Journal Writing as a Spiritual Practice

“ And because I found I had nothing else to write about, I presented myself as a subject.”

Montaigne

For nearly two years now I have been committed to writing up a detailed, personal journal in attempting to engage with my inner life ( the experiences, reactions, feelings and emotions which constitute this ‘ I – ness ‘ of me ) which can largely go by unnoticed without any deep recognition or acknowledgement on my part unless I can touch it in some meaningful way and write it into full existence.

Writing for me has become a deep, spiritual practice which at times gently leads me by the hand to the destination of my unknown, lived life saying: ” Look, what do you see? ” At other times it sweeps me along to the very core of an escaping experience and whispers: ” Open it up and explore it for a fuller understanding “. In its supreme moments, when it forgets its very existence, the process can plunge me into the very depths of mystery to capture moments of insight, which on exposure, have changed my life by leading me forward to reconsideration, fresh appraisal, new beginnings – an awakening into a new and better existence.

At first the journal was just a series of fragmented thoughts hastily taken down in no coherent pattern – stream of consciousness . Then some form of discipline emerged slowly to give the writings more focus and structure. There arose high water marks of inspirational energy that pushed the writing to new levels of personal expression then came dry periods of misunderstanding, uncertainty and doubt, but I continued.

Now I find to my astonishment that even when I am not writing I am still writing, ie, I am still actively involved in the process of thought creation filtered through a literary mode, which can be accessed and written down at a future date. When walking, when talking, or even meditating, whether I welcome this visitor or not, it is very much present. It is present in my waking hours and I feel certain that it is present in my sleeping hours as well simply because it is an expression of my consciousness which flows on continuously. And when I’m fully immersed in the writing, absorbed by what is emerging there, carried along to where it may lead me, a feeling surfaces within suggesting that the writing is not solely mine, that I’m not allowed to confirm total ownership on it because it reaches out further and touches worlds where I am but a stranger. It is all much ‘ bigger ‘ than me. Which somehow supports the Buddhist view that ultimately there is no fixed, permanent self; a specific, clearly independent existence that I could point to and say: ” Look, that’s me.” There is only a shifting, ever – changing amalgam of ‘ senses ‘ that ebb and flow on a tide of conditionality that ” I ” provisionally label ” Me”. But I am never really ” Me “. All that I ever am is a small part of an infinitely rich, boundless universe of interconnected ‘ energy ‘.

Similar to other art forms, journal writing can only be perfected in the actual practice and nowhere else. And through this process of sustained commitment to self exploration and discovery a process of discrimination and refinement slowly surfaces to aid our learning and take us forward into new territories of language development and expression never touched upon before – an adventure into the heart of our existence. This has certainly been my personal experience making me leave behind a rather cold, fixed, rationalist, analytical shell to embrace an imaginative, expansive, psycho /spiritual mode of feeling and expression that has brought my life so much richness.
At times I have been so engaged with my writing – ‘ trekking into a wilderness ‘ of a previously unknown psychological life involving learning, clarifying, refining, growing – that it has allowed a self forgetfulness to quietly and without warning descend upon me dissolving, momentarily, all traces of the normal functioning, ego driven self to reveal an underlying spiritual presence. And in these moments of self forgetfulness I realize that I’m in meditation……

SUGGESTIONS
In order to access some of the depths within us for our journal writing to be authentic, real and true we do have to cultivate prolonged periods of stillness and silence. We have to avoid the ‘ busy – ness ‘ of our normal, everyday routines which contribute to a deadening of our creative energies. This is not always easy to manage but it is essential. My advice is to rise earlier than normal in the mornings and after a short sit in meditation go quietly to your place of writing and write. Do not edit at this stage or engage in any critical, judgemental attitudes towards your work. The discipline of recording the previous days events, thoughts, feelings, etc, should take place without the need for literary embellishments, unless that is what you are seeking and they come easily and naturally and are not too laboured. Remember that later corrections are always available to us. Avoid being too critical, too soon, because time itself is the best editor.

Pay attention to the minutiae of the life that surrounds you. What are they saying to you, how do they impact on you? Try to understand them, describe them, search for the underlying values and truths but never ignore them or you could be missing out on a vital dimension, a crucial lesson. Everything in your life IS your life and is therefore worthy or your attention, your full attention.

” I am part of all that I have met.”

Tennyson

Our minds never stop they are constantly enmeshed in a continuous process of thought creation therefore should we not try and utilize this vast reservoir of power to expand our understanding of what constitutes significance, meaning and reality in our lived experiences through the creative medium of exploratory writing?
Try to absorb and assimilate, in a mindful way, everything you see, feel and touch for a future meeting at the keyboards. All our thoughts are possible future prose that could reveal hidden, imaginative, life affirming insight to sustain us.

Although inevitably there is a chronological structure to journal writing there is always scope to make detours, to follow interesting ideas and thoughts to see where they may lead in case they can throw up some form of fresh view unrealized before. Journal writing is not a straight forward recording function but a full and open canvas where many possibilities for looking, exploring and change exist. After sufficient engagement with this process the world may never seem the same again.

” The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.”

Henry Miller

Sometimes the writing goes well, it seems to reach out to touch an hidden cord within us that resonate with such clarity. At other times a possible moment of self – deepening is abandoned to agitation, lack of concentration, impatience, doubt…….But this is the very time that we should persevere and in working this through we may come to realize another important facet of journal writing – its therapeutic dimension. Writing can uncover what we are really doing within our lives and thus pave the way for our self – curative potential to develop.

” I am both changed and developed by writing and am changing and developing myself and others in the process. My emotional, intellectual and spiritual landscape is always on the move.”

Nicki Jackowska

Journal writing – the chronicling of events – appears to be a universal phenomena in all world cultures. Whether we filter the story of our lives through the modern word processor or use the time honoured oral tradition of telling our stories over a night’s camp fire it makes no real, fundamental difference. They are both equally valid. Both fulfil a deep – seated need for human expression and validation.

Working mindfully with words, crafting their potential fine beauty into shape, seeing if they dovetail together to give a coherent imaginative, accurate expression, a life, to your thought processes is a fine and noble activity indeed

” ……..And every phrase
And every sentence that is right ( where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together )
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph……”

T S Eliot

Pursued over time with commitment – the style, range and depth of your journal writing will expand beyond all recognition sparking off even more fresh thoughts and ideas for you to follow up in a self – reinforcing, creative act. Thus the journal becomes one vast repository of written material to be re – visited and sections can be independently re – worked into more structured and coherent forms at later stages, if required.

Finally as the journal develops and opens up you will find that it will also help highlight, in a fundamental way, your literary, emotional and psycho / spiritual progress as you move through your life recording its experiences and your growing and changing responses to them. And the more you give to this this process, the greater will be its rewards until in the fullness of engagement it will bring deep understanding and clarity to your life hitherto unrealized.