Meera Lee Patel’s latest journal, Create Your Own Calm, is publishing as anxiety levels across the world are rising dramatically. Patel shared her creative process and personal journaling practice with S&H.
You’ve created a handful of journals, all beautiful. Is journaling a practice you’ve leaned on over the years?
Meera: The physical act of writing in a journal is a practice I have been on and off with over the years. But the exercises I provide in the books are ones I’m continually doing in my head, talking myself through them. I do a lot of self-talk that involves asking these questions, doing the exercises, and working through the process of how I feel, why I feel that way, and what steps I can take to change how I feel.
I have experienced anxiety for most of my life. Particularly this year with everything going on, I have started journaling again—physically writing and reflecting. I have found it to be helpful not only in providing a release to my brain, which would otherwise continually be doing the cycle of talking, but also for finding a clarity I can then come back to and remind myself of.
How does looking back on your previous journaling help you?
It helps from preventing the cyclical aspect of anxiety. You come to a certain conclusion after you do all that internal work and then it just starts all over. It helps remind you that you did all that heavy stuff. You don’t have to do it again because this is where you ended up with it.
You have so many great quotations paired with your art. What do you think it is about them that resonates with readers?
I have two answers to that. One, I think it provides inspiration and a quick jolt of how to approach the world and your life that offers an immediate perspective that is not your own. This can be very helpful and grounding, and can allow you to quickly change your perspective and align with what you just read.
Two, it reminds you somebody else exists who has stood where you’re standing now, and that is a comfort. You understand somebody else has been in this predicament and has faced the same struggles as you, and this is how they handled it. You might not handle it in the same way, but you understand the obstacle can be overcome.
Can you describe the state you go into when you’re creating art for this sort of project?
It’s absolutely a place of meditation, and it is not a place I get to visit often enough. When I am painting, especially in this journal, to create artwork that will put the reader at peace, I have to be in that place to create the artwork.
Creating the paintings for this book was a very calming experience, and I really enjoyed thinking about what colors offer solace and which offer tranquility. There’s something about the fluidity of watercolor that makes people feel at peace. In order to project that, I have to be there.
How did you get yourself to that state? What are your practices?
When it comes to actually painting, I don’t have a lot practices. I’m not a person of ritual. I don’t light a candle or make something perfect before I start. It’s more that the act of doing brings me to that place.
When I am beginning to create the meditative space for myself, the more present I can be with the artwork, the more focused I am. The more I let myself sink into the work, the more I notice everything else is quieted. This is where I want to be, and it’s not a place I want to leave.
Do you have an idea for the next journal you would like to create?
I am thinking about a journal for harnessing creativity in different ways. A lot of people think creativity means writing or drawing. I want to share that you can be creative in every part of life: in the conversations you have, in cooking, and in your perspective. I think it would be nice to help people feel and embrace their own creativity more often.
How would you describe your relationship with creativity? Do you have a sense of when you’re plugged in?
No. I think I want that! I hear a lot of people talk about how they’ve tapped into their creativity and that’s what allowed them to enable their work, but for me doing the work has always been what has enabled the creativity.
I will say I enter a meditative space— a state of flow—where I am exactly where I’m supposed to be, making work from my heart, that I feel connected to, and, somehow, it is coming out in a physical form I can share. Maybe that’s what being tapped in is—at least for me.
Any last words on how to create your own calm?
I approached the journal through the lens of self-acceptance. I’ve learned fear and anxiety become heightened when you run away from them and try to deny them. I really tried to emphasize that the path to peace really does come from not running away from yourself. When you can learn to accept the things you want to change, then you become more equipped to change them. I really encourage anyone who is battling anxiety to try to approach themselves from a more caring and friend-like place and see if that’s helpful.