As a child, the excitement of Christmas always intensified once the Christmas catalogue arrived in the mail. I remember looking through the catalogue and circling the toys and clothes I wanted for Christmas. In a way, this was my first form of list-making. I’ve been making lists ever since — grocery lists, “to do” lists, camp gear list, guest list, and, most recently, a bucket list. It was while writing that bucket list that I began wondering what my list-making was all about. What purpose did it serve? How did it reflect what I truly value in life? I was still thinking about this the next day as I sat down to write in my journal.
I’ve been keeping a journal for over twenty years and find it helpful in discovering who I really am. I often write about my beliefs, my priorities, my fears, my anxieties, and things I’m grateful for. I try to be honest and open in my journal and find that by doing so, it serves as a guide for staying true to my essential self. The day after making my bucket list, I compared the five items on that list to what I had written in my journal over the past several weeks. I found some discrepancies and realized that some of my bucket list items were influenced more by what others said I should have or what I should do than what I truly valued.
Once I discovered these discrepancies and did some more reflecting on what my list-making said about myself, I lit a candle, rolled up the paper on which I had written my bucket list, and burned it. It didn’t take long for the flame to devour the paper. As I watched my list turn to ash and disappear in smoke, I felt a sense of freedom, and my heart began to sing.
I then turned back to my journal entry for the day. I felt so much more focused and centered after burning my list. I could see how what I had on my bucket list wasn’t entirely different from what I had circled in the Christmas catalogue when I was child. Both reflected “shallow wishes” rather than the deeper yearnings of my heart.
My journal entries tell me that I want something deeper than a list to guide my decisions and my actions. I want more than experiences or accomplishments to cross off of a list. And I don’t even want a list—I want just one or two things that are really essential, that I can enjoy now and which are likely to remain with me over time. I don’t want to be yearning for “maybe’s” or “some day.” And I want my yearnings to be lodged deep in my heart, not printed on a list and taped to my bathroom mirror.
I haven’t given up list-making entirely, but I’m now more mindful about what I put on my lists. I even include some lists in my journal. I recently wrote a list of belief statements and am thinking about a list of priorities to guide my life.
I never got half of what I circled in the Christmas catalogue, but I got so much more. I was always loved and cared for. The toys and clothes that at one time seemed so enticing, I now see as having little enduring quality. They weren’t the really important things in life.
What I really yearn for are beauty, justice, goodness, and equanimity. These aren’t things I can grasp and then declare “mission accomplished.” These are things I can yearn for every day, and in the yearning find additional joy and happiness in the right here, right now.
Prompt: Journal writing can lead to an awakening—or bringing into consciousness—a part of self that often goes unnoticed in our busy world of things to do and accomplish. We get caught up in list-making and then use these lists to map out a life. Journal writing can help us reconsider what we believe to be priorities and give us another way of discovering what is really important as we make our way through life.
Reflect on one of your recent written or unwritten lists of things to do, to buy, or to accomplish. Do the items on your list reflect your true self? How would you modify this list to reflect some of your deeper yearnings? Write about this in your journal.