Take Two: A Journal for New Beginnings

Take Two: A Journal for New Beginnings

How it Came to Be

From left, Kari Herer, Ellen Watson, and Kate Simpson.

It started out as a Monday morning coffee date.

We would drop our kids off at school and meet for a quick catch-up before starting our work weeks. We each were going through a divorce—it’s what brought us together.  Our talk centered on working, single parenting, and starting new chapters.

Kate had just taken a course called the Science of Happiness, through the University of California Berkeley, and she felt it was helping to provide some calm as she managed the busy schedules of her three children.

Kari’s photography was taking her all over the world, and she was seeking balance as she parented her young children at home.

As for me, I was steeping in the sorrow of my new landscape: mothering my young daughters, applying for jobs, and trying to keep up with our home on an acre of land. I was suffering from overwhelm, and after putting my kids to bed each night, I took to my journal to write. I wrote about the things that were going right. And about the things that felt terribly wrong.

It was there on a Monday that we began to examine some of the ideas and approaches that we each were learning, that were beginning to make us feel better and helping us to move forward. When navigating through a challenging time, the rumination game can be strong: stories can get replayed, limiting beliefs can get felt strongly, and choices that were already made can still revolve in the mind. Everybody has a story—a history—but we can choose how it plays out.

The writing begins to recalibrate my nervous system, thought patterns, and ability to move forward.

So, you could say we were seekers, looking for ways to tame our inner critics, find self-compassion in the healing, and share those experiences with each other. Mindfulness meditation. Breathing exercises. Spending time in nature. Yoga and other forms of exercise. Meanwhile, Kate was learning that—contrary to what scientists previously believed—the brain is actually quite malleable. Something called neuroplasticity allows for the reorganizing and deepening of new neural pathways that can build resilience and lead to greater feelings of contentment.

Not simply a buzzword, resiliency is an emblem of healing, we learned. It is a critical step in the ability to overcome a challenge. It’s something we now know we can cultivate, with our breath and mindful presence and through writing. In fact, research shows that a mere three days of emotionally expressive journaling can help us feel better in both body and mind.

So, we wondered: what might it look like to join Kate’s classwork learnings with Kari’s photography and my writing? Could we create a journal that would bring some of these practices together? Something that felt heartwarming in the hands, that could live on a nightstand or kitchen table or be easily toted around in a bag.

We decided to collaborate and create a guided journal with research-backed tools and writing prompts that help strengthen new, positive neural pathways through more healthful habits. According to science, these efforts not only help to shore up one’s resilience but help to steady the nervous system as well.

Ellen Watson.

We sketched an outline that would follow the arc of four seasons, and Kari promptly set out into the wilds of Maine (or in some cases, our backyards) to shoot botanicals that reflected each section. We collected quotations that would inspire readers to move through each writing prompt.

What unfolded is Take Two: A Journal for New Beginnings, a calming guided journal with writing prompts that focus on mindfulness, gratitude, and compassion—both for self and for others.

We used the seasons loosely as a guide because that concept resonated with us: there is a natural energetic rhythm that changes from fall to winter, and spring to summer. Those of us who live here in Maine often have an intrinsic relationship to nature and to the ways we engage with the outdoors. We tend to endure those shifts well because we know that there’s playtime to be had out on the water after the depths of winter. And this is so true of grief or loss. There’s laughter beyond the sorrow. There’s living again to be had after deeply painful experiences. With each hurdle comes a more expansive ability to confront challenges.

In Maine, each season is vivid when it comes to color, texture, and temperature. It seemed like a natural relationship exists between those elements and the ways in which we, as humans, confront hard times. Therefore, Take Two begins by taking you inward (autumn), where you can reflect and spend time more closely in reflection (winter), before you begin to rebuild a life that looks changed (spring). Then, as we begin to feel restless, summer arrives and encourages us to move outward, to find meaningful ways to connect with our community.

Let’s face it. We may need this work—to strengthen our resilience—now more than ever.

At different times, I’ve encountered my own cracks at the seams, so I continue to carve out space to do this work. Seeing my words spill out on the page feels like an unfurling of stuck energy. The writing begins to recalibrate my nervous system, thought patterns, and ability to move forward. Similar to getting exercise at the gym or yoga studio, it’s not an assignment to be completed—it’s a commitment.  And, when practiced regularly, its remarkable benefits will linger. It’s through the work of Take Two that I’ve learned an important truth. When I sit quietly and make peace with discomfort, I’m left feeling more grateful and grounded, with better ability to bounce back from adversity.

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