Get Journalling for Spiritual & Psychological Wellbeing!
In Islam it is highly recommended to find time at the end of the day to sit and reflect about our actions, thoughts, aspirations and so on. This can help us identify and take account of our sins, select areas to work on and develop in ourselves, re-orientate ourselves towards Allah (swt) and strengthen our connection with Him. It provides a means through which we can continuously aim to improve ourselves in the hope of moving closer to Him InShaAllah.
As Imam Ali Ibn Abu Talib (as) is reported to have said:
“You think you are a small entity, but within you is enfolded the entire Universe”.
It is therefore of high importance and benefit to ourselves and our self-development that we establish a regular practice of reflection InShaAllah.
“Those who remember Allah (always, and in prayers) standing, sitting, and lying down on their sides, and think deeply about the creation of the heavens and the earth, (saying): Our Lord! You have not created (all) this without purpose, glory to You! (3:191)
The Holy Qur’an clearly directs us to reflect and think deeply about the creation of the heavens and the earth and its purpose. We are instructed to reflect upon Allah’s Sign’s that we witness all around us. Similarly we are told to reflect upon our own selves:
“And on the earth are signs for those who have faith with certainty. And also in your own selves. Will you not then see?” (51:20-21)
As well as to consider our actions and deeds:
“O you who believe! Fear Allah and keep your duty to Him. And let every person look to what he has sent forth for tomorrow, and fear Allah. Verily, Allah is All-Aware of what you do” (59:18)
Allah (swt) continuously exhorts us to reflect – from the blessings He bestows on us, to the manifest signs of His existence, to the workings of our own selves. It is through the practice of continual and constant reflection that we can begin to unravel some of the mysteries of life, strengthen our conviction in, and connection with, Allah (swt) and improve our spiritual and psychological wellbeing, InShaAllah.
Journalling is an extremely popular practice at the moment in the West, and keeping a journal is often recommended in therapy to help improve and maintain a client’s mental health and wellbeing. A journal is simply a notebook or other form or book that contains predominantly blank pages, in which the owner collects and explores their thoughts and feelings. It is a similar concept to that of keeping a diary, which has been practiced by people for centuries.
As Muslims, writing about our reflections in a notebook or journal is an effective method for structuring and helping focus our reflective practice. Writing also serves the benefit of helping open up our creative and unconscious minds to thoughts, feelings and insights that we may not gain from thinking alone. As the conscious mind is busy focusing on the act of writing, it allows more direct access to the unconscious mind which is the wellspring of our creativity and deeper selves.
Journalling for Mental & Emotional Wellbeing
Modern psychology has also extolled the benefits of journalling. Research has found it helps improve the emotional wellbeing, confidence and creativity of both adults and children who practice it regularly. Writing in a journal can help people identify and express thoughts and feelings as well as gain deeper insight into their emotions. Journalling has been found to help with managing anxiety, reducing stress and coping with depression. It can help people identify unhelpful thoughts and thinking patterns, track and monitor their emotions as well as identify and work towards goals. Journalling thus has multiple psychological benefits when used as part of a larger therapeutic or wellbeing plan.
Journalling does not only need to include writing but can include any form of relevant expression such as doodling, drawing, collage, scrapbooking, poetry or a combination of all. There is no right or wrong way of keeping a journal and it should be something that evolves in a way that is meaningful for you, or your child.
A Safe Space
A journal should become a safe space, a retreat that you can return to continuously to explore your feelings and thoughts in a private and unjudgmental manner. They provide a means to explore areas of ourselves, our lives and of our existence that we may not otherwise consider. We can explore our spiritual selves, social and relational selves, emotional selves, our thoughts, beliefs, our struggles, challenges and hopes. Journals can also provide a sacred space in which to reflect and ponder upon our Creator and all He has Given us. They can provide a place for our private duas, our hopes, fears and desires.
Journalling for Children
Whilst journalling is popular for adults, it can equally and effectively be used by children and teenagers. For children it can be a great way to help them learn about, explore and express their emotions, and reflect and learn about themselves. It can equally be used to help guide them Islamically and to help them learn about and reflect on Allah’s Creation, as well as characteristics they want to develop in themselves. For young children they may prefer to draw and use art rather than write – this should be encouraged as provides a more accessible way for them to express themselves due to the constraints of language etc. For teenagers the same applies, but as adolescence can be an emotionally tumultuous time, journalling can be especially helpful for this age group in terms of reflecting on and writing about their emotions, identity, friendships, meaning in life and what is important to them and so on.
Suggestions of Ways to Approach Journalling
Journals should be used in a way that works for you or your child/teen. There is no right or wrong way, however, if you need some ideas to help you begin then below are some suggestions:
Find a Quiet Place
Journalling can be done anywhere anytime however in order to engage in deeper reflection, it is preferrable to find a quiet time, maybe at the end of the day or in the early hours of the morning where you will not be interrupted or distracted InShaAllah. For children, you can dedicate a time and space for them to write/draw in their journal and make sure they have any necessary art materials at hand. Teenagers will most likely do it where and when it suits them, (so respect that…within reason) but you can ensure they have any pens, paints etc that they may require. You can also remind them from time to time to journal, especially if they are feeling particularly emotional, have had a difficult day at school or are facing challenges etc.
Before you begin journalling it can help if you take a few moments to settle and focus yourself. Try and bring your attention to the present moment by taking and focussing on a few deep breaths and let go of any distracting thoughts (as far as possible). Begin by saying Bismillah and if you like you can say a short Dua that may be of relevance etc. If you are helping your child journal then you can guide them to do the same InShaAllah.
Identify Your Intention
Identify your intention for what you would like to reflect on and write etc about. What do you want to focus on? What do you hope to achieve? (e.g. I want to write about an event today that upset me so that I can process the feelings and move on from it; I want to reflect on this Quranic verse so that I can learn from it and strengthen my connection with Allah (swt), I want to identify any sins I committed today so that I can ask for forgiveness and refrain from repeating them).
If you don’t have any specific thing to focus on that is also ok, but it can still help just to set a general intention (e.g. I want to feel closer to Allah (swt); I want to feel better emotionally). You can then just start writing or doodling and see what emerges InShaAllah.
For children it may be something like, I want to draw a picture about how I felt at breaktime when nobody played with me today; I want to thank Allah (swt) because He Deserves it; I want to learn how to manage my angry feelings by drawing some things I can do to calm down
Using Prompts or Questions
It can help to use certain prompts as a starting point upon which to reflect and write. Prompts can be anything from a word, a quote, a feeling or event, a Quranic verse of hadith and so on. Once you have your prompt you can just begin writing and see what happens.
Questions work in a similar way and act as a starting point for further exploration. An advantage of using prompts and questions to guide your practice is that they may help you reflect about things that you may not have otherwise considered.
For children you can still provide questions or prompts and have them draw whatever comes up for them.
Let it Flow & Don’t Judge
Try to write and/or draw in a continuous stream and without judgement. Remember what you write is for you alone and the more you write, even if you want to cross out sections, you will find that your thoughts will begin to flow more readily, and unexpected insights will emerge InShaAllah. Young children tend to be less critical so should find this aspect easier to manage, however if they have perfectionist tendencies or are critical of themselves then try to have them engage in the below exercise and approach it with a sense of curiosity and fun InShaAllah.
Try Using Your Non-Dominant Hand
If you get stuck you can try an exercise that involves writing with your non-dominant hand. So if you are right-handed, try writing/drawing with your left hand. It doesn’t matter how it looks or if it is messy as it is the content that matters and seeing what emerges. The non-dominant hand is linked to the unconscious and more creative side of the brain and helps you bypass the conscious more critical and judgmental part of the mind that may be keeping you stuck or blocked. Often interesting insights may reveal themselves if you write/draw with your non-dominant hand and you may want to give this exercise a go even if you don’t feel stuck!