A WHILE AGO, while reviewing past journal entries, I realized that I hadn’t included much about what was going on in the world around me in any of my entries. My journal writing practice included explorations of everything physically and emotionally related to my life — family, friends, work, health, my thoughts and feelings about everything — except current world events.
When writing my memoirs, I often reached for my past journals to refresh my memories and to provide context for those memories. But, sadly, that context was often missing. It made me wonder: How could I have neglected to record the context in which I lived my life?
Journaling is many things: a chronicle of our lives, an exploration of events and our responses to them, an anchor for memories, a vehicle for emotional healing, self-discovery, and spiritual and mental/emotional growth. But, because we tend to write about our internal processes, it’s easy to forget to include references to the world outside our smaller daily worlds. We might write about losing a job and our subsequent financial worries, but do we put this in the context of a global financial crisis and a 10% unemployment rate (or their opposites)? Do we write about natural catastrophes in California or Texas and include our personal responses to these events? Or do we only write about events occurring in our immediate neighborhood? Do we even include these?
If you are like me, you tend to focus inward. The following journaling prompts will help you place your life in the context of the larger world and provide perspective for your journaling practice:
- Scan a newspaper or Internet news service and read one or more articles that draw your attention. In your journal that day, write a short, one or two-sentence summary of the event(s), and your reaction to it/them. Which events do you want to remember ten or twenty years from now? How does it affect you to learn this information?
- What ongoing political situation affects your daily life the most? Describe the situation and what most disturbs and/or excites you about it. How does it touch your hopes and dreams? What does it bring to mind from your past?
- Think about a current, disturbing world event or situation that seems large and impossible to remedy. Do you avoid reading about it or keep up with its current status? Why? What is your overall feeling about this situation? Do you have ideas that you think would help? What are they?
- Find a piece of positive news — for example, a story about a hero or a person who is making a difference in some way. What is your reaction/response to this story?
- Write about something that is going on in the world that gives you hope for the future.
- Write about a world event or situation that doesn’t affect you, but does affect someone you know. In what ways does it affect him or her, and how do you feel about it?
- Thinking about world or national events, make a list of at least five things for which you are grateful.
Focusing inward is part of the writing process, and is important for self-awareness, understanding, and the ability to make important changes in our lives.
At the same time, intentionally turning your focus outward to the events of the world can help you remove “perceptual blinders” that keep you from seeing the bigger picture in your life. It can also help build a more balanced perspective.
And, of course, connecting your journal writing with current events will also give that much-needed context to your recorded memories.