Detailed Description

Journal Writing: A Tool for Insight and Renewal

“When you avoid confronting problems or postpone them in your mind, they continue to call out silently for attention. You obsessively retread the same un-hoed mental ground.” -Tristine Rainer

In a relentless surge of cutting-edge technologies, what is a timeless way to understand what our life is relaying while we deal with the daily challenges of work and personal life?

Hint: It can be done anywhere and costs almost nothing.

Answer: Journal writing. It renews our spirit by connecting us to our inner voice. Through writing, we can discover what we think, feel and believe. One can sort through challenges, prime the creative pump, or simply mine the abundant inner stores of ideas that exist inside us all.


“Our modern lives are vertical with exertion. They are fraught, demanding, difficult. We need someone, some place, to hear how hard they are. We need and must learn to be our own witness.”

–Julia Cameron

In this session, we will review various journaling techniques, while spotlighting the dialogue process. (Carl Jung called it “Active Imagination.”) Participants will have the opportunity to explore a challenge or issue that they currently want some clarification on, taken from either their personal or work life. The journaling will be used to create meaning, understanding and insight. There will be discussion on how journaling can be incorporated into one’s daily life as a source of regeneration and renewal.

To warm people up to the journaling process while providing a focal point for the journaling, we will use some creative right brain techniques. In order to define the area of contemplation, participants will choose from a selection of evocative figurines or picture cards. When people use symbols, they are tapping their unconscious mind.When they are asked to choose a symbol they are attracted to or repelled by, their unconscious is actually choosing. Sometimes they are not aware why they chose a particular symbol, but they recognize it instantly before the censoring mind can interfere. Choosing or creating a symbolic representation can be an excellent prompt to begin the journaling process. One can write about the symbol, what they see and notice as people see different things in the same symbol. Some people will look at a clown and see fun, another person will see sadness.

In the next step, participants dialogue with the symbol in their journals by silently talking to it, and letting the symbol talk back, in order to reveal more about itself and what meaning it holds for them. In the last stage, the journaling focuses on understanding the meaning of the symbol in their life.

To illustrate this technique, meet Louis, a partner in an accounting firm whom we worked with using symbols and journaling to help him overcome his challenges. Louis had been very successful in the 25 years he built the accounting company and he loved his work. At this stage of his life, he was close to retirement, and feeling threatened that younger Generation X types were taking over his turf. He found himself unmotivated to get up for work in the morning and had to force himself to do so.  For Louis his work was his power place, but he found he felt anxious at work and tended to hole away rather than be his usual outgoing, gregarious self. Even though work was no longer enjoyable, he found he was dreading the day he would be asked to retire. At home he felt listless.

He had no idea what the problem was, but he knew he did not feel good. When he came to Open Hand Team-building, Coaching and Retreats for coaching, we assessed him and understood that he had been overly identified with his work. He had not created meaning for himself in other areas of his life outside of work. Louis embarked on a journey that led him into finding meaning both at this last stage of working at the company, as well as meaning for his future retirement.

One technique we employed was choosing symbols as a focal point and then dialoguing with the figurines to establish what meaning they held for him. Louis looked at our large selection of figurines and finally chose a figure of a man in a suit looking stern, wearing a frown and pointing a finger in an accusing way. Then he chose another figure: Goofy (the Disney character) holding a hockey stick. “I have no idea why I chose these figures,” he told us. He was then asked to journal about what he saw in both figures.

In the first figure, he saw a man like himself, the boss who tells others what to do. He is grim and serious. Through the process of dialogue, he discovered that he feels trapped by this role and wants to shed it, but does not know how else to be. Then we asked him to write about what he sees in the Goofy figure. As he wrote, he smiled for the first time. Goofy was a fun-loving, silly person who didn’t care much about his image or accomplishments, but was having fun anyways. When Louis finished writing about Goofy, he started laughing uncontrollably. He later told us it was the first time he’d laughed so much in years. Through his dialogue with Goofy, he realized that he was depriving himself of fun both at work and outside of work. He loved hockey as a boy, and Goofy holding a hockey stick reminded him of the pleasure he got from pick- up games on the ice. Choosing the symbols cut through to the core of what was in his heart and journaling about them unpacked it for him. Louis had deep insights from this simple technique. These insights became the beginning of a journey for Louis that would bring him work/life balance and renewal.


“The diary is a never-ending search and discovery. It changes as you change, and by acting as a mirror of the self, it encourages personal transformation.”
-Tristine Rainer

The approach to this topic will take the following form:

1. Short discussion on types of journaling, dialogue and symbols. The history and power of these and their benefits.
2. A guided experience where participants choose symbols (either figurines or evocative pictures, depending on how many people) to explore their relationship with a particular challenge, issue or event.

3. Participants journal using their symbols as a focal point.

This is a three-step process:

a) They describe what they see in the symbol.
b) Dialogue with the symbol.
c) Integrate its meaning into the challenge or issue they are focusing on.

4. Share in small group and/or large group (size-dependant).
5. Discuss this experience, its benefits, effects, and future potential.
6.  We will provide a bibliography of work in this area for further participant reading.

Journaling can accomplish a great deal of inner housekeeping. It can help us sort through our challenges and understand what they are wanting from us. It can open up communication between our inner selves and our active selves. It can also indicate which visions we wish to manifest, articulate them, and help us figure out how to make them happen. A journal and pen is all that is required to have a constant companion that is always available to listen.

“We should write because writing brings clarity and passion to the act of living.” – Julie Cameron