Finding Safety in Poetic Journaling

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Poetry was there for me when I needed a safe way to process my feelings. You see, growing up, I couldn’t rely on my privacy. My journal was read more than I can know and I was sometimes confronted with the misconstrued meanings of what was written within. This, I was told, was out of concern for me. Unfortunately, the result was broken trust and the loss of my one space for unpacking the challenges of my young life.

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Renée Zellweger said it best as the title character in Bridget Jones’s Diary, “Everyone knows diaries are just full of crap.” Nevertheless, fear of my written ramblings being uncovered impinged on my journaling practice. It was a blow to my developing mental health and many years would pass before I felt I could keep a regular, long-form journal. Even with roommates I trusted, I had reservations. Thankfully, poetry made a great substitute.

Literary devices gave me the tools I needed to explore my thoughts in creative ways. By identifying with objects through personification, describing complex emotions through metaphor, and blending myriad ideas through rhythm and rhyme, I could unpack my experiences inexplicitly. I could explore my feelings by identifying with other people, fictional characters, and objects.

Though it’s a shame such cryptic writing was born of necessity, it did help me build empathy and understanding for myself and others. It also helped me address traumatic experiences before I was ready to name them. Through creative writing, I tapped into a powerful outlet for managing my emotions and developed my creative muscle in turn.

Now that I live with a partner who supports my privacy, long-form writing feels safe and comfortable again. Still, poetic journaling is now ingrained in my mechanism for reflecting. It continues to prove a potent way to see beyond my personal experience. I encourage you to incorporate it into your practice.

Even if you can safely journal — and I sincerely hope you can — expanding on how you do it may help you develop empathy, broaden your perspective, strengthen your cognitive health, and simplify complex emotions. Here are a few thought starters for embarking on your poetic journaling journey, along with examples from poetry I’ve written.

1. Be one with nature when experiencing a difficult emotion.

Weeping Willow

Sometimes I identify with the
willow’s sweeping branches
Though I am surrounded by others,
I feel disconnected,
precariously supported,
reaching for the earth
and a greater sense of grounding

2. Imagine what your feeling would look like as an object.

Safety Net

I am a safety net, anchored to nothing,
floating by the magic of sheer will

Fall into me if you must
but know all I can promise is
to fall with you
and wrap around you,
a tangle of nylon and air,
as gravity pulls,
causing you to tumble
while you succumb to the patterns
that have brought us down before

3. In a tough moment, write about positive experiences that you can learn from.

Darkness

In meditation, under covers, at night time in the forest
While sleeping or resting or swimming underwater
In playful games of hide-and-seek, tag, and Marco Polo
Nuzzled in a lover’s breast or kissing with our eyes closed
These are the places where I learn to find joy in darkness

4. Distill the essence of an event into one paragraph.

Dance of The New Year

Together, they swayed. Each time they tapped their feet on the frozen ground, a little more love and fire flowed out, thawing the ice at their toes. Though their cups would not touch, they toasted the frosty air with all the wishes they’d been keeping warm. Their hearts pulsed with the music and moved the new year’s breeze. It swirled around and between them like an orca swimming among its pod. Joining their dance, the wind touched each of their hands — connecting them with invisible strands of revitalizing winter sorcery.

5. Remove self-judgment and guilt and see how beautiful self-forgiveness can be.

Sporadic Immersion

A breath doesn’t negate the healing done underwater
For a moment the heart has still pulsed
at one with the rhythm of flow

For each example I’ve shared here, there are hundreds more. There’s no limit to how poetry can show up in your journaling. Creativity can truly support your development. It definitely supported mine. From the moment I realized as a child that everyone deserves a right to privacy, poetry helped me make a space that was all my own. It has stayed with me into adulthood. Hopefully, it can do the same for you.

Rachel Ramkaran is an author, editor, poet & flow artist. Find her on Twitter: @TheRachelRam and Instagram: @WatershieldPoetic.