In the winter of 2021, I had the pleasure of attending a series of Journalling Workshops in the Blacon Wellbeing Hub. They were led by the very insightful Julia McGuinness, who is the Poet in Residence of Chester Cathedral and a wellness practitioner.
Heading into this series of journalling workshops, I didn’t really know what to expect, having never done much writing before. Before this I thought that journalling was just another way to say you kept a diary, which I’m sure is also therapeutic, but I never felt that was for me.
Despite my lack of knowledge, I decided to go into the workshops with an open mind, and I’m glad I did. It’s easy to get carried away with everything going on at home and work, and I sometimes forget to carve out time for myself to relax, reflect and clear my head.
Even so, clearing your head can be a lot easier said than done, and it’s hard to find straightforward or practical ways to be mindful. What I found in journalling was a surprisingly easy, thoughtful pastime that made me feel present and calm, I soon found myself looking forward to the sessions each week.
Julia made it clear in the first session that this is a space where you can write whatever you want without judgement, and at no time do you have to share what you write. This was reassuring, and I soon found that the kind atmosphere she gives the space led me to feel safe sharing writing with everyone else.
Each session included a warmup writing prompt, and 2 – 3 more fulfilling exercises that can be used for general mindfulness, or more practical purposes such as working through issues, gathering thoughts and meditative purposes.
Julia provided structured writing templates, helping to lay out tricky thought processes, unravel feelings and even write poems. Sharing my writing turned out to feel just as gratifying as the writing itself, prompting fruitful discussions among the group, I found a lot of enjoyment hearing everyone’s poems and discussing different themes and structures.
One exercise that really stuck with me was a tree themed exercise. We looked upon images of trees and each picked one that spoke to us. I chose what I later found out to be a Dragon’s Blood Tree, with a strange demeanor and densely packed crown of branches and leaves.
I actually thought this tree was a little unnerving, but that only seemed to make me more curious. Julia then prompted us with questions about our thoughts on our trees; How we would feel if we were near it? What is its relationship with its environment? What could be inside?
The whole group quickly burst into writing, with encouragement and prompts from Julia along the way. Writing was more cathartic than I expected, I was surprised how curious I was to explore my thoughts around these prompts.
At the end of the exercise, we all shared parts of our writing with each other, and quickly found that we had all been projecting ourselves onto these trees, and that we’d somehow been discovering ourselves the whole time. It proved to be a very beneficial and fulfilling session that I have gone back to multiple times.
Since the workshops, I often go back to Julia’s journalling prompts, finding that I come up with completely different writing each time. I have been able to use journalling as a way to keep myself grounded and provide self-reflection. It has enabled me to bring regular mindfulness into my life in a way that feels practical and enjoyable.