Starting a Quote Journaling Practice

Roadside Musings

Starting a Quote Journaling Practice

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You will not be disappointed with what this journaling practice reveals.

Reading Morgan Harper Nichols new book, Peace is a Practice: An Invitation to Breathe Deep and Find a New Rhythm for Life, I came across an idea that was new to me and very intriguing: a quote journal as personal bibliography.

A quote journal is an anthology of sayings that speak powerfully to you that you copy down from books, songs, poems, social media, bumper stickers, t-shirts, newspapers, and magazines. These short verses of wisdom grab you by the shoulders and shake you a bit saying: “Pay attention to this! Think about this!”

My own quote journal is more than a list of sayings. It also includes my commentary sparked by the sayings: Sometimes in agreement with them, sometimes in opposition to them. None of this is new to you as it wasn’t new to me. What was new to me—and perhaps to you as well—is the notion of a quote journal as a personal bibliography.

These short verses of wisdom grab you by the shoulders and shake you a bit saying: “Pay attention to this! Think about this!”

In the context of book writing, a bibliography is a list of all the sources you used while writing your book. But in the context of your life, a bibliography is a list of all the teachings that shape your living. Here are three examples from my own personal bibliography that might explain what I am talking about:

  • Havel havalim! Hakol havel: “Impermanence upon impermanence! All reality is impermanent” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). This is not the standard translation of Ecclesiastes, but it a far more accurate translation of the Hebrew than the standard “Vanity of vanities. All is vanity.” To say life is vain or futile is to say it isn’t worth living. But to recognize that all life is impermanent, fluid, everchanging is to take up the challenge of how to make meaning amid impermanence.
  • There is a crack, a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in (“Anthem” by Leonard Cohen). This deeply Buddhist insight by Leonard Cohen seems to fit well with the deeply Jewish (as well as Buddhist) insight of Ecclesiastes. The crack in everything is the natural outcome of the fact that everything is impermeant. But Cohen offers a balm to the notion of life’s brokenness: It is how the light gets in. The light is wisdom, compassion, and love. If there were no crack, if everything was solid and permanence there would not be—indeed could not be—any life at all.
  • The tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao … the unnamable is the truly real (Tao te Ching 1). I live by words in a world of words. And because this is so I am often out of touch with reality. So this teaching of Lao Tzu is a necessary reminder that “the menu isn’t the meal” and the “map is not the territory” or reality just isn’t what you think it is.

[Read: “30 Spiritual Journaling Prompts for Self-Discovery.”]

As part of my bibliography these quotes tell you (and remind me) of the core insights upon which my worldview rests. As part of my bibliography, these quotes tell you where I am coming from and hint at where I am going. Compiling your own bibliography would do the same for you.

If keeping a quote journal is already a part of your life, stick with it. If you aren’t currently engaged in this practice, find a blank journal that appeals to you, and a pen that feels good in your hand, and begin to compile a bibliography of wisdom that speaks to and for you. You will not be disappointed as to what this practice reveals.

Listen to Rabbi Rami’s conversation with Morgan Harper Nichols on the Spirituality & Health Podcast!

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