Journaling, for many people, is a mainstay of their spiritual lives—a practice that keeps them in touch with God, their own hearts, and the contrasting landscapes of their life journey. However, others have a visceral reaction to the word and practice. Writing down thoughts and feelings that capture the neurotic and psychotic episodes of one’s soul has absolutely no appeal!
Yet the fact remains—within our hearts are deep waters and we often need help processing the undercurrents of emotion that swirl within them. So, may I make a suggestion? Try “visual journaling.”
This was a new concept for me, though I occasionally draw pictures in my journal. A few weeks ago, I was at the library and came across a book called “Visual Journaling: Going Deeper than Words” by Barbara Ganim and Susan Fox. As art therapists, these authors have led hundreds of reticent journalers in a process of finding their voice through visual journaling. AND—you don’t have to be an artist for this experience to be meaningful.
I have adapted the following steps from this book and experimented with the practice myself. Here are some basic directions that might help you discover a new love for journaling—without using words!
To get started, find some drawing paper that is at least 8 X 10 in size and choose your favorite art medium—crayons, markers, pastels, colored pencils--or whatever you have on hand. Read the following steps and then give it try!
- Sit for a few minutes and decompress. Breathe deeply, relax and intentionally become aware of your body, especially your heart.
- Now, try to form a question about a feeling you are having, like “I want to understand why I am feeling anxious today.” Or, “I want to recognize how I really feel about _________.”
- Once you state what you are seeking to understand, write it down in a corner of your paper. Now, express your desire in prayer and ask the Holy Spirit to help you discern the deep waters of your own heart. (Proverbs 4:21)
- As you pray, open your heart to God and let him see inside. Ask God to give you a picture or image that captures what you are feeling. Try, with your mind’s eye, to see the image.
- Begin to draw it, sketching it from your mental picture, or creating the image as you go, intuitively drawing what you feel.
- Once you are finished, set the image in front of you and look at it. Ask God to speak through it and give you insight and wisdom about yourself.
Just a few days ago, while feeling many dissonant emotions, I worked through this process. The image that came to mind was a large blue eye looking at a storm cloud. Almost immediately, as I began to draw the image, I knew how God was speaking through it. I sensed that the way I was "looking" at a situation was affecting how I “saw” it. The process of journaling helped clarify what I needed to do.
I realize that for many, visual journaling may sound more daunting than journaling with words. What you may discover, if you are courageous enough to try, is how powerful images are in expressing our complex feelings--something words simply cannot convey.