swirling around in my head, making me anxious, confused, and stressed out, I can write them down and thus create some distance to them. In this way, I come to realize that I am not my thoughts; my thoughts are out there, on paper.

Journaling helps me to process life, to find meaning in both the present and the past, as well as to plan for the future. It guides in decision-making, which I otherwise find very difficult, in that it allows me to explore how I truly feel about things. It gives me the opportunity to hear my own voice.

Another way to put this is that journaling provides me with a safe place to practice expressing myself, to have my own voice. As such, it is a place to discover who I am, to reclaim myself.

Deep down I think we all know what is our most authentic self. As Lao Tzu put it,

“At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want.”

Journaling helps me to access my inner wisdom. It reminds me of who I am and how to live an authentic life.

This is how journaling brings me peace: by bringing me back to myself.



Anne Frank and Etty Hillesum – Interrupted Lives

Anne Frank and Etty Hillesum – Interrupted Lives


In February of this year, it was seventy years ago that Anne Frank died in a concentration camp. In March of this year, Anne’s last close living relative died, a cousin who had been dedicated to keeping her legacy alive. Anne’s story will survive – in the form of what has become the most famous diary of our time.

As a tribute to Anne, I decided to re-read her diary, and in the process, I came across another Holocaust-era diary, which I highly recommend: Etty Hillesum’s An Interrupted Life. In many ways, Etty was the young adult counterpart to teenage Anne. Both women lived in Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation of Holland. Both were Jewish, but while Anne and her family went into hiding, Etty refused to do so and continued to work as long as she could. Both were aspiring writers, and both kept diaries spanning two years, Anne’s from 1942 to 1944, Etty’s from 1941 to 1943. In both diaries we see the growth of these two spirited individuals as they come to terms with what is happening around them.

Anne’s diary tells the story of a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl hiding in an attic with her family. For two years the family hid in the “Secret Annexe” with another family, and Anne recounts the trials of hunger, boredom and the ever-present fear of being discovered, as well as what it’s like to be cooped up inside with all these people who bicker and quarrel with each other.

Anne’s diary entries are addressed to an imaginary friend named Kitty. Whenever the grownups would give her a hard time, which was often because Anne was a spirited young girl, she would turn to her diary, “because Kitty is always patient”.

In the fall of 1944, the family was discovered and sent to a concentration camp where Anne, her mother, and her sister died. Her father, Otto Frank, survived, and when the war ended in 1945, he returned to Amsterdam where friends had kept Anne’s diary, which Otto later published. Thus, Anne’s wish – “I want to go on living even after my death” – came true. What a testament to the power of the journal!

Anne’s diary ends when she is fifteen years old. Etty was 27 when she began her diary and 29 when she died in Auschwitz. During the two years in which she kept a diary, she grew into an extraordinary woman full of self-awareness and compassion. Again and again she wrote that despite everything, “Life is beautiful and meaningful.” In the face of all the madness around her, Etty showed such serene acceptance and lack of bitterness or hate. She also had the ability to savor the few sweetnesses in life that were still afforded her as a Jewish woman in occupied Holland.

With incredible insight Etty put her situation into historical perspective, saying, “Suffering has always been with us, does it really matter in what form it comes? All that matters is how we bear it and how we fit it into our lives.” And Etty bore her suffering with grace. While on the train carrying her to her death, she wrote these words on a postcard, which she then threw from the train: “We left the camp singing.”

Etty was a promising young writer who wrote out of “inner necessity”. As she put it, “I must make sure I keep up with my writing, that is, with myself, or else things will start to go wrong for me: I shall run the risk of losing my way”. For Etty, writing was a way of staying close to her authentic self.

But writing isn’t always easy. Etty had doubts about her ability and had to remind herself that “you don’t put things down on paper to produce masterpieces, but to gain some clarity. I am still ashamed of myself, afraid to let myself go, to let things pour out of me; I am dreadfully inhibited, and that is because I have not yet learned to accept myself as I am.”

I was deeply inspired by “An Interrupted Life” and Etty, who, along with Anne Frank, was such an intelligent, sympathetic woman living during devastating times. Both diaries speak to the incredible strength of the human spirit.

“Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: 

to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, 

and to reflect it toward others. And the more peace there is in us, 

the more peace there will also be in our troubled world.” 

– Etty Hillesum

As I was reflecting on these words of Etty’s, I was struck by the idea that journaling can help us “to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves”. In fact, I think this is why I keep a journal.

Prompt: In what ways can journaling help us “to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves”?


Writing to be the Witness

Writing to be the Witness

IMG_0125 It’s been said that what you resist, persists. Unfortunately, one of the things we as humans tend to resist is pain, whether it be physical or emotional. Little do we know that by doing so, we’re actually making the pain worse!

I was sick most of March with a flare-up of what the gastroenterologist thinks is functional dyspepsia, though it could also be irritable bowel syndrome, or something else. We just don’t know. The worst part was the nausea. Actually, the worst part was having no control: the nausea just came and went at random. I tried to figure out why. I kept a food diary. I analyzed. I went to the doctor. I had blood tests done. I got mad. Doesn’t my stomach know I have work to do?! It’s not fair! Go away!

I ranted and raved, sometimes in my journal, sometimes to my husband, which is all fine and has its time and place. It’s great to get those feelings out and on paper. But here’s the thing about ranting: when we rant we are often stuck in self-pity and resisting. In other words, we are making things worse.

We can get so wrapped up in our pain that we lose ourselves; we become identified with the pain. We say, “I am sad”, as if sadness were our identity. What if we could say, “I am with sadness”? What if we could be a witness to our pain, rather than being identified with it? Would we feel better? I think so. At least, I did.

One night I’d had enough of ranting, resisting, and feeling sorry for myself. I finally let go of trying to figure out why and simply accepted that this was reality for the time being. I became a witness to the nausea. “Hello, stomach,” I said. “I see you. I’m sorry you’re not feeling well.” And would you believe it that as soon as I stopped resisting and just observed with compassion, the nausea decreased!

Writing can be a great way for witnessing our pain. Whether it’s memoir writing or journaling, we can take a step back and be the compassionate witness to our life. If we feel mired in emotions, we can write them down, thus witnessing them without resisting or identifying with them.

We are not our feelings! We are not our pain. I was not my nausea. When we witness our pain, we observe without judging or analyzing or trying to figure out why or how to make it go away. And as we notice our pain, we are filled with self-compassion. This is quite different from self-pity.

While ranting, analyzing, and taking action have their purpose, at some point its beneficial to come to a place of acceptance, a place of compassionate witnessing rather than resistance.



A brief history of journaling

A brief history of journaling

canstockphoto13225120The desire to record details of our lives is as old as handwriting itself. Early diaries were mostly kept as public records. The modern diary has its origins in fifteenth-century Italy where diaries were used for accounting. Gradually, the focus of diaries shifted from that of recording public life to reflecting on the private one. Leonardo da Vinci filled 5,000 pages of journals with ideas for inventions and clever observations.

Diary as autobiography, the truly modern diary, began with Samuel Pepys in England in 1660. He records details of his life in London, including grand scenes from historic events like the Great Fire of 1666 and more intimate scenes such as quarrels with his wife.

The travel journal has been around since the early Christian pilgrims began traveling to the Holy Land in the first century after Christ. By the late eighteenth century, explorers were traversing the earth and recording their discoveries – explorers such as Captain Cook, Lewis and Clark, and Darwin. In 1845 Henry David Thoreau began recording what would become the classic, Walden, the account of his two-year experiment of “living deliberately” at Walden Pond.

Since the late eighteenth century, writers, artists, and other creatives have used the diary as an integral part of the creative process – writers such as Tolstoy, Kafka, Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield, Anais Nin, and Sylvia Plath. Many of these journals were published and are widely read, even to this day. Interestingly, many of these best-sellers were by women writers, for example, poet May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude (1973), a beautiful book about the life of a solitary writer.

The nineteenth and twentieth centuries have also seen the rise of the war journal, including what is perhaps the most famous diary of all, that of Anne Frank. She and her contemporary, Etty Hillesum, chronicled their lives during WWII. Poet soldiers Robert Graves, Siegfried Sassoon, and Wilfred Owen wrote about their experiences of WWI. Mary Chestnut wrote about the American Civil War.

And now we have the digital diarist: the blogger, the Facebook user, the Twitter user. We have software programs for keeping a diary in cyberspace. In the twenty-first century, the desire to record the intimate details of our lives has become a public affair. There’s an urge to reveal, rather than conceal in a hidden journal. And yet journal keeping has always had this dichotomy: the desire to express and make visible, the urge to keep secret and hidden.

No matter what their form or type, diaries are the living embodiment of E.M. Forster’s famous dare: only connect. For over a millennium, diaries have allowed individuals to connect first within themselves and then with the larger world. – Alexandra Johnson

For a fascinating overview of the history of journaling, check out Alexandra Johnson’s book, A Brief History of Diaries: From Pepys to Blogs.

Endings, beginnings, transitions

Endings, beginnings, transitions


IMG_07162014 is over, and we are well into January, 2015. This is the time of year when many of us take stock of where we are in the movement of our life. What did we accomplish in 2014? What did we learn? What do we need to let go of?

Many people make New Year’s resolutions. Others create Vision Boards, which are collages that help you visualize what you want to manifest in the new year. We think about where we’re headed. What do we want to accomplish in 2015? What are the challenges that lie ahead?

I love the feeling of being in a new year, of having new opportunities. It can be scary, too, this moving into unknown territory. How do we know what’s the right path for us? Journaling can be a great tool for accessing our inner wisdom, the part of us that knows what’s right for us.

This year I’ve been inspired by Danielle LaPorte’s excellent book, The Desire Map: a guide to creating goals with soul, to focus on how I want to feel, rather than what I want to achieve. LaPorte claims that getting clear on what are our “core desired feelings” is better than focusing on our “goals”, those achievements we think we desire, or should desire. By focusing on how we want to feel instead of what we want to achieve, our goals will become more authentic, more in line with who we really are and what we really want.

Journaling Prompts:

How do I want to feel this year?
What word or phrase would I like to have as my theme for 2015?
What makes me feel alive? How am I going to do more of that in 2015?

You can find lots of information and examples of vision boards on the web. Here are some to check out: Christine Kane’s How to Make a Vision Board and Jack Canfield’s How to Create an Empowering Vision Board.


Interview with Jill Winski

Interview with Jill Winski


I’m thrilled to interview Jill Winski, a writer, creativity coach, and Martha Beck Certified Life Coach. On her website, The Artist’s Nest, she provides “support for the vulnerability that comes with creativity”. She is a frequent (and wonderful) blogger on all things creativity and a big believer in the power of journaling. Visit her website at

MIR: You say on your website that you’ve journaled since you were thirteen. I’m wondering in what ways your journaling practice has changed over the years?

JW: My journaling practice has definitely become deeper and more complex over the years. Back when I was 13, I mostly recorded events and my emotions about them. I remember my high school journals were full of angst about unrequited love and anger at authority figures! But as of my early 20s, I began using my journals to delve into my inner world (instead of trying to control the external world) and to understand myself better, to ask myself questions on the page, and to process the insights that came to me when I was in solitude. I also do “morning pages” most days, which I use as a way of clearing my mind in the morning. I consider morning pages a little different than my other journaling in that they’re more of a “brain dump” and less deep processing, though they sometimes go there.

MIR: What do you think it is about journaling that is so empowering?

JW: It’s a way of moving energy, for one thing. We all need a vehicle for keeping the energy flowing through us so it doesn’t get stuck. A practice really helps with this. Mine happens to be writing, because I like it. Journaling is also a way of knowing and understanding what’s going on in our inner worlds, and how our inner lives are connecting up with the external world. It helps us see ourselves more clearly when we get the contents of our minds onto the page. And knowing who you are is empowering! It’s also grounding and centering, as any good practice is. For me, journaling clears the way for more connection to my body and body wisdom, or intuition.

MIR: Do you use journaling in your work as a creativity coach, and does journaling in any way provide “support for the vulnerability that comes with creativity”?

JW: Not every client is open to journaling, but I do encourage my clients to at least give it a try. I often give my clients writing exercises to try out. Asking ourselves supportive questions is so important and a journal can be a great place for clients to experiment with that. I do journal about my experiences as a coach so I can learn from them. And yes, I absolutely believe that journaling provides support for us when we are feeling vulnerable. Any time we express ourselves in the world, we are vulnerable. The journal can be like a home base, a safe space where it’s okay to express anything. We need a foundation of safety in order to take risks with our creativity.

MIR: What do you find are some of the main blocks or vulnerabilities we have in terms of our creativity?

JW: One of the biggest ones I see is the idea that we “should” express ourselves in a certain way. With writers, I often hear, “I should be writing more like so-and-so, and as much and as often as so-and-so.” Underlying a lot of this is a fear of criticism or of not being taken seriously if we show up as we are. And many people have at some point gotten some feedback on their creative work which threw them, and that can sometimes shut us down. And the safety issue that I mentioned before is a big one. It’s not talked about enough, but it is really important to create safety for ourselves when we take risks. We can find ways of putting our work out into the world that feel supportive to us instead of totally frightening and overwhelming.

MIR: What about journaling for writers? Can journaling be beneficial to the writing process?

JW: Absolutely. And there’s certainly no right or wrong way to do it. I often use my journal to explore issues that are coming up in my fiction writing, particularly when I feel stuck. And frequently my blog posts get started in my journal. I know writers who use their journals to jot down story ideas, or interactions they observe, or dreams (dreams are great teachers about story structure and the elements of surprise and inevitability).

MIR: Tell us about your offerings and where readers can get more information about them.

JW: I work one-on-one and in small groups with people who feel stuck or scared around creating, who would like to put their work out into the world more but feel vulnerable about that. I help them take a closer look at what’s going on there and create support systems (inner and outer) so they can feel more relaxed and confident and have more fun with their creativity. I also speak to groups on these issues. More info about the work I do is on my website,

MIR: Do you have a journal prompt for us today?

JW: The one that comes to mind right now is: “I am willing to let go of …” and then you do the reverse: “I am not willing to let go of …”

MIR: Thanks, Jill!

3 tips for journaling

3 tips for journaling


Do you ever feel stuck in your journal writing? I know I do sometimes. Here are some helpful tips for beating the “I don’t know what to write about” blues.

1. Set a timer for 5 minutes and write about anything that comes to you. Just begin. Anywhere. Put pen to paper and write as fast as you can without interruption. Having a limited amount of time to write tends to free us up by silencing our inner critic or censor. There’s simply no time to think about what to write and how to write it. Instead, we write whatever bubbles up to the surface, which, when we don’t censor ourselves, is often subconscious material that we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to access. Essentially, we’ve written so fast that we’ve outsmarted the critic or censor!

2. It can be handy to have a list of prompts in your journal, springboards that take the form of a question, like “What’s going on?”, or a statement, like “If I knew I could not fail…”. Keep this list handy, and when you don’t know what to write about, simply pick a topic from your list. The springboard or prompt “What’s going on?” is one that you can always return to. It is a question that is always relevant since life is constantly changing. It is a question that connects you with the present moment, with your body, with your feelings. You can write about what’s going on around you or inside you. You can write about where you are in the movement of your life.  

Prompt: Write for 5 minutes on the topic: What’s going on?

3. Splurge on a beautiful journal, or consider using an online program, such as LifeJournal. Notice whether the pen you’re writing with feels right. Consider taking your journal outside and be inspired by nature or people. Whether you choose to write on paper or on the computer, on pages with wide lines, narrow lines, or no lines at all, with a pen, pencil, or how about a colored pencil or marker? – there are no wrong answers. It’s whatever feels right to you. And sometimes mixing it up can inspire you! So do whatever makes you feel like writing.


Interview with Louise Mathewson

Interview with Louise Mathewson


I am pleased to interview writer and poet Louise Mathewson. She is the author of short stories, narrative essays, and poems, and her work has been published in numerous magazines, journals and anthologies – including the first volume of the bestselling book series, Cup of Comfort.

While Louise has always written about the sacred moments in everyday experiences, today those experiences hold even deeper meaning. In February 2003 she emerged from a two-week coma following an auto-accident in which she suffered a traumatic brain injury.

Though a struggle at first, Louise returned to her writing as soon as she was able. She has since used her writing (and poetry in particular) to help her cope with the physical effects of the accident, recovery from post-traumatic stress disorder, and in the emotional part of her healing process.

Her new book, A Life Interrupted: Living with Brain Injury, is a collection of poems that chronicle her recovery from the brain-damaging car accident. Included are journal therapy writing prompts and other resources Louise found helpful in transcending trauma.

Be sure to check out Louise’s website,, where you can read an excerpt of her new book.

MIR: When did you start writing and journaling?

LM: I started writing back in the 80’s when I went through a hard time after my parents died. I rewrote each psalm as if it were my own prayer and plea to God. It was such a relief to get some words out of my head in the privacy of a journal. I stopped when that period of change took me as far as it could. Then in the late 90’s I worked at a church and started writing little stories for the bulletin each Sunday. When I moved out of town, the minister who gave few compliments, told me it was clear I was a good writer. I knew since he was a gifted writer, and short on compliments, that I needed to pay attention. And so when we moved I took writing workshops and looked for writers’ groups to develop that side of myself. Then a couple years after the accident, I decided it was time to get back to writing, but could not pick up a pen or paper. This troubled me and so I found a writing mentor who gave me easy directions that helped me get back to writing. Writing about my injury was such an enormous relief and then to have someone to talk to about what I had written, made me feel like I had a witness for all the pain. Sometimes we need a witness for our grief and I sure did!

MIR: How does writing, and journaling in particular, help you to cope with the effects of your traumatic brain injury?

LM: Journaling allows me to get feelings and thoughts out of my head and to write in the privacy of my journal without fear of judgment. I find that when I get the chaos and energy of feelings about what happened or what happens today out of my head, my brain is clearer and works much better. Then I get new thoughts, ideas, things that amaze me. I also find that I get to know myself better, and find inside me is a treasure of wisdom. The hurt, pain, sadness, anger, shame, all the hard feelings of loss are not so polite, but are part of any grief process, however I find that they act as messengers about my deeper self. As I dig in the dirty ground of loss, I discover new layers of myself and below those layers lies wisdom.

MIR: What is your writing and journaling process? Do you write or journal every day?

LM: My process is to write in the morning, which I most often do by getting out of the house away from all the household distractions that keep me away from tending to my deeper self. (However, sometimes I write a little before I go to bed.) I often go to Starbucks, get a decaf with a couple pumps of chocolate, put on my iPod with Creative Mind by Jeffrey Thompson. With those comforts around me, I then check in with my inside landscape where sometimes I find meat for a poem. I also keep a ‘Dear Wise One’ journal, where I write about concerns and then ask questions of my deeper self. The amazing thing that has happened to me is that a voice responds with simple things to help me cope with whatever concerns I have. One day it was to make a list, simple, but it was such a relief to hear an answer that was such a big help! It often takes a few days of doing that to find that there is a wise voice inside that listens to us and will respond. I also have my favorite pens and favorite journal – I love Miquel Rius journals sold at Barnes and Noble, in which each page has ½” of color, most are like a rainbow of colors as you flip through the pages! I love color, so using that journal really motivates me to write!! I write most days, except when my routine gets disrupted by travel. So I work to get back to my old routine when we land, because journaling time with myself is such a comfort.

MIR: Besides being a writer, you are also a certified Journal to the SelfⓇ instructor. What has Journal to the SelfⓇ meant for you, both personally and professionally?

LM: Ahhh, I learned some techniques for journaling that have been immensely helpful and I use consistently. I also met an amazing group of fellow journal writers and am still in contact with them through the journaling group online. It is a place where I can ask for help and always receive some suggestions. If someone else has an issue, sometimes I will have an experience or idea to offer. It is an amazing virtual support group for those who see the benefits of writing and those who want to share that passion with the world, like me!

MIR: What is your favorite journaling technique?

LM: It’s hard to say which is my favorite technique. I love clustering, listing, writing to my wise self, and I also love writing from springboards. I also love writing nearly daily to “Dear Wise One.”

MIR: Do you have a writing prompt for us today?

LM: My favorite one is “I reclaim,” how about trying that and see where it takes you! You can use memories of items you had as a child, teen or young adult or you can use present day events.

MIR: Write about something you want to reclaim in your life. Thanks, Louise! It’s been a pleasure talking with you.

LM: Thanks, Marianne, for this opportunity to “speak” to your readers.


How do you want to feel?

How do you want to feel?

We all have things we desire, things we want to achieve or accomplish or just plain get done. And so we create to-do lists and make New Year’s resolutions, claiming these things as our goals in life. But what is it we really desire, deep down? Is it not to feel a certain way? Isn’t that the real reason behind these “goals”? We want to feel joyful, peaceful, creative, abundant, adventurous, alive, authentic, balanced, bold, brilliant, centered, confident, connected, energetic, sexy, free, love, open, safe, spiritual, strong, vibrant etc.

In her book, The Desire Map: A Guide to Creating Goals with Soul, Danielle LaPorte claims that getting clear on what are our “core desired feelings” is better than focusing on our “goals”, those achievements we think we desire, or should desire. By focusing on how we want to feel instead of what we want to achieve, our goals will become more authentic, more in line with who we really are and what we really want.

We all have certain feelings that we are drawn to more than others, 3-5 core desired feelings. For example, one of my core desires in life is to feel creative. When I set goals for myself that don’t make me feel creative, no matter how great they sound, no matter how much I think I “should” want to achieve these things, they are not going to make me happy (happiness being the ultimate feeling that we’re all striving for). By focusing on wanting to feel creative rather than on what I think I should achieve, I can set goals that will bring about that feeling of creativity.

Our core desired feelings become a light to steer by.

How do you want to feel? Another way to approach this question is to ask yourself what does not work for you. For example, if I’m around people all the time, I get a little crazy; I need a lot of alone time! Being a writer is a much better goal for me than, say, being a salesperson! Journaling is one of the things that has helped me figure that out. What are some of the things that make you crazy? Knowing what does not work for you can help you discover what does work for you.

When answering the question, How do you want to feel?, it can also be helpful to focus on one area of your life at a time. LaPorte’s categories are: livelihood and lifestyle; body and wellness; creativity and learning; relationships and society; essence and spirituality.

 Journaling Prompt: How do you want to feel?