Journaling prompts invite one to look through new windows of expression. Tapping into your stream of consciousness leads to honest perspective which can alter the dynamics of the relationships you've created with issues and past experiences. Even if we can't change external circumstances we can find and nurture internal grace regarding the things we can't change or control (currently or in the aftermath). The following prompts & exercises can help you find forgiveness, understanding, wisdom and compassion for everyone and everything involved in your life story. Try these exercises alone or in a workshop or on retreat. If appropriate, share what comes up with others, inviting them to bear witness to your insights. Just write honestly and be open to what happens, remaining unattached to outcomes or expectations from your writing.
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Is there something you are ready to release and let go of in order to create space for healing? Perhaps it is time to say good-bye to your guilt, your anger, or your attachment to a belief or situation. Compose a good-bye letter to someone, something or an energy/belief that you need to let go of. I've seen students write good-bye letters to their grief, their self-sabotaging behaviors, that last five pounds they are ready to unload, and to the substances they've long been addicted to as a declaration of independence. I listened to a very poignant & heartfelt love letter a woman wrote a good-bye letter to her hair while losing it due to cancer treatment. Often we need closure as we separate from things that have long defined us or to help us move away from things that served us for a time, but have become detrimental to our lives later. The letter can explore your appreciation for the time you spent together, for the gifts you received through the connection, and anything else that explains where and why the attachment began, but be sure to express why that connection no longer needs to exist. Explain why it is time for change and how life for you will be different when this separation is complete. Explain why you are "leaving" or divorcing that which you are saying Good-bye to, and include what you will miss. But even so, make sure this is a formal Good-bye. Revel in the closure and the freedom that comes with closing a door on something that no longer serves you. What do you need to say good-bye to? Guilt? Depression? Bad habits? Family heirlooms or traditions that you resent having to keep considering they don't fit your lifestyle? Certain memories? Negative thoughts?
Unsent letters are a common exercise, providing you with a chance to voice sentiments that you find difficult to say face to face by writing them on paper, even if you never intend to send the letter . But in this unsent letter exercise, consider a sentiment or explanation you need and deserve to hear from someone who just couldn't say what needed to be said now or in the past. This unsent letter will be addressed to you from that certain someone who failed to provide the words you needed (or still need) to hear. Don't worry if you believe the person would never truly express this sentiment, for this exercise isn't about them so much as it is about you and your unfinished business. Yoga teaches us that ego, ignorance and attachment are what stands in the way of wisdom and compassion, so what we believe to be true is often speculation that is ignorant of truth. This letter is about extinguishing the energies that haunt you, and shifting your associations to the past, finding closure and eliminating that nagging sense of incompleteness that can be the residue of former trauma or disappointment. Perhaps you need to hear a parent tell you just how proud of you they really are. Perhaps you have always wanted to hear an admittance from someone that they could have protected you better, or put you in a higher priority. Perhaps you need to hear the confession that a caregiver was regretfully selfish at a time you needed them. Perhaps you need to hear an apology and an explanation regarding why a partner left you, created hardship for you, or treated you with less respect than you deserved. Maybe you need to hear words of forgiveness and understanding from someone you failed in the past, knowingly or accidently.
Write a letter staring with, "Dear (your name), and let the words flow. Your heart and mind will pen the apology, the explanation, the expression of gratitude, the regret, the forgiveness or whatever else you need to hear in a heartfelt letter addressed to you from someone else. Read the letter out loud, and note how your heart and mind feels to finally hear these words. Then, let go of any doubt or dismissal you might feel because the words were formed by you. Instead consider that they've come not from but through you. This letter is a message of truth that at long last has been set free from ignorance or ego. This is a long overdue letter of love, forgiveness, approval and support.
Write a letter to you from a part of your body (or, your letter may be from your pain, your illness, or one of your emotional states.) Let's say you deal with chronic pain in your feet. Instead of writing about the pain in your feet and how disruptive this is to life, change perspective. What would your feet have to say if they could talk with you about the situation? Perhaps they would remind you of all the good years you've spent together and how they too miss running and going places unincumbered. Your feet may express appreciation for the comfortable shoes you are forced to choose now, and ask politely for you to be more tolerant, compassion and patient with them on bad days. They are doing their best in a difficult situation and they want to remind you of special memories of the great places they've taken you in the past.
What might other parts(or your entire body) say to you if it could talk? Might your body have something to say about what you eat, whether you provide the exercise, the rest and the care it requires to function well? What would your body ask for if communication was possible? Perhaps your body has been sending messages daily, but you are ignoring them. At last, your body can say what needs to be said.
What if your hips could talk? Would they share how difficult being on the receiving end of constant dislike and criticism can be? Would your hips remind you of all they do to support your life - helping you bare children, run a marathon, or providing a nurturing place for your children to sit and cuddle. How silly to overlook all the good because they don't fit into a pair of skinny jeans!
You might choose to write a letter from your skin, (which doesn't really want or need Botox, thank you very much) or a letter from your breasts who would appreciate if you'd stop wanting them to be bigger, smaller, perkier or something else that isn't their true nature. Can't the both of you can just love each other as is? Does you hair have something to say? Your nose? Your wrinkles?
What if your creativity could have a conversation with you? Or your anger or anxiety could express why some days are harder than others. Perhaps your emotional states, once given a voice, will suggest things you can do to keep energies more aligned in a healthy way.
See what happens. The body may chose to talk to you with attitude, with anger, hurt or logic. Perhaps your body will want to apologize, or plead with you to show more compassion, tolerance and respect. Let the conversation unfold. Listen and respond. The love-hate relationship we have with our body is the oldest relationship we'll ever had. Make peace, get on the same team, and nurture love for one another.
Names are often a central element to our identity. Sometimes we have fond memories of names given us, and other times, we resent and feel put upon by names and nicknames we wish were never assigned.
Make a list of everything you have ever been called, beginning with your given birth name, to childhood nicknames, pet names and names that came over the years due to marriage, changed relationships, or just a decision to have people call you something else. Take your time to consider every name you’ve ever been called (and you can skip negative names given in moments of anger unless they are repeated over and over and had significant impact on your self-identity.) What did parents, friends and lovers call you, other than your given name? Why? When you make a list of everything anyone has ever called you, it might be quite a few pages long and provoke memories and associations you hadn't made before!
After the list is complete, bracket the names to different periods of your life – such as “These names are from early childhood, these are the teen years, this was what I went by during my marriage, this was from my college years, this was during that time when I hung out in a biker gang, theater troupe, while in the service, etc.
Look at the list and consider what insights this collection of labels provides. Write about one or more of the names.
· Where did this particular name come from? If you know (or can guess) write about your relationship with the name and how it came to be. Write about the period in life when you had this name or group of names, and how your identity was established or influenced at this period of your life.
· Write about how your name or names has helped define you or made you feel a part of something special (family?). In what ways is this name important to you?
· Write about one name that you liked or disliked, exploring where the name came from, the meaning assigned to it, and if the name suited you or not. Why did the name disappear over time or get replace with a different one? How did you feel about that?
· How would life have been different if you had a different name or nickname? Have you ever changed your identity, legally, just for the purpose of privacy on occasion? Have you chosen an alternate name when online to retain anonymity? If one of the names on the list was self-given because you wanted to be someone else, even for a single night, write about that experience and what motivated you to choose a name other than the one given you at birth. Why did you choose that name bas your alternate identity?
· If you are a namesake, your name may have been chosen to honor another relative. Write about the similarities and differences you share with that person and what being a namesake did to define and shape your identity.
· Write about nicknames. Was the name awarded to you something established on purpose or did the title come about by accident or without your approval? Did the assigned nickname have a big impact on how you felt about yourself then (or now)?
· If there was one name you’d like stricken from the list of names you’ve be been called in life, which would it be and why?
Write about scars, those you have or have caused others to have.
Begin by writing about a physical scar, such as a faded spot on your hand where you once caught your finger on barbed wire. What were the circumstances which caused the injury? Does the scar serve as a reminder of something you learned the hard way? Is that flaw on your skin reminiscent of a moment you rarely recall, such as a scar on your knee from the day you learned to ride a bike with your big brother? Perhaps you have a scar from an operation, which says something about your health now or in the past, which is also a visual reminder of just how delicate life can be. Is this scar a reminder that you have a beautiful child? A transferred organ? A second chance at life now that an invasive tumor has been removed? Proof that you can be clumsy, or are unlucky, or that you take risks?
Does the physical scar serve as telltale proof of a deeper scar left unattended? Perhaps this scar tells of abuse or lack of care. Perhaps this scar tells a story of a difficult event in your past? What story does the scar tell? Does it bother you? Have you grown so used to the flaw on your body that you fail to notice it at all?
Next, explore the scars you have that are not physical. Perhaps you have scars that the outside world will never see. Can you write about the invisible scars you carry? Where do they reveal themselves? Where do you embody these wounds? In the Heart? Mind? Emotions? Trust or lack of it?
After writing about both physical and emotional scars, explore any connection shared. Scars can be a map of your life's journey. Do they serve a purpose? What might that be?
Write about the scars you have caused.
Some may be physical (the day you accidentally knocked your little brother down the stairs) or emotional (the day you purposely knocked your brother down the stairs as a jealous youngster.) Do you regret the scars you have caused others, or are these injuries due to mistakes, circumstance, or a necessity at the time? Perhaps you had no clue what you did would hurt someone else. Perhaps there was an accident that, for all your heart, you wish hadn't occurred. Have you forgiven yourself? Have you been forgiven?
Physical scars may heal, but the evidence of a former injury can also be a strong metaphor for the human condition and life's slings and arrows. We heal wounds the best we can, but we can never fully return to the pure state we were in before being hurt.
As you write about scars literally, but also metaphorically, consider them as living examples of the intricate map of your ever unfolding life.
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