During this past year, many of us have faced deeper questions about our lives and its purpose. So the beginning of 2021 might be a good time to start a spiritual diary.
Writing a spiritual diary is different from writing a memoir or a diary in general as the focus is on your spiritual life – in other words, what is happening inside your soul. Besides a blank notebook and pen, it requires you to have some courage and a great deal of honesty. By focusing on what’s happening in your inner life, you allow yourself to more carefully observe the small changes that are happening in your heart and mind. In your written reflections, you can work through troubling issues, set new spiritual goals, and discover higher qualities like patience, determination, and beauty that have always existed inside you.
Keeping a spiritual diary is not a new idea. The practice gained popularity in the 1600s, especially among Protestant women. For the first time, women could adopt roles through their self-reflections that were forbidden in their everyday lives (like preaching) without having to excuse themselves to the larger society. Many saw the practice as a way to converse, maintain contact and sustain a direct interpersonal relationship with God. As Elizabeth Bury wrote in her 17th century journal:
“If it weren’t for my diary, I would neither know what I was, what I did, or what I had.”
Assagioli also kept a spiritual diary. He said keeping a diary is one way we can explore our inner world, discover ourselves, and others. He wrote:
“Diary writing helps to create distance and become ‘the observer.’ You can also do this verbally, but writing has practical and therapeutic advantages. Practically, writing helps speed up the healing process.”
Assagioli explains that while writing, you naturally begin with the story that you are conscious of. But as you write, other thoughts and feelings that you were not yet aware of spontaneously emerge. It is as if the pen were to “take control of your hand.” But in reality, it is not the “pen” that is taking control but the unconscious.
Through the centuries we have been blessed with many inspirational spiritual journals, including the Trappist monk Thomas Merton’s Secular Journal; Flannery O’Connor’s A Prayer Journal; Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year; and Etty Hillesum’s An Interrupted Life.
What goes into a Spiritual Diary?
The purpose of a spiritual journal is to gain insight into how your soul is moving and where it is taking you. Granted, you might need to start writing about the stack of bills that need to be paid or a relationship that is off the rails, but you then have to push yourself further to explore questions like:
- Why is this bothering me so much?
- Is this a pattern in my life?
- Does a calmer more peaceful place also exist inside me?
- What is my intuition telling me about this difficult situation?
- What am I doing to take care of my physical and emotional needs?
Don’t be discouraged if the answers seem too distant to hear. Try to remember that you’re listening hard for God’s voice. Sometimes it’s difficult to hear above all the raucous that fills our everyday lives. A spiritual diary can help clear the lines of communication.
Writing about your thoughts, desires, worries and heartache is a way to develop spiritual and psychological awareness about your motivation for acting in the world and your deeper intuition as to what you really need at that very moment. A hot bath? A cool drink? A good cry? A friend to talk to or an evening of quiet? Hope? Clarity? Compassion?
It is important that you scribble down exactly what you are thinking and feeling. Try not to match your thoughts to somebody else’s idea of what you should be writing or who you ought to be. A quiet, private place helps you to focus along with a regular, daily time slot just for writing. You can always start with a spiritual passage you’ve always liked or one that speaks to you in that particular moment.
Don’t be afraid. Just write. It doesn’t have to be perfect, wise, or entertaining. Just write without any judgment. Tell that judge inside you to go away! You know, that one who keeps insisting:
“Oh! This is so stupid/a waste of time. I’m a terrible writer. Look at my handwriting. What a mess! Who cares what I think or write about?”
If such thoughts keep creeping into your head, then write them down too! The key is to keep writing no matter what. Because, with a sincere and open heart, practice and patience, you will eventually arrive to a deeper and more meaningful place.
Another helpful technique is to detach yourself from the episodes or feelings that you are writing about by acting like distant and benevolent observer. Humor helps to create the distance that you might need. The ultimate goal is to stay in relationship – with your pen and paper, your inner life, and God.
Assagioli’s Suggestions for Spiritual Diary Topics
Here’s a few suggested topics from Assagioli to help get you started.
- Past spiritual experiences. Try to reconnect to a numinous time in your life. Perhaps you felt a powerful connection to something bigger than you in a beautiful natural setting. Using your imagination, bring yourself back to that experience and then write about it
- Thoughts – Impressions – Illuminations. While writing about a particular situation that you experienced that day, try to reflect on what you were thinking at that moment. What impressed or surprised you the most? Did you have any Aha/Eureka! moments?
- Lucidity of thought – The sudden solution of a problem. It’s vital that we acknowledge and cultivate those times in our lives when we suddenly see the solution to a problem, understand a deeper motivation, or realize what’s really going on in a difficult situation. The more we understand how these moments of clarity happen inside us, the more easily we can access this energy when we need it.
- Information received at night and recalled on awakening. Creativity needs to time to incubate before it can emerge, and often we receive insights in the night, through our dreams, or upon awakening. Try to catch one of these insights and write about it. You can also take time to record your dreams.
- Service accomplished. Be sure to celebrate your spiritual accomplishments as well as those by others around you! You can always write about an inspiring book or blog you recently read, a beautiful piece of music you heard, a person or animal you helped, or a small kindness you gave or received.
You can read entries from Assagioli’s “Diary of Interior Work,” edited by Luce Ramorino, by clicking on the links below:
This article on the usefulness of writing a spiritual diary is “solid gold”…. writing a spiritual diary it is so much more constructive, though complementary to writing down dreams in as much as the full waking attention is involved in the process, helping thus to recognize how the psychological functions work, and in doing this exercise of attentiveness, learn to use them, coordinate them, become friends with them.
Thank you Catherine for having written this for us all. Will share widely!
Thank you Isabelle!
I love the suggestions you give such to use writing to celebrate spiritual accomplishments and to connect to numinous times in our lives, as well as to explore our intuition. These can be ways to enter into the silence within and to break barriers that in turn, Assagioli says in his diaries, can allow us to become of greater service.