burning my journals

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  • burning my journals

    I recently burned 18 years worth of journals.

    These were all books I’ve been saving from high school through 2012. I once drove them cross country, with them taking up more space in my small car than almost all my other possessions combined.

    I burned all except two or three out of the nearly two decades’ worth of personal writing, most of it done daily as journalling, sketching/collaging or morning pages. The decision to burn my journals came as a surprise, even to me. Writing as a form of self-expression, creativity and life-processing has always been important to me, and I had a bunch of moving boxes full of journals as proof of my commitment. But all that’s gone now, all by choice.

    A few months ago I went to my monthly meditation circle and the topic of the evening was letting go of the past. The facilitator talked about how important it is to let go of anything — physical or energetic — that ties us needlessly to the past, and how we need to let go if we ever hope to live in the present, or step untethered into our futures. When she suggested burning journals, I was horrified, but by the end of the session, I knew it was what I needed to do.

    The process, which I did shortly after the start of the new year, was a lengthy one. It took two nights, using two different friends’ fireplaces/fire pits. And it was surprisingly easier than I expected.

    I never really spent that much time re-reading my journals over the years, and often when I did, it wasn’t a fun-filled experience. I perused a few of the old journals as I prepared to let them all go, and can honestly say that I didn’t need to carry them around with me anymore. I realized that for me, journalling is a lot about processing the present moment, and that once a particular issue or experience is passed, I don’t need to hang on to my written processing of it anymore. Not to mention the enormous weight off my shoulders of fearing that someone would read them without my permission (and no one was getting permission). Years ago I dealt with the awful pain of that very specific betrayal — and now without the books, no more fear of trespassers. By liberating the pages, I liberated myself.

    It was an arduous task to hand-disassemble each book, removing wire spiral bindings and bookcovers that wouldn’t burn cleanly. In a beautifully ironic twist of fate, I was able to give all the empty bookcovers to a friend who was going to be teaching a bookmaking and journalling class to a bunch of teen girls at her local Boys & Girls Club. I love the idea of those covers that have held my stories continuing to hold the precious chronicles of other girls’ lives.

    Watching the pages turn into ashes in the flames, I realized that I was letting go of a lot of old stories, old identities, old habits, old patterns, and old MEs that I used to be. It was a thrilling, exciting experience to realize how far I’ve come since the days I wrote all those words, and I was filled with curiosity and wonder as I guessed at what the future will hold. It was very fortuitous timing to do this upon entering a New Year, but any special day will do: a full moon, birthday, Independence Day, or Journal-Liberation Day (you’ve got a calendar… make it up!)

    I’m not sure that I’ll ever save that many journals ever again. They take up a ton of space! It’s likely that I will continue journaling throughout my life, but I bet it’ll be a lot easier moving forward to let each day live and pass away, as I give thanks for the experience and then gratefully let it go.

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  • 21 thoughts on “burning my journals

      • Jada: Thank you! It was something I thought I would never do, but once my perspective shifted, it became easy to let them go. Do you journal a lot, and have you always saved your journals?

        • I did keep a diary when I was younger, and then a private blog when I was going through a tough time in my life. I felt safer having it there then writing it in physical journal. I also felt typing went in the same speed as my emotion, kinda like Kerouc’s/Wordsworth “spontaneous outpouring”. I have since gone through them and deleted some parts that were too negative. It had such a negative energy, it felt good letting go. I was also scared to delete some parts because it felt like I was deleting sixteen year old me. Strange huh?

        • Jada: I don’t think that’s strange at all! Totally makes sense — in fact i think it would have been harder to only get rid of half the journals, than the whole pile.

          A few times I also tried out keeping an electronic journal, but it never stuck, and Julia Campbell (The Artist’s Way, morning pages) always stressed the benefit of longhand writing, thus typing felt like cheating to me 😉 It did go a lot faster though!!

        • I think typing and long hand serve different purposes. Long hand can make you slow down more, but I think either way works really. I’m so glad you were able to lighten your load!

        • Thank you! In a way, this blog is a cool way for me to journal (albeit very selectively, and publicly ;). Like shared journalling. Haha, there’s a concept!

        • For a really inspiring documentary about a “shared journals” experiment, check out 1000 Journals! http://www.1000journalsfilm.com/ It inspired me to send a few off to the spinoff 1001 Journals Project…which are still out there in the world somewhere!

    1. I shared this on my facebook page. I can’t even get over how brave you must have been to do that! I still have all of my old school books from high school and even middle school. I have a hard time letting even that go. Have you ever read “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle? I highly recommend it. After reading the first chapter in the book I did something simiiar to you in that I took down all of the old theatre posters that I had put up around my desk, all in an effort to let go of the person I was and the roles I’ve played so that I can attract new roles and opportunities into my life.

      Thank you so much for sharing. I’m so happy that I found your blog!

      • Hey Christine: Thanks for reading and sharing my post! Thanks too for your kind words. I have heard of that Eckhart Tolle book, but I haven’t read it (yet!)

        You sound pretty happy about your decision to let go of your posters. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that we are not what we own, our past roles and identities, or the labels that are placed on us by ourselves and others. Letting go gives us a chance to reflect on who we really are, right now in the present moment. Remember, everything in those books is already inside of you, permanently! 🙂

        Did reading The Power of Now make you think about letting go of more possessions and relics of your past?

    2. Pingback: “The quality of your consciousness at this moment is what shapes the future” |

    3. It is such a brave effort to do that but I get the place where you are coming from. I’m not sure I’d be able to do it to my own journals just yet but I see the appeal.

      • Hey Wanderinggeekette: Thanks for the comment! Yeah, it’s funny because I didn’t think I was doing anything brave at all… It just seemed like the right thing to do. But I totally understand that not everyone is in that place.

        The cool thing is that, whether we have our journals or not, all those memories, experiences and stories are all already inside of us. Do you ever spend time re-reading your old journals, or sharing them with others?

        • I’d be too embarrassed to share it with someone else. And honestly, I haven’t re-read them, too. I’d probably be able to dispose of them in the future. For now I’d just carry them around.

    4. Pingback: "The quality of your consciousness at this moment is what shapes the future" Creative Life Blog

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