A Way With Words: Journaling as a Tool on the Path



Journaling for me was never something I had researched, sought out or looked to get into. I wasn’t really even aware it was a thing – which is partly why and how my own style of journaling came about. When I first was on the path and involving myself in a multitude of practices, it was hard to keep up with the amount of insights I was discovering about myself. It is amazing what a bit of focussed and repeated silence and introspection can do. During these times I had to write. I felt compelled to write what I was discovering. This was for many reasons:


  • Things were being discovered so quickly that I worried about forgetting them soon after they arrived.

  • I could always go back and reflect on an insight, and spend a good amount of time meditating and contemplating on the thought.

  • There was a cathartic experience when insights were put from pen to paper; almost as if they were being immortalised in some strange way


All of this style came about from my own intuition and gut feeling. As mentioned, I never read or sought out any information or guidance in relation to journaling. That research only came about years after, and what I found didn’t ring true to me (though that is not to say that there is no benefit to be had through other methods of journaling, it’s just that it wasn’t my thing).


I soon discovered many folk journaled in a sort of diary-esque style where by it seemed like there were characters, story and narrative. To me it seemed like more of a recollection of the day, week, or significant events that stuck out in the writer’s experience. This style never really worked for me – it always seemed like I was creating some story that wasn’t really authentic to me; and thus rendered the whole experience susceptible to embellishment and illusion.


I am sure this type of journaling serves a great purpose in the realm of self-development, but I was only ever interested in the diamond in the rough – the real points of worth in my discovery. I didn’t find this aversion invalidating to my experience; rather, it served as a type of fuel and sustenance that furthered my growth and development.


There is no one way to journal - and there are many forms and types.

FERTILE GROUND

Often the most succinct and piercing insights and entries of my journals came from points of significant suffering and hardship, and ultimately reminded me that I could, with my own intuition and knowledge, pull myself out of tough spots. It should however be pointed out that suffering was not and is not necessary for these strokes of poignant wisdom; a message that seems to get lost in many traditions, perhaps more notably in the Christian faith. Other methods of insights came from a wide variety of activity – meditation, silence, reading, film, music and even daydreaming. I could never predict when lightning would strike, I just made it a habit to record it when it did – with focus on recording the message as clearly as possible. Insights always had a certain feeling that accompanied them, something I took as an indicator of truth. I would never ask someone to adopt a different style of journaling, I think authenticity is of the utmost importance to those on the path of self-development. However, if I were to offer any advice to someone when it comes to writing and journaling for the purpose of self-discovery, it would be so in the form of questions that can be asked of any entry:

  • What is the theme of this entry?

What is the mood, the feeling or emotion present in this entry? Perhaps it appears in other entries of both similar and different situations than the current entry. The key here is finding how are particular operating systems responds and reacts to different experiences.

  • Is there an underlying belief or habit present in this story/entry?

Is there a recurring theme or habit here? From the details in the entry, can a certain underlying belief be uncovered?

  • How does this theme/belief/habit present itself in my life?

In what other situations does this same habit or belief pop up, and, how does this manifest?

  • What does having this theme/belief/habit impose on my experience?

Is this belief affecting my life? If so, how?

  • Does having this help me in any way?

Is this belief helping me live the way I want to live?

  • Could I respond differently?

Noticing ways in which we may respond differently to certain situations is a great tool in enabling us to create the lives we wish to create in accordance with our truth and values.

  • If there is an insight or discovery here – how could I apply it in my life?

This speaks more to the practical side of things – figuring out ways in which we can implement the great discoveries we have uncovered.

Where the rubber hits the road.

Now, discovery of insights and beliefs alone is only part of the work. Putting discoveries and insights into practice within everyday life in a practical manner is also vital; and a more trying experience. I’m not sure I completely subscribe to the whole idea of uncovering a belief and BAM! - it’s gone upon sighting. Like most things in life, self-development takes time and repeated effort. Perhaps even therapy is needed (it sure was for me), and can act as a fertiliser to the whole process. In any case, persistence, patience and self-compassion are all invaluable assets when it comes to this part of the process.


Putting insights into action is a vital part of the development process.

I will leave this newsletter with three quotes that express a sentiment I wish to have gotten across: that journaling is deeply personal, and differs extraordinarily from person to person. There is no right or wrong way. This is best exemplified through the following:


"A diary is useful during conscious, intentional, and painful spiritual evolutions. ... An intimate diary is interesting especially when it records the awakening of ideas" André Gide, Journals: 1889-1913


“I don’t journal to ‘be productive.’ I don’t do it to find great ideas or to put down prose I can later publish. The pages aren’t intended for anyone but me. It’s the most cost-effective therapy I’ve ever found.” Tim Ferriss


“Keeping a journal has taught me that there is not so much new in your life as you sometimes think. When you re-read your journal you find out that your latest discovery is something you already found out five years ago. Still, it is true that one penetrates deeper and deeper into the same ideas and the same experiences.” - Thomas Merton

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