04 Mar Self-initiative: Journaling Practices for Inner Development
In an age when communication is becoming increasingly digitised, do you still pick up a pen and write? When all fonts are standardized across interfaces, do you ever marvel at the distinct features of your own handwriting? No other human being has the same figure print, personality, voice, and physical features. Similarly, handwriting is a unique expression that only you possess.
Journaling leaves no trace of data that can be exploited by internet advertising agents. Compared to social media as a platform for self-expression, journaling is an activity where you can freely express yourself without worrying about what people think of you nor will you receive the dopamine kick of people “liking” your posts. With journaling, there are no algorithms or mechanics of social reinforcement to validate who you are. Journaling leaves you utterly alone with your own thoughts and feelings. Reading your own journal entries is like looking at yourself stripped naked. You see the incoherence of your thoughts, petty concerns, and unpolished prose.
Yet, writing for yourself is one of the greatest expressions of acting out of one’s free initiative. Writing each day reminds me of the control of will exercise, the second of the six basic exercises given by Rudolf Steiner. In this exercise, students of esoteric development are suggested to do an insignificant action each day over the course of a month. Overtime, this practice of acting out of one’s own will gives oneself a sense of stability. In my experience, the more I have set myself out to do things that are just for myself, for the sake of my spiritual development, the more I have felt a sense of empowerment. Overtime, journaling each day alongside practicing the six basic exercises has instilled in me confidence in my ability to accomplish whatever I set myself to do.
In addition to following through with the six basic exercises, I have used journaling to record my dreams, review my day, and set my weekly intention while copying the calendar of the soul verse in my journal. When the pandemic began, suddenly I had a lot of unstructured free time. Daily writing came out of the need to take charge of my own life and to make the most of out of this newfound freedom.
As a young person, I had these lofty ideas that all I needed was to pursue a vocation in which I could fully realize myself. Like many others, when faced with the challenges of the pandemic, I realized how moving somewhere for a change in community was no longer a feasible option. When I had no choice of where I wanted to be, I was able to fully focus on making the most of what I had. And what I had was just myself, to work on myself, my habits, my skills, and the relationships around me. Creating and following through with my new daily routines, whether that was going for walks, sleeping early, and writing in a journal, was how I envisioned developing mastery over my wishes and aversions, chaotic thoughts, and existential angst.
Conquering oneself is the greatest kind of victory. Sometimes, we are socialized to believe that we are all unique and worthy of being who we are. Yet, we are also socialized to believe that we are right, and that others, who know nothing of the “truth,” are heretics who need to be changed and saved. In our time, there are endless ideological wars on all spectrums of society, where people are obsessed with pointing fingers at one another, blaming others for the faults of the world. It is easy to want others to change, but difficult to change oneself.
I found that even changing the slightest habit of mine, whether that was going to sleep early or committing to a daily practice of writing, to be incredibly challenging. In reckoning with my own weakness, I found humility. If I cannot change myself, who am I to expect others to change? If I cannot even control my own thoughts and feelings, who am I to judge others for their beliefs?
By choosing to work on myself and minimize seeking social reward and validation as much as possible, I was constantly confronted with the question of what is essential and non-essential. Working through spiritual exercises indicated by Rudolf Steiner, I had to become both the teacher and the student. In retrospect, it seemed truly liberating to feel that one can pursue the path of inner development out of one’s initiative.
For me, journaling became the personal practice to brainstorm ways to incorporate Anthroposophical exercises into a daily, weekly, or even monthly rhythms. Each activity had a date and time in my calendar where I could mark if it was completed or not. The sheer satisfaction of ticking off an item on my “spiritual to-do list” was enough to motivate me to continue. There are endless well-being apps and habit trackers that encourage people to meditate, exercise and adopt healthy practices. One might object that this is a profane way to pursue spiritual practices because you are relying on external crutches. Yet, monks in monasteries use bells to signal the time of day for prayer and incense for the duration of meditation. Great writers and artists have established routines for them to work on their craft. Therefore, applying the same principles of self-discipline and organization to a spiritual practice is perhaps no different.
The difficulty of pursuing spiritual practices in a fast paced and demanding modern life is simply the lack of structure and rhythm. My solution has been to keep a journal to plan spiritual practices, as though they are just as tangible and important as any other appointment in one’s daily affairs. Only when we take our spiritual health seriously can we actively work upon it. But everyone has to find their own motivation and method.
The reason I am sharing my journaling practice is to inspire others to take a pragmatic approach to spiritual development. One of my favorite metaphors for the effects of inner work is the image of single drops of water shaping the stone over time. It takes repetition, consistency, and patience to achieve anything. Intentional habits lead to mastery, and that is truly a virtue worth aspiring towards.
Contributor of the Youth Blog for the Anthroposophical Society of Canada
Member of the General Anthroposophical Society
Waldorf Graduate and former Waldorf Teacher
Interest in Anthroposophy for Inner Development
Located on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada