Writing without Hurry has been published!

I apologize for the long delay since my last post. My excuse is that I was busy revising, editing, proofing and submitting for publication my new book on journaling. I had no idea the publishing process was so time-consuming! But now it is all done, and the book is available in bookstores, on the Web and as an e-book for Kindle and other platforms. You can find the book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, the Apple iBookstore, Smashwords, Sony, Kobo and a few others. This book took me a year to write, and it includes most of what I know about journal writing and the methods for conducting a journal inquiry.

The book is called Writing without Hurry: A Mindful Meditative Approach to Journal Writing and Personal Transformation, by (yours truly) Kenneth Pryor. I hope you take the time to purchase a copy and work through the exercises and examples for effective journal writing. My focus throughout the book is to teach you to write carefully and mindfully whenever you take out your journal and start to write. I talk about the importance of structured writing using an optimistic writing style, and I walk you through all the steps of writing journal entries that work for working out personal problems, dealing with difficult emotions, clarifying values, setting goals and working out a master plan for your life.

If you like the book, please take the time to write a review for it. Reviews on Amazon are especially important! This is a different sort of book about journaling—it is about slowing down and thinking carefully about what you need to write. My belief is that journal writing should be done mindfully and thoughtfully. It should lead you from questions and uncertainty about important issues to resolution of problems and renewed certainty. Good journal writing should give you the sense that you are putting your best effort into addressing important issues in your life, the kind of effort that makes you go deeper within than you normally go. Then you find the wisdom you need.

Journal writing is an art. It leads you to the limits of what you know and helps you explore serious issues with the kind of attention that leads you to grow and make leaps of understanding. Writing in a journal requires both the attention of the objective rational mind and the intuitive feeling-centered mind—by writing slowly and with mindful attention, you learn to rely on both the sources of wisdom in your mind. You learn to look for intuitive confirmation for the answers you find and to look for certainty about the course you will take. In the course of the book, I teach you to approach your writing as a meditation, a meditation with a purpose, and I teach you about the basics of mindfulness as a personal meditative practice.

I hope you enjoy the book, and I hope you learn the valuable lessons about writing thoughtfully, mindfully and without hurry. Working with your journal in the ways that I recommend teaches you the important art of reflection about important matters in your life. It teaches you the ways to find understanding and insight in complicated situations, and it teaches you important lessons about managing your emotional life. If you have comments or feedback about the book, please leave me a post here at WordPress, and I will do my best to respond to you promptly. Thank you for reading—I hope you learn the key point, which is to give your journal work the time and attention it deserves. Happy journaling!

The link to Amazon.com is: http://www.amazon.com/Writing-without-Hurry-Meditative-Transformation/dp/1483916812/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1371249148&sr=1-1&keywords=writing+without+hurry

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Have a Conversation with Yourself

 

 

Something to consider when you need to understand an issue or make a difficult decision is the idea of having a conversation with yourself in journal form. What do I need to know about this issue, and what do I with the questions I have? What is good about the decision I need to make, and what is bad about it? Talking from two positions is an alternative to making lists of pros and cons, and it brings the decision process to life—you play one role, and you let the other side have its own voice. I like to do this exercise with the other role being a good friend or my wise advisor (the part of me I would like to have active more of the time).

 

We all have a wiser Self somewhere inside us, but sometimes we don’t hear it very clearly. But if we stop to listen, we can find ideas and answers that are deeper and wiser than what we usually think. Part of the trick to hearing our own wisdom is to slow down: stop what you are doing and take the time to have a conversation with yourself. Write down what you think, and then stop to imagine what a good advisor would tell you. Label the two voices, yourself and the wise advisor, and give yourself a good amount of time to do this exercise. Writing everything down lets you see where you are stuck and gives you the chance to work out your problems.

 

Your journal entry might look something like this:

 

Me: “I am stuck and confused about my role at work and what I should do about it. Sometimes I am given a lot of responsibility, and I am expected to do a lot of work that needs doing right away. But then other times I am given boring assignments that don’t mean very much. I want to use my skills, but this company doesn’t have the kind of steady business that it needs to keep someone like me on staff. I hate the idea of looking for another position, but my career is at a standstill. I need to do something productive, or I am wasting my time and my skills.

 

Wise friend: “You have pride in your work, and you want to be busy. You want to do something meaningful, but your company is not successful enough for you to want to stay. I think you already have your answer, but you don’t want to face the uncertainty of starting over again someplace else. What holds you back?

 

Me: “I know I need to move on, but I have gotten to know the people I work with, and I dread having to fit in again somewhere else. I hate being the new kid on the block and having to prove myself again. It took me a long time to fit in here. I’m not the easiest person to get along with.”

 

Wise friend: “That makes sense. You don’t want to start over again, and the problem is not a professional problem. It’s about relationships and social skills. That’s not your strongest suit. Are you willing to work on it?

 

Me: “Well, what would I have to do? I guess I really do have to make the move and that means I’ve got to look at how I am with people. I’m better at work than I am with people. I know I’m not a very good listener…”

 

Wise friend: “You’re not much of a talker, either. You don’t give people much to go on.

 

Me: “O.K., I need to improve my social skills. I guess I need to pay more attention to people and give them a chance to get to know me. I could work on my temper, too. I don’t need to lash out at people when I get mad.”

 

Wise friend: “That’s a start. I think we need to talk more about this sometime soon. In the meantime, you could practice while you’re at work at the job you have now. O.K.?

 

Me: “If that’s what it takes, I’ll do it.”

 

What we see in this example is that there’s more going on than meets the eye. Often the wise voice we call upon brings up things we do not expect. The problem in this case was not looking for a job; it was worrying about fitting in with a new group of people. Once you know the real problem, it is easier to work on finding solutions. The solutions in this example came up right away, but the most important part was the final commitment to do the work that was required to fix the problem. When you make a commitment in your journal, you make it clear to yourself what you have to do. Then there is a place to start.

 

A little humor helps, too. You can make the conversation fun and still learn what you need to know. The wise voice may tease you a bit, but it tells the truth, and it is really worth listening to. Until you take the time to write down what the different parts of you know, you may not see things that should be obvious. This kind of dialogue brings out what is hidden, and it makes you look at sides of a problem you might not consider on your own. It is a very useful addition to your journaling toolbox, and I encourage you to try it. It’s a good way to dig deeper into your motivations or your resistance to doing things you know you should do.

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Answering Our Own Questions

One of the best uses of journal writing is answering our own questions. Defining the question is the first part of what we do, and it is very important. The question should be something that is answerable, and it should point the mind in a useful direction. “What?” and “How?” questions help us more than “Why?” questions. “Why?” can help us, too, but too frequently we use it to ask unanswerable questions like “Why did she reject me?” or “Why do I always make such a fool of myself?” What we need are questions we can answer, like “How can I better understand the situation at work? or “What is my part in this problem?”

The questions we ask are specific enough to have answers, and they are intended to fill in gaps in our knowledge. So we think about what we need to know or need to figure out, and we ask about our problem. Then we have the theme for today’s session. (If our question is big enough, it could also be the theme for a series of sessions.) Asking questions starts the process of inquiry. We ask questions this way because something bothers us, because something puzzles us and we need to understand. To get answers we can use, we need to learn to go from facts and evidence to questions about what we do not know.

A journal inquiry has structure, and it has rules. It is a time for reflection and understanding. The rules are that we take a break from our normal routine. We pick a private place, and we leave our busyness and hurry outside the door. We take out our journal or we open the journal file on our computer, and we start a new entry. We read the last entry and see where we left off, then we ask ourself what is on our mind? What is important to record today, and how will we approach the questions we have? What is the theme for today’s entry?

The theme for today is what stands out in your mind when you ask what is important: what is important to discuss, and what is important to understand? The single question “What is important?” guides you all the way from the beginning of each entry to the end of each day’s session. If it is important to talk about your relationship, what is going on that concerns you? What worries do you have and what do you need to ask? If it is important to talk about work, you ask the same questions about your worries and concerns, and you find the one question that keeps you on the track of what is important.

Write down your observations and your question. Write down your facts and your speculations. Include your feelings about the topic or problem situation. Put down whatever is relevant and give yourself time to write. Reflection takes time. It demands that we slow down and consider what is real and what is not real. It asks us to use the wiser parts of our mind and focus on what is important. What is important to understand today? What other questions do we need to ask to get where we are going? Let’s look at an example:

“Today was a hard day. I had a project I needed to finish for work, and I had errands and shopping to do. I ended up in a rush, and I feel like I never got to what was important. Right now I need to think about how I could have done things differently. What was my problem today? Why did I get so scattered and end up in a rush? All day I kept thinking about how much there was to do and how I couldn’t do it all. I was worried about my deadline and whether I would finish. I was worried about my wife being sick, and I think I worried myself into a corner. I started telling myself I was behind, and then I started to rush. Then I confused myself about what I had to do.”

“How could I have handled this day differently? I knew what I had to do and I thought I could finish it, but then I started worrying. I made myself so nervous that I started rushing and forgetting things I had to do. I know that worry doesn’t help, but I do it anyway. I did get finished, but it wasn’t because of rushing. Somehow I have to get myself to stop worrying. There is a lot to do, but it all gets finished. I just need to stay on track and stay focused. If I catch myself worrying again, I need to tell myself to stop so I can think about what I am doing. I can remind myself that things are o.k., and I can stop myself from rushing and making things worse.”

Worrying doesn’t help, but in the moment we don’t even notice what we are doing. That is the way it was for this man, but he took the time to write and ask a couple of key questions. Answering them was easy once he asked and took the time to look at his day. This is what you can do when you organize your mind and ask what is important to understand. Once you find your topic, stay on it and let yourself explore what you already know. When you link up your knowledge and your insights, then you are on the way to finding a solution. Developing the habit of being thoughtful about what is important in your life is one of the key benefits of using your journal for self-exploration.

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Questions and the Art of Reflection

October 20, 2012: Questions and the Art of Reflection

Today I am proud to say that I am putting the finishing touches on my first book about journal writing. That means, of course, that I have to go about getting it published, so wish me luck! The rest of the news is that I am starting this blog, Journal Writing 1-2-3, and I hope you will follow along with me as I write more entries about how to make the most of the journal writing experience.

My point of view is that a journal should help you in your life. It should help you find your way through confusing times, and it should help you understand the world better. It should help you develop your own philosophy as you take the time to go deeply into the subjects that concern you. Then your writing can become a rich source of self-guidance, inspiration and possibility. With this kind of writing, you can help yourself through tough times, and you can celebrate the good parts of your life.

Writing a chronicle of your life is sometimes useful, but a journal can be more than a diary. Writing in a journal can be a journey of self-discovery. It can take you from uncertainty to certainty about your life and the course that you will follow. It can help you examine your goals and make sense of your past. It also can help you solve the problems you bring to any writing session. It can help you turn disaster into success.

When we write thoughtfully, we learn the art of reflection. Thoughtful reflection on any topic allows us to understand what matters most and what is important to know. We already know part of what we should know—reflection teaches us what else is there to be discovered. But many of us have not learned the art of reflection: we think about things, but we do not know how to go from question to deeper understanding. To do this, we need to understand the journal as an ongoing inquiry into what is important in life.

That is the sense in which I use my journal. I ask questions about my life and the people in it. I ask about how I can proceed when I am not certain, when I have choices to make and when I have to plan ahead for important actions I must take. I ask questions when I want to understand, and then I seek to answer my own questions. I lay out what I know and what I do not know, and I look for connections that will inform me about the bigger picture. Then I see what matters and what is important.

In a nutshell, that is the process of reflection. Writing for understanding is a process we have to learn: we do not start out being able to lay out the pieces of our life and then look for the connections between them. We start out being puzzled or worried or hurt by something that has happened; we start out not knowing our own questions. So our first concern is knowing what to ask—we are asking how our world works, and we need to be able to put that down in words.

What is my question today? What concerns me and what has me worried? Why does something I care about seem so difficult to achieve? What stops me or holds me back? What is it I really want, and how do I get it in my life? What are my goals, and how do I plan to meet them? These are all questions we could ask. We could ask about problems we have or people we want to understand. We could ask questions about what something means to us. We could try to understand our own emotions.

Asking the right question is important. A good way to start is to ask, “What do I need to ask today?” What is the subject of your inquiry? What do you need to know, figure out and understand? What matters right now? The right question will stretch your understanding—it will take you from places where you are certain to places that confuse you. Then you will ask other questions, but you always come back to the main question. That is the one you need to be answered.

Examples are always helpful:

“What do I need to ask today? I am confused about the changes at work. Am I at risk for downsizing and losing my job? I work hard, and I know all the systems, but is my job essential? Will the new owners think I am essential and decide to keep me? Those questions are on my mind, but I need a better question. I need to think about what I can do. Am I prepared for a job transition? What do I need to do to get ready to move on if I have to? If I stay, there will be new systems to learn, but I can do that. What I really need to know is what I have to do to get ready to move on? If I have those answers, I can handle the changes that are coming—no matter which way things go.

Now we have a helpful question. Now we can prepare. A good question takes us somewhere new: instead of worrying about losing a good job, we can make plans. We can sidestep worry and go directly to planning. If we spent time writing about our worries and fears, we would stir up doubts and strong emotions. If we spent time complaining about the job and the owners who created this difficulty, we would waste our time. What we need is a question that helps us adapt, that helps us be resilient enough to weather change. In this case, we need a question that leads to a solution.

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