That was now book cover

Book review: That was now: A mindful journal by Emma Clarke

If you read my weekly wishes, you’ll know that one of my healthy habits is “complete mindfulness journal”. This is a habit which went on the list at the end of last year, when I got That was now: A mindful journal by Emma Clarke. I wanted to tell you a little bit about this journal and why I find it helpful.

The journal starts off with a detailed instruction section and information about meditation and mindfulness. I read it all through at the beginning as I’m a read-all-the-instructions-first kind of person, but really you could dip in and out of this section as you feel inclined.

The journal proper then starts with a number of pages, each for one day. It has a space for the date but no dates in it. I think this makes it superior to just buying a page-a-day dairy for two reasons: 1) you can start any time and 2) you don’t feel guilty and have a blank page glaring at you if you miss a day. In the beginning, I missed quite a lot of days and I felt a lot better just be able to carry on straight to the next page and not feel guilty about what I hadn’t done.

Each mindful page is structured in the same way. You have a space for the date, an affirmation and a statement of intent. Sometimes I vary these, sometimes I use the same one for a while. For example, while I’ve been doing the Whole30 on most days my affirmation has been “Today I nourish my body” and my intent has been “Keep to Whole30”. It’s a nice, easy way of thinking about what’s important for today specifically, and giving yourself a bit of focus so you know where you’re going.

Next, the page is split into a number of sections preceded by a symbol, and the symbol represents an area of thoughts, feelings or senses for you to focus on. The first one is gratitude. I usually fill in as many things as I can fit into the space. Again, one of my healthy habits is “Think of 3 things I’m grateful for”, so if I complete the mindful journal then I also get to tick off that healthy habit, which gives me a double incentive to use it. The next few spaces are for sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. I find it useful to have these items separated out, as left to myself I would probably focus mainly on sight as that’s my dominant sense, with smell and taste being left out completely. I still find it quite difficult to complete anything for those two, but at least I’m aware of them for a little while each day and really hone in on them.

The following sections are for thoughts, feelings and a section of your choosing. Again, it’s useful to have these separate. For the thoughts, I’ve noticed I tend to have a long list of things I’m planning to do or think I should be doing. For feelings, as I went through quite a difficult period at the beginning of the year, it was good for me to check in with myself each day and notice how often I was feeling angry, or tense, or worried,, and to really sit with those feelings for a little while instead of avoiding them. Now that things are starting to get better, it feels like a small win every day when I write down a couple of good feelings, even if there are still bad ones as well. The last section can be used for whatever area hasn’t been covered. Sometimes I leave it blank and sometimes I use it to think of grateful things about my marriage.

At the bottom of the page, there’s a box where you can draw. Again, I don’t use this every day, but I quite like that daily reminder that I can do something fun and ultimately “pointless”, or just for enjoyment. On a really bad day, scribbling black all over the box can also be quite therapeutic.

After a certain number of daily pages, you come to a review section where you can check in with yourself and answer some more general questions about how you’re feeling. This gives you a kind of “bigger picture” review of your current status.

I’m quite a structured and organised person, so when I’ve tried “freestyle” mindfulness I’ve found it quite difficult and I’ve become very easily distracted. I really find it useful to write down what I’m experiencing and to focus on different areas, because that keeps me paying attention throughout the whole experience. In my daily life, I spend a huge amount of time focusing on the future, so being able to regularly spend 10 minutes in the moment is very beneficial for me. I still get very distracted when I try to meditate, so I enjoy being able to be mindful for a certain period of time.

If you also struggle to stay focused on now while you’re meditating or being mindful, I think you’d find this journal useful.

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