This exercise, adapted (with Dr. Progoff’s permission) from the Period Log chapter of At a Journal Workshop, provides a taste of the way the Intensive Journal works. Read it through once in advance to get an idea of what’s involved. Allow yourself a good chunk of uninterrupted time in which to do it-an hour at the least; two or three would be even better. Provide yourself with pen and paper and a comfortable and well-lit place to write. Take the phone off the hook. At the top of the first sheet of paper, write “Period Log” and today’s date.
The Period That Is Now
Begin by letting yourself become quiet. Sit in silence for a moment. Let yourself relax. Allow the immediate’ worries of the day to slip away. Let your breathing become deeper and slower. Make yourself comfortable, close your eyes, and let your mind drift back over the recent months and years, asking yourself, Where am I now in my life?
If you were to see your life as naturally dividing itself into a dozen or so periods—in the way an art historian might look at a painter’s life—what would the periods be? More specifically, what would the present period be? What are the characteristics of this current period of your life?
This period may have begun very recently, or it may extend back many years. It may have started with a new relationship, a new job, or a move to a new city. Perhaps it began with an idea for a new project, a marriage, or the birth of a child. Or it may have begun with a loss, a separation, or a death.
The current period of your life may be a time of hard work or a time of fallowness, of satisfaction or dissatisfaction, a time of ending or a time of beginning. Perhaps it began with an easily-identifiable event—a marriage, a birth, an accident, a change in employment. Or it may be a period characterized by a general quality of feeling—a pervasive enthusiasm or a cloud of depression.
Do not attempt to direct your thinking. Simply sit in silence and allow the thoughts and feelings to come. Allow the movement of this most recent period of your life to emerge. Do not attempt to analyze or judge. Just hold yourself in a condition of openness, of readiness, and allow the boundaries and characteristics of this present period of your life to take shape.
You will find that spontaneous answers to these questions begin to suggest themselves: What is the present period of my life? How far back does it go? What events mark it off? What have been the main characteristics of this period?
When these answers begin to present themselves, take up pen and paper and without criticizing or analyzing, record them as they come.
In responding to the items on the checklist that follows, try to limit your answers to the essentials. There is much material to cover, and getting sidetracked would defeat the purposes of this exercise.
The first time through the checklist one must, of necessity, leap from peak to peak, leaving the explorations of the valleys for later. If you find yourself wanting to continue certain sections, make a note to yourself and return to that section later. But for now, read each checklist item, answer it in a few sentences—certainly no more than a paragraph or two—then move on to the next.
1. When did this period start? Did it begin with a particular event or without any specific happening? Was it clear at the time that you were entering a new period, or was it only discernible much later?
2. Who have been the significant people in your life during this period?
3. What previous periods of your life have been of special concern to you during this period? What memories from these periods have you found yourself recalling or dwelling upon?
4. What were the important events and happenings of this recent period of your life?
5. How did you spend your time during this period? What was a typical day like?
6. What experiences of loving, either physical, emotional, or spiritual, belong to this period?
7. What family relationships were important during this time?
8. What friends or groups of friends were important to you during this period? What were your main social articles?
9. What inner experiences belong to this period? What inspirations? What artistic or spiritual experiences?
10. What unusual experiences or coincidences occurred during this period?
11. What were your bodily experiences during this period? What illnesses, what sexual experiences, what experiences with tobacco, alcohol, or drugs? What sports or athletic experiences did you engage in? How did you feel about your body during this time?
12. What social or political movements or involvements were a part of your life during this time? What groups or communities did you identify with? Which did you feel estranged from? What changes in your beliefs and feelings of identification took place during this period?
13. What individuals—acquaintances, family members, historical personages, imaginary or mythical figures—did you identify with or attempt to model yourself after?
14. What was your physical environment during this time? What were your experiences of the natural world? Of civilization?
Start Your Own!
All you need to start your own Intensive Journal are a copy of Progaff’s book, a looseleaf notebook, some paper, a pen or pencil, sixteen three ring dividers, and the section titles to stick into the dividers. Here are the section titles.
1. Period Log
2. Daily Log
3. Dialogue with Persons
4. Dialogue with Works
5. Dialogue with Society
6. Dialogue with Events
7. Dialogue with the Body
8. Dream Log
9. Dream Enlargements
10. Twilight Imagery Log
11. Imagery Extensions
12. Inner Wisdom Dialogue
13. Life History Log
14. Stepping Stones
16. NOW: The Open Moment
In going through the checklist, you have been focusing on the memory level of your experience. Now we wish to return to the relaxed, nonanalytical level of experience with which we began.
Close your eyes and let yourself relax. Let your mind grow quiet. Breathe slowly and deeply and let yourself drift back into a state of twilight consciousness.
At the top of a new page, write “Period Image” and today’s date. Then, closing your eyes again, sit again in stillness, breathing deeply and regularly, letting conscious thoughts drop away. Allow yourself to turn inward, and consider this chosen period of your life as a whole. Let yourself feel the tone and quality of this period.
Read the remaining words in this section in a state of deep quietness. When you reach the end, continue to sit in quietness, letting your eyes close gradually, of themselves. When you let your eyes close gradually and slowly in this undeliberate way, the darkness and the quiet is pleasant and comfortable.
Let yourself feel the tone and the quality of this period you have just described. Without making any effort to think about it, without evaluating or judging, simply dwell on this period in deep quietness. Sit in quietness and let the images come. There is no need to make any effort, no need to even specify the kind of images that will come—whether you will hear them, see them, feel them in your body, smell them, or intuit them. The images will form themselves on their own, arising naturally out of the content of the period you have chosen.
In the silence, open yourself to these images of the current period of your life, and record them as they come.
Comparing Outer Events and Inner Images
You have now completed both the Period Log and the Period Image for your chosen period. As you consider these two entries side-by-side—the actual outer events of your life and the spontaneous imagery arising from within—what is the relationship between the two? Are they contradictory, or do they balance one another? Are they parallel, or does one go off on a tangent from the other? Do they seem complementary or markedly different?
In making this comparison, do not evaluate or judge. Just try to describe the inner correlation between the outward events of your current life and the inner imagery that arises from this period. Turning to a fresh page, head it with today’s date and briefly list the main messages that the results of the two previous exercises, taken together, seem to be trying to tell you.
Finally, returning to a deep silence, allow the two messages—to fit themselves together out of their own natures, in their own way. You may be in touch with a temptation to impose a tidy intellectual resolution upon them. Take note of this temptation to either rejoice or despair.
We do not seek a quick and simple resolution. The message these two images have to give us is neither good nor bad. It is simply a reflection of the inner movement of our lives, a reflection of ourselves, and we accept it in all its complexity, without undue excitement and without premature conclusions.