Create a Journaling Space

Feeling so overwhelmed with the business of life that you can’t find time to journal? Create a journaling hideaway— a sacred writing retreat—to restore your sense of calm.

Since I moved to New York City three months ago, I’ve spent a lot of time cramming my body into packed subway cars and inhaling exhaust. I’ve learned to weave through crowds of tourists so that I can get where I need to be as quickly as possible. I’ve mastered the art of deep sleeping, even with two roommates coming and going at different hours.

I’ve also stopped journaling.

Creating a Hideaway

The summer I was 8 and my brother, Steven, was 6, we made what we called “the hideaway.” The hideaway was located in a corner of our backyard, under some tall trees. We hung out there during the hottest afternoon hours. Constructing it consisted simply of raking away dead leaves and sticks to expose the smooth dirt underneath, and then placing rocks we gathered from a nearby creek in a large circle around the space. With this minimal preparation, we took the ordinary and made it into a special place where we could hide from the summer sun in the cool shade, lying on our backs and letting the sunlight fall dappled through the canopy of trees onto our faces.

I didn’t remember our hideaway until recently, when I was riding the subway to work one morning. The still and green memory came to me unsolicited, but after some time, I realized my subconscious was pointing to what my new urban, gray lifestyle lacked: a sacred place to gather my thoughts and be still—a place and time to journal.

The Need for Stillness

Journaling gives our souls time to rest; it lets us escape from the heat, clutter and noise of everyday life. But when our lives go into overdrive, whether it’s rushing to work amid throngs of cars and people, packing lunches and attending PTA meetings, or simply feeling too emotionally tired and “crowded” to sit down and write, we neglect one of the few rituals that can give us the peace we crave. When we stop journaling, we stop giving ourselves the quiet we need to regenerate and rebuild.

Standing in the subway car, hand clasping the rail, I realized I needed, and missed, my still time. I also realized the way to it lay in that memory of my hideaway, and that by navigating my way there, I could find my way back to journaling.

Building Your Own Retreat

You don’t need to stake out a spot in your backyard or go creek-walking for rocks to build a journaling hideaway. A journaling hideaway grows organically. It emerges from materials and actions originating solely from magnificent, ordinary you. By designating space and time as sacred and by giving yourself permission to journal—and only journal—you’ll create a peaceful ritual that will restore your sense of calm and give you time to reflect in the cool, cool shade of the soul.

Making Space

The first step to creating a hideaway is removing the clutter: the dead leaves and debris. When you start your writing, make sure that the nagging tasks of the day are safely tucked away, or better yet, completed. Journaling should be your focus; time spent in a hideaway isn’t about catching up on e-mail, paying the mound of bills sitting on your desk or jotting down a list of vegetables you need to buy for tomorrow’s meal.

Make space for hideaway journaling by clearing your desk or your writing space of anything that’s distracting—unopened mail, trinkets you fiddle with, pictures you like to browse through. If you enjoy writing at a coffee shop, pick a seat that’s far away from the clang of the cash register.

To create a sense of true retreat, make the space you write in sacred. If you write in bed at night, change the sheets to your favorite set. Light a few candles, or buy fresh flowers to set on your windowsill. If you write on the subway or the bus, bring your headphones and listen to calming music. When you make the space you write in special, it’s easier to see what you’re doing as a sacred act, wherever it takes place.

When to Retreat

Hideaway journaling should occur when you need it the most—when the sun in your life is the harshest. It can be planned time: 10 quiet minutes during your lunch break every day or a half-hour at your favorite coffee shop each Sunday morning before brunch. It can even be as elaborate as a night in a bed-and-breakfast the first Friday of each month.

A journaling retreat can also take place on an “as needed” basis. You may feel exhausted after a frantic week of meeting deadlines or stressed during a period of transition. Plan for a Saturday evening that involves a long bubble bath and afterward, in your favorite bathrobe, an hour of journaling on the couch. Or, you may just need to find five minutes during the workday to steal away to your car and, window rolled down, breathe in the fresh air and write. Whatever place or method you select, the end result should provide you with relief from the challenges of life.

A Retreat Just for You

Once you start your journaling retreat, place a ring around you to keep the clamor of the outside world exactly that: outside. Give yourself permission to actually “hide away,” to retreat from distractions. It’s OK, necessary even, to let the answering machine pick up during your writing time, even if it is your best friend on the other end. While your cat may love to snuggle in your lap while you sit and write, hideaway time is about you and your journaling—give him a gentle push into the other room (and maybe a toy with catnip to keep him busy until you’re finished). If you have children, ask your spouse to watch them during your journaling retreat so that afterward you can return refreshed and ready to parent again. Remember, this is your time. Let the circle around you keep the world out so that you can tend to your inner world.

Writing in the Shade

Recently, I created my own journaling hideaway.

For the past few Tuesday nights, my friend Amber and I have retreated to a local coffee shop. Journals in hand, we order drinks (an iced decaf coffee and a grape soda), settle down in our favorite spots (a fat couch and a bright red wooden chair) and write. We don’t talk to each other, and while the other empty tables may be bad business for the owner, they symbolize glorious stillness to us.

In the middle of a city teeming with busyness, noise, buildings and distractions, I have found a quiet green spot to let my soul be still. I have found a place to hide away and journal. I wish the same to you.

From the Febrary 2003 issue of Personal Journaling.

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