Swami Sivananda used to teach a simple, basic practice of developing awareness: a spiritual diary. He encouraged everyone to keep a spiritual diary, his sannyasins, ashramites, guests, visitors, everyone. He also asked people to send their spiritual diaries to him for checking. We find his letter to a disciple in 1957, Be regular in keeping of the spiritual diary. Spiritual progress will be greatly hastened. Kindly be regular in sending me a copy of your diary at the end of each month for review and further instructions. I am immensely pleased to note your regularity in sadhana. He also used to write a spiritual diary himself.
What is a spiritual diary? It is not an ordinary journal where you write the daily events of your life, your feelings or dreams. It is a questionnaire tailored in such a way as to remodel our behaviour and mind, and get rid of detrimental habits. It is a way of self-study and, in fact, a basic practice of jnana yoga.
Whatever sadhana we adopt, we should incorporate it in our spiritual diary. This will help us to remain focused on the sadhana. For example, if we wish to practise the SWAN theory, yamas and niyamas, the eighteen ities, etc., we need to follow it up through the diary. That is the quickest way to excel in the practice and progress on the path. So, how do we go about it?
Take a fresh notebook, on the opening page write down the questions (see sample below). From the next page onwards, write concise answers (Yes/No or percentage marks) each day. After every week make a summary, study the charts, reflect upon the results and trace you progress. Do another summary at the end of the month, totalling your weekly findings. Take the question, How many times did I get angry? for example. You may find that at the end of the week the number adds up to 32. At the end of the month you may realize that you have been angry more than 137 times that month. But dont worry, just make an attempt to improve. Use what you find through your spiritual diary to make a fresh, positive resolve, follow up your progress through the diary, and slowly observe yourself change.
Sincerity and regularity in sadhana are the main keys and secrets of success on the spiritual path. You have to be completely frank and sincere in writing the spiritual diary. Lying to your diary doesnt make much sense anyway. Record everything, be straight and bold with your answers, even if you have to write down that you have been angry more than ten times in a day, day after day.
Write your diary at the end of each day, just before going to bed. Do not miss a single day, do it religiously. Make a habit of it, just like brushing teeth. It will not take more than ten minutes of your day, but will help you immensely in knowing yourself and developing a sharp awareness. If you are sincere and regular in your sadhana of writing the spiritual diary, the diary will become your silent master, your guru; it will open your eyes and guide you.
Here is a sample of questions that you can use for your spiritual diary, to start with:
Start practising with the given sample and after you feel you have mastered the technique, you may add/change questions so they are more appropriate for you. If your major problem is surfing the Net for hours, for example, add questions that will help you get the better of this habit: How many hours at the computer? How many hours of yoga practice? A computer-free day? If you suffer from a food disorder, tailor your diary for that: Did I eat with awareness? Did I eat between meals? Overeating? Any junk food? Was I observing mouna during meals? Did I eat slowly, with awareness? etc.
The questions in the spiritual diary are just spotlights of awareness on certain points of our daily life. By heightened awareness of the deficient areas of our life we can quickly change the tendencies that are inhibiting us. Based on this practice, we can analyze ourselves. By introspection we will become acutely aware of our behaviour and how our mind functions in different circumstances, and eventually we will be able to change it in a positive way.
Do not underestimate this simple practice or consider it a beginners exercise. Change begins with small steps. What makes the spiritual diary such a powerful practice is the fact that through it we are able to closely watch our progress on the spiritual path. In the fast paced world that we live in, we like to see results, and results of yogic practices are usually subtle. By making the summary month after month, we will notice the substantial changes and observe how we are slowly excelling in developing positive qualities.
Often it is not easy to keep track of our spiritual self or the resolves we may have made in moments of inspiration. We may forget to ask the questions. Where was my awareness? Did I use my mantra? Did I remember my guru? Was I able to practise speech control? etc. When we introduce the spiritual diary in our life, we will no longer forget. We will notice tangible progress, which will give further fillip to our sadhana.
Swami Niranjan advocates an easy form of introspection, a variation of the spiritual diary, one may say. He recommends that before going to sleep, we recollect the events of our day, every day: a simple practice but with great depth to it. It is actually a practice of jnana yoga.
Swami Niranjan says, There is a process to know the intricacies of our intellect. When you go to bed at night, just think of one thing: what did you do during the day, from the time you woke up till this moment. See yourself as if you are looking at a third person. Relive every moment of the day, visualize the whole day like a movie. Now try to see if there was some mistake in your actions, behaviour or attitude. Dont feel guilty about anything, just recognize your reactions. Whether you were angry, depressed or happy, it does not matter. Recognize the state, and ask: If I face a similar situation again, how will I react? How could I react in a more controlled, balanced and harmonious way? Make a positive resolve: If I face a similar situation, I will be more balanced. Then go to sleep. Within a month you will find that your responses to situations and conditions have changed drastically.
Jnana yoga begins from this spot. Jnana yoga does not begin by thinking, I am a spirit or asking yourself all the time Who am I? Jnana yoga is learning to recognize our responses to the realities of life; it is, in fact, learning to apply the understanding and knowledge practically in life.
Spiritual diary as a practice will give you a deeper understanding of yourself and bring about harmony in the different facets of the intellect. It will allow you to understand and accept your thoughts and feelings in a positive way. Through the diary you can change your habits, negative patterns of thinking, you can reshape your personality.
Swami Sivananda says, Happy is the man who keeps a daily diary because he is very near to God. He has a strong will and is free from defects and mistakes. There is no better friend, and more faithful teacher or guru than your diary.