You look at where you're going and where you are and it never makes sense,
but then you look back at where you've been and a pattern seems to emerge.
Robert Pirsig, 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' (1974)
I started keeping a journal my senior year in high school and have kept on and off since that time.
One day early in my senior year I was coming into school and The Gideon's were out front of the school handing out pocket bibles. It was a strange event that had not happened at Haddonfield before, so everyone was talking about it in class that day. Since I identified myself as a Christian at that time I had more complex feelings about the men handing out bibles.
I understood the intent of what they were doing, but the approach left me scratching my head. First off, they were dressed in the most conservative manner imaginable. They all wore suits and hats that made them look like insurance salesmen from Akron, Ohio in 1952. They were trying to reach out to high school students, so something a little more casual would have helped. They also behaved like automatons. Perhaps the goal was to let 'the word' speak for itself, but the result was that my peers were joking that they must have been made of wood.
That day in English class Ms. Stevens was talking about journaling as a writing practice and gave us an in class assignment to write a journal entry for 20 minutes and fill a page with anything we wanted to. She said she would check us on length, but didn't care what we wrote about. Since I had been thinking about The Gideon's I wrote about my mixed feelings on seeing them. I filled my page, slid the page into my binder and forgot about it.
At the end of that semester I was cleaning out my binder and I ran across the page I had written several weeks before. I was struck that this page could bring back all the thoughts and feelings that I was having that day. It also struck me at how I could see the evolution in my thinking that had happened since writing those words the stake in the ground that I had written several weeks earlier suddenly threw my thought process into clear relief against the background of the intervening time. I realized that this could be a powerful tool for self-understanding, so I started keeping my journal that week.
During times of rapid change or uncertainty I have come back to journaling as a way of checking in with myself, measuring my progress, or thinking out loud to determine how to move forward. It's something that I do out of habit now and I can recognize the feeling of having too many unformed ideas in my head that journaling helps sort out. I know when it's time to write.