****Looking for my camera's wireless control, I serendipitously find a notebook that hasn't been opened in years. This, the last volume of my journal is a beautiful book but old. I stopped regular journaling when I became serious about meditation, a decade ago. The book is bound in suede, and contains photographs, drawings, poems, little mementos from almost remembered events. Thirty of its two hundred or so pages are the daily reflections I made when doing the Ignatian Exercises. The hand is clearer, more careful than my usual scrawl, and written with the fountain pen I used only for journaling. I read a few entries. They document struggles, for the most part. My prayer life. Reflections on God and hope and life and existence which I guess are all kind of the same thing. Struggles over whether to accept jobs I now forget I was ever offered. Relationships with God and my family and friends and myself.
These are snapshots from the peripatetic flight of my own life, captured to become little narratives. These are all events long gone. I suppose some of it might be of interest to goodness knows who, goodness knows when, but for my own part, these are the struggles with long resolved issues and there's no reason to keep the record. If I'm honest, I find it a fairly dull read.
****There are several reasons to use a journal as part of your spiritual practice
- The act of writing is a message to yourself that you are worth taking the time over. Your thoughts are worth the trouble of recording. So journaling should be done seriously. At a time of the day when you are alert. In a place you like. With materials that are worthy.
- Writing slows your thoughts down to a pedestrian pace and allows them to be examined more carefully.
- The act of writing externalises thoughts and dreams and reflections, gives them shape and form. They are thus available to a wider range of cognitions than the ones we habitually use.
- The act of writing imposes an order, and the ordered thoughts and the schema by which you order them are both useful pieces of information
- Sometimes the act of writing allows the inner wisdom which we are all so good at obscuring to find a voice.
- Journaling gives the opportunity for dialogue on the issues that are important, even if the other party to the dialogue is another part of yourself.
- Journaling allows fleeting treasures - thoughts, ideas, dreams, inspirations, insights - to be slowed down and captured.
****Writing always has an audience. This book isn’t a secret: it’s been lying on my bookshelf, in plain view, for a decade, and I suppose others may have looked into it, but it wasn’t intended to communicate. In a journal the audience is yourself. If you have any other audience in mind, even if only half consciously, then you aren't journaling, you are writing a memoir or an autobiography or an essay.
****There is one last, vital act to be done in the practice of journaling. While it's true that the present state in which we find ourselves is the sum of all our previous circumstances and decisions, the past is gone, existing only in memory. I glance briefly at a few pages, marvelling at how little any of this now matters. I carry this lovely book into the living room, open the door of the woodfire, and place it in the flames. Here is the final act and the greatest benefit of journaling: to provide a way to let it all go. To realise the transience and insignificance of all that once filled my life. If only I had known at the time! It blazes brightly and turns to crumbled ash. I go outside, happy, and feed the waxeyes.