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The Write to a Fulfilling Life

An Interview with Ira Progoff - A New Times Interview

Journal-writing is a popular method used by many to enhance their personal and spiritual growth processes. Some people have been known to keep as many as four different journals: for dreams, spiritual visions, emotional healing, and daily goings-on.

There is a method called the Intensive Journal method which provides a format and process that covers the multiple aspects of one’s life within the bindings of one journal. It also offers a profoundly effective way of working with the material generated. The Journal was designed by Ira Progoff, Ph.D., who studied with C. G. Jung.

TNT: Ira, for those who haven’t read your book, just what is the Journal Workshop? What is its purpose? What can it do for people?

Ira: The book, At a Journal Workshop, describes the theory and exercises for using the Intensive Journal workbook, a structured method of journal-writing for personal and spiritual growth. Individuals can learn the method by working on their own or by attending one of our workshops (under the auspices of Dialogue House) that are conducted by our more than one hundred trained and certified leaders.
When we are working in the Intensive Journal workshop, whether participating in a group or following the book ourselves, we learn the various Intensive Journal techniques by working privately in our own lives. All of the participants in a workshop learn to proceed in a non-judgmental way recording their life data and then feeding it back into the other journal sections. In this way of working we experience the method at an inner level so as to answer the question: “What is my life trying to become?”
The method can help people further develop the various facets of their lives. One major benefit from working in the Intensive Journal workbook is to gain a perspective on the major periods of their lives so that they can draw their present life situation into focus to answer the question, "Where am I now in the movement of my life?" Through this process, they can realize inner strengths, new possibilities, and discover resources and talents within themselves.
The Intensive Journal method can help individuals gain insights and understandings into specific areas to: enhance personal relationships, make decisions about their career and projects of intense interest, release feelings about their body and health, and deal with various events and situations. For these purposes, we use various dialogue exercises that I will explain later.
Working with your dreams and other symbolic images such as feelings, intuitions, and hunches develops our intuitive capacities. Working with our inner process helps us to draw our life together and find meaning and direction. They are helpful in stimulating our creative strengths, by which I mean we can then realize new talents and possibilities. Our focus is upon the practical question of what these messages are seeking to become rather than what they mean intellectually.
The Intensive Journal method also focuses a good deal upon helping individuals find meaning in life, which I believe is necessary to make themselves whole and fulfilled. These exercises help people to clarify values and priorities, to develop experiences of connection with various aspects of society and to gain wisdom from those of the past or present who have the capacity to teach us important lessons about life.
Through the integrative techniques of the Intensive Journal method, persons can gain awareness and more readily determine whether or not the important aspects of their daily lives are consistent with their values and priorities. Individuals can then reevaluate their situation so as to develop more fulfilling lives.

TNT: What is your background and how did you come to design the journal process?

Ira: After completing my Ph.D. at the New School of Social Research (published as Jung’s Society and Its Social Meaning), I was invited in the early 1950s to study in Switzerland as a Bollingen Fellow with C.G. Jung. Based upon my research on the founding fathers of depth psychology (Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Otto Rank, and Alfred Adler), I had concluded that individuals need to have meaning in life to be whole persons.
I also realized that persons needed to work from their inner levels to develop their potential in life. I was attracted to Jung’s work because he held a similar point of view versus the more accepted framework that focused upon pathology and diagnosis.
Upon returning to New York City, I practiced as a psychotherapist, which I continued doing for many years. Several of my patients used a journal and I realized that they were able to work through their particular feelings or situation much quicker and better. During this period, I developed the principles of holistic depth psychology in the 1950s and early 1960s which were published in a trilogy of books (Death and Rebirth of Psychology, Depth Psychology and Modern Man, The Symbolic and the Real) that lay the groundwork for the Intensive Journal method.
Also, during the early 1960s, while serving as director for the Institute for Research in Depth Psychology of Drew University at the graduate school (in New Jersey), I conducted research on the lives of different types of individuals including those who were creative, neurotic, and living in various cultures and civilizations. I realized in my studies that those persons who were creative (in the general sense of developing more fulfilling lives) were constantly in motion - by which I mean that they were actively engaged in a tangible project or work in which they had an intense interest. Therefore, any method that is devised to assist individuals in developing their lives must similarly focus on the underlying process rather than the contents of a person's life.
In 1966, I founded Dialogue House to make the Intensive Journal method available to the public. Over the years, I conducted many workshop and further refined and developed the method. In 1975, I published the basic text for the program, At a Journal Workshop.
After adding a number of sections to the Intensive Journal workbook (that now comprise the “Meaning Dimension”) I completed the companion text that described this material in The Practice of Process Meditation (1980). These two books were condensed into one volume in 1992 in the revised edition of At a Journal Workshop.
Currently, I am the director of Dialogue House in New York City and am working on various writing projects.

TNT: How did you come up with the particular sections the journal contains?

Ira: The Intensive Journal workbook contains both "log" sections and “feedback” sections. In the log sections, we record the factual data of our lives. The feedback sections are used to carry out the active exercises that generate the energy and momentum to propel us forward to develop our lives further. The workbook also is divided into four main parts or dimensions that each have their own realm of human experience, content, and characteristic ways of expression. These are: "Life/ Time," "Dialogue," "Depth," and "Meaning." Each of these dimensions in turn, is divided into subsections or "miniprocesses."
In the Life/Time Dimension, we deal with the other level of experiences, our personal life history. This dimension includes the major periods or phases (Steppingstones) of our lives, important choices made (Roads Taken and Not Taken) and provides a vehicle for reviewing these periods to gain a perspective on the continuity of our lives. Through these exercises, we explore in detail new possibilities and interests that were not developed yet as a way to broaden our range of opportunities in life.
Working in the Dialogue Dimension, we enter into a dialogue relationship with each of the major facets of our lives: personal relationships, work and special projects, body and health, events and society. By "walking in the shoes” of the other person or object, individuals deepen their relationship with that aspect of our lives, avoid blockages and preconceived notions and gain insights that otherwise would not be possible. In the course of these dialogues, we often find that we write things that we do not know that we knew.
In the Depth Dimension, we explore our symbolic messages in the form of dreams and imagery. The exercises provide a way for individuals to bring these elusive images up from their depths to the surface to be developed further through various non-analytical techniques. By developing our sensitivity to these messages, our intuitive capacities are strengthened that provide new energy and leads for our work in other dimensions of the workbook.
The fourth dimension, the Meaning Dimension, focuses on the fundamentals of life: values, priorities, and ultimate concerns that motivate people. We focus extensively on connecting to larger than personal aspects of society whether through symbols or experiences. When people become connected they are strengthened inside. Individuals also utilize the dialogue techniques to learn from a person, whether from the past or present, who can teach us something about life.
This dimension also includes Entrance Meditation techniques that are used throughout our Journal work, that provide a neutral way for entering into our depths to tap into these symbolic feelings. The Meaning Dimension is helpful to people because they can only be fulfilled when they have meaning in life. Meaning also produces a great energy that can have very positive effects on their lives.

TNT: Initially, the amount of sections seems overwhelming. A person could spend hours on their journal daily. Is that what typically happens?

Ira: The Intensive Journal workbook is not overwhelming. Rather, the Method helps individuals get a handle on the many elusive and challenging aspects of life. Because the workbook mirrors the contents of our lives, the Method’s structure and organization helps people to write down their journal entries in a systematic way and to develop them further.
Although it does not take nearly as long to learn, I like to think of the Intensive Journal workbook as a sort of musical instrument: once you learn it, then you have a valuable tool to help you throughout life. Once people are skilled in the use of the Intensive Journal workbook, they may, whenever the need arises, enter their own sanctuary through the privacy of the Intensive Journal workbook, that is safe from the outer pressures of the world in which they quietly can reappraise their own lives.
The Intensive Journal work is open-ended and as infinitely continuing as the creative and specific experiences of each life. The Method is a vehicle for further development for each individual, in accord with their own needs, timing, and rhythm.
Although some individuals may make daily entries in the journal, particularly in the log sections, it is not necessary to do so within any fixed time interval. There are no such rules. Once individuals initially have worked in an intensive way in all of the dimensions of the Intensive Journal workbook, and have positioned themselves between the past and future in the present moment of their lives, they may develop their journal work further when important feelings are stirring inside them. As they feed their journal entries into the various log sections, they are now equipped to apply the Intensive Journal techniques to develop these entries further in other journal sections.

TNT: There is lots of writing at the workshop. Is this for people who want to be writers? What if someone isn’t good at writing?

Ira: Good writing skills are not necessary to work in the Intensive Journal method. As we like to say, individuals only need to bring themselves to the workshop. They are not writing to impress anyone; they are writing down what comes up from their inner being.
Writing in the journal is necessary because it leads to a person’s further self development. By writing and reading back their journal entries, new feelings and images are stirred inside themselves from which new thoughts, images, and energies are generated. Writing adds to the experience because we find that we are more in touch with our journal entries than we originally supposed. This process of writing and then reading back this material generates additional entries that builds a momentum from which to realize and to develop further our own potentials.
We often have individuals at our workshops who initially do not like to write, but eventually find that they benefit from the experience. They become immersed in the process because they are working with something that is precious to them: their own lives and the opportunity to realize the possibilities of making themselves a more whole person.

TNT: How does this process differ from journaling?

Ira: The Intensive Journal method is a structured method of journal writing that makes it an active instrument whereby working in one journal section leads to entries in another. The interplay of journal exercises and techniques creates a dynamic process which helps individuals build a momentum and energy; this generates breakthroughs and transformations. Thus, the essence of the Intensive Journal method, which I refer to as the Journal FeedbackSM process, is an important way in which it is different from other journal writing techniques.
These breakthroughs in creativity are brought about by the momentum that is activated within individuals as they move from one journal section to another. The Journal Feedback method provides the means of generating new energies and connecting interrelationships within persons at their depth levels that are brought to the surface in conscious expression. They are able to overcome inertia and to achieve these breakthroughs, resulting in expanding inner capacities that brings about new integrations of their lives. For this reason, I say that the Intensive Journal method provides a concrete way to apply the principles of holistic depth psychology to bring about personal and spiritual growth.
The structure and integration of the Intensive Journal workbook also helps us to bring the diverse aspects of our life together in relation to one another. We are building a condition of wholeness, the relation of the parts to the whole of a life. The inner relationship enables the varied facets of human existence to change and move and develop in relation to one another.
The Intensive Journal method is also non-judgmental in nature. We record our data in the workbook without commentary or analysis (or correction) so that we do not preclude or bias our entries that would result in a predetermined outcome. Otherwise, we would limit the possibilities and development of our journal entries, many of which are unpredictable in nature, and thereby limit our creative capacities. For similar reasons. we also work privately so that we have the built-in safeguards to feel free to write our most intimate feelings.
Context and continuity are other important differences with other journal writing methods. Rather than delving headlong into a specific area of one’s life (as is common with diary keeping), individuals initially work in revisiting the major phases of their lives in a non-judgmental way in the Intensive Journal method. As we have discussed, they gain a perspective on their lives, realizing their achievements, challenges, alternative choices and decisions, and talents. They gain a greater appreciation and awareness of their lives to-date, realizing new possibilities, and developing their inner strengths through this process. By establishing this foundation, they then have placed themselves in a much stronger position from which to work with their full range of capacities that will more likely lead to an enhanced outcome in developing specific areas of their lives.

TNT: How can the Intensive Journal process complement one’s spiritual path?

Ira: I believe that people become sensitive to the elusive threads of their inner lives when they have a definite method of working with them. Individuals develop spiritual awareness that they did not know they possessed. Therefore, I designed the Intensive Journal method, primarily through their work in the Meaning Dimension, to include specific exercises that help people develop their spiritual life. (I use the word “spiritual” in a broad way by which I mean each person’s fundamental quest for understanding of the ultimate truths of existence. These beliefs may be based upon a particular religious, scientific, or other method, but the Intensive Journal process is independent of any particular faith or dogma.)
In the Meaning Dimension, we use Entrance MeditationSM techniques, a neutral process to establish an atmosphere of silence and stillness to enter our depths to get in contact with our symbolic images. In an exercise that I call Spiritual Steppingstones, we review the major phases of our spiritual life - our spiritual experiences and beliefs - to find our present spiritual position. We also work with exercises to find awarenesses of the profound meaning of life, then we develop the transpersonal meaning from symbolic images. Finding the experience of meaning - valuing it and realizing the importance of the belief - is the essence of the Meaning Dimension, our experiences about the meaning in life.
The Intensive Journal method fulfills a fundamental vision that I had since I began my work in psychology more than 40 years ago: to create an integrative method by which the psychological and the spiritual can be experienced as two sides of a single coin. I agree with Jung’s statement that there can be no lasting personal healing without an experience of meaning at the depth of one’s being.

TNT: During these difficult and rapidly changing times in our society, many people are in a state of transition, whether they are seeking a new job, career, direction in life, or simply searching for something that makes their lives more meaningful. Could you give us some advice on how people in these situations could use the Intensive Journal method to develop themselves?

Ira: People who are facing these various challenges now can benefit from using the Intensive Journal method. There are several important principles about the method that they should keep in mind as they proceed.
Before individuals seek to find answers to specific situations or challenges such as the ones that you mention, first they must do the Intensive Journal exercises to gain a perspective on the continuity of their life. This work will provide a grounding or basis from which to develop other specific areas of interest. Otherwise, their journal work will lack a sustaining basis, will cut short other possibilities, and lack an interconnection with the other aspects of their lives.
Moreover, although they may be facing tough times now, I think that the principle that “The darkest moments are before the dawn” should be kept in mind. Often, new developments cannot occur until there is an emptying out of feelings about prior experiences. Times of struggle or emptiness provide an important vehicle for self-development and this process of emptying out does not occur easily. The Intensive Journal method provides a way for individuals to maintain a perspective as they move from periods of anxiety until they reach the upward phase of the cycle.
Individuals must be patient. There are no simple answers and individuals must find for themselves the answers that are right for them.
People must be honest with themselves as they do their journal work. Otherwise, they will only be deceiving themselves and will attain false results. I know that it may not be easy. However, through the Intensive Journal process, we can work through experiences that at the time may be painful to us. After we work through them, we see them in a new light and discover that they were not negative after all. Rather, by working through these situations, individuals learn important lessons about life, become empowered and strengthened through the process and gain energy and momentum to carry their lives forward.

Originally printed in The New Times magazine, January, 1993, Vol. 8, #8. P.O. Box 51186, Seattle, WA 98115-1186. 206-524-9071 Published by: Silver Owl Publications, Publisher and Editor: Krysta Gibson. ©by Silver Owl Publications. Reprinted with permission of The New Times.