On the Lost Art of Journaling, Poetic Sensibility & Letter Writing

It’s now been slightly over a year since I posted my last blog and this seemed a good time to re-start the process. Whether I’ll have the discipline to stay with it remains to be seen, but I do know there is something both therapeutic and creative about blogging as a reflection of my inner thought life and response to the world in which we live. Those of you who are bloggers and those of you who read these blogs will know what I mean. It is like whispering the depths of our minds and the secrets of our souls to anyone on the planet who cares to be listening. In some ways it occurs to me that blogging may serve some if not all of the functions that journaling, literary reviews and letter writing to close friends once fulfilled in our culture.

I suspect that the age of journaling (diary writing), poetic sensibility and letter writing was not only a time before digital media and social networking when the pace of life was considerable slower than today, but also when the inner world of the “introverted intuitive” (whether feeling or thinking) was given considerably more cultural value than it is in today’s psychologically extroverted and sensation based society of hyper-busyness, pressure, superficiality and distraction. Whenever I turn aside from whatever I’m doing to reflect upon and savor such delightful and illuminating web-sites as Maria Popova’s “Brain Pickings” or listen to Krista Tippett’s sensitive pod cast “On Being” I realize that I am once again among my own tribe of “introverted intuitive feeling and thinking types,” among artists and intellectuals who have raised their journalistic and literary disciplines to secular yet sacramental forms of spiritual practice. I adore these dear women as the great souls that they are, and am not surprised that they are friends. They seem to have much in common with both the German (Goethe) and English Romantics (Wordsworth), and with the American Transcendentalists as led by Emerson and Thoreau. But Povova and Tippett are highly educated, fiercely inquisitive “modern women” living in the digital age, and so their range of exposure to human knowledge and worldview perspectives is wider still.

Such gifted intellectual, artistic, literary and spiritual “savants” are astute observers of our misguided culture, and they are practitioners of a wide spectrum of profound wisdom. They value perception as much as judgment (Carl Jung), the tacit dimension as much as the explicit dimension (Michael Polanyi), the background context as much as the foreground content, the intuitive, symbolic, metaphorical and narrative right-brain hemisphere as much as the rational, empirical, analytical, data-oriented left-brain hemisphere (Iain Mc Gilchrist’s “The Master and His Emissary,”) the musical and poetic as much as the mathematical and scientific (James S. Taylor’s “Poetic Knowledge: The Recovery of Education,” The Platonic visionary as much as the Aristotelian investigative (Arthur Herman’s The Cave and the Light: Plato and Aristotle and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization,” and meditative inner stillness as much as conversation and talking (Susan Cain’s “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.”

Where can wisdom be found today? It seems to me that it can be found in those places where it has always been found, in the quiet places where the body is relaxed, the mind is awake, the heart is open, the soul is passionate, the will is disciplined and the spirit is receptive to the timely and eternal echoes of immanent transcendence. Journal writing, literary sensibility and letter writing all put us in touch with this ageless wisdom that has been forgotten amidst the superficial and distracting chatter of the 24/7 news cycle, game shows, sports spectacles, reality TV, Facebook, twitter, I-phones, celebrity gossip, political posing, sensational headlines,  mass media saturation, and the rest.

One final point: Those who prefer to live in the noisy, hurried, pressured and combative world that is psychologically and socially “outside” tend to think in black-or-white dichotomies, in reductive quantitative measurements and abstract numbers, in dogmatic certitudes and resolute absolutes — whether they are politically to the left or right, and whether they are theists, atheists, pantheists or polytheist. What unites them is they are zealots for their partisan ideological causes rather than seeking the universal wisdom of integrative pluralism, of “many-sided and partial truths that always seek the  illusive greater whole.” Those who are at home in the quiet, relaxed, contemplative and cooperative world that is “within seekers” and “between friends” are at ease in the presence of “learned ignorance,” “negative capability,” of mystery, wonder, ambiguity and paradox. Perhaps that is why “poetry is the argument we have with ourselves, and politics is the argument we have with everyone else.” Our world today is in danger of identifying so exclusively with the outer ego-centered self in the outer polarized world of endless adversary relationships that it forgets the beauty of the world, the humanity that unites us, the possibilities for transcendence, and the language of the soul.


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