From today’s Daily Stoic email:
Saint Athanasius of Alexandria wrote in Vita Antonii that the reason he did his journaling–his confessing, as the genre was called by the Christians–was that it was a safeguard against sinning. By observing and then writing about his own behavior, he was able to hold himself accountable and make himself better.
“Let us each note and write down our actions and impulses of the soul,” he wrote, “as though we were to report them to each other; and you may rest assured that from utter shame of becoming known we shall stop sinning and entertaining sinful thoughts altogether…Just as we would not give ourselves to lust within sight of each other so if we were to write down our thoughts as if telling them to each other, we shall so much the more guard ourselves against foul thoughts for shame of being known. Now, then, let the written account stand for the eyes of our fellow ascetics, so that blushing at writing the same as if we were actually seen, we may never ponder evil.”
The Stoics journaled for much the same reason. Seneca said the key was to put the day up for review so that one could see their faults and find a way to mend them. Epictetus said that by writing, reading and speaking our philosophical journal, we keep the teachings top of mind and are better able to follow them. Marcus, of course,said less on the subject of journaling, but left us the greatest lesson of all: his example.
When you pick up Meditations, what you see is a man confessing, debating, considering, and struggling with all of what it means to be human. Marcus said in one of his notes that he should “fight to be the person philosophy made you.” His journal is the play by play of that fight–it’s his battles with his temper, with his urges, with his fears, even with his mortality. It took a lot of work, but from what we know, he won most of those battles. Through his writing and his philosophy, light prevailed over darkness.
It’s a grand tradition and an inspiring example that each of us is called to follow. The Daily Stoic Journal is one way to do that. It prompts you to prepare for the day ahead and review the day just past. It gives you big questions to consider and standards to guide yourself towards. A blank notebook can work too. So can a letter or an email to a friend. So can a silent conversation with yourself on a long walk.
The point is, you have to do the work. You have to put up the safeguards. You have to actively fight to be the person philosophy wants you to be…in the pages of your journal.