A powerful journal exercise that Dr. Ira Progoff developed is called The Steppingstones. The exercise, part of his journal intensive program, helps uncover underlying long term patterns within your life. Progoff uses the sense of “movement” or “motion” in your life to help you move forward on your life’s tracks. The Steppingstones exercise helps you look at periods and significant events in your life, perhaps with the idea of carrying the thread of that movement forward. It is a good technique if you are in transition and looking for direction to move into the next phase of your life. All quotes in this article are from Progoff’s book At a Journal Workshop: Writing to Access the Power of the Unconscious and Evoke Create Ability, written in 1975.
“The Steppingstones are the significant points of movement along the road of an individual’s life. They stand forth as indicators of the inner connectedness of each person’s existence, a continuity of development that maintains itself despite the vicissitudes and the apparent shifting of directions that occur in the course of a life. The Steppingstones are indicators that enable us to recognize the deeper-than-conscious goals toward which the movement of our lives is trying to take us.”
“…In Steppingstones, we draw out of the jumbled mass of our life experiences, the thin and elusive connective threads that carry our potentials toward a fuller unfolding.
“…By working with the Steppingstones, we make contact with these elusive lines of continuity that are seeking to establish themselves as patterns of meaning in our lives. ”
Progoff suggests that you close you eyes and sit in silence, breathing slowly, and not thinking about any specific aspect of your life, but trying to “feel the movement” of your life. Progoff says, “Then, whatever the form in which the continuity of your life reflects itself to you now, respond to it, observe it, and let the flow continue. If images present themselves to you on the twilight level, images in any form, whether visual or not, take note of them.”
“…Passive receptivity is the best attitude to adopt in doing this. As you sit in silence, let the cycles, the rhythms, the tempos of your life present themselves to you. Let them be free and undirected so that they can shape themselves into whatever form truly reflects their basic qualities; let yourself be free in your quietness to perceive them as they come to you without editing or falsifying them.”
Progoff instructs you to write a list of 8-10 and no more than 12 Steppingstones. A Steppingstone is an event, image, sensation, a thought, or milestone of your life that comes to mind when you review your life from the beginning to the present. Select Steppingstones spontaneously, without a lot of mulling and conscious direction, but with an intuitive sense of selecting the right ones. Progoff explains that you do not need to be concerned if the events you list are not in perfect chronological order.
Write only a word, a short descriptive phrase, or a sentence that will trigger your memory when you go back to the list. You may want to use the phrase, “It was a time when…” as the beginning of the description.
When you have completed the list, go back and read the Steppingstones. Try re-reading the list from a neutral frame of mind, rather than thinking about whether the list is praiseworthy, disappointing, or even complete. Rather, determine whether there is a focus or pattern or theme. What do you feel when you read the list? What things do you observe about it? What is the thread of continuity? What do you learn from the list?
Depending on your point of view at the time of the writing, the Steppingstones may shift. The first time you do the exercise, you may find that you include just the basic chronological facts of your life. Each time you do this exercise, three days or three months later, you are viewing your life through a different lens. Identifying what the lens is may give you information about your present focus and may help you see in a new light the path you have taken, where you are today, and a trajectory for the future.
You may continue to work with this list, choosing to select a Steppingstone period that you feel may offer insights, and explore it in depth. Write about the period in a Life History entry in LifeJournal. Ask yourself questions about the period to help it become more three-dimensional and tangible. Start with general recollections–such as adjectives describing the periods, images you have, sensory recollections, and metaphors about the time period. Go to more specific recollections, such as dreams you had, attitudes or beliefs to which you subscribed, aspirations, life philosophies, conflicts, frustrations, key relationships, feelings, and hopes. You may want to write dialogs between different aspects of your life during the time period, such as a dialog with family, friends and other important relationships; a dialog with your health; your work; your religion/spirituality; an important event; or cultural or societal norms, attitudes, or values of that period.
For more in-depth information about the Progoff Intensive Journal method, or about Steppingstones, read Ira Progoff’s At a Journal Workshop: Writing to Access the Power of the Unconscious and Evoke Create Ability . To find out more about the Progoff Intensive program, visit the Progoff website.