Long before the endless chirping of message alerts and clicking of keyboards, there was the quiet hush of pen floating across paper, the gentle stir of pages turning and the sigh of having finished a sentence just so. Long before we pushed the send button, broadcasting our innermost thoughts and desires to millions of followers on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the like, there was the journal.
Journals have been with us for centuries,the earliest example dating back to the second half of the 2nd century A.C.E. “To Myself” was written in Greek by the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Journals and diaries have been kept ever since as a way to record the details of daily life as well as reflections and meditations. Journals and diaries, such as those by John Quincy Adams, Jane Austen, Anne Frank and Bob Dylan, deepen our understanding of social history from a personal viewpoint.
My first journal dates back to my little, vinyl 6th-grade diary with its tiny brass lock and key. In those days, my musings were generally limited to cute boys and strict nuns. Today, as a relatively low-tech, aging baby boomer, keeping a journal the old fashioned way—putting pen to paper—is a satisfying method of self-study.
Over the years, my journal writing has progressed and my journal has been my deepest confidant, a silent advisor and a supportive friend. My journal has provided solace and stability when there was none, a respite from the outer world and a place for reflecting on my inner world. A journal is private and never judgmental.
Approach journaling as a daily practice, and you will soon reap the rewards of greater self- knowledge and awareness. The Buddha would encourage it: “Be a lamp unto yourself. Work out your liberation with diligence.”
Five tips to start a journal
There are as many tips to journal writing as there are attractive journals to fill. Here are a few tried and true pointers.
1) Write daily. Your journal writing should be a practice, much like your yoga. Designate a set time each day, beginning with just 10 minutes. Select a journal that beckons you to fill its pages. (See list of local shops with a selection of journals.) Begin each morning by collecting your thoughts through the gentle art of putting pen to paper. Delight in the slow unfurling of your handwritten words. No tapping of keys is required, just the soft scratching of your favorite pen. A few lines can suffice; what is important is to just do it—with authenticity and consistency. It may help to have coffee or tea nearby. Most journaling experts recommend writing before you turn on the computer.
2) Begin where you are, just like yoga. If you are stuck on what to write, write how you feel that day. Write about what happened the previous day or about the upcoming day. Write about your dreams, your desires, your angst or your gratitude. Write whatever comes to mind.
3) Stick with it. Although you do not need to write every day for years, it’s good to begin with writing daily to establish the habit. Give it a few months. At the end of your trial period, look back at what you’ve written. What patterns emerge? Have your thoughts shifted? Are you more positive or negative?
4) Extend your practice. As you progress, you may wish to write for longer periods of time; 20 to 30 minutes a day is plenty. If you wish to commit to journaling as a form of self-study, assign a topic to explore such as your dreams, your interactions with others or your mood swings.
5) Keep it handy. Keep small notebooks in other places for jotting down quick thoughts while on the run. For some, this is their main form of journaling, and it may work best for you.
As we age, we move into the more creative and intuitive phase of our lives. According to Ayurveda, our later years is the vata dosha stage, a time of inner reflection. It is a perfect time to take up the contemplative practice of journaling. By spending a few minutes each day with your journal, you will come to marvel at the wisdom you have gained about the most important person in your life: you.
Cathy Beres is a Yoga Alliance certified Vinyasa yoga instructor, freelance marketing consultant/writer and graduate student at Northwestern University.