Always Well Within

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Is Wisdom Lost in Your Journals?

Is Wisdom Lost In Your Journals?

Do you have a stack of old journals taking up space?

When I moved to France in 2006, I put two file boxes of “important” papers into storage. Although I retrieved those boxes in 2010, I haven’t looked inside them once.

A few days ago, as part of my simplicity quest, I took aim for those boxes and discovered 6 personal journals inside.

I immediately tore out the pages and put the gorgeous covers into a recycling bin. This clever idea comes from Tammy Strobel, who lives in one of the tiniest spaces possible.

Admittedly, a few insightful gems popped off the musty pages as I quickly browsed through.  But, for the most part, the sheets regurgitated passing emotional states and long-forgotten unimportant circumstances.

I wondered, “What’s the point of faithfully recording transitory thoughts and emotions?”

Simplify Your Journal Writing

My spiritual teacher has always recommended keeping a “book of insights” – just the earth shattering breakthroughs.

I’m going to follow this guidance and limit my journal writing to recording only the most essential revelations.  Then, I’ll review the journal periodically to be sure I’m actualizing the wisdom in my life instead of leaving it on dusty pages.

Save time.  Save trees. Save space.  Actualize the wisdom.

Capture the Wisdom

If you too have a pile of old journals wasting away in a corner, take a moment to capture the wisdom.  Then throw them away.

Here’s how. At the end of every year, Sandi Amorin reviews her journals to complete the year and make space for what’s next.  She recently gathered 108 insights or moments of mindfulness that had a profound impact on her life in a particular year.

I now have a plump handful of paper in place of the old journals.  Watch out!  Some of my ancient insights might show up here.  But I promise not to hold on interminably to the rest.

Are you a journal writer?  Do you keep your journals or offer them up?  How do you capture the wisdom they contain?

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  1. I am finally coming into the paperless age and using Evernote for my journals. It’s great for organizing ideas, web clips, lists, etc…. Evernote is a great option even if you still maintain a paper journal.

    Dan @ ZenPresence

    • Dan, I really like the idea of going into the paperless age. Evernote is great. I do have some hesitation about trusting my collection of written material into the hands of an independent application that may dissolve in the future. In any case, I’m also try to record less as part of my simplicity journey as well.

  2. I have boxes of old journals stashed in closets. Truth be told, there’s probably not a lot of value in them to me at the moment because I’m such a different person now. But the thought of going through them all is daunting. A huge part of figuring out my life comes in the actual writing and so I think the value is in the process.

    • That’s a great point, Charlotte! As I’ve gone through a few pages, I see that I have grown. Many of the core issues remain the same, but I see them differently. Is it worth going through them? That’s a good question. Maybe not. Maybe it’s simpler to offer them to the fire! I agree there is value in the process of writing in and of itself.

  3. Oh gosh, Sandra. I have a stack of them. And I am actually afraid to get started on them, because I know I’ll get absorbed and don’t have the resolve to simply get rid of them. I have on my to-do list, “clear cupboard” – it is a huge cupboard that swallows things, I swear. I’ve marked my calendar to free up that space by Jan 31. Please wish me luck!

    Hugs and thank you for inspiring me and spurring me to salvage my sabotaged sense of purpose. Love you. Vidya

    • It sounds like we are in the same place, Vidya! I was able to get rid of the covers but not the inside pages quite yet. But, I’ve promised not to hold onto them forever. We can support each other. I do wish you luck! I would love to hear how the process went once its complete.

  4. jean sampson

    Hi Sandra—–I keep sort of journal/poetry thingies, and the poems have mostly become haiku since I have been at the studio painting and teaching. So, does haiku count as “downsizing” ? 🙂 No more long, cumbersome poems for me! Anyway, I am very irregular about keeping journals but do write down things that are important and things that I figure out, etc. And, mostly, when I sit down to write, it turns into a poem anyway, so I guess I keep poetry journals—-and I do go through them occasionally for some inspiration or just to see if there are some that need revision—–I am BIG on revision (re-visioning) poems! And life, for that matter! 🙂

    • Yes, I think haiku counts as downsizing! (Smile). There’s a value in having this source of inspiration. That sounds a little different than a stack in a corner that you never look at, which has been more my style. If you enjoy your poetry journals, all the more power to you!

  5. Shari

    I am a journal writer as well. Reading your post made my heart hurt a little. I love reading historical diaries even if they aren’t revoluntionary. I have made my daughter commit to keeping my journals for her grandchildren. If they don’t want them, then they can get rid of them, but not me. They contain a part of my reality even if it is in the past. I have included news and science bits, quotes from other writers including online blogs that one day may be lost forever, as well as my own struggles and reflections. It never occurred to downsize in that area. I have too many pots and pans, clothes, clutter, etc. I would part with first. Just a thought from a different perspective.

  6. Shari,

    This is a very valuable perspective as well! Thank you for looking at this idea from a different lens. In my own case, my journals are collecting dust and not adding benefit to my life or anyone else. Your journals sound wonderful and as though they may truly be of benefit to others in the future. I’m sorry your heart hurt a little when you read this. I don’t think this approach is necessarily right for everyone. It feels like a good experiment for me. But, at the same time, I respect and appreciate your commitment to journal writing and the beautiful way you are engaging in it.

  7. So happy that post inspired you Sandra! The really cool part of it was that as I scanned my old journals, some of those insights were long forgotten and seeing them again was an unexpected gift that’s inspired me a second time.

    I do like the idea of keeping a ‘book of insights’ and will do this as well. Not only do I love writing but I must confess I’m a bit of a journal addict. I love buying them, using them, giving them to friends as well as appreciating their beauty! I’d even like to create one of my own one day soon 🙂

    • Hi Sandi,

      I feel your joy in being a journal addict! I can see my idea of letting go of journals will definitely not resonate with everyone. 🙂 I love beautiful journals too. How wonderful we can all find joy in our different ways! Those were amazing insights you shared in your article, so your journals are definitely benefiting many!

  8. I have lots of different journals. I write morning pages daily, then rip them up. I have a vision journal, a soul journal, and an art journal. When they are “complete” I either burn the pages or rip them up and throw them away. This is more about honoring the disposal of old energy, and also I love the feel of a “clean page” which to me is truly clean when the clutter of “old” is not shadowing it.

    I love this discussion…reading the various perspectives is fun 🙂

    • Hi Joy,

      I love the idea of honoring the disposal of old energy! That’s an entirely new angle in the conversation. Thank you for adding that in. I’m intrigued by your various forms of journals! I too am amazed by the different perspectives in this thread.

    • I love the energy of burning Joy and do that too!

  9. Sandra, what a great idea!

    Look out for some posts soon based on old journals – I have at least 8 journals on my bookshelf:-)

    And Happy New Year!

  10. I kept journals for years. Then several years ago, I decided that I really didn’t want to keep them anymore. For one thing, they were private and I didn’t want anyone else to read them after I was gone. And also, I realized that I was unlikely to read them over and over.

    So I started reading them all one last time. That took awhile! Once they were read, I took them all up to the cabin and burned them, as an offering. It was so cleansing and cathartic.

    I haven’t kept a regular journal since, but I do have a beautifully bound journal that I write in from time to time. My writing in this journal is in the form of prayer and response. I write on one side of the page with my dominant (right) hand. The writing is sort of a prayer or psalm. Then I switch to my non-dominant (left) hand and write a response. The interesting thing is that what I write with my left hand does not seem like “me” in that it seems to be in a style that is not my usual style, and I often write things that I wouldn’t usually have thought to write. It’s like by writing with my left hand, I can access something deep within me that is not available to the dominant side of my brain.

  11. Galen,

    Your experience with journals is so fascinating! That’s a very interesting point – how they are private and you don’t want others to read them after you are gone. That might be another good argument against an online journal!

    I’m completely intrigued by your journal process of prayer and response. Thank you for explaining it to us. I’m curious if the content and prayers are more esoteric or sometimes practical questions. I would love to hear more!

  12. I’m not exactly a journal kind of gal Sandra, but I do have a stack, and I mean a huge stack of books of my writings. Ideas that I read about, philosophical thoughts from contemplation time, notes I made about spiritual studies, etc. and truth be told I rarely go back to and look at them.

    Now you’ve got me going Sandra…maybe if I take a look I might be able to chuck some of it away! At the very least it’ll be interesting to take a look at who I was versus who I now am.

    I don’t know if evernote will do it for me, because as I contemplate I have a pen in my hand and for some reason my inner being flows more readily that way!

    Love this. Love your blog.

    Love Elle

    • Hi Elle,

      I’m just like you! As I read books, I jot down notes and my impressions. In addition to my journals, I have a small stack of composition books with other notes like this or just sheets of notebook paper. I did manage to remove quite a bit of it when I began clearing clutter from my office. Truth be told, I hadn’t looked at any of it just like you. The note taking and impressions seem to be part of the process of integrating information for me and perhaps for you too. So it may be worthwhile indeed but maybe not necessary to keep the product! I’ll be curious what you discover. Thanks for all your sweet words!

  13. I used to keep journals of only the significant things in my life, and I realized I was recording primarliy negative experiences. As a part a new year and a hopeful future, I’ve started recording positive things. Every night before bed I write down the positive things that happened to me throughout the day. It’s a fun thing to look forward to at night. As someone mentioned, my negative journaling was something I wanted to be kept private, but my new positive journal is something I wouldn’t mind sharing. I’m considering burning my old journals as well.

    • Kayla,

      I’m so happy you shared this! It’s a great turnaround and very skillful. I’m sure it floods your being with joy when you writing down the positives each day. What a wonderful way to wean ourselves from focusing on the negative. I want to try this one!

  14. Hi Sandra,
    If I kept mine I would have 12 gratitude journals. I eliminated them when we moved and haven’t kept anymore. If nothing is lost in the universe then all the wisdom I have is right here. Right now. Watched a recorded show of Oprah and E. Tolle last night. Simply amazing.

    • Tess,

      I think this is so true: all the wisdom we need is right here with us right now. That’s one reason I want to move away from keeping journals – just to be more in the present moment. Thanks for highlight this truly important aspect of the dialog!

  15. I have loads of journals, and keep them all. They are such a tactile and satisfying way to engage with my daily life. I always two journals going at once. One is a ‘practice journal’ where I write down exercises I might want to try, or wisdom quotes. These fill much slower than my second kind, my processing journals.

    The processing journals I fill with writing meditation sessions, ideas, and sketches. I’m always revisiting these and adding to the artwork, writing notes on my notes, sometimes painting over old writings, or re-reading entries and illustrating them.

    When I review my journals I find it more helpful to look for patterns unfolding over a period of time rather than what I felt, or what I was thinking on January 12th on such and such a year. They always feel alive and in progress, even when the pages are filled. It’s not just about collecting experiences or insights, my journals feel like mini-art projects that happen to coalesce around the details of my life.

    • That’s beautiful, Dave. Clearly a very rich process! I’m delighted the journaling process adds so much to your life. The secret seems to be revisiting the journals to truly make the best use of them. Thanks for sharing your process with us.

  16. Being a natural minimalist, Sandra – I think it came from having an Army background – I learned early to cull stuff out of my old note books and keep them in a folder. From time to time I review this too and throw out stuff that has no relevance for me any longer.

  17. Byronious

    Hi Sandra, I’m lucky to have stumbled onto this post today, your words spoke to me and have provided me with a a few very useful take a ways . Much gratitude!

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