Talking to Yourself: 2 Approaches to Your Journaling Practice

Featuring Marcus Aurelius and Catherine of Siena

Honor what is best in the universe; this is what controls all things and directs all things. In like manner, honor also what is best in yourself; and this is akin to the other. For in yourself also, it is that which controls everything else, and your life is directed by it.

Marcus Aurelius
Are you having a one-way conversation with yourself? Or, are you conversing with your higher self?

Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and Catherine of Siena’s Dialogue have two distinct approaches to journaling. One uses journaling as a one-way conversation. The other uses journaling to envision a conversation with the divine or a higher self.

Journaling as a hobby and as a self-care practice is more popular now than ever before. “How to journal for mental health,” “journaling for beginners,” and even “how to journal effectively” are all search terms which appear in Google’s suggestions for “how to journal.” 

All journaling boils down to is learning how to talk to yourself and be able to get something useful out of the experience. Even if it’s just to rant about what an asshole your boss was that day. 

Marcus Aurelius’ One-Way Conversation

Be like the cliff against which the waves continually break; but it stands firm and tames the fury of the water around it.

Marcus Aurelius

In journaling, writing as a one-way conversation is far more practical. You work through your own thoughts and actions, and reason them out with your own philosophical, religious, or moral ideas. Think of it as putting cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) into written practice.

Aurelius’ stoicism and CBT therapy arguably have much in common. Both focus on acceptance and on personal responses to external factors. Does your co-worker annoy you? Work on your own response to those annoyances. Does the state of the world bother you? Accept that what is, is and that what will be will be. Only focus on what you personally can change. 

Creating a journal entry using the one-way conversation method is more ideal for evaluating your own thoughts, actions, and responses to the events of the day.

This method allows you to spot negative thought patterns, negative self-talk, and self-sabotage. As with last week’s post on Mediations, Aurelius provides some very probing questions to ask yourself. It’s very much a self-examination practice and a way to practice acceptance.

Catherine of Siena’s Conversation with God (or the Higher Self)

For discernment is nothing else by the true knowledge a soul ought to have of herself and of me, and through this knowledge she finds her roots.

Catherine of Siena

The Dialogue is definitely a two-way conversation between two entities. “The Soul”, as Catherine refers to herself, doesn’t just talk in an empty room—there are responses to her emotions, her expressions, and her desires. In fact, the soul says very little in The Dialogue. It’s God which does most of the talking.

This method is slightly more intriguing because it would require someone practicing it to not only work through their own thoughts and feelings, but to answer their concerns from a completely fresh point of view.

The boss that upset you that day? What are your emotions, why do you feel them, and how would you respond to yourself if you were an outside observer? How do you want to look at this event 5, 10, or 15 years in the future?

This looks almost like an exercise where you visualize a painful moment in your childhood and then comfort yourself. Another way of looking at this method of journaling is to imagine it as an Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) exercise: you work through your emotions, identify them, write them down and then turn the negatives into positives.  

There’s still acceptance involved, but there is a lot of love, too. Anyone who’s read The Dialogue can testify to how much love there is in the response between the soul and God. 

Which approach is best for you? 

Focus on your needs from day to day. Do you need to rant? Then rant. Do you need to work through your own actions? Then follow Marcus Aurelius’ example. Do you need to work through your emotions? Then, write your journal entry as a conversation between your past self and your future self. Or as between yourself and a spiritual guide. 

It really depends on where you are in your relationship with yourself. Do you have enough self-knowledge to understand where you went wrong that day? If not, then follow Marcus Aurelius’ example and ask yourself some hard questions and hammer down what you believe and why you believe it. 

If you’ve done that, and you are just lost or overwhelmed by events, then examine Catherine of Siena’s method. Write a letter to your past self from your future and visualize the change you want to see in the world or in yourself. If you undertake this method, however, make sure you are doing so from a place of love—not of judgement. 

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