Journaling after meditation can be an incredibly valuable way to keep track of your experiences with the practice over time. Writing things down helps you remember moments of insight, notice interesting patterns of mind and record the natural ebb and flow of a regular mindfulness routine. In fact, I have found keeping a journal so helpful that I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone practicing meditation.
There are two key things that keeping a journal has helped me with. One is that it has become an interesting record of my journey with the practice so far. The other is that somehow, knowing that I want to keep a record of my experiences helps me pay extra careful attention to all that arises and passes away while I’m on the cushion.
From there to here
While achievement and progress aren’t exactly the point of meditation, it can be helpful nonetheless to notice how your practice evolves over time. In the beginning, the brief notes you make in your journal may read a little like mine:
“This morning was hard! Tired, irritable, right knee aches, sticking with it though. Through the frustration. 12 minutes still long.”
~ 6th Feb, 7am
It can be useful to note how long you sat for, what you style of meditation you practiced, your level of motivation and your level of concentration. As the months pass, there will be highs and lows, days when things just seem to click and other days when frustration bubbles forth. Just keep it simple.
Another of my entries from January simply reads:
“20mins, vipassana. Present, relaxed, able to come back. Found myself tensing a little when focused, peaceful and calm overall.”
~ 18th Jan, 9am
Having positive entries like this can also make it easier when you face difficulties again, you can reflect back and remember that meditation doesn’t always feel hard. If there’s one guarantee it is that your experience each day will be a little different to the last.
Over time you will come to see that your practice ebbs and flows. Difficulties arise, and pass away. Blissful happy feelings might come, and then go again. The journal is another reminder of the changing nature of practice.
Pay attention, then make notes
When you decide to keep a journal reflecting on your meditation sessions, it can frame the way you approach the practice too. Simply knowing that you want to write about the session afterwards can sometimes put you in a frame of mind to be even more aware, sensitive and focused.
Of course, this won’t always be the case, and the danger is slipping too much into planning your journal entry when you should be paying attention to the breath! I know that has happened to me, I’ll be concentrating deeply then my mind will jump up - “ooh, what a good session, must note that this was much better than yesterday”. Sigh. You will need to balance focus and preoccupation.
Recollective Awareness Meditation
It would be remiss of me to write a post on journaling and meditation without mentioning Jason Siff and Recollective Awareness Meditation. I first learnt about this approach as part of an Insight Meditation beginners course, and it felt really natural and fantastic to me. I am yet to read his book “Unlearning Meditation”, but will be sure to write a full review once I have.
The basic technique is to sit with an awareness of the feelings in the hands, allow the mind to wander, but continue to come back to sensations in the hands. At the end of the session you write everything you can remember down into a journal, as a way to notice where your mind goes on a regular basis, and also as a way to relive the emotions that arose and perhaps offer yourself more space to be with them. Jason has kindly put the second chapter of his book online for free, with detailed instructions.
Even if you have been meditating without a journal for a while, I encourage you to give it a go. Make a few notes every few days, even once a week, keep your entries brief and simple unless you feel drawn to write more. If you are at a loss for what to write, I always include the date, time, style, length, and general comment on my level of concentration. Then I might note any particular physical sensations or thoughts that kept coming up, or obstacles such as sleepiness or boredom that presented themselves.
Journaling can be an insightful addition to sitting with mindful awareness, and will provide a record of the journey you are on with this subtle practice.