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  Writing the Journey:
  The Spirituality Journal

by Ray Whiting

There are nearly as many reasons for keeping a journal as there are people who do it. Some write with daily devotion; others write only sporadically as the need to express lights upon them. Some record a mundane account of events; others highlight one or two events and launch into an essay of emotion about the event.

The Spirituality Journal, however, is unique, in that instead of writing about our lives and how we relate to the world around us, we are documenting our inner relationship with the Divine. This includes writing down what we believe "the Divine" is or what it means. The Spirituality Journal often contains three main sections -- your spiritual heritage, your present spiritual identity, and where you would like to grow from here. You might write the first section, then the second, and spend the rest of the pages on the third. Or, if you are writing about a particular aspect of your spiritual life (e.g., prayer, social service, etc.) you might include all three views in each entry: where you are, how you got there, and where you want to improve or grow.

The only rule about keeping a spirituality journal is this: there are no rules. You will find guidelines, suggestions, ideas, inspirations, and examples from other people. Making someone else's experience the rule for your own journal changes it from spiritual development into an exercise in religion ("rule-following").

How do you start a Spirituality Journal?

The logical beginning would be to simply identify yourself. This will be your Spiritual Heritage section. Write about yourself -- your religious training (or lack thereof) as a child, the mentors and teachers who shaped your beliefs about the world, God or Divinity, and your relationship to it. (I use the word "God" as an arbitrary mechanical convenience -- you can define, or even replace it with a word that has more meaning for you.) You might consider such questions as:

What is the Nature of God -- those from monotheistic traditions might have been taught to consider God as a Male Figure, a Supreme Being, or Bearded Old Judge. Those from Wiccan Traditions might consider God to be Female, or Neuter Gendered, but more nurturing, creative, and loving (rather than judgmental and fearful).

Has your path changed since childhood -- write about times when your beliefs may have changed, and what prompted those changes (for example, you may have changed churches because there were more people your own age in the new church; or you may have walked away from your childhood faith when you discovered your priest or pastor was just another human being) Many things prompt us to take a detour, and none of those reasons are up for judgment; we're just documenting what happened and why we think they happened.

You spiritual heritage has a direct bearing on where you are today -- explore your current spiritual life as a logical result of what you have already explored up until now. Were you taught to be inquisitive? If not, how does it feel to be asking questions today? Are you afraid of what you might discover, or what might be done if there is a God who thinks you are asking too many questions?

Remember that all of these things can be amended at any time. I sometimes tell people to write on only one side of a page at first -- this is because as you write later on you will remember things you meant to write as part of your spiritual heritage or history. Leaving room for forgotten memories to bubble up is a good practice. Exact chronology isn't so important; you can insert notes on the back of pages, just be sure to add what time period each note might refer to.

An example for the spiritual heritage section:

I grew up with alcoholic parents -- absolute and demanding, but without much emotional support, little nurturing and guidance, and even less spiritual direction. As a teenager, I got involved in the Jesus movement of the early 70's, which led me into a fundamentalist and narrow version of Christianity. At that time it provided boundaries, direction, and the kind of nurturing I needed, After my divorce several years later, the "shelter" became a form of prison that not only failed to support me but prevented me from healing and moving on in my life. I explored a metaphysical path for a while, then read some Wiccan teachings, a little of the Hindu ideas, and then a while in Buddhist writings.

Your Present Spiritual Identity

This is the section about your current spiritual development. It is important because the next part of the spirituality journal focuses on where you want to go and what parts of your spirituality you want to develop. Stating a destination is fine, but you can't chart a course to get there if you don't know where you are right now. So now is where we connect our past to our present.

As you think and write about your current spiritual life, try to avoid value judgments (good/bad, weak/strong) as well as comparisons (he prays more than I, she is more joyful). Instead just notice your current condition and your relationship with the Divine without judgments; for example, "I read spiritually uplifting magazines once in a while," or "I take time to meditate several times a week." Later on, you will have opportunity to focus on things like "I would like to read uplifting books more often", when it will be as a goal to develop, rather than a failure to accomplish from the past. There are NO failures, no one has authority to judge your spiritual life, and only you can determine what is sufficient or lacking. 

Some of the questions to address in this section might be:

What is "God" for me today? Is "God" the right name, or is there another title or word? Include any thoughts about God's nature, activity, involvement in human life (generally, or yours in particular). Is God a "person/being" or more like a way of being or a sensation? In your experience, does God tend to be more judgmental and demanding, or nurturing and understanding? Are there any noticeable similarities or differences between your view of God and your childhood relationship with your parents? 

How did you arrive at your current understanding of God? Has it evolved over time without a lot of thought, or was there a "dark night of the soul" when you had to really think about these things? What spiritual landmarks and turning points do you recall? Who were your mentors and guides along this path? Who would you like to go back and question some more? Who do you wish you had not followed so arduously?

These and so many more questions will help you think about what the term God means as you try to get your present spiritual bearings.

An example of the Spiritual Identity section: 

Having read and experimented widely, I have come to find that all the world paths are useful and have something to offer, but none are complete. I have come to accept that there is not a supreme being separate, apart, and distinguishable from humanity, but that "god was made in the image of man" -- we all invent whatever higher power or spiritual beings we happen to need at the moment -- yet none of those gods is permanent, or even real, except to the degree we individually need them to be at the moment. What there is, is Life, plain and simple. The object of Life is not to figure out if there really is a God and what that God wants, but just to discover the flow of Life and how to ride the tides with it, instead of struggling as if to swim against the tides.

Charting the Course and Writing the Journey

So far, our Spirituality Journal has been reflections of where we are and how we got here. We've included all the people, places, things and events that shaped us. Now we begin adding decisions.

I prefer the word decisions more than the term judgments. We document and accept where we have been as a matter of historical record, but now we can decide:

Do I like where I am?

If I continue as I have been, what is the likely outcome?

If I could change one thing, what would it be? (Note: If you choose a spirituality improvement program, choose one area to focus on for three months. Write out your questions or concerns, document your experiences or responses, and then let it rest and work on something else. For example, try to build your habit of reading thoughtful books and magazines, and write about what you are reading or learning and how it affects your daily life. Once that has become a habit, work on building up your times for meditation, or social service, or some other activity. Focusing too long on just one area can lead to an imbalance.)

This section of the journal also records things like answered prayer, or significant spiritual guidance, and even the mundane 'nudges' toward or against something. It becomes a record of your day to day explorations -- what happens and how you feel about it. Here's an example of a nudge:

I have become "addicted" to fruit smoothies. But at three dollars apiece at Smoothie King shop, they are expensive. I've been looking for a blender, but they are more than I can afford. So I put it up to the Universe, confident I would be directed to a blender I could afford. When I took a break from writing this article, I went to the hardware store. On the way back I saw a notice on a light pole for a yard sale -- "baby clothes, cribs, jeans, household, etc." I'd just spent my available money at the hardware, and I didn't want to look at baby stuff, but I felt impressed to walk the many blocks out of my way to the yard sale. Surprise! A brand-name, high-power, nearly-new blender was there on the table... TWO DOLLARS!!! The woman had just gotten married, and simply didn't need another blender! It worked fine!

Being directed like this is really not so unusual in my life. Spiritual development is not something separate and apart from everyday life, and my life has been one of learning to listen inwardly. I don't believe there is some supreme being actually taking time to pay attention to me. Rather, I believe that as I align myself with the flow of Life, it is only natural (not supernatural) that I would find the things I need, whether it is material goods, creative ideas, or answers to the deep esoteric questions. I believe the spiritual life is part of a natural way of being, not something mysterious and separated from our everyday life. 

A piece of the Charting the Course section would be something like this:

This week I want to find time for reading more. I have gotten several books from the Buddhist traditions lately, and I want to explore the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism and see how they apply to my life. I have become sidetracked and not spending as much time meditating as I would like, so I'm going to stop watching the early evening news (with all its chaos and troubles) and use that time for my inner peace and calm.

Your spirituality journal will become a treasure over time as you document your spiritual explorations and discoveries. You might add special poems, inspiring pictures, or even letters written from dear friends. You can add whatever you wish.

It may be helpful to have time and place for writing in your spirituality journal. Begin with a quiet time to focus your thoughts and quiet your mind and body. Allow yourself to write whatever bubbles to your mind's surface -- don't censor yourself. Most of all, enjoy yourself. You will come to know and love the person writing your spirituality journal, more than you might imagine.

Ray Whiting has been a minister and coach for over twenty five years. Ray's international ministry focuses on a humane approach to spirituality. His daily newsletter, Two Scoops reaches around the world delivering the tools and techniques for creating the life you always knew you deserve. It's like having your own personal coach visit you each day! There is no question or concern too sacred to be examined, questioned, and challenged. 



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