The Progoff Journal Writing Workshop

I have just listened to Michael Hyatt's excellent podcast on the 7 Benefits of Keeping a Journal.
The Progoff Journal Workshop was one of the things that changed my life, and I have done it periodically since my first experience back in 1997.
Kate Scholl is one of the only Progoff teachers working in Australia, so I thought I'd ask her a few questions about reading, journalling and  the benefits of introspection:

1.    How important is journal writing - do you think it is an essential tool when it comes to personal and spiritual development?

It is an individual choice. For myself writing is very much part of who I am. I have always loved writing. However, I have had people attend Journal workshops who were not writers and did not enjoy writing before they came, but loved the Intensive Journal and what it evoked in them. Using writing in the way Progoff suggests allows the wisdom and deep knowing about who we are and what we might do to emerge. So, for me, it is essential, but I would not say that is true for all.
Journaling is not my only spiritual practice, there are many and have been many throughout my life. The Intensive Journal engages with those practices for me, and they become part of a whole process of integration in my life.

2.    What is your favourite tool of Progoff’s – what makes his journal system stand out from anyone else’s?

Ira Progoff’s Intensive Journal system stands out because of the active methodologies it is based on and uses. He did not set out to create a system of Journal writing; he set out to enable people to tap into the natural flow of their life and to learn from that. He knew that connecting the inner and the outer was the key to creativity, living authentically and engaging in life truthfully.
The Intensive Journal has simple methods/tools to make these connections. At first it may not seem like much, but after a few hours in the workshop, people start to realise that they are exploring deeply and truly their life, with its pains, joys, losses and successes. Parts that may have been put away, or ‘shelved’ because they were too difficult sometimes emerge. In my own experience, creativity is deeply connected to acknowledging our suffering, our woundedness and letting that have a voice and eventually be transformed.
Kahil Gibran wrote, “That which gives us the greatest joy also gives us the greatest pain.” So there is no exploration of pain that is joyless. If we cut off our feelings to pain, we cut off our feelings to joy as well.

3.    Does journaling help you to reach your goals? If so, how?

The Journal has been especially important for me through crucial life changes. At times when I did not know how to proceed in my life, using the Journal and its methods, helped me to recognise the gifts and strengths I had to carry me forward. I came to the awareness for me that material goals were inconsequential compared to living authentically and truthfully and in deep connection to others.
The Intensive Journal assists with goals in practical ways. In a workshop many years ago, a participant said after doing her dialogue with work that she now had a business plan for her new venture. Other people have reconnected with lost avocations in areas such as music and sport. In working with her dreams and other writing, a participant came to realise she needed to leave the job she was in as it was stifling her spirit.

4.    Who do you think can benefit most from following Progoff’s journaling system?

Although the Intensive Journal is a tool for our whole life, people who seem to benefit or 'take' to the Journal often describe themselves in one or more of the following ways:
•    At a place of exploring new options for their life
•    Feel stagnated or 'blocked' in creative or other projects
•    Coming out of a place of grief, crisis or difficulty and seeking to further their healing.
•    Have an increasing awareness that there is a depth dimension in their life and looking for means to explore that.
•    Express a sense that there is more to life than they are currently experiencing
•    At a crossroads, or aware of shifting perspectives or new awarenesses

5.    Could you tell us some books you loved when you were a child or a young woman? And any books you’d like to recommend now? Have you ever been inspired by a self-help or spiritual book?

As a child I read the Happy Hollisters, who were a detective family making the world a better place. I remember reading Helen Keller and Dr Tom Dooley’s autobiographies. I was attracted to their development and coming to know what meaning their life had.
In my early teens, the Vietnam war was raging and I became a peace activist in my own early adolescent way living in a small Midwest town in the USA. I read Joan Baez’s, Daybreak, again and again, and was so taken with the ending where she addressed the reader: “You, dear reader, You are Amazing Grace.  You are a Precious Jewel. You --special, miraculous, unrepeatable, fragile, fearful, tender, lost, sparkling ruby emerald jewel, rainbow splendor person. It's up to you.” Wow, that blew me away! I think I took those words to heart and still do.
In my twenties, I discovered May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude, and Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea, who both inspired me to write from my soul and not fear depth of feeling, exploration or solitude. They reinforced the non conformist ways I had developed as a teenager! Then I came to read Parker Palmer....Let Your Life Speak, being one of my favourites. More recently I have been drawn to David Whyte and his very poetic way of describing the urgent call to explore our soul. There are many many others of course.
Of the many novels I have loved, Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks is one of my favourites as is Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver. They both tell stories of heroines who found their way through difficulties, following what they knew to be true for them and the people they loved.
And I do have to say I really enjoyed Eat Pray Love.... I found Elizabeth Gilbert’s journey quite real and I loved how she described discovering community in Italy, the interior life in India and the importance of heart in Indonesia.
This quote from Eat Pray Love says what the Intensive Journal means for me as well as expressing the process it leads us to, an interior journey. “We search for happiness everywhere, but we are like Tolstoy's fabled beggar who spent his life sitting on a pot of gold, under him the whole time. Your treasure--your perfection--is within you already. But to claim it, you must leave the busy commotion of the mind and abandon the desires of the ego and enter into the silence of the heart.”
And the interior journey leads us outward again, to be activists, politicians, writers, parents, carers, philosophers, teachers, artists, dancers, poets, managers, spiritual guides,executives, entrepreneurs, etc..... Once we have discovered the wealth that lies within we can never be the same. As the Skin Horse said to the Velveteen Rabbit, ‘Once you are real, you can never become unreal again. It lasts for always." 

The Progoff system is a very particular and structured method of journal keeping devised by Ira Progoff in the 1960s. Progoff was deeply inspired by the work and thinking of Jung, and felt that deep meditation, careful journalling and paying attention to dreams were all ways in which we could access our psyche and possibly improve our lives.
The method is taught in a series of workshops, where the student is given a set of old-school cardboard dividers which help contain all of the different journal experiences Progoff details in his book At A Journal Workshop.

Though I only pick up my Progoff journal a couple of times a year, I find that doing the workshop is immensely valuable, and time and time again it has lead to breakthroughs in creativity, spirituality and personal understanding.

My Progoff Journal

This also taps in to an excellent book I have been working with, and which I reviewed over at the Universal Heart Book Club: Writing Down Your Soul by Janet Conner.

This book also sets out a deeply meditative journalling system that covers 30 days, and which I have found to be incredibly motivating and beneficial.


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