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Books, Journaling, and The Zen of Wellness. A Feature Piece with Great Books, Great Minds

Posted by Alina Liao on

I had a lot of fun writing this piece for Great Books, Great Minds. Founded by Diamond-Michael Scott, Great Books, Great Minds is an online community of authors, thought leaders, and book lovers, and a digital publication committed to “Igniting the Power of Connection, One Book At A Time.” Learn more at: https://greatbooksgreatminds.com/ 

Books, Journaling, and The Zen of Wellness: Feature Interview With Zenit Founder Alina Liao

- Diamond-Michael Scott

In the world of Eastern spirituality, Zen signifies a state of deep focus, the flowing connection between body and mind. It’s where we drop all illusions with the aim of settling into the present moment.

As a practicing Taoist and lifelong journaler, I found myself intrigued by the work of  Alina Liao, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Zenit Journals, a radical wellness company with the mission to make wellness accessible to everyone. Inspired by her experiences with mental health challenges and stigmas associated with it, she is fueling a values-based company that places the wellness of all stakeholders first.

Zenit encourages people to invest in their wellness daily through the power of a personalized journal. The company delivers customized wellness journals with prompts that speak to one’s wellness goals — a system grounded in evidence-based mental health and coaching practices. Says Alina: 

“We recognize that wellness is a personal journey. Everyone deserves a safe space to process their experiences. Through our customized journals, Zenit is building ownership, pride, and joy in our mental health” 

Great Books, Great Minds” recently I had a chance to interview Alina from her project workshop in Washington D.C. about the world of journaling, mental health, and reading. Here’s what she had to share: 

A little about you and your decision to launch Zenit Journals

I launched Zenit with the desire to build a sense of ownership, pride, and joy in the work we do for our mental health and wellness, especially in communities of color. Growing up, mental health was not a thing. It was normal to hold everything inside. As an adult, thankfully, I became exposed to mental health and embarked on the long journey of my healing. But to this day, I still grapple with the stigma and internalized shame around prioritizing my wellness. I empathize deeply with people who believe that they “don’t get to” take care of their own well-being.

How did you come up with the idea for Zenit? 

I came up with the idea of customizable journals after years of my own failed attempts to journal. I had long known that journaling would be good for me, but I struggled to keep it up. One day last year, I thought of some prompts tailored to what I was working on with my therapist. I began to write them in a blank journal, and journaling went from impossible to easy. I was finally journaling daily and feeling my transformation from it.

So how does Zenit actually work? 

When you customize your journal with Zenit, you can choose from a menu of wellness-related prompts. You choose the prompts that speak to you, and I make and deliver your personalized journal. With Zenit, I want to make it easier for us to take care of our wellness every day because we deserve to have time and space for daily wellness.

What sort of significance have books had in your life? 

I have loved reading books since I was a small child. My mom would take me and my brothers to our local public library every Saturday and I’d always come home with a stack of books. I stayed pretty busy with school and gymnastics, training four hours a day by the time I was ten. Reading was pretty much the only way I’d spend my free time. I would find a beam of sunlight, sit on the floor, and read a good book. After bedtime, I would leave my door open and read books in the crack of light against the wall.

Zenit Journals Great Books Great Minds

Are there books that have been particularly meaningful or impactful?

I have always loved stories centered around characters. If I had to choose a few books that have impacted me most, I’d go with The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, The Talisman by Stephen King, and Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.

Why do you journal? 

Journaling is a way to get to know me better. When I journal about an experience, I can press pause and slow motion, dive deeper beyond the surface level of what happened, and process what I was feeling at that moment. Sometimes things happen so quickly to the point where I don’t even realize how deeply hurt they made me, or how much joy they brought me until I journal about it. Then I get to fully feel those feelings, which helps me get closure. I can explore where those feelings came from. I can better understand why I acted or reacted the way I did. I can clarify what I needed or wanted at that moment, and what I need or want moving forward.

What sort of connection do you see between the practice of journaling and reading?

Reading is another space for me to slow down and get to know myself better through the experiences of other characters instead of my own. It’s an experience in compassion, to enter the lives of the characters, to experience their suffering, their love. To not just observe but actually feel how their experiences affect them and their choices. In this process, by relating to what the characters go through, and by grappling with what the characters go through, I get to know myself better, too.

There’s also something about the power of language. I have one journal, my “Soul Journal” where I write down excerpts from books I’ve read that touch my soul. For example, the first quote I have in my Soul Journal is: “Taty awoke before dawn and watched the sun split like a ripe melon over the world” (Nikhil Sing, Taty Went West). Something about that description of the sun touches my soul.

How has the pandemic and the racial justice movement impacted your reading habits in 2020?

Coming into 2020, I was already struggling with depression and anxiety. Then the pandemic and all the uncertainties it brought set me back in some ways. In the racial justice movement, I’ve felt a wider spectrum of anger, sadness, helplessness, as well as hope and that inner fire to contribute.

The intensified swings in my emotions day-to-day have made me cherish my time to unplug and read even more. Reading is a safe space, where I can leave behind my personal problems and go on a journey in someone else’s shoes. I’ve been gravitating more to science fiction and fantasy novels, where I can simultaneously escape to another world and reconnect with the core of what makes us all human. Reading books restores me during these times. I read almost every night as I go to bed, even if it’s just a few pages.

Do you have a favorite medium for reading a book: Traditional Hardcover/Paperback, e-book (i.e. Kindle), or audiobooks?

I’m all about paperback books. It’s a full-sensory experience. A physical book gives me a space to unplug and fully immerse myself in the story - I can’t multitask and read a book. With paperback, I love molding the book in my hands as I settle into my reading. I love feeling the paper in between my fingers. I love the feel and the sound of the page turning slowly. I like seeing where in the book I am. I like the feeling of anticipation when I see I’m only a little ways in. When I see I’m halfway through, I feel good, like how I feel when I’ve hit a groove in a workout. Then, when I see I’m nearing the end, I love the feeling that’s a mix of sadness that this great book is about to end, while longing for it not to end, and eagerness to see how it ends.

What is your favorite reading genre?

I love novels, and I believe that we can learn about ourselves just as much through good novels as self-help books, if not more. It’s hard for me to recommend specific novels, because wellness is a personal journey, and we all experience novels differently. There are novels I’ve read multiple times, and I experience them differently each time.

Are there any books that you personally recommend in the areas of self-improvement and wellness?

Focusing on wellness, I like novels that take me through a wide spectrum of emotions. As someone who has gone through times where I was somewhat numb as a result of trauma, reading books that have allowed me to experience the spectrum of human emotions has helped me feel whole. There’s something cathartic about feeling emotions through a book. I also like books that make me wonder, that take me to a place just beyond the brink of my understanding. Books like these give me hope by reminding me that there’s more to the world than what I see.

Here is a list of some books that have done this for me:

Lilith’s Brood, by Octavia Butler

The Slow Regard of Silent Things, by Patrick Rothfuss

Taty Went West, by Nikhil Singh

Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Díaz

The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien

The Talisman, by Stephen King

Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck

Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston

 

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