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Reflective Journaling and Meditation

We haven’t had a guest post in a couple of weeks, so I’m thrilled to introduce you all to Manata (He’s @manata on Twitter if you want to follow him there). He’s a 28 year old father of twin three-year-old girls, and husband to a fantastic wife. He came to Buddhism and Soto Zen practices about a year and a half ago. His plan to hand-write a journal of his meditation and daily mindful experiences was spawned from very simple means: a skeptical nature, and the fact that he found a really cool pen to write with one day.



Reflective Journaling and Meditation
by Manata

I have recently recommitted myself to practicing Soto Zen Buddhism over the last few months. This is a type of Zen Buddhism that involves a lot of zazen, or seated meditation. In the past, I practiced off and on for about a year – and benefited from it greatly – but my practice, as these things often do, got pushed to the side of what I considered at the time to be “real life”.

Most of us are skeptical by nature. Believe me, I’m at least as skeptical as the next guy; so much so that I’m even skeptical of myself. Did I really have that great of a success in the past? Will I have this type of success (or greater) in the future? Had it simply become a “big fish” story that improved the results in my memory as time passed? This time, I decided that if I was going to do this, then I was going to do it right. I have decided to begin keeping a journal of my zazen practice and reflections of daily mindfulness. I want to prove to myself that the results were worth pursuing regardless of previous successes. The goal is to have a practical way to observe this progress and track my own understanding of myself and the Dharma. With a simple journal, I can reflect on my meditation, as well as my skillfulness throughout the day, and uncover questions that I may be able to clarify later. Maybe one day I’ll read these early entries and laugh at my own inexperienced monkey-mind.

Comparing moments, though, seems contradictory to the Zen philosophy of living in the now. Of course, those who practice Zen Buddhism should know that there is a practical side to this that should not be overlooked – one must still mail their mortgage payment, buy groceries for future meals, etc. On one hand, comparing one mindful moment to another may be absurd; apples to elephants. On the other hand, proving progress to myself by way of comparison may be a way to increase commitment to the practice and overall understanding. I hope that knowing this contradiction exists is enough to eliminate expectations, but I remain curious.

I plan on handwriting these entries in my own journal, as I find it to be an intimate way of organizing my thoughts. To the extent it is helpful to others, I am willing to share parts of these journal entries with anyone who is interested. I’m only a month or two into my practice (again!), and only a few days into the documentation process, but the steps have begun, I believe, toward the greater good. I must take care to avoid letting one practice overpower the other. The worst thing I can do is taint my zazen time with thoughts like “hey, look at what my mind did just now…that’s an interesting thought…I should jot it down in the journal!” That, of course, would be the opposite of what I’m trying to accomplish.

When I first emailed Brian about this, he reminded me that mindful meditation is just another type of program that one may follow, like a diet or exercise regimen. There is benefit to documenting the progress in those programs, so why not meditation? This is a simple enough conclusion to draw, and one to which anyone should be able to relate.

I’ll check in with updates if anyone cares to share in the discovery.

4 comments to Reflective Journaling and Meditation

  • Janice Brodowsky

    Your journaling idea sounds like something I may want to try too. Would you be carrying your journal throughout the day? Or would you only have it available near where you meditate (near your meditation cushion etc.) so you can write what you were feeling immediately after zazen?

  • Alan

    As a meditator and “journalist”, I would be very interested in seeing a few of your entries.

  • Manata

    @Janice Brodowsky, I sit in zazen about 40 minutes in the morning and about 20 in the evening; more or less as time allows, but i try to get an hour per day. When I write in the journal I do so in the evening, but it varies wheter or not is before or after my PM zazen. I tend to not keep my journal nearby when I meditate but I do have a notepad nearby, especially at work. Sometimes this paper just contains sentence fragments or even just words that I can reflect on when I write in the journal later that night. Other times, it may just be tally marks for tracking a topic I’m being mindful of (like judging, or anger). I usually use these notes as a starting point for later journal entries.

    @Alan, I’ll share them soon, although it’s yet to be determined by which means. If it’s here at this site, that’s fine with me. Or, if it’s just a separate site, I could do that too. I would be interested in others’ take on my situation as well as sharing theirs.

  • Sandragons

    Hello, Manata,

    I’ll be interested to follow your postings. I’ve tried this before, in a spirit of curious experimentation. For me, it certainly did bring up a lot of questions for reflection. Alas, I didn’t continue it long enough to come to any conclusion on the effectiveness of meditation. Life gets complicated and time constraints push meditation out of the way. So, knowing that someone is doing this may be a support for me to begin again. Thank you for sharing.