Filling the Cracks With Gold





1. A time when you suffered damage and felt more “beautiful” in some way afterwards.

2. A time you filled someone else’s crack with gold and helped them to feel more beautiful.

3. Someone whose crack you would like to fill with gold but are not able to.

4. The greatest damage you have suffered.

5. Where you obtain your “gold.”

6. An actual damaged object you possess that you feel is beautiful and what its story is.

Writing As Your Medicine & Your Muse

A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness. It finds the thought and the thought finds the words.”

Robert Frost

You may have no intention of writing a poem when you pour your problems and pain on to your journal page. Nor may you have a notion of ever sharing these things. It is absolutely fine if you stop with the gift of allowing yourself release on the page and, consciously or not, experience the benefits to body, mind, and spirit.

For those of you who do have creative writing goals beyond your journal, the raw material in your journal is a gold mine.

Whereas, release was initially your medicine, you can additionally transform the raw material into your muse. Let it inspire a new written creation. Stay open to where it takes you.

Notice — I didn’t say where you take it. Do NOT worry about who will read it or where it will end up. This raw material takes on a life of its own.

I will illustrate with some personal examples. Decades ago, when in great despair, I wrote about how my emotional pain got locked in my face. That immediately became a poem with a very powerful personal metaphor of the tambourine. See below.









pains eternal

silence eternal

stroke it

beat if


resounding passion



a tambourine

When writing my memoir the past few years, the metaphor of the tambourine reappeared to become a major theme in the last chapter and part of its title — “The Tambourine and the Violin.”

Another example of using the raw material from my journals was to lift an unsent letter to my mother, also written decades earlier, and placing it in a chapter.

Now, it’s YOUR turn.


1. Pick up your journal — current or older one. Read a few pages.

2. Circle any word, sentence, or phrase that stirs you. It might be fun to do this with a colored pen or colored pencil — a color that energizes you.

3. Copy that to a separate page.


5. TRUST it will take on a life of its own.

One Couple’s Experience Journaling Together

Joan Leof Write to Heal -- Journaling to inspire, teach, and releaseEva Abbott and Van Temple were in two of my journal groups for a significant amount of time. Eva met monthly for two years in the Jesus House group. Van met monthly for a year in the Men’s Group. They were vital members of these groups, no strangers to journaling when they entered. They had already been doing the Couple’s Meditation Journaling that they write about below.

Couple’s Meditation Journaling

1. Begin with a shared experience. It could be a thoughtful reading, a walk in the woods, a shared worship experience, instrumental music – anything that provides a quiet, unhurried, thoughtful background and a de-cluttering of the mind.

2. Sit quietly together for 5-10 minutes listening for the Voice/voice within.

3. After the time of quiet, each person shares one or two phrases, images, or themes that arose from the listening time. This is not a time for problem solving – it’s a time of creative listening and sharing. This is a time for your imagination, your inner voice to emerge.

Examples from our quiet time:

* What does it mean for us/me to ‘love the children?” (Phrase heard that morning at a sermon)

* “unreasonable hope’ – this phrase surfaced during the quiet time so we decided to journal on it.

* ‘What has been the movement of the Spirit in my/our lives the past 6 months?

* How can I/we make ‘communion with all of life a daily practice rather than a once a week event?’ (From a Quaker book Eva was reading)

4. The phrases, images, questions, and/or themes are proposed and the couple decide which areas they want to focus on. It could be 1, 2, 3 different or similar items – the number is not important.

5. Each person, then, sits quietly and writes whatever flows from the proposed topics or anything else that comes from the moment. Be open to straying off topic.

6. After both are finished (10-20 minutes or so) each takes a turn sharing their journal writing. The Sharer shares, and the Listener listens. After hearing the Sharer, the Listener reflects back what he/she hears the Sharer saying, checking to see if the Sharer was correctly heard. Clarifications then follow. Sometimes, the Listener needs a period of quiet to process what’s been shared before offering the reflective listening. This is encouraged. This is an unhurried, free flowing shared experience.

7. When the first Sharer has shared, been listened to and heard clearly, the second person shares and the process is repeated.

8. After the mutual sharing/listening/reflecting exercise, conversation gradually returns to a more typical back and forth, perhaps with each sharing any overall insights or individual learning, take-aways, images or phrases that are life-giving and helpful for fuller, deeper being.

Postscript: We started doing couple’s journaling initially as a way to communicate beyond some thorny issues early on in our marriage. Later, we incorporated it into our summer vacation in the woods of West Virginia. Three or four times during our week away, we’d spend a couple hours in the morning enjoying this way of being together before heading out to our planned activity. Since moving to New Orleans, we have been able to carve out Sunday as a Sabbath day whereby we usually attend a church service or Quaker Meeting in the morning and, after lunch, settle into the couple’s journaling experience.


Life of Flowers


Click here to watch the Life of Flowers video: Life of Flowers

After experiencing, do any of the following —


whatever comes

what is blossoming in you

your favorite flower

your garden

a memory having to do with a flower

a flower that holds a special symbol for you


What’s Your Story?

TELLMESTORY2 “Why does anybody tell a story?
It does indeed have something to do with faith, faith that the universe has meaning, that our little human lives are not irrelevant, that what we choose or say or do matters, matters cosmically.”  Madeleine L’Engle


1. Write your autobiography on a 3 x 5 card.

2. If you were asked to put one story about your life in a time capsule, what would that be?

3. Write a family story you grew up with that holds the most meaning for you.

4. If you had FREE services of an expert writing mentor and were guaranteed publication, what story about your life would you write? If you decided on a memoir, what would you focus on?

5. Write a character sketch of yourself in the third person.

6. If you were guaranteed publication in Chicken Soup for the __________________ Soul —

Fill in the blank with the book’s topic (for instance, Chicken Soup for the Traveler’s Soul

What would your story be about?

“We tell stories because we can’t help it. We tell stories because we love to entertain and hope to edify. We tell stories because they fill the silence that death imposes. We tell stories because they save us.” James Carroll

Invite Your Schmoes to Tea

Joan Leof Write to Heal Wilmington, DE Some of you have experienced an exercise in my journal workshop called “Sage Council.” It is based on the work of Peggy La Cerra, Ph.D, Director of the Center for Evolutionary Neuroscience and co-author of The Origin of Minds: Evolution, Uniqueness and the New Science of the Self (Crown). She says, “An imaginary sage council is a panel of wise individuals who can be brought to mind when you are stressed or fearful, or simply looking for sound guidance.” If you want more information on this exercise, please let me know.

I’m reading a book called “TYING ROCKS TO CLOUDS” by William Elliott. There is the following quote by Ram Dass, also known as Richard Alpert, Ph.D., which reminded me of the Sage Council. He says —

“With all the therapy I have had and all the drugs and all the gurus, I have never gotten free of one neurosis. What has changed is that, instead of being big monsters I am frightened of, the neuroses become like little schmoes that I invite for tea. When I see a perversity,I say, ‘Hi. Come on in.’ Instead of seeing my personality as my enemy and being caught in the struggle between the id and the super ego, I have cultivated awareness….”

The dictionary defines schmo as jerk.

I thought that was extremely profound and reminded me, not just of the Sage Council, but the Rumi poem I use in my workshops:

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

~ Rumi ~


1. Make a list of your schmoes — “neuroses” or rough edges to your personality — whatever your semantic.

2. Write a description of how each one impacts you.

3. Write a letter to each of them inviting them for tea and telling them what you want to discuss.

4. Write about what happens at the tea party. It’s your choice whether you want to have them one at a time, or all together.

5. Write about how you felt interacting this way with your schmoes.

If An Editor Gave You Carte Blanche

Decades ago when my personal essays were just starting to be published, a series of events had me sitting before an editor of Philadelphia’s major newspaper, the Philadelphia Inquirer. I was trying to pitch a story idea I was very passionate about — vital octogenarians, nonagenarians, and centenarians in our city.

“What makes Joan Leof an expert on this topic?” she asked. It was soon clear to both of us that while I was indeed passionate about the topic, I was not an expert.


What are you an expert on?”

I was not at all prepared for that question, yet an immediate answer came to mind. Dare I utter it to this total stranger and possible link to rising to the next level with my writing dreams?

I took a deep breath and said, “my battle with the psychiatric system.”

“Explain,” she replied with interest.

After I gave her a synopsis of the deeply personal story I knew I’d have to write some day, she said, “That’s what I want you to write about. That is what Joan Leof is an expert on. I’ll give you the assignment on spec.”

“On spec” means that you are not guaranteed publication or payment. The editor is speculating that the piece will be worthy of publication, but, if not, you receive no payment for your efforts.

I gave it a try. Months later when I handed her the first draft, she told me she had decided to leave the paper. But the story doesn’t end there. There are two important lessons:

1.  Remember the SEED LIST?  “Keep your hook cast…” You NEVER know where the stream will carry you.

2.  That first draft sat in a folder for decades and recently ended up as a major part of my memoir. Your seeds take on a life of their own.

What would you say if an editor asked you,



Get Naked



“Mr. Duffy lived a short distance away from his body.” James Joyce, Ulysses

Nietzsche tells us we must “come to love our scars.” 

Our inability to feel our “negative” emotions often leads to strokes, heart attacks, and other organic problems. according to Elaine de Beauport in The Three Faces of Mind, our feelings are exercises for the organs of the body just as swimming or running is exercise for the muscles of the body. “We need to practice feelings consciously at least twenty minutes a day to gradually build our emotional strength.”  from Divining the Body: RECLAIM THE HOLINESS OF YOUR PHYSICAL SELF, Jan Phillips

“The other is the “cellular memory” hypothesis, the possibility that our thoughts and desires are somehow lodged in our very tissues. This implies that if our organs are transplanted into someone else, something of our emotional life is transferred along with them, which might be experienced by the recipient. cellular memory is a “cassette theory”—the donated organ is the cassette tape containing the information, and the recipients body is the cassette player decoding and playing it back. The “transplant phenomenon” is being embraced in our culture as something new, but the theme is ancient.” – Larry Dossey, Reinventing Medicine: Beyond Mind-Body to a New Era of Healing.

For decades I have been telling students in my journal workshops about someone’s theory that the quickest way to access your truths is to write when naked.

I invite you to give it a try. GET NAKED. Get comfortable. Perhaps one of the quotes or questions below will be a springboard for your writing. It doesn’t just have to be about your body, but don’t let your body be a stranger.

What stories do your body, scars, cells hold?

Have you thought of writing to a body part or illness that needs healing? For instance — Dear Migraine, Dear MS, Dear Chubby, Dear Breast 

Is there something stored in your body, mind, heart, soul that you need to own or release in your journal?

Is there a universal truth in your own story that could help others?

Is there a place to share anything that comes up from these prompts?

Your Seed List


“Let your hook always be cast; in the stream where you least expect it,

there will be a fish.”Ovid

Whether you are just keeping a journal or have other writing goals, it is extremely helpful to keep an ongoing SEED LIST. If you’re journaling, the list can be about “issues” you’d like to deal with — when the moment is right. All you have to do is plant the seed, even if it’s too scary to delve into now, or any time soon. The time WILL come when it feels right to tend that seed.

If you have creative writing goals, whether it is a specific project, or just the sense that something would be worth exploring, put it on your seed list.

How empowering to check off that seed from the list once you’ve tended to it!

Below are three very interesting examples of the quote above. You MUST “Let your hook always be cast,” which here means have your SEED LIST. Truly, “where you least expect it, there will be a fish.”

Years ago, when I was writing essays in hopes of publication, I started my SEED LIST. It could be a word, or a theme, or a little paragraph. I just wrote it down — and waited. The first one came with a whole piece I just had to write for catharsis. It was about my career as an inner city junior high school teacher in Philly. I let myself write it. Then it sat in a folder for a good year. Suddenly, the Philadelphia teachers were on strike. I pulled the story out and sent it to the editor of a Philadelphia weekly — sensing the story was a great hook for a major current happening in our city. SUCCESS! Not only did he accept the story, but he put it on the front page and launched my career as an essayist.

The second hook was about an Indian man I had loved whom I knew I would have to write about — some day. All I could come up with on the seed list was a lovingly crafted description of his physical appearance and essence. And that sat for quite a while as well. Suddenly, in the national news was the story of how the Sikhs in India were having to defend their Golden Temple. He was a Sikh. I pulled out that paragraph and wrote an entire essay about him, which was immediately published in the same paper! And three decades later, that same original description appeared in my memoir along with much greater elaboration of my relationship with that man.

The third hook was a fascinating study I heard about during my single years in Philly. A Princeton University survey had said that in Philly there was “…little more than half a man each for single women between the ages of 20 and 59.” “Half a man..” struck me as a great way to explore the challenges and disappointments of dating which I, and my single women friends, were having. The statistic sat. Then one day it morphed into a very long essay that was published in the same newspaper.

By now you may be saying, “Oh, she was just in the right place at the right time. Just luck.” NO, it was NOT luck. It was having my hook cast, having my SEED LIST.

Give it a try. Create a SEED LIST for your private and public writing. Don’t worry about HOW, WHEN, WHERE. JUST CREATE THE SEED LIST. That’s the excitement of the creative process. Cast the hook and be attentive to the stream. For those of you who enjoy the spiritual side of things — a co-creation of you and the universe!

Perhaps one day YOU will be sharing your blossomed seed with our salon, or sharing with the world what you grew.


It’s Never Too Late or Too Impossible to Start Writing

“I can’t journal because —” Fill in the blank. Excuses abound in the journal workshops I facilitate as to why people believe they can’t write — either a journal or more public writing.

The transformation that can occur when writing is directly correlated to the power your excuses have over you. Decades ago, Christy Brown became an early hero of mine, epitomizing what obstacles can be overcome if the desire to express oneself  in writing is strong enough. Having Cerebral Palsy, the only limb he had use of was his left foot. Undaunted, he typed his autobiography, My Left Foot, with the toes of his left foot.

Just last year, George Dawson and Jim Henry have joined my growing collection of heroes who transcended their obstacles in order to write. Each man learned how to read in their 90’s. They didn’t stop there. These late bloomers went on to write their life stories. Dawson, grandson and great grandson of African-American slaves, learned to read at 98 and went on to coauthor his autobiography, Life Is So Good, age 101. Jim Henry, a lifelong lobsterman, was taken out of school in the third grade to help support the family. At age 91, he heard the story of George Dawson and was inspired. He started reading at 96 and wrote his book, In a Fisherman’s Language, at 98.

If these people can overcome physical and societal obstacles, so can you. Follow these steps.

1. First, fill in the blank.

I can’t journal or write because __________________.

2. Make a list of things you would like to write about IF YOU COULD WRITE . The list can be things that you’d want to keep private and things you’d like to share.

3. Write to your obstacle. i.e. Dear Perfectionist, Dear Insecurity, Dear Critic, Dear Saboteur, Dear Illness. Tell it what it is doing to you and how you want to change.

4. Close your eyes and use any relaxation technique that works for you — deep breathing, meditating, praying, singing.

5. Open your eyes and let something jump off the list.


For more information on George Dawson and Jim Henry, go to the link below.