A common exercise life coaches assign is journaling. And the common response is UGHHH! I think that’s because we instantly recall the diary from junior high school we used to record our secret feelings about the guy we had a crush on and the girlfriend we hate for stealing him away from us. This is the same diary that our younger brother found and read at the dinner table embarrassing us in front of our parents.
However, journaling is not a diary of what we did for the day. From a Jungian perspective the point of journaling is not so much about what we say, as it is about how we say it. Journaling in Depth is a practice of calling our ego into relationship with our soul, a practice that is as important as exercise and meditation on the journey of individuation.
The critical skill for journaling is asking questions. In fact, journaling is really a practice of inquiry. Once I start journaling I find soul slipping in, which it must do to get past the rigidity of ego, with brilliant questions and insights. Ego wants the answers now so it can file it into unconscious standard operating procedures. In contrast, soul strives for wholeness so it will ask questions that compensate for the one-sidedness of ego.
For instance, let’s say you are writing about why you erupted in rage when your boyfriend forgot to pick up lemons on the way home. As you describe the event your thoughts start spinning all these stories about him and perhaps you get angry all over again. That’s okay, but that is not the point of journaling. At some point I hope soul slips in a question about you and your rage.
The point of Journaling in Depth is not to reinforce ego’s war with your boyfriend. It is to question your unconscious automatic patterns of thoughts and behaviors giving you a chance to withdraw your projections, own your shadow, and learn to consciously choose appropriate responses.
Ego is always looking for data to reinforce its beliefs. And I promise you any time you erupt emotionally out of proportion to the event [rage about lemons? come on!] a projection from your shadow needs to be withdrawn from your boyfriend.
The place to start in this example is the stories that got spun about why your boyfriend forgot the lemons. He never listens to me, I have to do everything all the time, he forgot on purpose to embarrass me, etc. [Another clue to discovering a projection is when you use extreme language like always and never.]
The questions to ask yourself are: Is that true? What is the evidence to support your claims? Are there alternative reasons he forgot the lemons? To find wholeness you must be able to see the events and stories you spin in your mind from every side.
If the point of meditation is to build awareness in the moment and to rid the mind of worries and phantom dialogues with others, then journaling can be a meditative process. For me that’s exactly what it is, a meditation; it helps me get rid of what I call the “monkey mind,” a mind completely lost in thought, by bringing the monkey into relationship with the soul.
If “monkey mind” is a left brain affair and meditation is a right brain affair, then journaling as a meditation process can be a way to tame your anxiety and integrate the left and right hemispheres of your brain which helps in healing depression.
In conclusion, I recommend handwriting your journal. Why? Because it helps you slow down and really BE in the process, and it involves the body — where Wisdom resides. Finally, please be sure to hide it so your brother won’t read it at the dinner table and embarrass you in front of your boyfriend.