Lately, as an attempt - perhaps - to better understand where I have been and how I have got to where I am now, I've been reading through my old journals. I've only really kept a regular journal since 2007, so I don't have that many to read through. But it's been interesting. I've just finished going through the journal I kept in 2007, 2008, and part of 2009 when I was first beginning to practice Druidry seriously. The journal begins on the spring equinox of 2007, and continues from there. It chronicles my celebrations of the seasonal festivals, my growing awareness of the nature around me, my readings into Celtic history, culture, and mythology, my attempts to develop a regular practice of meditation and exercise, and my first hesitant forays into my spirituality. In some ways, that journal, at least at the beginning, was the precursor to this blog, which I began late in 2008.
I was struck by a few things as I read that old journal. First, my writing has improved a lot since then. I know that keeping this blog, which has encouraged a regular writing practice, has really helped to improve my writing. Second, I really didn't have a clue about a lot of things back then. I never really used the Internet much until I went to university, so at the time I was starting that journal my entire knowledge of Druidry and modern paganism was largely based off only a handful of websites. I don't think I had discovered blogs yet at that time, and - since I lived in a small town - I didn't really have any access to books on the subjects, let alone actual practicing Druids and pagans. I had limited knowledge, and no real practical experience. I was totally clueless about so much. And yet, I also have realized now that despite that, I was still willing to start learning and start walking the path that I felt called to take, regardless of whether I knew where I was going or not.
The journal also saw me begin writing poetry again. I started writing poetry in late 2007, after not going near it since elementary school. My earliest poems in the journal were more than a little awkward and juvenile, and obviously influenced by too much Wordsworth and Keats, yet as the journal and the years progressed it was also obvious to see how I gained greater confidence, developed my own voice, and began to explore the issues that were close to my heart. Those years also saw me becoming more and more depressed, despairing, discouraged, and worn down by university. Much of that came out in the poems that I was writing, although I doubt I realized it at the time. Some of the poems almost made me cry now, they were so dark and depressed and hopeless. I wonder now how I was able to get through those years as well as I did, and I am thankful that I had the outlet of my poetry and my journal, which perhaps prevented me from harming myself or others more than I did.
Writing my journal, I honed my skills of nature observation. I remember that I would often walk across campus and sit on a bench in the horticultural gardens to write in my journal. I watched the seasons pass. I watched leaves fall, and birds migrate, and flowers come out. I identified plants and animals in my environment and learned more about them. It may have even been because of my interest in Druidry that I left the physics program and went into natural resource science instead - a move that renewed my hope and optimism for a while, until I began to slip down into despair again. But in nature, I found joy and solace for the worries and fears that plagued me. I found the companionship in the plants and animals that I lacked among the people that I knew. It was likely my growing connection to nature that also helped to get me through those years.
But as I have read through my old journal, I have also realized something else: Despite writing poetry again and connecting with nature and going into a different university program, I was not really capable of making changes in my life. I changed some things, yes, but deep within me, other things did not change at all. That was why I kept going back over the same old route of despair and depression again and again and again. I wrote in my journal that I needed to make changes in my life, but I did not make the necessary changes. I wrote that I was going to live more mindfully, but I did not. I wrote that I was going to meditate more, but I did not. Every month in my journal, I wrote about my goals for the month. At the end of the month, I wrote about my accomplishments. This worked for a while, but eventually I just kept writing the same old goals month after month and never doing them until I just gave up on the whole thing. I began my old journal with optimism and excitement for the new path I was exploring in my life, but I ended it feeling discouraged and worn down yet again. Nothing seemed to be changing in my life, and I was afraid that I would never be able to change.
I recall reading or hearing somewhere that if you feel that you're stuck, that you keep going back over the same areas again and again, it's because there's something there that you haven't learned yet, and you have to keep going back again and again until you do learn it, and then you can move on. I don't know if that would be true in all cases, but I think that in this case it was. Despite making some changes in my life, I was never able to really believe that my life as a whole would ever change for the better. Because I didn't have faith in myself or in my path, I wasn't able to maintain most of the changes that I created. When I became swamped with course work, I stopped spending time in nature and I stopped meditating and I suffered because of it. I stopped writing poetry last fall. I stopped writing a journal. I periodically started doing those things again, but I was never able to maintain the changes. I felt that things were stagnating. I felt that I was unable to make any progress.
This year, things have started to change. I've finally been able to let myself think and believe that I really can do this. I can make changes in my life. I can take steps towards my dreams. I can have faith in myself. And I've been starting to become more positive, more focused on the practical things that I can actually change in my life rather than fatalistically on the big, scary things that I have limited control over. I've started to realize that I have control over more things in my life that I thought I did. I've started to realize that a lot of things have changed in my life. Reading over my old journal has reminded me of just how far I have progressed since those early years of exploration. Changes have occurred, I have progressed, even when I thought that they weren't and I wasn't. Simply knowing that feels endlessly encouraging to me right now.
I still have two old journals left to read through, and I'm sure I'll be finding many more things to ponder about my path in life as I continue. I look forward to one day reading the journal I've started writing lately, and seeing how much more positive I have become. I have still to begin writing poetry again, but that too will come in time. Knowing where I have been, I feel that I am more capable of stepping forward on the path to journey to new places.
Do you ever read over your old journals? What have you discovered while reading them?