Passover is a time of new beginnings, a time to meditate on themes of slavery and freedom, a time to consider the mitzrayim, or narrow place, where we may find ourselves. The hametz crumbs that usually litter my dining room have been cleared out, but they were replaced by matzah crumbs just as quickly. The house cleaning that took so much of my time last week was important, but the effects were fleeting, and my internal hametz remains. The details may differ from person to person, but we all have our struggles, including toxic relationships, family difficulties, physical and mental illness, and employment and financial stress. Many of the challenges of life are beyond our control, but what we can change, the hametz we can begin to clear during the Passover holiday, has to do with our own personal attitudes and behaviors.
Tackling our inner limitations and difficult emotions isn’t easy, and there are times when I want to respond to life much as my daughters do–by throwing a tantrum and bursting into tears. (And to be honest, sometimes I do.) Fortunately, we parents have another tool at our disposal (and I’m not talking about the bottle of wine left over from the seder)–a pen and paper.
Journaling is an excellent way to begin to identify our thoughts and feelings, get to know ourselves better, and with time, begin to free ourselves from that which enslaves us. Research has found that journaling on a regular basis can help us reduce stress, release difficult emotions, manage problematic situations more effectively, and keep us focused on what’s really important in our lives. It’s a skill we can teach our children, and years from now, we’ll appreciate the record of these years while our kids are still little.
You may be thinking that you don’t have the time or energy to keep a journal, or that you’re not a good writer, or perhaps you’re not sure that you have anything to say. Journaling shouldn’t be a source of stress (just the opposite, in fact!), and here are some ideas to help start you off:
- The Supplies. Get yourself a nice notebook and pen, and keep it in a handy place. If you’re going to write in bed at night, keep your journal there. If you’re more likely to jot down a few thoughts at your desk in the morning, that’s where it belongs.
- No Judging. Try not to judge yourself or your writing. Don’t worry about grammar or spelling or complete sentences. Write in bullet points or notes if you prefer. You’re not writing for anyone else, so don’t worry about form or style. Just get the words down.
- Make it a habit. Try not to go more than a day or two without writing, even if you just jot down a sentence or two. If you get in the habit of writing when it’s smooth sailing, you’ll be ready to tackle the bigger issues when you really need to figure something out.
- Take a Jewish approach. If you’re looking for inspiration, The Jewish Journaling Book has some great ideas which may make your journaling more relevant and meaningful.
As for me, I bought myself a pretty new journal last week, and I’ve continued my writing during Passover–sometimes about my daughters and family, sometimes about other questions, worries, ideas, and goals I have been pondering. I don’t always (or even often) find the answers I am looking for, but I feel calmer and more centered and focused after I spend some time journaling. Hopefully you will have a similar experience. Happy Pesach, everyone, and happy writing!