by Charles H. Evans, II
" ‘Nothing can bring you peace but yourself’ wrote Emerson in his essay on Self Reliance." With these words, the Intensive Journal Workshop began. I had signed up for this workshop knowing only that I would be learning a series of written exercises best described as a system of journal keeping; more than a diary, a system for experiencing the movement of my soul and building an active inner life. With this little understanding, I entered the first day feeling that it might become the spectacular therapeutic event of my life: the great "ah-ha." It failed these expectations, but did grant me a more valuable tool: the beginning of living self-dialogue leading towards integration.
Although we were a group of men with a single counselor, it was not only a group experience, but an individual, private sanctuary. I reflected on the immediate contents of my mind and questioned how recording stream-of-consciousness could create new insight. But after several years of being in prison, I was anxious to try anything which might help in personal growth and change.
Our first experience was in the Period Log, creating a space of time which was...a world of time between the past and future where we could center ourselves to begin the study of the unfathomable. I chose the space of time created by the slamming of the gate behind me, that gate which has suddenly become the avenue of light at the end of the tunnel. Centered within this time frame, I jotted down several experiences to mark it. I found myself writing of a monastery-like place, a world of seclusion and study: the seclusion bringing pain, study, bringing hope.
We moved from this demarcation to the Twilight Imagery Log and here recorded the dominant dreams and fantasies of this period: those many imaginings of how I want it to be when I finally return to the other side; those hours of playing within my head in hope that my dreams might become realized goals. This world is founded on such imaginings, sometimes positive, sometimes negative, but always influenced by the prominent emotion of the hour. My recording became a joyful experience.
With ample record of this period, we moved into the Steppingstone Log, the beginnings of personal history. Our instructions were to meditate on twelve steppingstones: those points throughout our life which in hindsight were marks of change,...definite dividing lines. The story of my life began to unfold; its cyclical nature jumping from the page as I unconsciously recorded words. Suddenly, I was the objective audiences viewing the process of my life as it happened on a stage filled with characters who were me. Taking one of the steppingstones, I developed it in the Life History Log. Again, my pen moved without help, spelling out events, emotions, persons, fears, and hopes of that part of my life. The period became alive as it never had been before; newly acquired objectivity viewed it as though through a microscope and brought forth many insights.
The journal had taken control. It was no longer inanimate; it was alive and speaking to me shouting to me, and not of music for the process of intense therapy had long since begun.
In the break-room after this exercise, I observed how quiet it was. The journal had gripped not only me: everyone was lost in the adventure toward the self; all energy was intently watching the stage where we performed. There was no talk, hardly a smile. Something had been opened in each of our lives. A once dead conscience was awakening. The afternoon session began with a question and answer period; few questions, much silence. The dropout rate was noticeable. This was difficult and frightening; few there are who voluntarily undergo such pain. But we who remained were thirsting for the continuing process. We could already feel a powerful new perspective growing.
"Pick a person from your life, an important person: friend, wife, father, mother; pick someone you know well enough to draw out the steppingstones of their life," the instructor said, announcing the next exercise. Instant deep thought. The Steppingstones of another person’s life?!
But I am a convict; I have made a life out of not allowing anyone to come too close; I fear others, and my crime speaks of this fear; I acted out to push away, until I finally pushed myself within these walls, inside this place of separateness. But the exercise continued, I wrote the steppingstones of another and conversed with this order, a dialogue which was really with myself. The silence in the room could have been severed with a knife: the silence of hidden crying, hidden even from ourselves.
The first day came to a close. I was learning a tool for soul searching, a tool for becoming by the study of what had evolved. I spent the evening in prayer for the power of forgiveness.
A crystalline sky toned in shades of orange and pink greeted me in the early morning of day two. Several of the participants were huddled around the door of the workshop building. Nervous laughter and anxious movement were observable as we waited. Although it was early and we were all still in the process of waking, there was a presence of energy not unlike that of the volcano before it erupts. We all were preparing to spill forth words creating a wholeness in our lives that had not been attempted before.
We began the day with talk about our sleeping; had anybody had a dream? If so, go to the Dream Log and record it. I used to deny having dreams, but today was immediately busied recording the visions of the night before. The virgin white paper blessed my words like God’s gentle snow falling on the jagged mountain peaks. A smooth quality was given to the harsh images of the night. Nightmares became the softness of clouds; the frightening became peaceful. The paper held no threats; I wrote on.
It was time to talk to our bodies, a conversation between other parts of ourselves working ever onward towards completeness. I wrote out the steppingstones of my body. Its life history being clearly defined: I recalled the old mark on the wall near the kitchen, the next mark years later when I concluded I was "tall," then the hour of the "spike," my tallness had led to addiction?—strange memories of which the body speaks. The pen scribbled onward. The conversation with my body had become another eye-opener; another can had popped up its lid.
"Write the steppingstones of a social institution, a culture, a race, etc., and dialogue with it," spoke our instructor. There was agreement on this one; we spoke to the criminal justice system. We who were once perpetrators were now the victims in the ever cyclical triangle of justice. The virgin paper again softened the barbed words spoken against the archaic system which protects society from the evil which lurks in the dark corners. Words spewed forth; the paper became a vehicle for my hostilities. The "system" became the whipping boy for my vindicated conscience, then I became the object of the hostile words. I yelled...for the whole world as I levied my self-hate in words.
Thereafter came the meditation exercise. Pen in hand, placed carefully on a blank page in the Inner Wisdom Log. Eyes closed. Ears listening to an entrance meditation designed to lead to the depths of being...Having attacked myself throughout the majority of this process, I was not to experience a deeper truth. With this new friend and mentor, the journal, in hand, I embarked on the pathway of inner wisdom quickly discovering that I was not the victim of my past but the creator of my future. My unconsciously recorded words leaped from the page: I am alive, may the ghosts of the past bury themselves,... the workshop became the new demarcation line of my life. No great "ah-ha," just the sudden knowledge that I was truly free to choose life in lieu of the death I had known. Peace overwhelmed me. A quiet silence bubbled from within undisturbed by either the noise of the mind or its absence. I was going home.
"Intensive Journal" and "Journal Feedback" are trademarks of Jon Progoff and used under license by Dialogue House.