Journaling As A Spiritual Exercise
I was writing every day years before I made a living as a writer. When I started writing, I immediately sensed that it changed my life.
It didn’t only improve my career and skills — writing every day was therapeutic as well. I didn’t realize why that was at the time.
But when I recently read The Inner Citadel by Pierre Hadot, which is an analysis of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, I realized why that was.
After analyzing the Stoic classic, Meditations, Hadot concluded that Marcus wrote it for himself. The book was never meant to be published. So why did Marcus write? Mainly, because of two reasons:
- To philosophize — Philosophy is not theory. To live like a philosopher, it means to practice the ideas; not to talk about them. When you philosophize, you train yourself for wisdom. It is not wisdom by itself.
- To practice — Just like you repeat physical exercises with strength training, you repeat ideas and dogmas when you practice philosophy. Writing every day is the main tool a philosopher uses to practice.
Marcus treated writing as a spiritual exercise that strengthened his philosophy for life. Pierre Hadot writes:
“Such writing exercises thus lead necessarily to incessant repetitions, and this is what radically differentiates the Meditations from every other work. Dogmas are not mathematical rules, learned once and for all and then mechanically applied. Rather, they must somehow become achievements of awareness, intuitions, emotions, and moral experiences which have the intensity of a mystical experience or a vision.”
Through writing, you reformulate important life lessons in your own words. And because of this repetition, the wisdom of life becomes your second nature. That’s when you live the ideas.
So even though you are writing and talking to yourself, you ingrain the wisdom in your character so that it becomes a part of your character. You’re using writing as a tool to transform dogmas into practice as Hadot continues:
“As he wrote the Meditations, Marcus was thus practicing stoic spiritual exercises. He was using writing as a technique or procedure in order to influence himself, and to transform his inner discourse by meditating on the Stoic dogmas and rules of life.”
The beauty of writing is that it’s an inherent humble practice. When you write as a spiritual exercise, what are you actually saying to yourself? You’re saying that you’re still learning the ideas and that you’re putting in the work. You’re trying to get better.
That’s the whole reason why Marcus, the most powerful person in the world at that time, wrote. Writing is an endless practice.
A Few Tips To Get Started
If you’re excited to start writing as a spiritual exercise, it’s not a surprise. I’ve been excited about writing since I was 16. And I still love to write as much as I did back then.
To me, writing is the most effective way to make the intangibility of your thoughts real. And that’s one of the greatest things in life. I encourage everyone to practice.
Not only if you’re a professional writer, but if you’re a human being. Here are a few tips to get started:
- Pick a philosophy/religion you identify with the most. This can be Stoicism, Pragmatism, Existentialism, Christianity, Buddhism, etc.
- If you don’t identify with one philosophy, try different ones. It’s okay to get inspiration from different sources. There are no rules.
- Find 1–2 books that do a good job explaining the wisdom of the philosophy. Check out my reading list if you’re looking for inspiration.
- Every day, open the book, and read a few passages.
- Then, sit down with your journal, and reformulate what you read in your own words.
- Remember that you’re writing for yourself. You can use a physical journal or digital one. it doesn’t matter. Pick something that you like.
After a while, you will notice that you don’t need the books to write anymore. You will write by yourself, without the help of books or external inspiration. What you will find is that you get more inner calm, happiness, and a stronger character.
All through the power of writing. It’s the most simple idea you will find: Improve yourself by writing every day.
But it’s also one of the most difficult things you can do. That’s why most people quit. But if you stick with it, you will get the benefits that others only dream of.