Journal as Path

Over the past few months, I’ve regained my appreciation for keeping a journal. My practice had run aground last year, all notebooks consigned to a dresser drawer. Then on a whim I decided to reread The Brain Has a Mind of Its Own written by neurologist Richard Restak. This is a very accessible book. Each chapter stands by itself, and the chapters can be read in any sequence. What originally hooked me was the chapter the book is named after—and it deserves a post all its own, which it will get.

In a different chapter titled “Prescriptions for Insight,” Restak begins:

I often wonder what hope there can be for troubled people who can’t obtain professional help. It seems unfair that individually and collectively we’ve become increasingly dependent on psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers—professions that a century ago didn’t exist, at least in their present forms.

He goes on to consider and then discard the notion that the emotional disturbances we experience today were rarer in less-complicated times.

One has only to read the Greek tragedies, Shakespeare, or Dickens to see that people have been trying for centuries to cope with uncomfortable feelings, distressing thoughts, and uncontrollable impulses.

And then he suggests several methods people can use to help themselves. One suggestion, from a psychiatrist friend, is keeping a journal.

If the goal is learning more about yourself, then who knows more about you than yourself? Therefore, keep a journal.


But not just any kind of journal. Restak suggests writing for 20 minutes a day, in two 10-minute increments. The first 10 minutes should be what I would call flow-writing, in which you keep the pen moving across the page without censoring or thinking about what you’re writing, even if it’s gibberish.

After the first 10 minute period, write for another 10 minutes:

…in a more recollective mode. Monitor consciously, clearly, and even a bit critically what you’re going to write at the moment you write it.

Then close the book and put it away or out of sight until the next time. Wait until several weeks have passed before rereading.

You will benefit from seeing your thoughts and feelings written out in tangible form.… Moreover, the journal entries provide the opportunity to notice if ideas, fantasies, and moods recur, and if they create any kind of pattern.

Restak claims that if we can write regularly and refrain from rereading for a while, we are likely to find that our feelings, thoughts, moods, and impulses follow repetitive patterns.

That knowledge alone will probably place you in the top 1 percent of psychologically sophisticated people.


The first time I decided to try this, I bought three new spiral-bound notebooks (eco-friendly), and I wrote nearly every day, filling two and part of the third. I used the timer on the microwave to set up my 10-minute intervals. Although in the past I was sometimes obsessive about rereading my journal entries, this time around I wasn’t even tempted to read anything I’d written. The truth is I still haven’t read any of it, so I can’t count myself as being in that top 1 percent of psychologically sophisticated people.

Then I allowed circumstances to intervene and let a month go by without writing, but I’ve come back to my senses now. The third notebook has been filled, and I’ve started a fourth (alas, the office supplies store was out of the eco-friendly ones). I feel much more centered when I journal daily, so I’m making a commitment to continue, circumstances be damned.

There’s something about this particular journal writing process that really works for me. I think one of the factors is that it’s much less self-conscious (or at least my writing is). I also like the structure and the use of a timer. I’ve arrived at a number of pretty significant insights during the second 10 minutes. But even when I don’t, I feel the time has been well-spent.


Although this isn’t specifically an Ennea-Journaling exercise, it could easily be adapted. Simply write down a question or a keyword or a quote at the top of the page before you begin the first 10 minutes of writing–and then go! Use the next 10 minutes to reflect on what you just finished writing.

~ ~ ~


Tomorrow, Dawn Herring, host of #JournalChat Live and Links Edition for all things Journaling on Twitter, is featuring my post, Keywords: The Madeilenes of Journal  Writing, on #JournalChat. 5:00pm EDT. If you have a Twitter account, please join in!


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