The Practice of Keeping a Journal
Articulation is central to human survival and self-determination . . . to relieve the soul of incoherence. – Shirley Hazzard
WRITTEN RECORD: A journal or diary (both words are rooted in the Latin for “daily”) is any daily account or record of occurrences and reflections from a ship’s log, troubled musings, ‘to-do’ lists or memorable moments to the musings of people such as Winston Churchill, Anne Frank, Benjamin Franklin, Anais Nin, David Thoreau, and Walt Whitman.
That’s a pretty impressive list. But we don’t have to be a famous figure to pick up the pen and put our words on paper. I remember beginning when I was 16. I had a small spiral pad like the ones secretaries use for shorthand. I used those for a few years. My mother, Calla, used one of those little yearly diaries. She gave me one when I was about twelve. And I put entries in it ow and then. But there were just four little lines per day. Decades later I was sad that Mom’s diary was like a little calendar with entries of what happened that day. There was no hint of what she thought, felt or dreamed about it all.
Then, at 16, I fell in love! You and I know it was “just puppy love” but it was a powerful rite of passage. And I couldn’t share that secret with anyone…so I expressed myself in my little journaling notepad.
“THE UNEXAMINED LIFE IS NOT WORTH LIVING”
SELF-EXAMINATION: One of the most useful means for intellectual, emotional and spiritual self-development is the systematic use of an ongoing workbook, diary or journal. Such a journal, thoughtfully done, can provide a structure to assist us in paying closer attention to our lives and in evoking and developing our understanding of ourselves, others and our relationships.
FREEDOM: Writing can be done with any attitude. So often we are driven to our journal by confusion or troubles. At that time it is a sincere search for internal peace and possible improvements. But, regular journaling can also be the ultimate in healthy indulgences. It offers the luxury of totally honest expression without concern for others and their needs or confrontations. The open page invites an adventure inside to seek and know deeper insights, meaning and creativity.
Journaling can morph into writing poetry or making lists. It can be an exploration of dreams for the future or resolving an old pet peeve. It invites us into a place where we can tend completely to ourselves without being branded selfish.
When I graduated into using the Ira Progoff Journal 3-ring binders with their many sections and dividers in November of 2004, I had filled about 37 books of various sizes. Writing in my journal had been, in many ways, my best friend through all the places I lived and through the relationships which came and went.
SPIRAL-BOUND NOTEBOOK: You may like to use a hard-bound book of blank pages, etc. My favorite book for journaling or personal writing is a spiral-bound notebook with pockets in the front. I recommend that you write on only one side of the paper and use the other side for a Trump card or a space completely open for anything you choose. In our private writings, we are completely free to inscribe anything we choose including such elements as:
- Notebook Musings or Scrapbook Nostalgia
- Art, Sketches, Charts or Drawings
- Letters (whether to be sent or not)
- Dreams and Interpretations
- Descriptions of Fantasies and Meditations
- Voicing and Dialogue with Ourselves or Others
- Making Lists, Strategic Thinking or Intuitive Problem Solving.
How to Begin – Just Let the Words Formulate On the Present Moment…
RESPECT YOURSELF: The blank page can become a challenge in itself. If you encounter resistance of some sort, notice it and get to know your thought or feeling block. Try making friends with your hesitation. Then, just put down any words you’re thinking. Sometimes, when I’m too intimidated by beginning to write in a book, I remind myself that I’m probably connecting with some vestige of self-doubt and that I need to remember that, whatever my words, they’re mine and, thus, to me, they are important.
Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, assigns a basic structure of journaling via “Morning Pages.” I will always be grateful to her because of the marvelous experiences I had working my way through her writing tasks twice in my life. I agree that writing in the morning is best before you engage your intellect in activities for your day. You may choose to start with flow-writing, as Cameron names it, a “brain dump.”
Or you can just note the events of the previous day. That almost always opens a way to your deeper or peripheral observations.
If you need a jump-start, you might list a dozen stepping stones in your life—
- turning points as a result of age, change, loss, etc.
- the places you have lived
- the people who influenced you
- begun or failed relationships, or
- starting a new direction.
I believe that
Those who want mastery of themselves and
quality in their lives can no longer avoid
the practice of writing.