Sunday, October 10, 2010

Visual Journaling

I want to share with you a little technique I picked up back in 2001 and it is called Visual Journaling.

I bought this book, "Visual Journaling" by Barbara Ganim & Susan Fox when I was going through some health issues in my late 20s. (Before all of the surgeries, etc.) It was a way for me to deal with the anger, the hurt, the resentment, and the fear of the "unknown."

First of all, I want to apologize for the foggy pictures. I am using my mobile phone to upload the pics, if you need to see closer, simply click on the individual pics and you will be able to zoom in that way.

On the front of the book, it clearly states: Use art to - reduce stress, release anger, resolve conflicts, get in touch with feelings and give voice to your soul. My favorite line at the very bottom says: Even if you can't draw.

Eh hmm.. that would be me! (It's sad.. I come from a family of artist.. literally!)

I know many of you are very creative and might enjoy this little journaling suggestion. It has helped me over the years, and even helped a few friends. When I worked for the Girl Scouts, I even taught the teenage cadettes and seniors how to do this to deal with stress. I figure, if you can doodle - you can do this!

All I bought was - the book. (But, you don't have to worry about that, because I plan to share with you a few exercises from the book.) Also, you might want to get either a pack of markers, colored pens, crayons or colored pencils. I generally used colored pencils. Also, you will need paper. I bought myself a little sketchbook from Barnes and Noble and it looks like this:

Now for the fun part - how does it work?? Basically, visual journaling is a process the authors developed to encourage their clients to express this inner language on a regular basis. They say it is like verbal journaling, and is a different way to record the nuances of life's experiences.

See, instead of using words - visual journaling involves using one's inner vision to imagine what thought, feeling or emotional reaction would like if it were expressed as a color, shape or image. The actual act of drawing allows the journaler to see in graphic form what was initially an abstract, almost incomprehensible notion. Explaining in words how you feel when you lose a loved one or when you fall in love is for most of us an impossible task. Words simply can't describe such an experience. But images can - and with a depth that words cannot achieve.

One of the main findings from their research was that imagery is the body mind's first or primary means of inner communication. Fascinating! Words are a secondary form of outer communication - a method we have invented to communicate with each other. In other words - they call the result - our soul's wisdom.

The first time I learned about Visual Journaling was at a workshop for patients battling different cancers and/or cancerous abnormalities in the body. One of the things I wrote down in my little notebook (that I still have) was some advice from one of the Art Therapist and she quoted from this book, "Anyone struggling with illness or disease will find that visual journaling is an excellent self healing therapy, because stress, as research has shown, causes immune system dysfunction, cellular abnormality and the eventual degeneration of body systems."

That's powerful stuff.

Now let's get started.
Step One. Set up your journaling space. Ideally, your journaling space should be a place that allows you to be undisturbed during the time you set aside for this work. The location you select needs to be a place where you can feel safe, protected, nurtured and at peace. It should also offer privacy and some degree of seclusion. But remember - where you do your work is not as important as the feeling it imparts.

Step Two. Set a Clear Intention. Before each visual journaling session, it is important to set an intention that describes what you want from the experience. An intention designates a purpose, reason or goal for what you plan to do. An important part of setting an intention before you begin is to develop awareness of not only what you want, but what you don't want. Formulating words to reflect your intention and writing them down on your journal page before you begin drawing sets up a structure for each journaling session. It also allows you to bypass your left brain's judgements and to clear the neural pathways in your body-mind.

To do this could be as simple as closing your eyes and reviewing the events of the day. You may want to reflect on how you feel at that moment or on feelings that are still with you from the previous day.

It is suggested to write your intention somewhere near your drawing so that you will know what your drawing was about, should you go back and look at it in the future.

Need an example? Here are some sample Intentions: - I intend to connect with the feeling of tension in my stomach. Or I intend to be open to whatever images want to move through me.. etc.

Step Three. Wuiet the Mind through Body-Centered Awareness. To get in touch with the feeling and emotions through which your soul voice flows, you must disconnect from your thoughts. This is called quieting the mind.

Only by connecting with your body can you access your emotions and the images associated with them, because every emotion is expressed as a physical sensation, and every physical sensation has a corresponding image association. To access your inner language, you must quiet the source of your verbal language. This can be easily accomplished through what they call body-centered awareness. Basically, it is a technique that allows you to shift attention away from your mind and into a particular part of your body through breathing and simple guided visualizations. 

Here's how:
- Sit comfortably. Take three long, slow, deep breaths and exhale, concentrating your attention on the rise and fall of your chest.
- Take three more breaths and imagine yourself breathing in light and breathing out a color - any color at all.
- Take three more breathes and again, breathe in light and breathe out a color with each breath.
Do it again and again until it feels natural.
- Now breathe normally. Let your thoughts drift toward any place in your body that draws your attention. (Could be a place of tension o discomfort - or a place that makes you feel relaxed.)
- As your awareness enters that space, focus on that part of your body.

Now you are centered.

Step Four. Seeing with your inner eye though Guided Visualization. Imagine what the feeling sensation you were focusing on in the previous exercise (quieting the mind) would look like if it were an image. It could be something specific - like a mountain or something abstract.  As long as you know what you image represents, then that is all you need.

Step Five. Drawing your inner images. With your journal in front of you, open to the page on which you wrote your intention. Close your eyes again and imagine the image you visualized in Step Four, or the colors and shapes that would best express the feeling sensation you are experiencing in your body. Now open your eyes and draw the image or shapes and colors.

Now sit down and take a good, long look at it.  Be careful not to judge what you see or sense as you visualize and draw, because that will shift you back into the left side of your brain.

There is no right way to do it. Whatever works for you is right. Just trust the process and stay with it.

Here are some of my examples (don't laugh):

This is as simple as it gets. This is after the last surgery, and I was considering divorce.

After I created the image - I defined what it symbolized. Interesting...

Again, all of these pictures were done during a time where I was trying to heal my body.

If you are interested in more of the exercises, I recommend picking up the book. Here is a sample of the chapters:
Going Deeper than Words to Give Voice to Your Soul
Taking the First Step
Visual Journaling as an Everyday Practice
Healing Your Stress-Producing Emotions
Conversing with Your Images
Art from the Heart
Overcoming Fear (actually goes into your real fears)
Resolving Inner Conflict Through Soul Wisdom
Expanding Your Visual Journaling Experience

In honor of the week of celebrating women conquering cancer - try these exercises! :-)


Doris said...

Very cool! I started a visual journal a little while back, and have even posted a few pics of mine on my blog (I'm sure anyone who sees it probably thinks it's pretty boring). I am totally not an artist and my stuff looks a lot like elementary school art, but you know what? By the time I am done with a page...I am soooooo's truly amazing! I love all the technique and advice you wrote about in this post!

The Bipolar Diva said...

That sounds like a great book! I'm going to look for it.

Gaston Studio said...

I'm going to recommend this book to one of my daughters.

Robin said...

I am going to save this blog into my favorites. I want to give this a try. I am all for trying anything that moves you forward on that path of healing. Thank you for sharing this with us.


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