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Reply To: Finding your story in a time of uncertainty


Thanks for this post, James. Allow me to second your motion!

Writing about what happens to us can’t help but widen our perspective, especially if we do so with a sincere and open heart.

James Hillman believed that reflection – chewing over and digesting life, if you will – is what deepens events into experience. Ideally, that’s what we do when we journal – step outside ego, outside the “I,” the “me,” that sense of myself I experience as me –  and then psyche (or soul, if you will) washes across the page.

Journaling is one of the most useful tools in my toolbox. There is plenty of pondering (and wandering) in my journals; in fact, I have an entire file drawer jammed full of loose pages – irregular sized art paper, the back of discarded reams of unused office stationary, and all types of blank paper – that record nearly a decade of travels by thumb across the continent way back when.

I would write on every and any thing, every and any where – and, in the writing, found myself forging my own soul.

Of course, the words aren’t all profound observations and nature scenes. There is plenty of hunger and loneliness and sunburn and despair in those pages as well. To this day my journal serves as a portal to shadow realms. I vent frustration and anger, confront jealousies and fears, beat myself up and beat myself down

. . . which I find now, after decades of keeping a journal, keeps me sane and preserves me from falling prey to those same shadow impulses. And when I am possessed by Shadow, my journal is the place I go to lick my wounds – a safe and sacred space to recuperate.

It’s also where I amplify insights, accept and embrace my strengths as well as my flaws, and discover the elements that make up my bliss. Looking over the pages of journals past I see patterns appear and reappear – and notice what is that I keep coming back to, the situations that draw me again and again.

I can’t imagine a more useful process right now, when we are pummeled by events we cannot control and Shadow, individual and collective, confronts us at every turn.

Of course, it’s not easy for those who aren’t used to writing words they will never show another, reflections of their interior world, to just pick up a pen and start. We have so many roadblocks in our head.

I sense that many who try unsuccessfully to diary their thoughts may be approaching it as I did my first few attempts, back in high school and college (none of which lasted more than a few days, maybe a week or two of feeble, sporadic entries).

Looking back, I notice those early unsuccessful efforts exhibit two common characteristics:

First, I would try to detail exactly what happened during the day – the order and times in which events occurred, who said what to whom, etc. – an impossible journalistic task. It had taken me all day to live it; writing it all down would take another day – hence I found the process time-consuming and impossibly overwhelming. No matter how enthusiastic I was at first, my efforts faded and entries soon dribbled away to nothing.

And then second, I now notice that in those early efforts I was always the star of my story. Everything was about me – everything I did was right, and where there were problems in my life I was either misunderstood, or others were, of course, to blame. I wrote as if I expected all sorts of people to one day read my words, and boy, would they be blown away at what a mistreated, misunderstood genius I was! Can’t say I was writing for me, but for posterity – which also meant a certain amount of editing history, to put me in the most favorable light possible.

Of course, this wasn’t a conscious process – nevertheless, my early daily diary efforts proved a flood of mundane details mixed with shameless self-promotion and self-justification. No reflection, no coming to know my self better, no point to the exercise at all. That’s not journaling – not in the sense I’m using the word here.

Journaling is a movement not of ego, but of soul.

And, years later, that’s how my real journaling began – born out of the sincere anguish of my soul. I found myself writing down truths about myself – truths I did not know until they spilled from my pen. I asked questions, pondered, mused, all with no audience in mind other than myself – or is that my Self?

Instead of ego directing the pen, now my words carry me wherever they will. I’m not keeping a journalistic account of my day, but am penetrating the depths of the world around me, and the world of my own thoughts – and noting the correspondence between the two. I might describe at length the politics and play of the magpies outside my window, or ramble on for pages about an image in a daydream, or a phrase overheard in line at the cash register in the local market, or explore why my speech patterns automatically and seemingly on their own change when certain people walk into the room.

I still delve into relationships and personal exchanges, but now my attitude is not that I’m automatically the good guy; before, I thought I knew myself – now, though, I’m as curious about myself and my own motivations as I am about others.

That openness and wonder strikes me as a hallmark of personal journaling. It’s also subtly altered my behavior. Instead of re-acting reflexively to forces originating outside myself, I am a more conscious actor, moving in concert with forces arising from a deeper part of my Self.

In this moment, when life can be so overwhelming, scribbling words across the blank page (yes, I’m old school – typing is too close to what I do everyday in the mundane world: an unlined journal and a clean white page is my sacred space),  putting pen to paper slows me down and truly does deepen events into experience . . .

(Including pics of my journal below)
Opening page of a past journal
Sample journal page