Practice for Finding Inner Guidance: Journaling and Lectio Divina
“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.”
Lectio Divina, or “divine reading” is traditionally a form of contemplative practice from the Christian faith tradition where one studies scripture seeking messages from God.
Today, it is sometimes used in secular ways as a contemplative practice where one meditates on a text of choice, often times a poem, seeking individual connections and meanings.
I am drawn to the ancient practice of Lectio Divina for multiple reasons. The first is that articulate language, beauty expressed in the form of the written word, has always been a “strange pull” of mine. I am magnetized towards my visual and visceral response to words. I read the words of Mary Oliver,
“let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves”
and feel the phrases curling around me, blanketing me in relief, release, and comfort. I see myself anew, a creature desirous of the most earthly pleasures, receiving what is most needed.
I am also very interested in looking inward for wisdom. I think using Lectio as a contemplative practice facilitates this, which was evidenced by the students reactions when we used a secular version of this process in Andrea Patton’s class after our heart-focused breathing meditation.
In this secular Lectio Divina, one would read and meditate on a piece of writing by hearing it aloud multiple times, each time pondering a different task or question:
- Once just to listen
- A second time to choose specific words, phrases, emotions or images that stand out the most
- A third time to ask “What am I hearing from this piece?”
- A fourth time to ask “What am I to do based upon this information?” or otherwise phrased, “What action should I take now?”
Instead of doing this with an outside text, however, Andrea’s class read their own journals to engage the activity. The steps were as follows:
- Students participated in a heart-focused breathing meditation meant to cultivate gratitude and inhibit stress response
- Students did a free write about the experience
- Students read their own free write silently, circling words, phrases, images or ideas that stood out
- Students read the free write again, asking themselves, “What am I saying to myself right now?” and wrote down the answer
- Students read the journal a third time, asking the question” What action should I take based upon this message?” and wrote a final response
Because the practice is so personal, it was somewhat difficult to engage students in discussion during the activity. Afterward, however, some students did admit to being surprised by insights about themselves or their own experiences, which was really the goal. Andrea wanted them to have a way to engage with a text that mined personal response and wisdom instead of looking outward for the answer to questions.
If I were doing this practice again, I would probably go through the whole thing silently and then afterward have students get in pairs to discuss experiences and reactions before trying to do a whole group discussion- if I did one at all.
After the activity ended, we asked students to write a poem, short narrative or letter to themselves based upon the experience for the next day. These were turned in to Andrea a formative check.
Here is a lovely example from one student named Ana:
I am a cozy little fire always burning
I am a sleepy Sunday afternoon in a small town
I fill a space left solely for me
I am the satisfaction of a good night’s sleep
I am an empty log cabin with countless windows
and I am meant to exist
This Thanksgiving break is a lull in the normal business of life. Maybe a good time to sit down with a favorite passage, poem or piece of prose and see what evolves in the space…
Which words- poem, prose or lyric, speak most to you?