The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story, and writes another; and his humblest hour is when he compares the volume as it is with what he vowed to make it.*
The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.**
I began journaling just over twenty years ago. I’m wary of sharing my own practices because our must is to grow our own, though sometimes the stories of others help us to find a completely different trajectory.
I still have the original book I’d taken to the United States and to a conference back in 1998. I see that I played around with some entries before the 15th May but on that day I began journaling every day. At the conference, I’d just been in a session with the pastor of a church of more than 20,000 people admitting he couldn’t pray for more than five minutes. He told of how he’d tried all kinds of way to help but none had worked until he’d tried writing his prayers out long-hand.
Whether it’s prayer, reflection or meditation isn’t the point. The critical thing is hearing someone’s story and thinking, “I could do that,” and then begin to practice something different.
Hugh Macleod makes total sense to me when he writes:
‘Creativity is the practice of keeping an open mind – and the thing about practice is, well, you need to keep practicing.’^
Nassim Taleb adds a little more edge, how something that is more demanding for us can help us to know not only that we are alive but how we are alive:
‘An idea gets to be interesting when you get scared of taking it to its logical conclusion.’^^
Journaling is another practice that can become a life habit if you give it a chance. Avoid thinking, “I’ll see how it goes.” You’ll need to commit to it for a longer period and then, no matter what, keep to it. I found the truth of this again when I committed to blogging every day, an extension of my daily journaling. I wanted there to be a further degree of difficulty, something that was outside of my reach. Again, I saw the practice of another and thought, “I could do that.” In this case it was Hugh Macleod’s story of blogging and doodling. So I began doodling although I’d never doodled before.
My original commitment was to blog every day of 2014, no matter wha – just putting some doodle out there no matter how and (and there are lots of bad ones). Something happened in those 365 days that have projected me into a different life. Doodling, creating a book, visual scribing, and book illustrating were never on my horizon in 2014. Things become possible because of turning up every day and journaling in a messy way.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes the kind of flow I believe we can uncover in journaling:
‘”Flow” is the way people describe their state of mind when consciousness is harmoniously ordered, and they want to pursue whatever they are doing for its own sake.’*^
Journaling for its own sake is the messy part of journaling, how it takes on a life of its own. We don’t know what will emerge when we begin writing. And please don’t try to tidy up what we write, to make it conform to some ideal of writing or working or producing:
‘The trouble is, when we start quantifying and measuring everything, we soon begin to change the world to fit the way we measure it.’^*
The thing is, we’ll only measure the easy to count things, and the really interesting things – because they don’t conform, – we’ll ignore. It’s why you can go on a nice tidy course or programme that lays out the abc or xyz of how to improve your life and it doesn’t do it for most people. But find your rhythms for being messy and something will happen.
Where are you asked how your heartbeat is matching the beat of the universe? (My aim is always to help people know who they are so they can devise the ways and means of developing – it’s why I’m cautious to say too much more about my own playfulness in journaling.)
Be messy but be disciplined about it.
Be messy for at least three months but a year is better.
Start with the notebook and pen you have but allow the journaling to speak to you about how it wants to develop – there are some thing that have remained the same for me over the 20 years but many things have changed and developed as an expression of the personal flow of my journaling.
We need this kind of aliveness to it.
Don’t find the easy path, though, as Ryan Holliday counsels us:
‘The path of least resistance is a poor teacher.’⁺
(*J.M. Barrie, quote in Ben Hardy’s blog: Keeping a Daily Journal Could Change Your Life.)
(**Joseph Campbell, quoted in Kelvy Bird’s Generative Dialogue.)
(^From gapingvoid’s Chase down your dreams.)
(^^From Nassim Taleb’s The Bed of Procrustes.)
(*^From Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow.)
(^*From Tim Harford’s Messy.)
(⁺From Ryan Holliday’s The Obstacle is the Way.)