In the Silence – Using Progoff Journaling to Look within for Writing – NVWP Summer Institute – Day 7 pt. 1

Using Progoff Journaling to Look Within

Getting us ready to enter the silence.

Getting us ready to enter the silence.

Today is a guest presentation by Dave Arbogast. He is a student of Progoff Journaling, a Jungian method of writing. Using journaling to come at yourself. To overcome the tendency we have when writing in journals to emphasize what we’d already been and already written. Recording the subjective experience of our lives.

Ground rules:
-Everything you write is on a fresh page with the date.
-Everything you’re writing is for yourself. You don’t have to share it with anybody.
-Don’t censor yourself

-You are in control of your writing. Find an uncomfortable place you don’t want to go? That’s ok. You can stop. Just record on the page that you don’t want to write any more.

The first activity is the Period Log. A description of this period of your life. What’s going on in the now of your life. Most of us have a sense that we’re the same person from our childhood. That there is at once a continuity of lived experience and a disconnect of separate phases. Describe this period of your life. Consider important relationships, who you feel connected and alienated from, work projects, outstanding events defining this part of your life, and lastly your body. Just describe it for yourself subjectively. 15 minutes for this first activity. As always, my personal thoughts are italicized and in red.

“This is a time of my life when… ”

As with every piece of Progoff writing, it’s time to write whenever the says, “Into the silence.”

This is a time of my life when I’m moving into a new chapter of existence. Like many teachers, the chronology and periodization of my life follows the waxing and waning of the school year. Right now I’ve just entered into being an “intermediate” teacher. This means that I’ve got a lot of the “low-hanging fruit” stuff down. Classroom management, typical class procedures, and the basics of running a class are, while certainly not perfect, adequately mastered. Now it’s time to really hone in on what I’m doing in the classroom and how it affects the children I’m teaching and the adults I work with. I no longer use grades or tests. I don’t use rubrics or follow any conservative overarching methodology (the IB program, for instance). 

This shedding of my old skin needs a significant trial run. A time to see what new wounds are revealed by my transformation into an intermediate teacher. This is a never-ending process of becoming. A dyanmic transformation of continuous movement and change. As a recent convert to critical pedagogy and progressive values (The Kohn-style progressivism, not the administrative progressivism of the 19th century or the various types of corporate ed reform masquerading as progressive), I’ve done a pretty good job alienating myself from the traditional components of school. It’s impossible to institute a change like removing grades without making blanket assumptions about how the rest of the teachers prefer to run their classes. So I need allies, is what I’m saying. I need partners in crime. Or, partners in righteousness. Partners doing away with crime, the nefarious machinations of a misguided system. 

My time here at the institute is a time to make allies and friends. To find like-minded teachers and build organic Professional Learning Networks. To begin to figure out who I will be as an intermediate teacher. Who I will be as a teacher leader. If I have the capacity to lead. If I should even considering leading. Leading whom? Where? About what? The twin specters of depression and doubt hack away at every step, doing their best to impede my growth. But this progress I’m making can’t be stopped. It’s taken on a life of its own, branching out rhizomatically, laying down tender roots across a wide swatch of experience. 

Let’s switch gears to the body. I’m old enough to make statements like, “I don’t feel ___ years old.” I’ve also heard myself starting off sentences to my students with, “When I was your age,” and meaning it unironically. Without a meta-nod of self-awareness. 


The second piece is the Twilight Imagery Log.

Now we’re going to explore our minds using imagery and the visual, auditory, sensory language of dreams. Working with the Twilight State, the period between waking and slumbering. Think of being in a dark auditorium with a group of teachers listening to someone drone on. That’s sort of what we’re talking about here. Close your eyes. Let images and feelings and thoughts, any type of sensate output really, bubble to the top. Then, when the brain is percolating with subconscious undirected floating, write down whatever comes.

Take a few deep breaths. Get comfortable. Pay attention to the breath, make sure its slow and natural. Then drop the consciousness. Record whatever arises. In the silence.

Red, pain, constriction of the heart, anxiety’s cruel gasp, fingers of barbed wire squeeze and clench my insides. A warm, comfortable pain. Like swallowing a black hole the size of a marble. Feeling the urge to crumple under the strain of trying to live correctly and enjoyably and ethically. Tears welling up a millimeter behind the eyes. Barbarians at the gate. An esophagus scraped raw from imaginary bile. 

How even thinking about the word “test” or “grade” or “teacher” makes me want to vomit in fear. Fear of never being good enough, of never amounting to anything, of maybe being wrong about everything. Of never being able to be what I really want to be. Of forever limping towards success, hamstrung by fear and doubt and a sense of sadness both acute and smooth in its construction. 

Swallowing myself, an ouroborus on infinite loop. 

How are the two writings related? This is a dichotomy that I struggle with. Criticisms of Freud quickly pop up whenever I think about dropping into a more visual/less linguistic personal space. We share out. Just these two writing prompts produced a ton of content from everyone. Lots of feelings and images and crowding thoughts. Progoff calls this “Life Correlation.” Moving back and forth between what’s happening in our mind’s surface and then what’s going on at a deeper level.

The third activity is called Stepping Stones

A two part activity. The first part is making a list of up to 12 of the most significant events in your life. Start at childhood and travel forward. What events stand out as the big ones? Record only a few words for each one. Just enough so I’ll know what they mean. They don’t have to be written in chronological order in the moment. But when finished, we go back and number them sequentially. Everyone starts with #1: I was born.

In the silence.

1. I was born.
2. Parents divorced.
3. Didn’t make it into PHD programs.
4. Read Infinite Jest
5. Quit Drinking
6. Met my wife.
7. Got a job at APA.
8. Got a job in ACPS.
9. Read Rethinking Rubrics in Writing Assessment.
10. NVWP ISI 2k14
11. De-graded and de-tested my classroom.
12. NVWP ISI 2k15

Now we go back and number them in the order they happened. Pick one to write about. Whichever one tugs at your heart and your pencil the most. The goal is to write ourselves back into that period of our lives. What relationships, bodily experiences, groups, work projects, etc. come to mind? Write yourself back.

Into the silence

Stepping Stone # 9

“It was a time of my life when…”

It was a time of my life when I was transitioning from charter to public. From technocrat to progressive. From dutiful servant to rebellious employee. The fact that a single book numbering less than 100 pages affected me with such force speaks to how ready I was. My body and mind and spirit were primed to hear Wilson’s message of teacher empowerment, of professional judgement, of trust, of courage, of passion. I immediately recognized a kindred spirit. Someone who saw rubrics and recoiled – just like I did. I knew I was not alone. That one book gave me the language and the ideas necessary to break from my past self. 

I was in a well-functioning PLC dyad at the time. Doing test prep for the SOL and planning differentiated remediation. This book fractured my relationship with my amazing coworker, setting me on a path moving almost diametrically opposite from her. The book also made it harder for me to go with the status quo. The stuff I loved on Monday, talking about data, talking about grades, staff meetings setting school-wide agendas, were the same things I hated by Tuesday. I felt alienated and removed from my school community. It’s like how there’s nothing worse than a new ex-smoker. Or someone who has just found religion and now speaks with the unbridled zeal of the missionary. I became one of those people. Wagging my finger and admonishing teachers for doing things I no longer believed in. 

In many ways I’m still here, going through a necessary phase of naivete where ambition outpaces knowledge. Where my urge to change is severely truncated by a rudimentary understanding of what I’m talking about. The more I read, the less I know. A newborn who has just learned to talk stumbling around to show everyone what they can do. 

By this time tears are flowing readily. This is some deep stuff.

Necessary writing tools: veggies, laptop, liquids, tissues

Necessary writing tools: veggies, laptop, liquids, tissues

Break time!



  1. Pingback: A Masterclass in Writing Fiction pt. 2 – NVWP Summer ISI – Day 12 | Mr. Anderson Reads & Writes
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