Book notes: At a Journal Workshop

Ira Progoff's Intensive Journal is a method of reintegrating personality and generating insights through a combination of day journalling, dream journalling, autobiographical retrospectives, and mantra meditations. It hails from the era of Jungian psychology and fascination with the unconscious, and as such is aggressively anti-analytical and non-rational, making use of intuition, and internal imagery / feeling.

As is tradition with these things, the method is copyrighted and taught by credentialled teachers in multi-day workshops. Luckily, "At a Journal Workshop" by Ira Progoff describes the process at length, and provides examples. Unluckily, the book is poorly organised, mixing activity description with repetitive, lengthy digressions and general waffling. I had to summarise it for myself, and I'm going to share some of the notes with you below.

This is not a substitute for either attending a workshop or reading the book, give the good people some money if you find it interesting, working with a coach is useful because you can ask questions, etc.

Insight generation

Progoff teaches two original ways of generating insight from journal entries. (you may already know similar approaches, but historically Progoff's method was the first therapeutic journalling approach.)


Firstly, you can dialogue with an imaginary person. This could be an actual person, a significant life task, your body, a social group or rule, an event or life circumstance, a dream, or a spiritual wisdom figure.

You write a biography of this person, in the form of a short list of chronological developments. Re-reading this biography you conceptualise the thing as a person, and engage in a dialogue with them in your imagination.

Journal feedback

Secondly, you can use a process called Journal Feedback (yes, with caps): re-read selected entries in order to pre-load your short-term memory, then engage in a contemplative meditation, and allow symbols, clusters, and connections to form in your consciousness spontaneously.

Record these insights without interpreting them, and note any further memories in appropriate sections. Repeat several times. See if there are any significant symbol clusters or repeating themes, consider what direction these clusters indicate.

Journal structure

The journal is a binder divided into sections. Each section contains entries (ordered by date of entry creation), and an optional list of issues to cover. Entries can contain cross-references to other entries. A cross-reference consists of a section name and date of the other entry. When adding a cross-reference, update both entries. (The "hypertext on paper" aspect is similar to Zettelkasten)

Entry types

  • List - of short phrases, sentences
  • Statement - no more than a couple sentences summarising a conclusion, or a position
  • Log - a concise description of inner facts, feelings, images; no analysis or judgement
  • Dialogue

Section types

Sections can be loosely categorised as:

  • Listings
    • indexes: an unordered list of issues to cover
    • steppingstones: a chronologically ordered list of events, providing a perspective of changes over time
  • Records (insight substrate)
    • logs: factual reports added soon after an event happened
    • braindumps: unordered descriptions of events from the past
  • Meta content (insight generation)
    • dialogues: with personified events, works, etc
    • visions: imagery generated during meditation
    • logs: reports of your feelings and insights after reworking material from other entries

Additionally, sections are split into personal (daily life issues) and transpersonal (issues that place your life in larger context; creativity and spirituality.)

Journal workshop: how to use the sections

This is my summary of workshop exercises as presented in the book. There are a lot of them. Workshops apparently last a couple of days, during which you would learn how to work with every part of the journal.

Sections with ⭐️ are everyday (commonly used) logs.

Current position

  • Period Log

    Briefly describe your current life situation. Refer to the journal checklist for items to cover.

  • Twilight Imagery Log

    Generate and record a "period image" entry for your current life period, as described in the period log entry. Cross-reference it with the period log entry.

  • Daily Log ⭐️

    Replay the current day in memory, record your feelings and mood variations. Cross-reference it with the period log entry.


Random memories of the past that come up when working on these entries should be jotted in Life History Log: Remembrances subsection.

  • Steppingstones

    List 12 or less significant turning points in your life, up until now.

    When done, check your mood/feelings and note them as part of the entry. (This is an anchor of sorts. Future exercises will have you attempt to remember how you felt and come back to the moment in your imagination.)

  • Life History Log: Steppingstone Period

    Select one of the Steppingstones that seems significant to your life right now. Describe it in a way similar to Period Log. What kind of person were you? What beliefs, hopes, fears did you have? Refer to the journal checklist for items to cover.

  • Intersections: Roads Taken and Not Taken

    Start an open-ended list of all critical decisions, unfulfilled potentials, roads not taken.

  • Life History Log: Remembrances

    Re-read the steppingstone period entry. Attempt to recall the atmosphere of that period and re-enter it mentally as if it were now.

    Record any memories that surface as short log entries in Life History Log: Remembrances, cross-referencing them to the appropriate Life History Log: Steppingstone Period entry. Record date of entry creation and date of event. When done, re-read the entry to re-enter mood. Continue logging memories.

    Add any critical decisions to the Intersections: Roads Taken and Not Taken list, and cross-reference them.

  • Twilight Imagery Log (optional)

    Select an element from the list of roads not taken that is relevant to a decision you have to make now, if any. Use it as a seed to generate twilight imagery.


You can dialogue with:

  • a person: someone who has meaning to your internal life, generates strong feelings
  • a work: something meaningful to you, as if you were an artist
  • your body, or some aspect of the physical world (steppingstones - kinesthetic memories)
  • an event, situation or life circumstance - experiences that had a strong emotional impact on you, both successes and failures
  • society - your cultural background, groups to which you belong, political issues; relationship to art created by others

The workshop instructs you to visit each dialogue section, create an open-ended list of what/who you might want to dialogue with, select one item from the list, describe it in greater detail, and engage in a dialogue with it:

To prepare for a dialogue, write:

  • name (optional)
  • statement - a description of your current relationship to the person, event, etc
  • steppingstones - either the timeline of the person, event, etc, or the timeline of your relationship with it

To engage in a dialogue, re-read the prep content, especially the steppingstones, and allow it to invoke (give you a feel of) a persona in your mind. Engage in a dialogue with this persona, writing down the lines in a half-trance state.

You can engage in multiple dialogues over time with the same persona. You only need to write the prep entry once.

The author advises using Dialogue with Events as a way to clarify things, when you get stuck with exercises in other sections.


  • Dream Log ⭐️

    Record any vivid dreams that you remember. Arrange them in a chronological order. As these are log entries, do not add any interpretation or analysis.

  • Dream Enlargement

    Re-read a series of dreams, re-run them in your memory and let them continue in a daydream. Record the results in a Dream Enlargement entry.

    Check for prominent feelings, tone, atmospthere, symbols predominated. Do not attempt to interpret them; instead use them as leads for adding entries in other sections.

Spiritual autobiography

  • Meditation Log: Spiritual Positioning

    Equivalent of period log, but for spiritual life. What is your current situation with regards to spirituality, beliefs, creativity? What have been some of your recent experiences, doubts, have you created any art?

  • Meditation Log: Inner Process Entries ⭐️

    Retrospective entries; write about your experiences of working with the journal, which exercises were difficult, which were interesting.

  • Connections: Gatherings

    Similar to Life History Log: Remembrances, this section serves as a braindump for any past events you may remember that were significant to your spiritual life. Include two dates (entry creation, event happening.)

  • Connections: Spiritual Steppingstones

    Similar to your life Steppingstones, except describing your spiritual or ideological turning points.

Spiritual dialogue

Your inner wisdom consists of people who were a significant influence on your spiritual life, and who personify wisdom for you. These can be acquaintainces, but also authors, political or religious figures, saints, deities, artists, historical figures.

  • Inner Wisdom Dialogue

    Re-read your Spiritual Steppingstones, make a list of your spiritual wisdom figures, and engage in dialogue with one of them.

Insight generation

  • Re-openings

    This is the spiritual equivalent of Intersections: Roads Taken and Not Taken (with special attention paid to roads not taken.)

    Re-read your Spiritual Steppingstones and Connections: Gatherings. Observe how separate events were actually deeply connected. Describe this continuity here.

    Consider any opportunities which you could not take and make a list of them. Explore them one by one when you have time.

    In Connections: Gatherings, find events which you might not have explored to their fullest, re-live them in your imagination and record this.

  • Peaks, Depths, and Explorations

    It's not possible to tag things on paper, so here's where you put thematically grouped entries.

    If you identify a common thread (person, interest, symbol) going through your other entries, create a sub-section in Peaks, Depths, and Explorations Any retrospectives of entries on this subject go here, rather than into inner process entries

  • Mantra/crystals

    Here the method shows its age. A mantra/crystal is 7 syllable, easy-to-pronounce phrase that you select from your entries. "Crystal" means a "crystallisation" of insight.

    The section starts with an open-ended list of mantra/crystals, space left after each to note dates of development, use, and any cross-references.

    To use a mantra, repeat it under your breath, and record any visions received.

Finishing the workshop

  • Testament

    A statement summing up a unit of intensive journalling, especially from the spiritual side. Presumably you would write one at the end of the workshop.

  • Now, the open moment (future positioning)

    An entry on what your future looks like, in the context of your life history as you have just explored it.

Extra: Journal Checklist

For any log entry, consider if it reminds you of any of the following categories:

  • persons (significant relationships)
  • works (work projects, outer activities)
  • body, physical health
  • society, social or political issues
  • events, dramatic changes in istuation
  • dreams
  • twilight imagery
  • inner wisdom characters
  • intersections, decision points

These constitute leads into other sections.

Daily use of the Journal

You're not expected to write an entry of each kind every day, but instead work with them as intuition and need guides you.

  • record significant daily emotional experiences in Daily Log
  • record dreams in Dream Log; continue exploring them in Dream Enlargements
  • fill out the rest of your life history, as defined in Steppingstones, in Life History Log: Remembrances and Intersections: Roads Taken and Not Taken
  • record retrospectives on your work in Meditation Log: Inner Process Entries or Peaks, Depths, and Explorations
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