Recently, I enrolled in a therapeutic writing class. Our first topic explored ways to feel safe while focused on emotionally intense topics. The text, Kay Adam’s The Way of the Journal, encouraged us to envision different types of mental images as internal resources. These images can help us find our inner wisdom and courage during difficult moments.

First, we’re encouraged to make up a guide. The instructions suggest naming this person and picturing them with us, “a wise, caring companion.” According to the text, an ideal guide “knows the way, has the gift of insight or intuition, has a sense of humor, and has enough courage for the both of you.”

This description strikes me. Am I, um, cheating? No creative conjuring needed here! My beloved was the most insightful and courageous person anyone could imagine.  Plus, he had an amazing sense of humor.  Automatically, I think of how he’d approach whatever I’m currently facing. He inspires me daily. I’m grateful to realize, again, that already have a guide.

Second, we’re encouraged to construct a shield, a tool for self-protection. The instructions suggest identifying the shield’s attributes, including size, shape, and function. Creating a mental shield seemed like a totally novel idea. What could work? What helps keep me feeling safe? To protect myself, I tend to compartmentalize. Although thoughts and feelings provide useful information, I try to focus on behaviors – how to act to live the kind of life I’m trying to build. For example, a relative recently sent a message with an ominous-sounding opening. I put it away for later, then asked a trusted loved one to read it and tell me if I needed to know or do anything in response. He read it. Then he told me to delete the message. Nothing needed to be done.

I decide that my shield is a soft-sided box. Inside, velvety compartments can store problems and pain until I’m able to let them go. I can open this box, alone or with others, but only when I’m ready to encounter what’s inside. Otherwise, the latch stays securely shut.

Finally, we’re encouraged to construct a light source. The text describes this as a renewable source of illumination when our journey involves darkness or ambiguity. The light can help others see us, if we want, and there’s no danger of fire or burns.

I decide that my light will come from a tall solar-powered lighthouse.  When I’m in the dark or feeling foggy, a well-lit tower will help me find my way. I’ll enjoy a broad view of the landscape.  This tower will also be warm, a beacon for insight, clarity, and hope.

I’m grateful for this exercise and this class. Clear mental images can help me during dark, difficult moments, in writing and in life. Now, I more easily envision my wise and funny guide, a safe place to store sadness, and a clear path out of the shadows.  All of these images can help me as I continue on.