I have practiced “journalling” off and on for over fifty years. It is the practice where you daily, or frequently, take a piece of paper and express your feelings and concerns in a way that gets it out of your system and causes the least hurt to others. It is not to be confused with keeping a diary. That is about events. Journalling is about “taking it out of your head and putting it on paper”. Journalling can also keep you focused on questions such as the kind of person you are, the kind of person you want to be, and what are your goals in life.
There must be something significant about it because so many significant people have engaged in it : Isaac Newton, Leonardo Da Vinci, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, George Bernard Shaw etc. It is an open question whether they engaged in journalling because they were brilliant, or it was the journalling that made them brilliant. Either way the two seem linked together – until I started journalling!
For me personally it is a kind of prayer, defined by Simone Weil as “Attention taken to its highest degree”. At one point in human history prayer was seen as asking a guy in the sky to pull some levers to benefit either ourselves or others. For many of us today this is not prayer but a parody of prayer. Our understanding of prayer has changed over the centuries – as has our understanding of so many other things.
Journalling is where you “let it all hang out”, when you can express your innermost thoughts, anxiety, hopes, desires etc – a very healthy practice for the human psyche. It enables us to focus on our goals, problems and accomplishments in a structured and personal way.
Why then am I publishing mine? Because, on the 15th of May 2018, I experienced a life shattering experience. My beloved wife Margaret died suddenly without notice. The effect on me was profound. Yes, she was 84 years of age and we had lived life together for over 60 years, but that was little consolation. I was devastated by her death, so much so that I closed my existing journal and started a new one with her photo on the inside, and on the cover the words “Life after Death” – not Margaret’s life after death, but my life after her death. Margaret’s life was acknowledged by hundreds in a wonderful service and hundreds of cards from those who could not make it. For her it was the recognition of a life lived in the light of Jesus of Nazareth.
What about the rest of us? What does death mean for us? Each of us has to, and will, experience the phenomenon of death but our reticence to think and converse about it is striking. The philosopher Heidegger summed it up nicely: “The contemplation of death is the key to authentic existence”. This contemplation is, however, neglected and satirised within our society and often consists of subconscious nonsense about the good going to heaven and the wicked going to hell as a reward or punishment for their actions. It is dangerous, both socially and personally, to dismiss death so lightly. From dust we are formed and to dust we return. Life after death is wishful thinking. What should concern us is life itself which, dare I say it, was the concern of Jesus of Nazareth. “I have come that you may have life and have it in all its fullness”. The idea that his death was a sacrifice to a judgmental God is abhorrent to me The Christian faith is about life, here and now, life in all its fullness.
And so I publish parts of my journalling – in the hope that it may be of assistance to those who suffer the loss of a loved one.
I commend to everyone the practice of journalling. It certainly has served me well.