STEP TWO: Keep a daily diary: record significant experiences, causes of problems, progress in self-improvement, and what self-help methods work. Use an "intensive journal" to connect with the deepest processes guiding your life.
Wouldn't it be fascinating to read, when you are 60, the major events of every day of your life? Diaries are also excellent ways of recording your progress in a self-help project which may not be obvious otherwise. Record your daily successes and your failures (see chapter 2). Recordings done immediately following a self-improvement effort are also good places to figure out what you did right or wrong, i.e. what self-instructions worked well and what self-defeating thoughts undermined your efforts, etc. Insight into the causes of a behavior or feeling can be gained by using a diary for a "behavioral analysis" (see chapters 4 and 11) in which you note the antecedents and consequences of the target behavior. Avoid recording just a schedule of your activities for the day. Self-help journals focus on your self-help efforts and goals, on your relationships, and on your feelings. Journal writing in which you pour out your anger, fears, frustrations, disappointments, etc. has been found to reduce anxiety and depression as well as improve your health. It is best to write in your diary every day, getting the pent up feelings out as soon as possible. Diaries can, obviously, serve many purposes.
Another type of journal seeks much deeper insight and guidance; it hopes to find life's meaning and goals, not to give it meaning or achieve goals. Let's discuss the latter kind of journal at length.
Ira Progoff (1975) has years of experience teaching people to use a special journal to gain insight into the unfolding process of life, into the unconscious creative and spiritual forces--the "inner resources"--within us. How does he do this? He speaks of trusting in the self-healing wisdom of life. He believes every life has purpose and meaning--"something is being worked out within us"--even though it is unknown to us and unaided by our intellectual minds. He tells of decisions, which can't be made by conscious thought, being formed by a mysterious "vital force" in each life.
His journal "workshops" are not for talking and interacting; they are quiet places to explore alone your deepest and most intimate awarenesses and write them down; they are "working-in-your-journal shops" that focus on your history, friendships, conflicts, love, spiritual experiences, repeated dreams, moods, hopes and so on.
In the first step, you concentrate on the current or recent (last few years) stage of your life. Make brief notes of the major happenings in a section of your journal called The Period Log. Do not give details, don't analyze or try to understand. At least make cursory notes about your memories of recent (a) relationships--just jot down names, (b) work situation, (c) health, (d) social group and activities, and (e) any dramatic or especially meaningful event. You will return to these topics. Limit yourself to an hour or so.
Now you turn to a different process, called "twilight imaging ," in which you use a meditative-feeling mode. The idea is to reach a deeper-than-conscious level where our intuition, hunches, inspiration and a different awareness resides. A state between sleeping and waking, like a mild hypnosis, is sought. Sit quietly, close your eyes, calm down, and merely behold, don't direct, whatever experiences occur to you about this current or recent phase of your life. Images, symbolic impressions, emotions, and inward intuitive awareness are all recorded briefly afterwards in the Twilight Imagery Log. Take 30 to 40 minutes.
Next, take the two views of this phase of your life--the consciously recalled memories from (1), the Period Log, and the impressions that come unconsciously from your inner depths in (2), the Twilight Imagery Log, and put them side by side. Do they agree, complement each other, or give a different picture? Don't critically analyze the differences with your conscious, intellectual mind; merely feel the tone of each. Don't value one view over the other; together they form a more complete message; absorb it, unconsciously form an inner correlation between the two views. Don't be judgmental and don't jump to conclusions about your future. Just realize we are at a critical point between our past and our future. The combined conscious and unconscious views give us, as Progoff says, a way of knowing where we are in the unfolding of our lives and getting a clearer, broader view of the path our life is trying to take.
Keep a Daily Log. This is another part of the total "intensive journal." We need to stay in contact with the movement of our lives. The best way is a diary focusing on whatever is going on inside of us. Take time each day, if possible, to close your eyes, relax and review the day. Then, record briefly the major external events of the day but concentrate on the internal experiences--mental thoughts and fantasies, mood and emotions, and especially dreams (cross reference to the Dream Log) or spontaneous insights during the day. Don't be embarrassed about what you write; don't worry about grammar or writing style or organization. Don't use polite language, use your everyday mental language. No one else will read it, but you will use it later, and it needs to be completely honest. Finally, take a few minutes to review this day in this manner and record it in the log.
Steppingstones of our lives. By understanding our life history, especially the main junctures along life's road, we can feel the speed and direction of movement in our lives. This helps us make decisions at future crossroads. Just as an explorer leaves "markings" through the mountains, each phase of life has its markers. They reflect the complex, hidden forces that unfold our meaning.
Again, begin by relaxing, closing your eyes, and trying to sense--feel, not think--your life passing before your mind's eye. Let it happen, don't try to remember. Using short phrases or a single word, record your first list of steppingstones (no more than 10 or 12). My example: Born helpless, secure love, sure of God, social addict, serious student, lost God, loving Dad, proud program developer, divorce, low times but writing, new life-new hope. Focus more on your subjective experiences which have meaning rather than on a chronology of events. As you read your steps to yourself, how do you feel? Record that too.
It is obvious that different steppingstones would occur to you each time you did it. So, now or a few days from now, imagine two, three or more such lists. They each disclose threads woven into your life. Put several lists side by side and absorb them--get a feel for the steppingstones of your life. These spontaneously created lists of "markings," reflecting facets of the inner flow of your life, may reveal unseen directions of movement and provide guidance for your next phase of life.
Exploring phases of your life. Work with only one phase at a time. Look over the steppingstone periods you have just listed and select the most significant and meaningful period, a time of many possibilities and decisions. If it is still affecting your life, all the better. Relax, sit quietly, close your eyes, drift back to this time in your life. Don't try to recall events, don't try to organize your memories in order, just re-live, re-experience some of those times. "It was a time when..." What kind of person were you? How did you feel? Your attitudes? Your relationships? Your work? Your health? Relationships with groups (family, religion, peers)? Major events? Remember any dreams or twilight imagery or inner wisdom gained? What major decisions were made or not made? Record your recollections without pride or shame in the Life History Log, and cross reference them to other sections of the journal. Explore as many phases as you like.
Roads not taken. Looking at the last two steps, it is possible to recall and describe the intersections--the major decision points--in certain phases of your life. Those choices shaped your life. Why review those choices now? Because at every fork, one road wasn't taken. Some opportunities were open to you, perhaps very appealing ones, but they weren't taken. The idea here is not to worry about "what might have been" or to do "Monday-morning quarterbacking;" the purpose is to recognize the unlived possibilities rather than "forget about it." Besides, the untaken roads may not be washed out--the opportunities may still be there, the ideas might even be more practical now than before, if you would only consider them again. In other instances, with hindsight you can see that the road not taken would have been a disaster and you can count your blessings. Or the road might have been wonderful--but there is no going back. Record in your journal the choice points and see what might have happened on the untraveled roads. If the outcome looks appealing, ask if the option is still open. Your future is for you to make.
Continue reconsideration of past and future. Continue attending to a certain Steppingstone period, letting experiences float into your mind and unfold. Record each image in the Life History Log. Repeat this experiencing and recording over and over again. They can be brief recollections or long, detailed ones. In the process, as you re-live times of decision-making or being forced to go a certain direction, try using Twilight Imagery to explore the road untaken, i.e. imagining the many possibilities missed. Thus, there is also a constant shifting back and forth between recording your past and, whenever we remember a choice point, imagining possible futures. In this way we intuitively reconstruct our life histories--our autobiography--and change our future. It is a long process and a very different autobiography from the one in step one.
Dialogue with persons. After getting a feel for your past and for the directions your life is moving in, make a list of 5 to 10 of the most significant people in your life. They may be liked or disliked, current, past, or promising relationships. The person may be close by or distant, living or dead but still important. Select one to work with first. Write down his/her name and the date. Write a brief uncensored description of the relationship: current situation and feelings. Read it; record your feelings. Now, this is important: Sit silently and get in tune with that person, walk in his/her shoes, empathize, sense what he/she was/is secretly striving for. As a part of this identification with the other person, review his/her entire life, list (a word or phrase) his/her Steppingstones. Feel the life-long movement, the underlying flow of his/her life. Close your eyes, give yourself over to Twilight Imagery, do not conjure up the images, just record them. See the person before you, feel deeply in touch with your self and with his/her self, converse with him/her without restrictions. Record the dialogue automatically. Afterwards, record your feelings during the dialogue. Then read it and record feelings again. Later Twilight conversations and real-life interactions with the person can be recorded in the same place in the journal. These lengthy dialogues clarify the surface, conscious experiences and, supposedly, expose us to a "deeper-than-conscious" level of awareness of the problems and the potentials. Try it and see if the dialogue contains new knowledge which improves the relationship (or your feelings about it) and alters the future.
Dialogues with your work, your body, important events, and social groups. The same procedure as used with persons can be used with an infinite number of things or situations. You simply get in touch with the history of your work or some project, of your body, of certain situations, of your race or nationality...list its Steppingstones (history). As you fantasize about the background, the purposes and needs, the essence of your work or body or some group or an event unfolding, it seems to have a life of its own, similar to a person. In Twilight Imagery you can talk with it as if it were a person. Use the same sequence for all dialogues:
(a) describe it: your body, work, event, etc., record your feelings,
(b) identify its many Steppingstones--its background or history,
(c) using Twilight Images have a dialogue with it, record this,
(d) read the dialogue back to yourself, record your feelings,
(e) have several daily dialogues, gain insight and grow.
Understanding your dreams. Progoff believes that dreams reflect the on-going imagery, life-force, and wisdom within our unconscious, but dream-messages are so symbolic that one dream can not be interpreted to tell us how to live. Instead, he feels a series of dreams (both night and Twilight) simply hint at which areas of our lives need to be examined more carefully. So, dreams usually lead to dialogues with people, some situation (event), a social group and so on. It is through these various dialogues that the underlying message of the dreams is ordinarily discovered, as described below.
Understanding dreams involves many steps. (a) Start by writing in your Dream Log a history of all your dreams. Record your earliest dreams, good and bad dreams, nightmares, telepathic dreams, repeated dreams, sexual dreams, and especially all your recent dreams. Don't analyze them. (b) Next, while looking over the Dream Log, sit quietly getting in touch with your dreams until a particular dream draws your attention. If the dream is already in the Log, try to reconstruct the entire series of dreams before and after the main dream. A series of dreams is desirable. If the dream has not been recorded in the Log, do so and try to remember the entire series. (c) It is thought that dreams are connected and all part of the life-force directing our lives and fulfilling our potential. Therefore, you try to identify with the entire series of dreams that have sought your attention. Read about the series of dreams two or three times, feeling their inner movement until you become part of the forces producing the dreams. Close your eyes, let yourself be carried along and the dreams will continue themselves. This is Twilight Dreaming, you aren't asleep nor awake. Part of the dreams may reappear but you do no guiding; let the Twilight Dreams occur; when done, record the Twilight dreams in the Dream Enlargement section (only dreams go in the Dream Log). Read your description and record your reactions to the Twilight experience. (d) Since dreams (night and Twilight) hint at other topics that need to be uncovered, you must follow their leads, e.g. if a person is in the dreams, dialogue with him/her or if the dream involves work, dialogue with work, and so on. That is where we find the meaning of our dreams. (e) You have contacted two forces in your life--the stream of consciousness (every day events) and the unconscious stream of life-forces (reflected in dreams). Using your Steppingstones to get in touch with the conscious stream and your Dream Log, the series of dreams, and Twilight dreams to get in touch with the unconscious stream, place these moving forces in your hands, one in each hand. Ask, "What do the two parts of my life want to say to each other?" Let them converse. When finished, record your feelings, any ideas or insights, and all hints as to where else to dialogue and look for more meaning in your life.
Inner Wisdom Dialogue. We'd all like to know "the ultimate truth." Some turn to religion, some to science, some to personal growth. Consciousness and "inner knowing" are assumed to be expanded by working in your journal, shifting from one section or part of yourself to another. Supposedly, according to Progoff, we know more intuitively than rationally. The previous dialogues (8 and 9) bring this intuitive wisdom into everyday use. This step is another dialogue to bring us "knowledge beyond understanding," especially spiritual and philosophical wisdom. First, look over your life history and list your Spiritual Steppingstones, e.g. early religious experiences, family values, friends' influences, changes in beliefs and faith, being baptized or first communion or bar mitzvah, being involved or distant from a higher power, feeling loved or unloved by God, troubled by death, discovering some truths in a book, etc. Number them in chronological order. We are seeking an awareness of the process underlying our spiritual history so we can carry on a dialogue with that process. Second, review the Steppingstone phases and record the names of people (acquaintances or great minds) who philosophically influenced you the most in each phase. Third, for the dialogue select one person you respect highly and with whom you can be comfortable. Don't expect every dialogue with a wise person to be profound, just start a relationship. Fourth, sit quietly with eyes closed, relax, feel the presence of the wise person, sense his/her knowledge and experience, imagine him/her, with Twilight Imagery feel the flow of his/her life. Then, talk to each other. Tell him/her how you feel about his/her life; describe your relationship with him/her; ask a question. Wait for a response, be patient. Carry on a conversation. Continue asking questions and sharing. Fifth, when over, record it faithfully. Later, read what was said and record your feelings. Similar dialogues can be had with the same person many times and with many wise people. Progoff (1980) explores spirituality even further.
Looking forward. This journal started by looking back, now let's look at the future. Sit quietly with eyes closed thinking of all the experiences you have had with the Journal exercises (look at the journal if you like). Feel the wholeness, the direction, the vital force of your life. Call on Twilight imagery and see the future flowing out of your complex but directed past. A statement, a vision, a hope, a list of possibilities, whatever it is; record it.
Continue using a journal. Every day or every few days make an entry in the Daily Log. This is the on-going movement of your life. Progoff says direct attention to problems rarely solves them, instead solutions come "as though by themselves" from some internal source of wisdom. The Daily Log and the Dream Log lead us to the topics that need to be talked about--the dialogues with people, projects, events, society's expectations and so on. Here, in the dialogues, we get our insights. A journal increases an awareness of your history and your potential because "...each of us can become an artist-in-life with our finest creation being our own self."
I have concentrated on Progoff's journal techniques, but there are others for adolescents, for a spiritual quest, and for connecting with the self (Adams, 1990).