“Ten times a day something happens to me like this—some strengthening throb of amazement—some good sweet empathic ping and swell. This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.” —Mary Oliver
When you think of mindfulness, what do you picture? Is it a luxurious savasana at the end of a yoga class? An afternoon spent perched on a meditation cushion, listening to relaxing music and focusing on your breath? A moment, in the midst of a crisis, spent centering yourself and watching your thoughts float by like clouds?
Yes. Mindfulness is all of those things, but at the core of it, it’s about paying attention. And one of the most powerful tools in your mindfulness toolkit is something you may not have considered: a simple journal and pen.
Why creativity and mindfulness go hand in hand
Mindfulness—paying attention to the details of the world around us—is key to creating powerful art. When a poet starts a meditation practice, she may find that she’s better able to include tangible, sensory details in her work simply because she’s gotten into a practice of noticing.
Just as mindfulness can strengthen creativity, creativity can strengthen a mindfulness practice. Getting into the habit of writing down your observations in a journal can help you practice noticing.
When was the last time you really paid attention to the sound of birds singing outside your window in the morning, or the feeling of warm sand between your toes at the beach? As you start your journaling practice, you’ll find yourself gradually feeling more present not only during your meditation sessions but in your daily life as well.
How to start a mindfulness journal
A mindful journaling practice can take many forms, but here are a few ideas to help you get started. Don’t feel the need to buy a fancy journal or fountain pen. Any simple notebook will do!
Step 1: Go for a long, mindful walk.
Take a walk that’s familiar to you, but pay close attention to your body and your surroundings. How does the ground feel against your feet as you take a step? What is the quality of light around you? What can you hear, taste, smell, touch, see?
There’s no need to make notes yet. Just be in your body and allow yourself to feel. When you arrive at your destination, get out your notebook. Write down what you noticed. Watch yourself as you translate your experiences into words. Allow yourself to be creative. Use whatever words come to you, and don’t worry for a minute about spelling or grammar. Feel free to add drawings or doodles, too!
Step 2: Draw on your memories.
Meditation may be about being in the present moment, but we can also use our noticing skills when thinking about the past. Studies have shown journaling about memories can have huge health benefits, including pain reduction, better sleep, and even strengthened immune systems.
Let a memory from your past rise to the surface. It doesn’t have to be a particularly important one, although if it is, that’s OK too.
Enter the body of your past self and experience the memory using all five senses. Write about this memory in your journal, using concrete, sensory details.
Step 3: Get into the habit.
Try to set aside a regular time for journaling. Maybe you can take 10 minutes at the end of your weekly yoga class to scribble some thoughts or even take some time at the end of each day to write about what you’ve been noticing.
If you’re feeling stuck, here are a few journaling prompts to get you started:
Describe your childhood bedroom using all five senses.
How do you feel after going for a long, meditative walk? Does the world seem any different after you’ve been breathing deeply and paying attention?
Write about a tiny detail you noticed today—light falling on a leaf, a broken clasp on a necklace, an unusual stone.