Pic of the day: It's like food for the soul! (Screenshot from the anime Lucky Star, which is like sweet snacks for the soul, I guess. Like those chocolate covered popcorns perhaps.)
Journal as spiritual practice
I had not really thought of it that way. I always felt that it was a social thing. After all, I talk to people, I just don't know who. Increasingly I also discovered its value for my future self. (Or more exactly, I discovered the value of my previous entries for my present self.)
I am increasingly convinced that most people don't really know their own past, but just a story that resembles their past. This is not necessarily as bad as it sounds. I suppose it could even be a good thing to some people. Stories are essential to the way we think, which is why we love them so much. Even toddlers love to hear stories, and as we grow up we spend much of our lives watching or reading stories: On TV (for those who have that), in comic books, in entertainment magazines and in novels. There is probably hardly a day in the average person's life that he or she does not consume stories along with their water and bread. Much like our body is made from the food we eat and drink, our soul it is made from the stories we consume.
Our stories help us make sense of things. Because of the stories, we know that this has already happened to others, and we have some idea of what the outcome was, or several possible outcomes. Our subconscious mind digests the stories, trying to find why some lived happily ever after while others ended in tragedy. The public stories are selected not so much for truth in details, but rather for containing the right elements and leading to the right conclusions, which are publicly approved. For example, a group of researchers interviewed cancer patients which had recently been diagnosed. A while after the treatments were completed they interviewed the survivors again. (Obviously they could not interview the dead; this becomes important.) The survivors almost without exception credited their positive outlook as a reason why they survived. But a quick look at the first interviews showed that there was no difference in optimism between those who lived and those who died. The survivors were simply telling the official story of how one survives cancer. After all, they were alive, so they must have had the right attitude!
Stories take some of the burden out of being human. They carry or support our lives, provide meaning that underpins the life we experience. And they bring fellowship, because the stories are shared. And so, when our life aligns with the stories, it too is shared. We are like others. Not identical: Each of us is still unique and precious like a snowflake, but we are definitely a snowflake and not a cornflake.
It is common to change life stories. This usually does not take the form of making up things out of thin air and firmly denying what was a fact before. Oh, that happens too, especially in traumatic divorces, but usually we are more subtle. We simply forget things that don't fit with the new story, and give plenty of room for the memories that do fit in. But the overall effect can be pretty amazing. I have witnessed this happen among relatives when someone had died. I wonder if the time for grief is not largely used internally, by the subconscious, to unravel the earlier stories and write the new. It is sometimes hard to guess that it is the same person, except for the name and other well documented traits.
For the same reason, it is common to change online diaries. If you started reading the Chaos Node when it was new, you may have read other journals at the time. A few of them are still active, at least somewhat. But most are not. The really interesting ones are the ones few will know of, certainly not the casual reader. It is those who delete their old journal and start a new. This amazes me every time. You cannot change your past, is what I think. But in essence they do. Rather, they erase it, and begin a new story. Sometimes they will say outright that they are not comfortable with who they were. Well, neither am I always, but that does not change the fact that I was who I was.
Of course, I am not entirely tried in all things in the same way as them. I cannot know how it feels to have gushed about my love, and read this when I no longer love that person but someone else. I am sure it must be embarrassing. Perhaps it really gets in the way of going on with your life. But then again perhaps you should not go on with a life of serial crushes where you don't learn from your failures? Just a thought. But of course, the stories sanctioned by society do not contain a string of crushes followed by painful break-ups followed by new crushes. Where is the "happily ever after" in that?
Yes, it is perfectly normal to rewrite your past, and you cannot do this if your 8 years ago entries tell you otherwise. But I do not rewrite, the way most people do. Or do I? There is drift, definitely. I see it when I read old entries: There are details that differ from what I remember. But only details. There is nothing that really amazes me: Was that me? How could I possibly have done that? Even when I have changed a lot (and I already have, in these 9 years) I don't remember a different story.
As I was thinking about this, I originally said to myself: I do not rewrite, the way lesser humans do. I then chided myself: So I am now officially a Greater Human? And yes, I am. But not a better human. I have a larger soul, so to speak, not a more refined one. I have room to contain much that another may need to "outsource" to the shared stories, because they don't have room for so much within themselves. They could still be better people than I am, and I know some who are. Was I born like this, or raised like this, or have I just grown to it over time? I don't know for sure, but I think we can grow by exercise to contain more of what really happened in our lives. And a journal like this one is a good way, possibly the best, for me to do so.
So why have I come to think of journaling as a spiritual exercise now? Well, because it feels like it. There is a sense of … blessing? A sense of being centered, being anchored. Not in the sense of simply concentrating, like losing oneself in the flow of any other task. I can concentrate much more in a fast-paced game, but it is a completely different feeling. That is fun, but there is no anchoring, no blessing, no sense that I am specifically doing the right thing to do. When I journal, there often is. I know when it is the time to journal, and if I don't do it then, I feel myself drifting from the course I should have taken. When I do it, I sense myself moving in the right direction. Does that even make sense? It does make a sixth sense to me, I guess. Or seventh, perhaps, since seven is the holy number…
But there is logic to it as well. As I detailed above, writing a regular journal enforces honesty. Well, it does if you write an honest journal. It is possible to write a fake journal, a fiction. This could be a more popular journal than the real thing. I am sure I could write a fictional journal that would seem far more realistic than the real thing, and also be more entertaining. That would not enforce honesty. It would not bring down any blessing either, or the sense of being on the right course.
But there is yet another factor, which I think I was not aware of until I saw it practiced by Dr Robert W. Godwin over at "One Cosmos". Technically he is writing a blog, but actually it is a journal. He writes one entry a day (lately excepting the weekends), but he does so in Blogger. (To be honest, I would have used Blogger too if I were starting now. In fact, I am using it for a couple more sporadic journals.) But rather than write about anything and everything that happens, he writes about politics, religion and spirituality, and the continuum in which they exist. And it is very clearly a spiritual exercise for him. Not just because he has said so occasionally, it is evident from the way he writes. He is letting content flow from the inner and higher source out into the ordinary world.
Of course, Godwin is not infallible, and even less so am I: For I do not even attempt to each day write from the highest possible Source. Rather I write from anywhere within my sphere. My task is a different one from that of the prophet, very much so. It is to make you stop, think and wonder: Maybe things are not quite like everyone says? Maybe the stories do not tell it all? Maybe life is a great freedom where you can choose an unusual path without going somewhere and without doing something outrageous? Yes, it is. And I do not just spell out some theory, I report from a life that is off the beaten path, in the very middle of the everyday world.
You probably should not follow my example. (Not that I think you would be tempted to.) What I hope is that you find your own path, where there was no path before. And your own spiritual exercise, whether it is Zen or motorcycle maintenance, sweeping the yard or writing a journal.
Visit the archive page for the older diaries I've put out to pasture.