“Your junk journal is a place just for you,” I tell my Junk Journaling for Resilience (JJ4R) students, “and every part of you belongs here.”
This emphasis on building a place of self-belonging is vitally important when we engage in artistic practices as healing practices. In a sense, cultivating self-belonging is one of the key things that makes this JJ4R practice resilience-building.
After all, warm, curious, accepting attention is the sunlight that helps living beings grow sturdy, flexible, and strong. Even those parts of ourselves that bother us most, and those behaviors that seem least helpful to our overall well-being, must first be seen, welcomed, accepted—even cherished!—before they can become nutritive compost for a more life-leaning way forward.
Many of us, however, do not have an inner template of self-belonging readily at hand. Our go-to way of relating to ourselves (our blueprint or template for self-relating) is developed early in life based on the way that our primary care providers related to us as little children. For a combination of reasons that are both unique to our individual family circumstances, and also due to cultural, societal and historical influences, many of us did not have parents who knew how to be a place of deep welcome for us. Many of us were taught that we could belong only under certain conditions, when we performed in certain ways, and not others. This is called performance-based belonging.
Performance-based belonging makes sense in some work settings where the stakes are very high and mistakes cost lives. However, if performance-based belonging is all a person knows, especially starting in childhood, then what develops is a socially constructed “self” that is developed in response to external expectations. This overly outward-oriented self—while a brilliant thing to have developed as little children when our very survival depended on our ability to perform according to external measures of acceptability—this performance-based self is a little bit brittle, a bit defensive, and it tends to approach life with an attitude of “efforting” because it has to keep tap dancing every day for ongoing approval.
Performance-based belonging, and the “self” that it cultivates, seems quite “normal” in American culture, but it’s power and capacity will always be somewhat limited (and not ultimately satisfying) because it is disconnected from our deeper inner wellspring of generativity and creativity.
Luckily, this little-s self is not all we are. And the human brain is remarkably plastic and changeable. Because of this, we can intentionally rewire ourselves, and learn to access this inner wellspring of creativity, by practicing a new welcoming way of relating to ourselves. By relating to ourselves in new, more accepting, curious and self-loving ways, over time we can create a whole new relational template of whole-self belonging. In this field of belonging, our inner nature can risk being known; we become reconnected to that inner center of generativity, authenticity, meaning, purpose and true power.
The Junk Journal is a great place to create a new template for self-relating by practicing radical self-welcome. “Bring it all to the page,” I tell my students. “Nothing forced, nothing rejected.”
In the Junk Journal, we are not worrying about making something beautiful. We are showing the truth and giving ourselves the visual medicine that our bodies need to see. We know we are on the right track when our bodies give us a zing of pleasure as we gaze upon certain combinations of colors, textures, lines, shapes and images that feel just right to see. This is our visual soul medicine waking the Inner Artist, and as we follow that zing, that Ah, yes!, we discover, over time, that there is a raw and glorious, electrically brilliant LIFE inside each of us that is bigger, deeper and more enduring than the everyday little-s self who we think we are. This is the Inner Artist, or the Self, simultaneously the place where we feel most ourselves, and yet mysteriously, most intimately connected to something much larger: to life, the cosmos, the All.
While the world we live in and it’s day-to-day modes of operating are not designed to cultivate a sense of connection to the Self (in fact, quite the opposite), we can designate spaces in our homes, in our days, in our very selves, where we remember, practice and live by a different set of expectations. Your Junk Journal might become one such place in your life where you operate not by the rules laid out in your childhood home or elementary school, and not according to what your boss or anyone else sets before you: this is a place where you can come home to your Self: to that generative center, that force of love and creativity that is you and can only can only come into the world through you.
In your Junk Journal, you do not have to be neat, or perfect, or beautiful. Your Self only desires the truth of your experience. Your Self doesn’t despise your limitations or feel shame for your struggles; your Self comes forth through them. S/he does not shy away from life’s messes or mistakes because nothing about her worthiness is on the line. Everything you bring to the page is just raw material that your inner Self can dig her hands into and begin to create something new.
I like to create Junk Journal covers that welcome me home to that Inner Realm, that generative center, where my Inner Artist (my Self) knows exactly how to transmute my “junk” into raw and powerful “jewels.” On the front of some journals, I like to create a door that feels especially inviting. Sometimes the door I create looks truly majestic, a grand entrance to my Inner Castle. But these days, with the world feeling tenuous, and marked by large-scale disruptions and challenges, I have craved a journal cover that would welcome me home to someplace cozy, contained, humble… a doorway that might lead to a little cottage, deep in the woods, with a glorious garden out back full of magical herbs.
Yesterday, I created the doorway I need to see, in these times, the one inviting me inward to a resourced space where none of what is happening in the world is too much for me. I share the process of creating that cover here in this 2-minute time-lapse video.
However you are moving through these times, I hope that you are discovering your own pathways and doorways to your Inner Realm: that generative center that is home to your Inner Artist. For, if we have any hope of transmuting what is happening in our world into something sustainable and life-giving for All, it will not be the leadership of our little-s selves that gets us there. These are times that call for the emergence of the Self: yours, mine, and ours.
If you care to journey together with me and our growing community of creatives, I would be delighted to have you join us. Junk Journaling for Resilience is an online healing space with ongoing admissions for $11/month*. If you would like mixed-media art lessons, companionship and support in your creative-resilience journey, we would love to travel with you! Stay as long as you like. Leave whenever you want. Together we are creating what we each need to see. We practice on the page so that we can practice in our lives.
*Your membership dues also help support my Junk Journaling for Resilience classes with high-risk youth through the Black-led, Berkeley-based Voices Against Violence program for youth at-risk of involvement in gang and gun violence.