What I’m Learning… (Lessons After The Fire) … and the diamonds in the dustheap.


 It has been several years since I have kept a regular journal, after keeping them religiously since I was 9 years old, and teaching the journal process for 40 years in one form or another, something happened to me, and I petered out. First, I will sadly admit, being online too much and blogging seemed to zap the energy I had for regular journalling right out of me. In 2010 when I was moving into Dragonfly Cottage I destroyed over 300 volumes of journals. I had always planned to leave them to my children, and there were wonderful things in them that I hate for them not to have, records of all of the Christmases and birthdays, what everybody gave and got, how we celebrated and who we celebrated with, but more to the point my journals were a big part of my therapy, processing living through most of the first two decades of my life being sexually, mentally and emotionally abused, and everything contingent to those times and the fallout as an adult. My children did not have to read that. I did not want them to know how dark it had gotten, especially during the times I was suicidal.

I tried numerous times to start over but I could never keep going. And then came the fire, watching things go up in a blaze, and in the aftermath knowing that my life could never be the same again, in every conceivable way. Now I am back home in the newly rebuilt cottage and slowly, ever so slowly, the shock of coming home is easing and making way for the new life that I will live. And I have begun to journal again, and it is good. And I have come home to an amazing knowing, a gift, a relief. After decades of writing and finishing a number of books (None were published, 2 were held for a time and “almost published” — I say that tongue in cheek, “almost published” is kind of like “just a little bit pregnant.” You are or you aren’t. I was three times. I know the difference.) I haven’t been able to finish one in some time. I thought, “That was it, I will never be able to write a book again.” but what I didn’t realize was that if I am not journalling I cannot rake through the soil and unearth the truths that, in revealing themselves to me, lay the groundwork for the book, and in continuing to journal the book continues to evolve.

My journal is a diary, a sketchbook, a place to drift and dream, to write down what I’m doing, or want to do, or should do, and so much more. Now I am writing and illustrating a book and I know I will finish it. It is the difference of writing a book with a journal to help hold you up, to back you up, a place where the day’s writing or drawing can find a home and if it isn’t the best day as long as you do the work, and finish it, you can release it and go on, move forward. You can throw the day’s drawing on the proverbial compost heap in the pages of your journal and add it to the rich bubbling pile that fuels all your other writing and drawing but you have to finish it. That day take it to the end, and let it go.

And more than anything what I was missing, in not keeping a journal, were what Virginia Woolf called, the diamonds of the dustheap…

“I note however that this diary writing does not count as writing, since I have just re-read my year’s diary and am much struck by the rapid haphazard gallop at which it swings along, sometimes indeed jerking almost intolerably over the cobbles. Still if it were not written rather faster than the fastest type-writing, if I stopped and took thought, it would never be written at all; and the advantage of the method is that it sweeps up accidentally several stray matters which I should exclude if I hesitated, but which are the diamonds of the dustheap.”

 … and without those diamonds, those stray thoughts that can be so easily discounted in the writing of them, the very heart of the matter either for the life or the book being written, are lost. This is a daily practice that I need to keep going.

I have written all of this in an effort to edge my way into something that came up today that seemed to come out of nowhere and yet are so profoundly right and true in pointing out the fundamental failings of my life that I am still startled. Maybe I have to write them down here, however briefly, as a form of accountability toward future action. I don’t pretend that I am going to whisk off this page and my life will be changed but knowing what I now know, what I discovered today writing at Woolf’s “haphazard gallop,” are the keys to every problem in my life to date, and it is simple really. This is what I wrote…

“You have to start from the inside out. The house has to be clean, organized, and cozy before the garden can bloom in all it’s glory. When the dishes are done and the kitchen is clean the flowers in the pots on the porch will bloom brilliantly.”

I then made a little diagram that grew out of this statement:

MYSELF + MY HOUSE + MY GARDEN are all of a piece. All must be cared for if all are to thrive.

I shuddered. I was stunned to my core. I have never had these three things in proper alignment. I don’t know, given what my life is, how close I will ever come to the living out of that knowing, but I can tell you for damned sure I am going to write it on things, make things, put notes all over the house saying just that. I want to embroider it on pillows, needle felt it into tapestries, paint it on every ceiling of my house. I shan’t, of course, be able to do all of those things, but I will be tracking myself and making note of how I do with this. It would be the closest thing to balance in my bi polar life that I might ever know. My mind is going in a thousand directions, I am going to create a “mind map” to understand it better, to break it down into small palateable, doable pieces. Doable for me that is.

I would not have come to this without the journal. I would not have gone deep enough to come to this before the fire. Part of me was still living in a numbed out dream before that terrible night. I have had to grow new skin to cover what was left of me. I am learning how to walk again, and I am, at times, almost toppling over, but I keep on, and steady she goes.

I’m not sure that I have made any sense at all here but it felt important for me to write and I will put it up on the blog if only for my own edification. I will stitch these words to the page and then let them be.


Make this the year your resolutions come true!

Make this the year your resolutions come true!


  1. I’m fascinated by this, Maitri. I kept a journal for many years. Blogging has taken its place, and every moment of the day is spoken for. But your words make me wonder if I should re-think the setting aside of journaling. Thanks for this.

    • Ah dear Cathryn… I can’t tell you how many serious writer friends were all warnings and complaints when I started blogging so much in the early 2000’s. They said it spelled the end of any serious writing for me. I bristled and became very defensive but you know what? They were right. My serious and steadfast professional writing as well as journalling petered out and I know it is not so for a great many others who publish books and blog but I am a woman who must needs guard my energy to balance all of those peculiar things in the basket I carry through life.

      Now I blog but I spend a lot less time on the net, journal several times a day — my journal is always with me as it used to be — and I am reading a lot, book after book. A blog no matter how journal like it seems is not a journal or a diary even when you write very personally there is always that knowing in the back of our brain that it will be “published,” out there for the world to see, and that kills the natural impetus for the subconscious mind to spill freely into the pages of a private journal or diary, or so it does for me. I can blog if I journal FIRST. I have found that it must be so. For me. Each person must find their own way, of course, and there is no one right way as there isn’t in any area of life for any two people. But this is my truth and it is making a profound difference.

      If you are going to publish blog posts with an eye to taking them and making a book of them it would be far easier than to try to keep a blog regularly and write something else entirely I think. This is new for me too and I will be giving it a great deal of thought. I will look forward to hearing what you come up with.

      Much love to you dearheart… <3

  2. It’s so interesting, Maitri, to think about this.

    I’ve never been a journal-writer, nor would I have considered myself a writer, either, until recently, even after spending decades “writing” many things on a variety of subjects. It was blogging that brought me back to nature-journaling, something that I’d aspired to as a much younger person (in high-school and college).

    My writing voice (in my blogging) has largely been about nature, gardening, and the natural world, and my posts have certainly not been about thinking about making a book, but simply pure reflection.

    But it’s been interesting as I’ve been online more, in various groups of different sorts, that my writing voice (sometimes) has become weaker, I’ve thoughts, as I spend more time on “issues” etc.

    I’m moving away and forward from that now, actually. Time to embrace what’s next, I think!

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

    • Lisa, you are so welcome, and yes, I am spending a lot of time these days really examining what I do and how I spend my time. The more the years have gone along the more I have nearly lived online so that, in retrospect, it felt like I was living in a virtual world with less and less of me left in the real one. When you go through something like the fire you realize how precious life is and how it can all be gone in an instant and that is not coming from a fear place but a place of awareness. I love the internet and all it brings and I have made many wonderful friends through this medium that I cherish, but I have to spend more life in the real world, and read and do my work and enjoy the internet without being (allowing myself to be) swallowed up by it. And it affects nearly every area of my life. So it’s about balance and I’m trying to figure this all out now… To new beginnings and new chapters! 🙂

  3. Linda Boerstler says:

    My journaling has what has kept me alive during some very dark times. There are discussions within them about my consideration of suicide == from time to time == but I think I was more afraid that if I attempted it that it would go wrong, like everything else in my life seems to go wrong, and I would end up worse that dead. So I am still here, with over 100 journals, mostly full of nonsense. But from that nonsense, I have found nuggets of wisdom, that I would discover at a later reading and be amazed that it was actually I who wrote it.
    Some things are very juvenile, and I whined an complained about my misery, but there are others that have allowed me to see above the misery, when I see how much I have been blessed but was too busy whining to notice. But this is how I spend my time, because I really have no one to talk to about the goings on in my mind, wouldn’t make sense to them anyway. I applaud you for the journaling. you are probably still here as you used your journal as your therapist. God knows that when I write, whatever I write about is a prayer to him, and believe me there are many things that I have been angry about through the years. I have given him more than an earful of complaints and rants. But he has a big ear, and receives the anger with love. Keep writing.

    • Linda,

      Thank you so much for stopping in and sharing your thoughts honey. I have worked with a lot of therapists and counselors of all stripes who sent their patients/ clients to my journal classes which were very healing and a good addendum to therapy. It has also been the greatest healing tool for me. And there is no such thing as nonsense. It’s all you, every facet, and love all those bits and parts and celebrate especially those wonderful nuggets of wisdom. They do come and those are Virginia Woolf’s “diamonds of the dustheap.” Keep writing, and rake in those diamonds. 🙂

  4. This is beautiful. There is so much wisdom in your realisation that: “MYSELF + MY HOUSE + MY GARDEN are all of a piece. All must be cared for if all are to thrive.”
    Whenever I fall back into depression I don’t care for either, not for me, not for my home and for sure not for the plants on my balcony. There isn’t enough energy for that. And when I come out there usually is a huge flat cleaning and sometimes even purging of posessions.

    • Oh Dear Corinna, depression just eats away at us, doesn’t it? And we all deal with it in a different manner. And there is so much more to that “MYSELF + MY HOUSE + MY GARDEN” bit. I really do plan to do a mind map to work on this, where you put each word in a circle in the center of the paper and them just put offshoots going out and out and out. Like where is my work? Handling finances which has never been my strong suit but I want to do it right now? I think those things come under Myself. But things overlap too. It is the tip of the iceberg but something I look forward to exploring.

      Blessings to you dearheart, and carry on, I love your paintings, they hold so much…

  5. This sounds like a wonderful piece of guidance Maitri, the realization about self, house and garden being one. Equations are seldom equally balanced, so the good news of this is that the components support each other. I like that.

    I have cut way back in journal writing in the past year, partly because I tired about writing about the ‘same old things’ all the time. Now I usually only journal once a week or so to record brief updates about life and family. However, if I have a special project going on, like a program I will be participating in for the next 21 days, I will make more of an effort to record my experience of that, even if it is not daily.

    Thank you for reminding us of the power of pen on paper.

    • Thank you so much Joan and yes, as they say, the pen is mightier than the sword, and it certainly is more powerful than this medium which I love and am so grateful for but the hand to heart connection of the pen on paper will never be beat…

  6. yes, with the advent of e-mail (in my case) journaling slowed to an occasional drip/splat (plus using journal to paste in photos, collage bits, writing with an occasional friend, a haiku or two), and a part of myself goes missing when i don’t. in the past months, tom and i have kept a happiness journal; we write in it each evening before getting ready for bed. we write (each in our own journal) about something (or in my case some things) that made us happy, then we share it. this is my current “journal” and i am thrilled that i am doing it, as i realize again (again, again) how i touch base with myself by writing by hand, after reflection, on what matters to me, what keeps me going.
    so yes, maitri, journal, draw, paste things in, let your magic markers swoop across the page.

    i cry when i think of the 300 journals you destroyed. while i understand your reasons. if only a few jewels (diamonds in the dustheap) could have been plucked out and saved.


    • Ah Ka…. email… during the days of The Contemplative Way I wrote that I would never go the way of all of those who stopped writing letters because of email. I wasn’t even online then. I could never have imagined that it would be such an important part of my life, but it still makes me sad, I miss writing real letters, and I miss the days we could meet and write together.

      I don’t feel sad about the journals that were gone, it was very cathartic of me to have written it all out for decades, and finally to let go. When the therapeutic process goes on and on over incredibly painful territory to let it go was like releasing the albatross around my neck, Now my journal isn’t full of all of that, and I am finding much joy there.

      And I love the happiness journals and that you and Tom share that. How beautiful. Give him a hug for me… <3

  7. Lisa Wimpfheimer says:

    Maitri, you, your home and your garden. Sounds like a plan 🙂
    You are well on your way!

  8. Beautiful and so true! When I am in disarray, I notice that my home and garden both reflect this! When I tend to myself, and clean my home…a little at a time…..and tend my garden, I feel balanced….I feel joyful, organized and worthwhile. I feel at peace.

    What you wrote is so true for me, too. I also stopped journaling, so you have given me much food for thought!

    Sending you love and hugs!

    • Donna, you sound so much more at peace than when we met at the beginning of the year and it is really wonderful. May all that is lovely and sweet in this moment keep flowing through your life.

      With much love… <3

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