Family History: They Were Story Changers!

Tomorrow is Family History Day. The day honors the busiest day ever recorded at Ellis Island. April 17, 1907 was a milestone date, with 11,747 immigrants passing through towards their dream of making a new start in America. 

Family History in Context

Ellis Island is a symbolic place to many Americans, primarily those whose ancestors came from Europe. All Americans share a sense of resiliency, no matter the background of their ancestors. The vast majority of Americans share a sense of settling and starting anew from other places, while all, including indigenous peoples maintain special linkages to their historical traditions.

We are a nation of hybrids! Connected both to the United States, as well as to the roots of where our people come from.

Our Story Changers

What stands out to me on Family History Day is the strength and courage that our ancestors collectively shared. Whether giving up everything to save for a ticket to New York, or surviving the ordeal of the Middle Passage, our ancestors were Story Changers. Courageous and inspiring people who through luck, planning, resiliency or determination changed and built their own story — leading to ours today. Amazing!

Perceiving Our Story Changers Through Writing

Today in particular I celebrate the Story Changers we each descend from. And the Story Changers we all our individually — creating the pathway for future stories.

Journal writing is an incredible way to tap into the resiliency and wisdom of our individual and collective ancestors. The story of our families fall into three buckets: what’s known, unknown or hidden.

  • Known is available through records, stories and personal contact.
  • Unknown includes the fact we all descend from 4 grandparents, 8 great-grands, 16 great-greats and on and on. But as time passes we can lose some of those names and stories and information.
  • Hidden includes information that was destroyed, altered, or concealed, often to protect the secrets of others. Hidden information ranges from the identities of the biological parents of adoptees to the tribal connections of enslaved people.

Family History

Ancestry DNA testing is bringing more and more unknown or hidden information accessible and into the light. While empowering to discover, this information can also be unsettling. It can be a complicated experience of joy, mixed with the frustration or grief of what is or had been withheld from you.

Our intuition and perception can be an amazing tool to process unknown or hidden information as it is discovered, or to fill gaps where discovery is not possible. Insight Writing in your journal is a great way to tap your own intuition.

In honor of Family History Day I have shared a free guided meditation audio file on Insight Timer – Dialogue with Ancestors: A Meditation for Journal Writing. I invite you to walk in the shoes of your ancestors for a moment, and then write in your journal with their inspiration.

Celebrate your very own Story Changers today. And as you do so you are paving the stories of tomorrow.

 

Learn More About Your Story Changers

Your journal is an amazing resource to process what’s known, unknown or hidden about your own family and your Story Changers. I’m excited to announce the first of my classes and tools:

Understand Yourself & Your Family: Writing from the Head, the Heart and Your Own Gut Instinct

The first two sessions are open for registration now! Watch for specially designed tools and information coming me soon.

Giving Mindset Journal

Create a Giving Mindset: The Power of Your Journal This Holiday Season

I’m thrilled to be featured once again on the Insight Timer Blog with a special article about mindfulness this holiday season.

Copy below or click to on their website.

Create a Giving Mindset: The Power of Your Journal This Holiday Season

The holiday season approaches, and it will be one like no other. Amidst a global pandemic many connections and traditions we look forward to may be a bit different this year. While not a replacement, the blended practices of meditation and journal-writing can be a beautiful alternative for this moment. And perhaps some can inspire new traditions for you going forward.

It’s no coincidence that many of the world’s major religions have traditions of connection, and of light, in what is the darkest part of the year in the northern hemisphere. And lack of connection is one of the most challenging sides of living through this pandemic. This holiday season lands at a time some believe may be in the ‘third-quarter phenomenon’ – a trend that has been noted by those that study experiences of extended isolation, such as living on the International Space Station or at the research campus on Antarctica. No matter the overall timeline of the isolation, around two-thirds to three-fourths of the way through, moods and morale hit a low-point.

With the caution of COVID-19 numbers hitting new records in many parts of the world, but the promising news of vaccine rollouts seeming imminent, it could very well be that the holiday season and the lows of the ‘third-quarter’ of the pandemic will overlap.

So what are some new ways for right now we can use to connect to traditions and others, create a giving mindset for ourselves, and celebrate what is a season of light in so many cultures? The combined practices of meditation and mindful journal-writing gives us a pathway.

Mindful Journaling In The Holiday Season

The practice of meditative and mindful journaling is a simple three-step process:

Begin — Be present: take some deep breaths, listen to an audio journal prompt, take a walk. Let your writing prompt find you.

Write – Shorter is better! 5-10 minutes is just enough.

Reflect – Take a few deep breaths, read and be present to what you have just written. What surprises or insights stand out? Now write yourself one last line of reflection.

You can learn more about reflection writing in the talk below:

Reflective Writing In Your Journal, by Laura Stukel

 

Ideas to combine meditation and mindful journal-writing in this holiday season:

Linger in a few moments of beautiful candlelight

Many different traditions draw from light in the darkness. Enjoy some deep breaths as you feel your body relax. Sit and be present to the stillness. When you are ready, begin to write, using this meditative beginning and then following your pen wherever your writing takes you.

You might want to try this candle breathing meditation by Sara Rabinovitch, Ph.D.

Use images or wording from cards given or received as a springboard into writing

Extend the tradition and the exchange by being present to any inspiration. Reflect on a selected card for a moment and take a few relaxing breaths. When you are ready, use a few words from the card as a starter and then follow your pen.

Connect in a deep way, without limitations of time or space

A Character Sketch journal write is a description of someone dear, using a moment of meditation to be together in your mind (anyone special – perhaps even someone who has passed on). Close your eyes and picture your dear one approaching, then standing near. Finally, be present with them, using all of your five senses. When you are ready, describe your dear one in your journal. To really experience a moment of a giving mindset, you may choose to conclude your session by writing a special holiday card to this person, and mailing or delivering it symbolically to a loved one passed.

Capture special holiday moments

Similar to the technique above, a Captured Moment journal write begins with quiet meditation, and an observation in your mind, using all five senses. Seasonal scents or essential oils add inspiration. To try, simply sit in quiet with your eyes closed, and picture a blank, white screen in front of you. Allow yourself to call forward holiday memories from the past, watching them pass like a movie, or as if flipping through a photo album. Then let one be fully present to you, and enjoy that moment again using all five senses. When you are ready, write, describing this holiday moment in time as if you are enjoying it again in slow motion.

Embrace the symbols, inspiration and perspective of holiday traditions

From images of the sun on the Winter Solstice, to the story of the oil lasting for eight nights, to the journey of the three wise men, we have rich connections to culture, history, traditions and nature in this time of year. Secular and pop culture adds more layers. Using music, stories, family heirlooms, religious texts, or similar inspiration, find perspective and in your journal. Travel space and time as you need to. Write as another person if it suits you. Quietly center yourself amidst your inspiration, and then write.

For example, imagine yourself being among the peoples who placed the columns at Stonehenge, then write as that person observing the season present. Or maybe enjoy the classic song, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and then write from the perspective of Bing Crosby himself, with whatever wisdom he may be able to impart into your journal. Or, Ebenezer Scroorge perhaps? Take in bubbe’s latke recipe, noting the careful way she described the steps, and then write from her perspective as if she was experiencing the present moment in time. You get the idea.

Dialogue with a Grandparent – Meditation for Journal Writing by Laura Stukel

 

Create a Mindset of Giving

Yes, this holiday season will be unlike any we have experienced before. And yes, there are challenges. Remember to take time to be present, and to create new, mindful ways to connect with traditions and loved ones during this season. Blending the practices of meditation and journal-writing will allow us to experience holiday traditions in new, creative and heart-filling ways.

 

Coping COVID-19

Coping with COVID-19 – Tools from our Journals

In the past four weeks I’ve worked with over 45 students in online journaling workshops as each looked for ways to process the impact of the COVID-19 crisis individually and as a learning community. Nearly 75% of the way complete, it’s fascinating what we’ve shared together. And the lessons I’ve learned. My big takeaway comes down to four coping categories, and eight simple journal techniques.

As groups, we’re using journaling as a means to cope with this crisis. But the categories apply no matter how you approach self-care. The important thing is to do what feels right for you — and do something every day, just don’t overdo it.

Key Lessons from our Journals

From rocket scientists to sleep experts I’ve been chronicling the benefits to journaling, especially right now, here on my blog. I’ve also been keeping tabs on the leading thinking coming out of places like the Mayo Clinic and the Center for Disease Control. But it’s my students who had the wisest, most simple wisdom to share from their examples:

Be Present. Present to Emotions, Uncertainty, Gratitude.

Routine. Do something basic every day to Boost Immunity, Sleep Consistently, Journal.

Release. It’s hard enough to take in so much change and so much bad news at once. Let alone to process it. Release in the way that feels right to you through things like Hobbies, Books/Music, Moments of joy.

Connect. At this time of separation we need as many ways to connect as still possible. Focus on Loved Ones, Helping Others, Nature, Faith.

And through their own courage to learn new ways to connect with their journals right now, these students have reminded me of the most simple and effective tools for this moment.

Journal Tools in the Time of COVID-19

Based what I’ve observed with my students these past few weeks, the best approach is to try something simple, with the intent of addressing at least one of the four categories every day. (Colored fonts below indicate a link to additional resources on most techniques.)

Be Present:

  • 5 Minute Sprints – Set a timer for 5, add “What’s going on?…” as your prompt. Write.
  • Reflection Writing – Whatever you end up writing, reread it (aloud if you want to), take a breath, write for one more minute about whatever comes to you. You are your own best coach and advocate.
  • Stream of Consciousness – Take a long walk, focus on your breathing for 3 minutes or daydream for 5. Then open your journal. Write.

Routine:

  • Topics du Jour – Find seven topics that mean the most to you right now. Select one topic per day of the week and assign each to its own page in your journal. Do one quick write on each day’s topic. Repeat each week. For example: Mondays – ‘Managing Stress’, Tuesdays – ‘Healthy Habits’, Wednesday – ‘My Kiddos’, etc.

Release:

  • Clustering – Write a focus word in the center of a journal page and circle it. It could be an emotion you wish to process, a word that represents something that brings you joy, or inspires you. Take a few deep breaths as you consider your word. Then doodle and sketch with branches with whatever comes to mind. When you finish, describe your doodle in words.
  • Dreams – Many of us have been dreaming more often, and we’re remembering more of our dreams, and they are more vivid right now. Dreams are the subconscious mind’s way to process what happens during our day. A journal is a beneficial way to complete that processing.

Connect:

  • Character Sketch – Think of one special person in your life and observe fully in your mind what they mean to you emotionally, as a physical presence, the lessons they have for you, any inspiration or memories. Sit and be present with them for a few moments. Then use your journal to record a vivid description. When you are done, pick up the phone, send a card, or hop on a Zoom call. Share the highlights of your write, or just enjoy the interaction. If this loved one is no longer with us or inaccessible right now, find a ritual to share the highlights — perhaps whisper them to the first star you see in the evening sky.
  • Captured Moment – Let a joyful moment come to mind and then experience it again in your mind using all five senses. Linger for a moment. Then record it in your journal.

Remember the Overall Wisdom

I hope this framework for thinking about coping and self-care is helpful in this moment. Remember to keep it simple, but do something to support yourself each day. Being present, finding routine, releasing and connecting are powerful tools whether your work on them through your journal or in other ways.

 

All of these techniques are presented in the Journal to the Self workshops I teach. Given the current situation, I’m running only online classes right now and finalizing a schedule. Please contact me as I may be able to open a class for you!

 

Photo by Lisa Fotios, Pexels. 

Even NASA has Journal Power!

If you’re like me, you’re hunkering down for safety, while your head and heart try to process what this pandemic really means on a day-to-day basis.

Astronaut Scott Kelly (the twin who was in space for a year) offered some inspired tips on what it takes to live effectively in isolation.

The NYTimes shared an article written by the astronaut. One of the unexpected findings was the importance of keeping a journal while in isolation.  You can read “I Spent a Year In Space, and I Have Tips on Isolation to Share” on the New York Times (you may need a guest log in to view the content).
His tip on journal writing is about mid-way into the article (bold added for emphasis):

NASA has been studying the effects of isolation on humans for decades, and one surprising finding they have made is the value of keeping a journal. Throughout my yearlong mission, I took the time to write about my experiences almost every day. If you find yourself just chronicling the days’ events (which, under the circumstances, might get repetitive) instead try describing what you are experiencing through your five senses or write about memories. Even if you don’t wind up writing a book based on your journal like I did, writing about your days will help put your experiences in perspective and let you look back later on what this unique time in history has meant.

Turns out you CAN be a rocket scientist. All you need is your journal!

Power for Your Journal

Captured Moment is a writing technique from Journal to the Self that empowers us to write memories from the five senses. It is just one of 18 techniques I teach. My next online class starts April 16th. Join me! Learn more on the Workshops page, download a free sample first, or schedule a no obligation phone call to chat about how I can support your own journey, especially in these uncertain times.

NASA Photo by Bill Ingalls.