Write It Down

Keeping a daily journal has been part of my discipline of life from the very beginning.

This brief article is a part of a series on self-awareness, as I share some tips around some simple ways to increase your capacity of emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence, or EQ, is the ability to monitor one’s own emotions as well as the emotions of others, using that knowledge in decisions and action. Since the identification of this capacity by Daniel Goleman in 1994, EQ has been seen as a major factor in leadership capacity and effectiveness. I have been teaching a four session class through the EQ-HR organization to introduce the science of Emotional Intelligence and practical tips for applying those insights to your everyday life.

In this blog, South of God, I began two weeks ago with a method of spiritual, meditative reading, or lectio divina, using Psalm 139, prescribed for me by the spiritual doctor, Dr. Howard Thurman.

The next week, I highlighted a method known as mindfulness, focusing on the simple act of eating. Savoring the present moment seems to get real in the Now Event of eating, or drinking, as one attends to the multiple levels of reality contained in the object of focus, even that of a grape, “Moby” by name.

This week, I want to turn our attention to the discipline of journaling, that is, writing down, in an intentional way, notes and reflections on the events of one’s life.

I have been writing down the events of my life, along with my thoughts and feelings surrounding those events since my days in college. Beginning with writing in one of those infamous composition books where I segregated my reflections, it was a simple system of just noting the occasions of the day, and jotting down some thoughts. Unclear as to what prompted this journaling, I think it came from reading journals of certain spiritual writers such as Merton and humorists such as Twain., There was no sense of a system of journaling, rather a more Freudian free-association ruled my the day and method. Trying to enter daily notes, the only consistency was my utter lack of consistency.

The whole endeavor of seminary prompted an uptick in self-awareness. Part of the gig was to write down, get on paper, objectify one’s journey in faith. “How in the world did you get to seminary?” seemed to be the underlying question when one enters the seminary arena. In fact, you are asked to write a spiritual autobiography when you submit your application, trying to form a believable narrative as to why it’s a good idea for you to become this thing called a minister.

It leads to a turn of the eye inward, remembering formative events in one’s past as they conspired to lead one into a commitment to the Almighty. As I was writing my first apologia of my life, I remembered, with a chuckle, the comment made by Clarence Jordan, the founder of Koinonia Farm, the organization that birthed Habitat for Humanity, that plowing in the hot, Georgia sun called many a man to the ministry. That is, rather than hard, honest work, why not go into the ministry? It was a joke told by Clarence when addressing aspiring minister-types, but there was a deeper truth that cut close to the bone.

This process of deepening self-reflection started my habit of journaling. During my doctoral work, Ira Progoff visited our Center for Faith Development at Emory to introduce us to his careful method of journaling called Intensive Journaling. This method involved an almost obsessive-compulsive concern with recording events, thoughts, imaginings, and then cross-referencing them to prompt further reflection. Ira provided me a framework that I have tweaked to fit my way of being, and has helpfully made linkages and connections more explicit.

One of our Fellows, Father Bob Perry, took this method and began a number of groups that did that individual journaling, and then shared the contents in the community of a group. This is when my journaling became more systemized, entering a notation on each day, expanding those thoughts in a separate section, and then cross-referencing with a section in which one revisits the entries.

The sharing of journal entries was a good exercise in community, but I have to say that the primary value of journaling for me is the privacy it provided. In my public life, it was so important for me to have that ONE place where I could have complete privacy. There, in the privacy of my journal, I could express any feeling without holding back, out of anxiety of who I might offend, or upset. Now, maybe that’s not an issue for you but it was for me in my married life, my work experience, in my academic circles, and in my community of faith. Where else could I express my raw feelings? The journal provided a safe space for my emotion, raw and unwashed, and then I could process them in a way which it could be more effectively expressed. The other options are to blurt out feelings without regard for the other, or the polar opposite, to repress those feelings and live a false life that lacks integrity. I happen to like this method that worked for me more often than not.

In coaching others through this method, I encourage daily journal entries, with a morning session anticipating the coming day, a midday session that is a simple “check-in” as to how it’s going, and and evening session that is a review of the day. Those that I coach adapt this to their own style, but the basic concept is clear: be aware of what’s going on inside yourself.

One can merely record one’s present state of emotion. Or one could record a list of events that are upcoming and those that have happened. “Checking in” gives you a chance to jot down some quick notes as to what is going on. Later reflection can be added, using the date as a cross reference.

After a time of forming this habit of simple journaling, additional sections and sessions can be added. Recording one’s dreams is often a very beneficial act. Reading back through a week’s entries can prompt a reflection on the trends occurring in your life. All of this gives you leverage in an investment in your own self-awareness, the hallmark of emotional intelligence. This pays off bigtime in the way you are able to become more true to your self, as well as becoming more thoughtful in your relating to others.

This coming Sunday is the beginning of Advent, four weeks preparing for the Feast of Christmas. Add another week, and you are looking at the welcomed end of 2020 and the beginning of a new year.

Why not make a commitment to begin a simple method and commitment to journaling, discovering what is going on inside your Self. It’s a great way to get a handle your thoughts and your feelings. Pick up a notebook at the drugstore, or a fancy Moleskin journal at a bookstore, and use the next period of time before the new year to check out this way of intentional being in the world. As Bluto would say in Animal House, don’t cost nothing.

Actually, the cost is your time and energy in focusing of what is going on inside your Self. For some, that’s simply too high a price. They opt for an unexamined life, one that’s free of reflection and pondering. But for me, that’s way too high a price in this one precious lifetime we are afforded.

So, write it down, Rather than a ring, put a note on it.

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