“Our greatest desire, greater even than the desire for happiness, is that our lives mean something. This desire for meaning is the originating impulse of story.”
Daniel Taylor, from introduction to tell me a story.
I believe that the search for meaning is what drives writers to write, painters to paint, and musicians to play. That each form of expression is a call to something greater than the individual’s experience, and a desire to link that experience to that of others’ in some undefinable way. To find the sum that is greater than the individual parts. And among writers there is, perhaps, no form that represents the search for meaning more than journal writing.
Journaling is pure search, pure associative, pure analysis, pure mud-pie-making. It is not a “serious” form of writing. And though we like to invent a variety of techniques to keep our minds occupied and come at meaning in different ways, journaling does not require any particular skills or craft to accomplish. It’s easy, difficult, natural, contrived, playful, earnest, deep, shallow, meaningless, and meaningful, depending upon the writer’s mood and approach.
Journal writing and its techniques can also be used as the starting point for personal essays, memoirs, poems, short stories, and novels—because it’s the wet clay from which all the others can be formed, in a diligent writer’s hands.
The only thing that this search for meaning requires is absolute honesty. That is, honesty as absolute as it can be, given that we’re all prone to self-deception. That is why, in our search for meaning, journalers are always looking for techniques, questions, and approaches that will catch us off-guard and allow us to access the unfiltered truth in our hearts.
This week’s journaling prompts and techniques are designed to help you in your search for connection and meaning by helping you examine your life patterns.
- Do you wonder why certain types of events, hurts, or experiences, seem to occur over and over? Or why certain kinds of people keep appearing in your life (and refusing to go away)? Freewrite about one recurring pattern in your life. What is the same and what changes each time?
- Brainstorm a list of circumstances and people surrounding your recurring pattern. For example, do you tend to attach yourself to “the wrong kind of person,” when you’re scared and insecure, or happy and unguarded? What was happening in your life just before and after each occurrence. Circle surrounding circumstances that seem to accompany with the main pattern.
- Draw a vertical line down the center of your journal page. Label the left column “Disadvantages” and the right column “Advantages.” Then brainstorm a list of disadvantages (ways that the pattern harms you) and advantages (ways that it benefits you). Be as honest as possible, especially when writing about the pattern’s advantages.
- What do you feel that you have learned about yourself, about human nature, or about the world, as a result of this recurring pattern? What can you share about what you’ve learned with others, and how can you do so?
- Keeping your pattern in mind, complete the following sentence: I am grateful for __________________ because … Then explain your answer.
- Using children’s finger paints (go buy a box if you don’t have them), use your hands to express your feelings about this particular pattern. Hang the paintings on your wall and write about them.
- Complete the following sentence: If I didn’t have this recurring event in my life, I would …
Did any of your responses surprise you? I’d love to hear your story … please leave a comment.
Image Credit: Magnus Sjöberg