Diary Writing and other Spiritual Practices

The other morning, as I was going down the porch stairs loaded with plates, my neighbor called out: προσοχή! (attention).  To make sure I didn’t fall and break something, I needed to pay attention. So I concentrated and carefully climbed down the stairs.  Without even knowing it, I was practicing a spiritual exercise.

Pierre Hadot's Philosophy

Προσοχή (Prosochē) is the art of attention, the practice of being aware of the moment and focusing on it. For the ancient Greeks who wanted to live their life philosophically, this attention was one of the main spiritual exercises.

Scholar Pierre Hadot carefully studied the ancient Greeks being especially attentive to philosophy.  To be a philosopher was one thing but to live life philosophically was something else. Theory only has value if it can be put into practice.  Like studying a foreign language—at a certain point, you stop studying and start speaking. You move from abstract to tangible. Otherwise, what’s the point of studying.

Pierre Hadot's Philosophy

In the ancient world, philosophy was used as a means of knowing oneself and of making self-transformations. Spiritual exercises were needed to ensure transformation. And the most important exercise was that of attention a.k.a mindfulness.

Liberating the self’s focus on past or future is necessary so that we can fully immerse ourselves in the present. Because experience is created in the present. To train the mind to Be Here Now, below are two “connecting to the moment” exercises:

  1. concentrating on our breathing as we inhale and exhale
  2. if we are, for example, washing dishes, we must be totally involved with the activity both physically and mentally thinking of nothing other than the plates we are washingPierre Hadot's PhilosophyAnother important spiritual practice is that of learning to dialogue which, during Greek times, was the main means of propagating of ideas. Dialogue provides us with a means of interacting with others.  By learning how to dialogue with others, you learn how to dialogue with yourself and vice versa.

Pierre Hadot's Philosophy


Every spiritual exercise is dialogical in that it communicates the self to itself.  Thus to dialogue with one’s self is a spiritual exercise.

Another spiritual exercise is “the view from above” meant to provoke your perception. Looking at something from a different viewpoint will give you a new point of view. Imagine yourself lying on the bed looking around your room.  Then imagine yourself flying around your room. What you see over the bed is not the same as what you see in bed.

Pierre Hadot's Philosophy


Plotinus wrote that one should go inside the self and take a good look.  And, if you don’t see what you like, then you need to do as the sculptor does with a statue—chisel and polish until you get the look you want.  Never stop sculpting your own statue.

Pierre Hadot's Philosophy

Diary writing can also be considered a spiritual exercise. Because it gives you the possibility of focusing in on the moment and of creating a dialogue with yourself. It is a way of collecting and organizing your thoughts.

Our thoughts make us and thus thinking transforms us. And it’s the way we think that determines whether or not we are happy. In the words of Marcus Aurelius, the happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts. And keeping a diary helps us keep track of those thoughts and the direction they take us in.


Bibliography: Philosophy as a Way of Life video  +  What is ancient philosophy? Online text + Hadot, P. Philosophy as a Way of Life. Malden, Mass. Blackwell Publishing. 1995  +  hypomnemata, writings meant to assist the memory, became popular in Classical Greece

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Carolina’s Diary

Carolina Maria de Jesus

Carolina Maria de Jesus  (1914-1977), born in a poor Brazilian agricultural area, at the age of seven was given the opportunity by a wealthy woman to go to school. Carolina quickly learned to read and write and dropped out of school after only two years. When her mother died, she was forced to move to the favelas of Sao Paulo. There she constructed a house made from trash.  She also went to the dumps to collect paper to sell as a means of supporting herself and her family.  Carolina kept old notebooks for herself and began keeping a diary.

Carolina Maria de Jesus

Carolina wrote that poverty and desperation caused people to do desperate things. Ethics and principals were mutilated and hunger made good people do bad things.

Carolina also wrote about her neighbors in the favela.  The neighbors, illiterate, hated her for writing especially since she often threatened to write about them in her “book”.  One day at a playground, a journalist heard Carolina threaten a gang disturbing the children.  She yelled at them to stop otherwise she’d write about them in her book.  The journalist, Audalio Dantas, asked to see this book.  At first Carolina was hesitant then showed it to him.  Dantas was amazed and had his newspaper publish a part of it.  The story caused much animation which led to the publication of the entire diary  entitled “The Garbage Place”.  It became a bestseller and the success permitted her to move her family out of the favelas.  Nevertheless, the poor people hated her for her success and the wealthy wanted her out ot their neighborhood. Even fame created havoc in Carolina’s life.

She was easily infatuated by men and liked sex. Carolina had 3 children by 3 different men but had no intention of every marrying having seen too much domestic violence.

Carolina Maria de Jesus

Excerpts from Carolina’s diary:

August 2  I dressed the boys and sent them to school. I went out and wandered around trying to get some money. I passed the slaughterhouse, picked up a few bones. Some women were pawing through the garbage looking for edible meat. They claimed it was only for dogs. That’s what I say–it’s only for dogs. . . .

I went to the shoemaker to collect his wastepaper. One of them asked me if my book was communistic. I replied that it was realistic. He cautioned me that it was not wise to write of reality.

Carolina Maria de Jesus

August 12  I left my bed at 6:30 and went to get water. There was a long line. The worst thing about it is that malice is the main subject. There was a Negress there who acted as if she’d been vaccinated by a phonograph needle. She talked about her daughter and son-in-law who were constantly fighting. And Dona Clara had to listen to it because she was the only one who was paying attention. Lately it has become very difficult to get water, because the amount of people in the favela has doubled. And there is only one spigot.

August 15 The people were waiting for Anselm to make an appearance so they could beat him up. Men and women had collected for the beating. I heard it said that Anselmo had jumped over the fence and got out the back way. I said that I would like to be a man, because I too would like to be able to break and beat. Then a man replied: “I’d like to be a woman, but only during the day.” And everybody laughed. Lalau and his mother-in-law had a fight. She hit him with the broom handle. She ran and he chased her. They were drunk.

September 19  At the slaughterhouse they don’t put garbage in the streets anymore because of the women who look for rotten meat and eat it.

Carolina Maria de Jesus

November 5  I went to the store and sold an empty bottle to Senhor Eduardo for three cruzeiros so I could pay on the bus. When I got to the bus stop I met Toninho. He works at the Saraiva Bookshop. I told him: “That’s it, Toninho, the publishers in Brazil don’t print what I write because I’m poor and haven’t got any money to pay them. That’s why I’m going to send my novels to the United States.” He gave me the addresses of some editors that I should contact.

December 28  I lit a fire, put water on to boil, and started to wash the dishes and examine the walls. I found a dead rat. I’d been after him for days, and set a rat trap. But what killed him was a black cat. He belongs to Senhor Antonio Sapateiro. The cat is a wise one. She doesn’t have any deep loves and doesn’t let anyone make a slave of her. And when she goes away she never comes back, proving that she has a mind of her own. If I talk about a cat it is because I am happy that she has killed the rat that was ruining my books.

Carolina Maria de Jesus

“Carolina is not really the main personage in her diary.  It is a bigger character–Hunger.  From the first to the last page he appears with an unnerving consistency.  The other characters are consequences of this Hunger: alcoholism, prostitution, violence, and murder. “


Bibliography:  Child of the Dark: The Diary Of Carolina Maria De Jesus . Penguin Putnam. New York. 1962.

Related: Excerpts from 1958 diary

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Dawn Powell (1896-1965)

Her mother died when she was a little girl.  To fill in the void, Dawn kept diaries.  Then her father remarried an unpleasant woman who vented her frustrations by destroying everything Dawn had written.

her home was far away

A diary is a confident, a friend who is there to keep one company in the moments of despair and loneliness.  To destroy someone’s diary is to scar their soul. Survival instincts pushed Dawn to leave her father’s home and move in with a loving aunt.  But the damage had been done.  Eternally displaced within, Dawn would later write about her childhood in fictional form with the title “My Home Is Far Away”.

She typed all night long

In her early 20s, Dawn left her native Ohio to move to New York City where she married Joseph Gousha, ex-poet and copywriter.  The couple lived together in Greenwich Village where, wrote Dawn, “all night long typewriters click, people sing in the streets, hurdy gurdies go all day and the laundry boy reads Turgenev.”

cocktails made her sociable

Dawn was socially active and went to numerous cocktail parties were she hung out with the likes of Edmund Wilson, John Dos Passos, Dorothy Parker, and Nabokov. She was also friends with Ernest Hemingway. But, nevertheless, she felt alone.  That’s why, Dawn said, she kept a diary—simply because she had no one to talk to.

Loneliness hurts.

Dawn wrote and published much fiction but never became truly successful as a writer.  Maybe, in part, because of her struggles related to her handicapped son, her problems with alcohol, and, towards the end, the despair of a tumor.  So Dawn was ignored by the literary world until Gore Vidal noticed her.  Vidal wrote an article for the New York Review of Books stating that Dawn was overly underrated.  Music critic Tim Page read the article and was mesmerized.   Page, who suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome, became obsessed with Dawn.  Having read that she’d kept diaries, he tried to track them down and eventually learned that they were in the hands of a cousin in Ohio.  After much effort and money, Page liberated the forgotten diaries then carefully edited them for publication.  He even tried to sell the original diaries but had no offers.

Dawn died in 1965 at the age of 69.  All of her work was out-of-print. And her diaries, once full of prose, had assumed  an agenda like attitude.

Here are a few diary excerpts:

their beds were pushed together

June 23, 1921  I want so much for my lover. At night when our beds are drawn close together I waken and see his dear yellow head on the pillow — sometimes his arm thrown over on my bed — and I kiss his hand, very softly so that it will not waken him.

solitude kept her company

March 23, 1944 “For a writer or artist there is nothing to equal the elation of escaping into solitude. The excited feeling of stolen rapture I feel on closing the door of this little room up here, knowing no one can find me, no one will speak to me.”

writing is like making a bird’s nest

October 8, 1954 “Writing a novel is like building a bird’s nest – and the bird is a magpie.”


Diaries are friends.  But some friends are better than others.


Related: The Diaries of Dawn Powell + Vidal, Gore. “Dawn Powell, the American Writer”. The New York Review of Books. 5/11/1987 +  in 2015, 50 years after her death, Dawn was included in the New York State Writers Hall of Fame


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Rocket Man

Rucola at La Sussurrata

Several years ago, I posted about Vigilant Things and the use of everyday objects, by the Yoruba of Nigeria, to create talismans. These talismans are known as aale and they are meant to warn someone with bad intentions to stay away.  Well, I’ve got some slugs that are annoying my rocket plants so I decided to create an aale of my own.  A Batman found on the beach said he was willing  to help and,  hopefully, use his superpowers to keep the slugs & Co  away.  Update to follow.


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Gaudy Gods

Artemis and Me

In the Archeological Museum of Paros, there is a statue of Artemis from her sanctuary at the Parian Delion. It’s dated 360 BC and was discovered in 1899. And, like most all of the Greek statues I’ve seen, it’s white.

When thinking of classical antiquity, neon white marble generally comes to mind. But ancient Greek statues were actually polychrome and the color stripped away by time. Some of these statues were discovered during the Renaissance and were, obviously, colorless and white.  So Michelangelo and his contemporaries just assumed that the statues had been white all along. Thus Neo-Classical aesthetics were based on wrong assumptions. Art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann helped to perpetuated this myth.  He wrote: “The whiter the body is, the more beautiful it is as well.” Later on, some art historians claimed that the statues were originally painted and, subsequently, were treated as quacky eccentrics.

In the exhibition “Gods in Color”, German archaeologist Vinzenz Brinkmann presents vividly painted plaster copies of famous statues to show how they were intended to be. Many people have difficulties accepting the color because, for many, white is elegant but color is kitsch. However, say Brinkmann, color gave the statues vitality and an erotic energy that the Greeks were seeking.

Sometimes, because we’ve based our ideas on misconceptions, we are not only disorientated by the truth but regard it with hostility. When paradigms are pulverized, we lose our balance. We prefer to continue with our old beliefs because it’s a stress to reconfigure mental habits.

The earth is still flat.


Related: True Colors…Archaeologist Vinzenz Brinkmann’s colored reproductions of ancient Greek sculptures +  Archaeological Museum of Paros + Black Athena by Martin Bernal

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I collect clippings.  Some are from my neighbors but most are secretly stolen from plants I see when taking walks….SNIP SNIP SNIP.  Maybe it is A Very Naughty Thing to do.  But I prefer to see it as a way of spreading beauty and joy.

The clippings are then placed in jars of water and kept on the front porch until they start to root. At present I’m rooting basil, sage, mint, honeysuckle, bougainvillea, pomegranate and jasmine.

The propagation of beauty shouldn’t be limited just to plants.

Smiles are like clippings that cultivate goodwill. The more you smile, the more others will smile in return.

So let’s take a walk in a garden of smiles!


Related: Bebina Bunny: Aphorism #1    +    The Untapped Power Of Smiling

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Apricots and Amaretto

Apricots and their Seeds

Apricot season has begun and my neighbor’s tree is full of fruit. We save the seeds so we can crack them open for the kernels that we then crush and add to sugar cookie dough. The famous Italian amaretto liquer and cookies are  made using these kernels. Apricot kernels are also used in soaps.

There is controversy as to the dangers of eating apricot kernels.  They contain amygdalin that can cause cyanide poisoning.  But research also indicates that the kernels help fight cancer.

As always, moderation is the rule.  So, with some self-restraint, we will continue to eat our amaretto style cookies!


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