Basic Journal Exercises for Ira Progoff’s Intensive Journal Process

Recently one of my readers asked if I could provide clearer instructions for Progoff’s Intensive Journal Process.  Since I was unable to reply directly, I am responding publicly by posting the instructions I distilled for myself more than three decades ago.  Around that time I presented two informal journal workshops for some of my friends. I did not do this professionally nor did I receive monetary compensation. 

Introduction & General Instructions

NOTE:  The following information and instructions are revisions of information from At a Journal Workshop:  The Basic Text and Guide for Using the Intensive Journal Process by Ira Progoff, published by Dialogue House Library, New York, NY, 1975.

            Progoff’s Intensive Journal is a way you can explore your past as it relates to the present.  This exploration involves using both the conscious, rational mind and the nonrational, intuitive mind.  The basic writing for the Intensive Journal involves preparatory work that leads to writing dialogues with persons and events/concepts.  There are many other writing exercises, but these are the basics.  According to Ira Progoff each person has his or her own, unique evolutionary process.  His Intensive Journal is a way to cooperate with this process.

Metaphors may help explain the need to begin with the with the preliminary exercises — Period Log, Period Image, Life Steppingstones and Steppingstone Period/Life History Log.  Gardening is one of them.  One must prepare a garden by breaking up the soil to make it fertile ground for new growth.  The beginning writing exercises are intended to accomplish this.  A computer is another.  A computer can store vast amounts of information, but only a portion of that is available for active use — Random Access Memory or RAM.  When RAM is increased, more information is available and more work can get done more quickly.  Our minds, like computers, contain far more information than is available in consciousness.  The basic journal exercises increase the amount of conscious information.

(Meditations for the Period Log, the Period Image, and Life Steppingstones are included in an addendum at the end of this article. The meditations are taken from Ira Progoff’s work.  I used the meditations when I gave the journal workshops for my friends.  They were able to begin writing almost immediately after the meditations.  It felt as if those words provided sufficient instruction and inner focus to engage in the process with little need for questions.)

Things to remember:

  • Label and date all your journal entries with the month, day, and year.
  • Don’t destroy what you write. It might not seem to make much sense today, but next week or next month or next year it may prove to be very valuable.  Your journal can be a charting of your experiences in the medical sense of the word.  Cumulative entries can show patterns that may help you understand yourself better or provide suggestions for writing in other sections of the journal.
  • Let your writing happen. Let it flow without criticism or censorship.  A disorganized, rambling entry is often more valuable in the insights it makes available than one that resembles a literary masterpiece.
  • File your journal entries. As you accumulate different types of journal entries, file them in the appropriate section of your journal or make notes referencing and cross referencing entries to different sections.  Where you write something is not as important as that it gets written.  Where it’s filed is less important than being able to find it when you need it.

Period Log

The Period Log allows us to discover where we are in our growth process now.  It should cover a period of time that is more than last month.  It usually covers three to six months or longer.  If you haven’t done much interior work, the Period Log may cover several years. (See Addendum for a Period Log Meditation)

To write in the Period Log:

  1. Sit in silence allowing our mind to travel back over this period in your life. Let it take shape within you. If you’re writing in a group, you’ll probably have about 45 minutes to do this entry.
  2. Focus more specifically on the contents of this recent period and write about them. Write the memories and facts of your experiences without judgment and without censorship. Record the specific contents but not the details of this period.  This is an outline picture and an overview of this recent time in your life.  Write simply and briefly.
  3. Questions to help your writing:
  • When did this period start? Is there a particular event associated with this period?
  • What memories do you have of this period?
  • Angers, arguments, physical fights?
  • Friendships: loving, spiritual, and/or physical?
  • Relationship with your family?
  • Your work?
  • Social activities?
  • Physical illness?
  • Inner experiences: spiritual, artistic, extrasensory, dreams?
  • Success or failures?
  • Good luck or misfortune?
  • Strange, uncanny events or coincidences?
  1. Begin your writing with: “This time that I’m living in began when…”
  2. Conclude your entry with: “This time that I’m living in feels like…”
  3. When you’ve finished writing the Period Log, examine your feelings about what you’ve written. Are you comfortable with it? Does it feel complete?  Record your answers to these questions at the end of the Period Log Entry.
  4. Read it aloud to yourself. Does this change your experience of what you’ve written? Record your reaction.

Period Image

The Period Log primarily used your rational mind to focus on the conscious thoughts and memories of the “now” of your life.  The Period Image uses the nonrational mind to do the same thing.

(Progoff records this journal entry in a separate log called the Twilight Imagery Log.  I find it more helpful to record this entry in the Period Log section of the journal immediately after the Period Log entry.)  

Twilight imaging allows access to the nonrational and the intuitive.  The twilight state is that place between waking and sleeping.  It happens just before you drift off to sleep.  It also happens during those times we’ve put ourselves on “automatic pilot.”  We’re performing some routine task, like driving or washing dishes or shaving and our minds are a million miles away.  We finish our task but don’t remember doing it.

While we speak of “twilight imaging,” the experience may not be an image.  It could be sound, a touch, a sensation, a fragrance, or any other type of experience.  Each of us has our own unique inner language of metaphor and symbol.  Whatever comes to you in whatever form is your “twilight imagery.”

For a workshop I would say:

“I’m going to read a guided imagery for you, and after I finish reading, I’ll allow about ten minutes for you to sit in silence.  I’ll watch the time, and I’ll bring you back gently when it’s over.  Just relax.  This is simply a time for you to be with yourself.  Allow the experience to just happen.  Let go of control of your mind, and allow whatever happens to flow without censorship or direction.  Afterward you’ll record your experiences in the Twilight Imagery Log or Period Log.”  (See Addendum for a Period Image Meditation)

For someone working alone:

  1. Reread your Period Log entry. Read it aloud if possible.
  2. Sit in silence. Relax and just be with yourself.
  3. Allow the experience to just happen without censorship, control or direction.
  4. Record your experiences when you are ready.
  5. Reread what you’ve written. Read it aloud if possible.
  6. Answer and record the following questions: How does your twilight imagery experience relate to the Period Log? Does it relate?  Is it parallel?  Opposite?  Seemingly unrelated?


Life Steppingstones

The purpose of the Life Steppingstones is to “loosen the soil” of our lives to give us access to life events that we may have been too pressured to truly experience at the time they were happening and to get acquainted or reacquainted with who we are and from where we’ve come.  Progoff uses a mountain climbing metaphor:  Life Steppingstones as like “markings’ that a mountain climber makes.  They outline the route that he’s taken — sometimes up, sometimes down — to get from one place to another.

Life Steppingstones are significant events that mark a period of time in our lives and set the theme for that period.  The Life Steppingstones are like chapter titles.  They are the chapter titles you would use if you were to write your autobiography now.  The next time you record Life Steppingstones will be from a different “now,” and may reflect different themes and patterns.

You should have no fewer than 8 and no more than 16 steppingstones; 10 to 12 are recommended.  The limit on the number is to encourage you to see patterns and cycles in your life rather than a series or list of significant events.  The limit helps us to see the relationships between the various events of our lives.

As you list your Life Steppingstones, specific memories of events associated with a steppingstone may come to mind.  Note them briefly under that steppingstone as if they were subheadings within that chapter.

The steppingstones may not come to mind in chronological order.  Write them down as they present themselves.  When your list of steppingstones is complete, you can number them appropriately.

Begin by sitting in silence.  I’ll get us started with a reading from At a Journal Workshop, page 104.  (This is included in the Addendum of this article as the Life Steppingstone Meditation.)  When I finish, spend some additional time in silence.  Come back to the room when you are ready and write your Life Steppingstones.  You’ll have about 10 minutes in which to complete the whole entry — time in silence and writing.

Outline of instructions for Life Steppingstones:

  1. Sit in silence passively reflecting over the course of your life.
  2. Write the steppingstones as they come to mind including specific memories associated with each as a subheading.
  3. Number the steppingstones in chronological order if they need to be.
  4. Read them to yourself in chronological order — the steppingstones only, without the subheadings. Read them aloud if possible.
  5. Record your reactions to reading the steppingstones.


Steppingstone Period

A Steppingstone Period is one of the Life Steppingstones expanded upon.  Writing a Steppingstone Period is like writing a Period Log except that it is about the past rather than the present.  Your opening sentence begins with:  “It was a time when…” And you can conclude the entry with a metaphor or a simile:  “That period of my life was like…”  Refer back to the Period Log section for more complete instructions.

It’s not necessary to write a Steppingstone Period for each Life Steppingstone unless you want to.  It’s enough to write about one or two that seem to be particularly meaningful to you now.  If none seem especially meaningful, write on the first one that comes to mind.  The Steppingstone Section provides leads for other writing.


Life History Log

This section contains what it says, life history.  This entry resembles a Steppingstone Period, but it’s longer and more complete.  (In practice, I don’t do Steppingstone Period entries.  I use a Life Steppingstone as a chapter title and write that chapter of my life in the Life History Log.)


Dialogue with Persons

In the Intensive Journal you can dialogue with anyone.  You can dialogue with people living or dead, people known to you or historical figures from the distant past.  You can even dialogue with different parts of yourself or with yourself at another age.

To dialogue with a person:

Note:  Steps 1 through 4 are optional.

  1. Sit in silence reflecting on your relationship with this person.
  2. In two or three paragraphs write a brief description of that relationship.
  3. Read the statement back to yourself. Make whatever changes you feel are important, BUT write the as additions.
  4. Record your feelings as you wrote the description and also as you read it to yourself.

You may begin here.

  1. Write the steppingstones for this person’s life. Sit in silence. Allow the steppingstones to come to mind.  Record them in the first person — i.e., “I was born.”  List as many steppingstones as you can or want to.  There is no limit on the number of steppingstones here.  If the person is someone you don’t know very well, the number of steppingstones may be very few.  The purpose of these steppingstones is to place us in the actuality of the person’s life as though we were participating in it from within.
  2. Read the steppingstone list to yourself when it is completed. Then sit in silence focusing on the person and the relationship. Record whatever comes to you in twilight imagery after the person’s steppingstones.
  3. Return to the silence and allow the person to become present to you.
  4. Allow the dialogue to begin. Record it as it unfolds within you. Don’t try to direct it.  Let it happen.  The dialogue writes itself.
  5. After writing the dialogue, return to stillness. Become aware of the emotions you had while writing it and record them.
  6. Read the dialogue to yourself. Record your responses to the reading. Is it different from the writing?  Read it aloud if you wish.
  7. Allow time to pass and read it again. In a few days, when enough time has passed to give you some distance from the dialogue script, read it again. If the dialogue wants to continue allow it to do so.  You can even allow monologues to happen, but if it is complete, let it be.  Record the date and your reactions.


Dialogue with Events

Events can be anything that aren’t persons.  They can be actual events like a party, an accident, an achievement, or a failure.  Events can be abstract concepts, too, like emotions or truth or justice.  Circumstances that exert a real influence on us are no longer fixed and opaque.  They become accessible to us as persons with whom we can communicate.

To dialogue with events:

  1. Write a focusing statement. This could be a brief description of an event or situation, or it could be a working definition. (Often I use a dictionary definition as a starting point and add my own parts to it to complete what I mean by the word or event.)
  2. Do steppingstones of its life. If it is a real situation, record the events leading to its occurrence. If it’s an abstract concept, record your experiences of this concept as the event’s steppingstones.
  3. Sit in silence. When the steppingstones are finished, sit in silence drifting to the level of twilight imagery. Let the images come and record them.
  4. Read the steppingstones again allowing them to present the event to you as a person.
  5. In stillness feel the presence of the person and speak to that person.
  6. Sit in silence again. When the dialogue is finished, sit in silence becoming calm again.
  7. Reread the script. Compare feelings while rereading it to feelings while writing. Record both.
  8. Let the dialogue sit. Then come back to it several days later to reread it and extend it if necessary. Record your reactions to this rereading along with the date.


Daily Log

Keeping a daily log is recommended, but it’s not essential.  It’s similar to a diary but with the emphasis on feelings and inner experiences rather than external events.

To write in the Daily Log:

  1. Sit in silence first and let your mind gently go back over your day. Spend a minute or two or maybe even five or more in silence.
  2. Record briefly the events of your day to provide a context for your feelings and inner experiences.
  3. Write about your feelings and inner experiences. (It’s encouraged that you write about the experiences as they happen. Some people carry a notebook with them and write in it from time to time during the day.  For most people this is not possible but writing about inner experiences as they occur happens more often than you would expect.  Usually new experiences occur while you’re writing, and because you’re writing, they can be recorded as they happen.)
  4. Record dreams here. This is a brief account to fix it in your memory so that later it can be recorded in full in your Dream Log.
  5. Write whatever and whenever you can. Often daily entries are impossible because our lives are too busy. Summarize the intervening days — the outer events and the inner experiences associated with them.



Dreams can be recorded in the Daily Log or in the Dream Log or both.  If a dream is recorded in only one log, it should be cross referenced in the other.  Dreams can be worked with in Dream Enlargement and/or Dream Leads.

Dream Enlargement:

  1. Put yourself back into the movement of the dream. Reread it two or three times. Then sit in silence and allow the dream to continue.
  2. Record your experiences. The recording can be done in brief, half-legible scrawls during the process. Sometimes it’s too difficult to break away to do this and much must be held in memory.  You can speak aloud the experiences as they happen to help hold them in memory or use a tape recorder.  (Progoff suggests a separate section of the journal for this entry.  I prefer to place this entry after the dream itself in the Dream Log.)
  3. Reread the Dream Enlargement. Notice the feelings and emotions that arise — those generated by the original experience and those generated by the rereading — and record them.

Dream Leads:

  1. Free associate with the dream and dream enlargement line by line and record the associations. (Progoff says to record each in the appropriate journal section, but I think it’s sufficient to put them all in one place to begin with, and in rereading you can find and record where each belongs or just follow up with the appropriate dialogue. Be sure to cross reference.)
  2. Reread the free-associated material. See what “speaks” to you. Where else in the journal does the dream suggest that you work?  Is there a person or event to dialogue with?
  3. Sit in silence for a while after rereading. Record your experiences and do any follow-up writing that feels appropriate.


Correlating your dream to your waking life:

You can do this instead of — as well as in addition to — the Dream Enlargement and the Dream Leads.

  1. Sit in silence. Feel the process of your life as it moves within you. Let it present itself.
  2. Draw yourself back to the dream or series of dreams. Feel the emotional tone and the movement and rhythm of the dream. These are more important than the details.
  3. Add to the dream the twilight dreaming. Draw dream and twilight dreams together and feel them as a single continuity.
  4. When the experience of the single continuity is full within you, hold it. Stop the movement.  Hold it as if you’re holding it in your hand.  Using this inner experience as a base, draw together the equivalent movement that has taken place on the outer level of your life as a whole.  This is sort of like introducing your dream life to the corresponding part of your waking life.

            With eyes closed go back over the sequences of your life.  Reflect on the Life Steppingstones, the rhythms of change, the flow and combination of circumstances that carried you into the recent period of your life.  Mainly try to feel the larger outline of the movement of your life.

  1. Let the movement of your life take on a symbolic image. Whatever form it takes, hold it in your right hand. Symbolically this is as though you are placing your waking life on the right side of your mind.
  2. Take the sleep dreams and twilight dreams into your left hand. These are the unified movement of your inner nonconscious life.
  3. Balance one against the other as though there is a scale within your mind. Let them equalize themselves.
  4. When they come to balance, ask what the two sides have to say to each other. And ask what they say to you when you set them side by side.
  5. As you do this, let yourself be especially open to additional images, feelings, thoughts, insights, recognitions, ideas, perceptions, emotions, new inspirations and plans that take shape in you.
  6. Record all of the above either in the Dream Enlargement section (or after the dream in the Dream Log as I do). Return to them later, after a few hours or a few days, and see what additional material is generated. There may be feedback leads to follow up in another section of the journal.


Intersections:  Roads Taken and Not Taken

In additions to exploring crossroads of the past, this section can also be used to explore issues that require us to make decisions now.  It’s a tool for making decisions as well as for opening new/old possibilities.  It helps us to tap into our inner knowing.

Outline of instructions for Intersections:  Roads Taken and Not taken:

  1. Reread your Steppingstone Period (or Life History Log). Steep yourself in the atmosphere of that time. Allow other, more specific memories to surface.  As they come to mind, list them briefly in the Life History Log.  At a later time you may go back and expand on these memories recording them in greater detail.
  2. As memories come to mind, some of them may be intersections where a decision or choice was made or forced by circumstances. List these memories in Intersections as well. Good preparation in the Life History Log is important for doing this.
  3. Of the intersections you’ve listed, choose one that you want to explore more fully.
  4. Examine and write about the course you actually took and its immediate consequences.
  5. List the various other possibilities that were reasonably feasible at the time. Do this briefly.
  6. Project intuitively and imaginatively the other varieties of possibilities — even those beyond our immediate vision of practicality or the apparently impractical. List these briefly.
  7. Through twilight imagery allow yourself to explore whatever possibilities come to you.
  8. Record your experiences.


Dialogue with Works

(This section of my notes is not complete.  It needs a definition of works.)

Outline of instructions for Dialogue with Works:

  1. Make a list of works from the life Steppingstones.
  2. Reread the list and amplify it with other works that come to mind.
  3. Make entries in other sections of the journal as appropriate.
  4. Choose a work to dialogue with, one that “speaks” to you or that has further possibility of development.
  5. Make a statement of the situation in which we find ourselves with respect to the work.
  6. Do steppingstones for the work. Sit in stillness. Let them present themselves.
  7. Set the atmosphere for the dialogue. In stillness allow the images to come and record them.
  8. Dialogue. In stillness and feeling the presence of the work, we speak to it. Record the dialogue.
  9. Record your feelings while writing the dialogue and your feelings afterward.
  10. Go back over the dialogue and read it silently. Don’t edit, but add further thought and feelings as an afterward.
  11. If the dialogue wishes to extend itself allow it to do so. This may occur several days later.





Period Log Meditation:

Sit in silence.  Eyes closed.  Relaxed.  Quietly, inwardly, feel the movement of your life.  Let yourself feel the implications of the question, “where am I now in my life?”  Don’t thinkFeel.  Thoughts will come to you.  Let them come, and let them go.  They will return to you as images.

There will come to you a generalized awareness of this recent period in your life.  Let the quality of the experience of this recent period express itself to you.  It may take the form of an image, a metaphor, a simile, or some spontaneous adjective that describes it in a word.  Let this happen without censorship — neither rejecting nor affirming.

There may be more than one image, and these “images” may be visual or auditory.  They may be physical sensations or emotions.  Whatever form they take, let them come.  Be aware of them.  Take note of them.  Let them come.


          Now focus more specifically on the contents of this recent period of your life.  When did this period start?  Is there a particular event that’s associated with it?

Reconstruct the outlines of this period recalling specific details as they come to you.  Memories.  Family.  Work.  Social activities.  Accidents or physical illnesses.  Arguments, angers, physical fights.  Friendships — loving, spiritual, or physical.  Significant dreams.  Inner experiences that were artistic, spiritual, or extrasensory in nature.  Strange, uncanny events or coincidences.  Good luck or misfortune.

When you are ready, come back to the room and write the outlines of this period simply and briefly.  Your first sentence will be:

“This time that I am living in began when…”


Period Image Meditation:

I am sitting in a place of quietness letting the Self become still, letting the breath become slow, letting my thoughts come to rest.

Letting the Self become still, energies that were moving about can go inward now, can come to rest in the stillness of my quiet being.

Breathing becomes quiet now, not breathing by the tempo of outer things, but by an inner tempo, breathing at an inner pace, the breath moving in and out of itself, carried by its own rhythm, adjusting itself to itself.

Breathing at an inner pace my thoughts let go of my breathing.  Breathing at an inner pace the breath is free to come and go in its own timing.  The breath is slow and regular, moving in and out by its inner tempo, carried by its own rhythm, adjusting itself to itself.

Breathing at an inner pace thoughts become quiet.  Restless thoughts that have been moving about, restless thoughts dissipating their energies can come to rest now, can bring their energies together into one place resting on the steady breathing.

Excess thoughts drop away.  I become still.  Thinking becomes quiet, thoughts fitting together and settling into one place by themselves without my thinking them.  Many mixed thoughts become one whole thought contained within itself.  One whole thought in the mind at rest.

Letting the Self become still, letting my thoughts come to rest, letting my breath become slow.  Breathing becomes quiet, breathing becomes slow, and slower; breathing becomes regular, regular.  The unevenness of nonessential thoughts drops out of the breathing.  It becomes the breathing of the Self.

Breathing at an inner pace the breath moves at the center of my Self — at the center of my Self in regular rhythms.  My body is quiet, holding its place.  The breath is moving evenly — inward, outward, evenly in its own rhythm.  The breath moves evenly at the center of my body, at the center of my Self.

The breath is moving at the center of my Self in a regular rhythm.  The breath moves at the center.  The breath moves at the center breathing at an inner pace.  As the breath moves at the center, quietly, evenly, the Self becomes still like quiet water.

The Self becomes still like quiet water.  In the stillness of the Self, in the quiet of the water my inward ear hears, my inward eye sees signs and words and visions reflected in the quiet waters in the stillness of the Self, in the Silence…  In the Silence.


Life Steppingstones Meditation:

Close your eyes and sit in silence.  In this stillness, let your breathing become slower, softer, more relaxed.  As you are quieted, you let yourself feel the movement of your life.  You do not think about any specific aspect of your life, but you let yourself feel the movement of your life as a whole.  In your silence you let the changing circumstances and situations of your life pass before the mind’s eye.  Now you may recognize the varied events in their movement, not judging them nor commenting on them, but merely observing them as they pass before you.  You perceive them and feel them in their generalized movement without actually seeing the details of them.

As you do this, it may be that the events of your life will present themselves to you as a flowing and continuous movement, as a river moving through many changes and phases.  Or it may be that your life will present itself to you as a kaleidoscope of disconnected events.  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, take note of them.  They may come as memories or visual images or inner sensations of various kinds.  Especially they may state themselves as similes or metaphors in addition to expressing the literal facts of past experience.  Let your attitude be receptive enough that the continuity of your life as a whole can present itself.

MEDIAL PERSONALITY – Part 1: Definition, History, and Related Concepts from an Autodidact’s Perspective

- - - - QUOTE - Part 1


How do I begin to write about this?  It’s something I’ve struggled with all my life — long before I had a name for it.  Irene Claremont de Castillejo provided that name in her book, Knowing Woman, when I read it for the first time more than thirty years ago.  Since then I’ve been using the concept of the medial to understand myself and to work out ways to live with my medial nature so that it causes the least disruption for myself and others.  I’ve done this for me with no expectation that I would disclose any of it outside the privacy of spiritual direction.

That changed in November of 2014 when I was taking a course to become certified as a spiritual director.  Among the assigned readings was a biography of Henri Nouwen by Michael Ford, Wounded Prophet.  I was amazed at what I found there.  Henri Nouwen was a medial!

Nouwen’s life as presented in Ford’s book clearly shows the influence of the medial archetype.  From Ford’s description, it would be easy to diagnose Nouwen as having borderline personality disorder or at least codependence.  I understood the dynamics of his psychological pain from my own experiences.  Nouwen was possessed by the medial archetype.  He was ‘all things to all people’ and felt lost and desperately lonely when he was not in front of an audience or with supportive others.  Others drew through Nouwen what they needed, and the medial archetype made that possible.  Nouwen’s distress was because he did not understanding that dynamic.  When he was alone and nothing was being transmitted through him, he felt empty — because he was.  Nouwen was unable to realize that he was separate from and more than what flowed through him.

No doubt, this is an overly simplistic interpretation of Nouwen.  He was a much more complicated man than what I’ve just described.  He listened for Guidance and took great risks in following what he discerned.  His writing shows depth and spiritual maturity, and his published works continue to inspire others.

What shocked me was that I’d been graced with sufficient understanding of the medial function to realize the importance of having an identity separate from it.  Inner Guidance insisted that I needed to share this with others.  I was overwhelmed with dread at the prospect.  I made ineffectual efforts to comply, but didn’t manage to get past my fear.  Now more than three years later and because of an unintended public post on Facebook, other medials have asked that I write what little I’ve learned about it.

I still don’t know how to do this.  I’ve reviewed some academic material about the medial, but that doesn’t feel like the way to proceed.  I’ve come to understand that medials must do their own exploration.  It’s part of the spiritual journey, and as such, it is so unique that it is primarily a do-it-yourself proposition.  One of my gifts as a medial is to facilitate others’ access to their own inner wisdom.  I trust that what I write will do this, even if the specifics do not apply at all.  I have not studied this in any formal setting

Metaphors and images from my own inner work and excerpts from my journals may be more helpful than academic explanations — although I will provide a little of that as well.  This post is likely to focus more on ‘academic explanations’ in order to provide background and context for future posts.  I expect all of this to be a disjointed communication about a complex topic published in an erratic series of blogs rather than a continuity of polished articles whose topics flow logically from one to the next.

NOTE:  Please understand that my ‘academic explanations’ are limited by my incomplete knowledge of the subject.  I have not studied this in any formal setting.  What research I’ve done has simply been to make sense of my life.  I haven’t gone deeper than what I’ve needed for myself.  Therefore, my presentation of this material is likely to contain an inherent bias of perspective.

I encourage you to listen for the echo of your own life in what I’ve written.  That is what is most important!  Each of us knows more than we realize.  Our ‘knowing’ is not something anyone can teach us.  It is something we already have, and it’s ours to discover or rediscover. 

The very best resource for information about the medial is a dissertation by Roberta Bassett Corson published in 1998:  The Wounds of the Medial Woman in Contemporary Western Culture.  I reviewed her dissertation as preparation for this post and much of what I present here is drawn from that.

Roberta Corson’s dissertation is available through as a PDF document.  Price is $38.  The website is not easy to navigate, and it is helpful to have the publication number:  9912586. 

If you are serious about understanding this topic, Ms. Corson’s work is worth the investment!  For an academic paper, it is an easy read, but feel free to skip sections that don’t seem relevant.  You may want to begin with the five portraits of medial women in Chapter 3 before diving into the background material and the conclusions.

I’ve been immersed in this topic for so long that I no longer remember exactly where I acquired some of the information I’m sharing.  I will provide as much source information as I can.  Eventually I will compile a list of other resources.

What is a Medial?

The term ‘medial’ is short for ‘mediumistic.’  And it all began with Toni Wolff.  She had a complicated relationship with Carl Jung, first as his patient and later as his assistant/guide and eventually his protégé and mistress.  This was not unusual within Swiss culture at that period in time, and Jung’s wife knew of the relationship and accepted the different roles each woman played in Jung’s life — however, not without difficulty on all sides.

Toni Wolff is most noted for her model of women’s personality types.  Of course, her work was influenced by the culture of that time where men played a dominant role and women were subservient.  Consequently, women’s personalities were interpreted in their relationship to men.  Wolff described four personality types for women:  mother; hetaera (companion, friend); Amazon; and the mediumistic woman — or medial.

The medial personality as Wolff proposed it only applied to women.  Although most of the literature on the medial continues to do this, it is no longer true.  It wasn’t even true back then.  Jung, himself was a medial, as was Toni Wolff who used her medial gifts to assist Jung with his inner explorations.  The medial personality is not gender specific!

Medial Archetype, Medial Traits, & Medial Personalities

My best understanding of the medial is as an archetype.  An archetype is an energetic form that provides structures for various functions of human experience and/or personality.  I understand the medial archetype as embodying the ability to access material from what Jung termed the ‘collective unconscious.’

All of us have elements of the medial to one degree or another, and we frequently access material from the collective unconscious through dreams, insights, creative ideas and intuitions.  Just as with any other trait, different people have it to different degrees.  Everyone has it is as part of being human.  For some the medial is also a facet of their personalities that may be activated at some point in their lives — sometimes as a result of spiritual practices, sometimes because of a significant life event, and sometimes as a result of trauma.  For others it defines their personalities and ways of being in the world.

Medial Personality:  Vivid & Subtle Types

Someone with a medial personality is born living in two worlds:  the outward world that is considered ‘reality’ by consensus and an inner world of the collective unconscious.  Because this is experienced from birth, the medial is often unaware of being different in this way and assumes that others have similar experiences.  Roberta Corson’s research distinguished two types of medials:  ‘vivid’ and ‘subtle’.  She discusses these as length in Wounds of the Medial Woman.

Some medials have ‘vivid’ experiences like telepathy, clairvoyance, or precognition.  Others are only aware of a ‘subtle’ sensitivity.  This makes it more difficult for them to identify their medial nature.  Medials of both types often unknowingly attune themselves to the unconscious expectations of others and behave accordingly — which may or may not fit who they truly are. Sometimes they share others’ experiences as if the experiences are their own.  They often have difficulty distinguishing what is theirs from what is another’s.

Both types of medials share the challenges of recognizing, accepting and managing their medial gifts.  Vivid medials have clear evidence of their gifts, but that evidence may be experienced as frightening and confusing.  People around them may also respond with fear and confusion.  Vivid medials are typically what one thinks of as ‘psychics.’  Their gifts are subject to exploitation: 1) the medial’s exploitation of others as an exercise in power and control; 2) others’ exploitation of the medial’s special knowledge for their own ends.

Challenges for subtle medials are more ‘subtle.’  While in the beginning, both types of medials may assume that everyone else experiences life the way they do, it takes longer for subtle medials to identify their differences.  Subtle medials may be so attuned to the desires and expectations of parents and other significant people in their lives that they live the lives others want for them.  It may take years for subtle medials to realize this — even into adulthood.  And once they do, the changes required to live as authentic selves may cause significant disruptions for them and for those around them.

Collective Unconscious & the Medial

One of the medial’s functions is to make material from the collective unconscious available to others.  Until the medial becomes sufficiently aware of his or her access to the depths of the collective unconscious, that material may get communicated to others in ways that cause chaos and disruption.  The proverbial ‘bull in the china shop’ or the clumsy adolescent who hasn’t yet learned to coordinate rapidly growing muscles are images that give the flavor of the inadvertent communication of material from the collective unconscious.

The task of developing an ego that is strong enough to manage living in two worlds is daunting.  Separating one’s individual experiences from shared experiences is difficult and interferes with forming a strong sense of self.  Some never manage this.  Often the medial takes on the projections of another and sometimes of an entire society.  Irene Claremont de Castillejo wrote about this in her book, Knowing Woman.

In the chapter, Roles of Women – Woman as Mediator, de Castillejo wrote: “She (the medial) is permeated by the unconscious of another person and makes it visible by living it.  …She may become permeated by a religious creed and put herself at its service.  She may express in her own person the spirit of an epoch.  Joan of Arc was such a one.”  Later in the same paragraph de Castillejo quoted Toni Wolff:  “The mediumistic type is rather like a passive vessel for contents which lie outside it, and which are either simply lived or else are being formed.”  de Castillejo adds:  “In that sense she is valuable in giving shape to what is still invisible.”

Shadow & the Medial

What the medial responds to and transmits is not always positive.  And it is not always a woman who performs medial functions.  In de Castillejo’s chapter, Responsibility and Shadow, she wrote:

Our interconnection does not end with the family.  We all meet in the unconscious.  How many men have been hanged for murder merely because they were the weak recipients of the murderous shadow of a whole race?  There would be fewer murders if we could all acknowledge within ourselves how easy it would be for anyone of us to kill.  In wartime we explain our brutality some other way.  In peacetime we forget and some man or woman slightly weaker than the rest is hanged virtually for us.

Shadow is not always negative.  ‘Shadow’ is the label Jung gave to those parts of us that are too threatening for us to own or acknowledge.  It can be what we consider ‘bad’ and unacceptable or it can be gifts and abilities that we reject because we fear the demands they could make on us if we were to acknowledge them.

The ‘shadow’ of what we reject is often indiscriminately projected outward where it may be accepted and expressed by someone else.  Joan of Arc accepted the projection of a luminous shadow on behalf of the people of France.  Adolf Hitler may have embodied the dark shadow of the German people of that era.  And perhaps our current President, Donald Trump, is performing the same function for present day United States.

Collective Unconscious

What is this ‘collective unconscious’ that occupies such a prominent place in the lives of medials?  This is one of those concepts that is best approached through images and metaphors.

Even though these days my meditations take me to a vast underground ocean where all waters connect, it was not always so.  Many years ago I relied on Ira Progoff’s metaphor of deep waters and wells.  In his book, At a Journal Workshop, Progoff often referred to the collective unconscious as the Source of All Waters and/or the Source of Deep Wisdom and of Creativity.  He emphasized, as did de Castillejo, that we are all connected there.  Carrying the image forward, he connected the work of the Intensive Journal to accessing the Source of All Waters through our individual wells.

Decades ago in attempts to understand my medial nature, I wrote a journal entry expanding the metaphor to help me explore connections to and interactions with that realm.  What follows is a revised version of that entry.

WELL METAPHOR:  Will, Ego, & Self       

            The will is an attribute, and as such it is neutral.  It is the energy or force that allows for endurance and perseverance.  It can be employed by either the ego or the Self. 

            Identifying one’s will with the ego and labeling it as something ‘bad’ is a fallacy.  And trying to give up one’s will through obedience to another’s will is also a fallacy.  In fact, it cannot be done.  The will must be employed to even be obedient to another.  Obedience to another’s will isn’t even a sound way to overcome one’s ego.  The ego can claim such obedience as its own and further strengthen its hold on the individual.

            The ego itself has been given entirely too bad a name.  Having a healthy ego is essential to knowing one’s Self as an individual and being able to express that Self to the world.  People with weak egos have difficulty knowing who they are apart from others.  People with overgrown egos know that they are separate from others but have lost contact with their Selves.

            Using Progoff’s image of the well and the underground source of all the waters helps to describe this.  The ego is like the shaft of the well that allows the waters of the Self to rise to the surface and be expressed to the outer world as an individual.

            People with overgrown egos have built huge edifices atop their wells. They have something very powerful and individual to express to the outer world, but the waters of their Selves cannot rise to the surface, and they are cut off from their connectedness with others at the Source of All the Waters.

            Some people with weak egos live mostly at the underground source.  Their well shafts are so narrow or crumbling that their waters cannot reach the surface.  They must borrow another’s well shaft in order to have anything to express to the outer world.

            Others with weak egos have trapped themselves above the ground.  Their well shafts are so weak that they have crumbled, and the opening is buried.  These people have totally lost contact with their own well and the Source of All Waters.  They can reach water only by attaching themselves to the above-ground structures of others’ wells.  They are more likely to be attracted to people with overgrown egos than those with healthy ones who might be able to help them reopen their wells.  And so they continue to be cut off from the waters of Self and cling instead to someone else’s illusion.

            People with healthy egos have wide, strong well shafts that are open to the outer world.  They are connected with the underground source of all waters and are able to express themselves as individual springs of refreshment to the outer world.  

MY WELL:     The image of my own well is borrowed in part from Merlin’s spring as described in one of the books I read about King Arthur.  I don’t remember which one.  I use it for the twilight imagery meditation when I prepare to write dialogues for the Intensive Journal.

            There is a spring rising to the surface in a clear, cool trickle of water.  It is surrounded with greenery and wildlife.  Beside it is an old tin cup ready for use by anyone who wants to drink there.  Nearby is a well opening topped with the traditional wishing well structure.  It has a bucket attached to a rope that can be lowered into the well.  I ride in that bucket when I descend to explore the contents of my well, and it ensures my way back when I go deep enough to reach the source of all waters.     (Poustinia Journal, 8/07/1989; revised 7/03/2013; 4/30/2018))


I hope that I have managed to communicate enough about the medial personality to provide sufficient background and context for subsequent posts.  What I’ve presented is an autodidact’s incomplete understanding of the basic concepts — hopefully without too many errors.  While I am a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, I have no formal training in Jungian psychology.

I write as a medial — and a ‘subtle’ one at that.  I write because my medial nature requires it and because other medials have asked me to give them ‘words’ for their experiences.

There is paradox in this.  Much of the medial experience cannot be languaged.  It is beyond words.  I’ve been privileged to hear James Finley teach on mystical experiences.  What I remember of that lesson is this:

When we talk about what is beyond words, we are only able to understand each other because we have had similar experiences. 

I trust that this paradox applies to the ‘words’ written here.


I am grateful to the Facebook friends who encouraged this writing.   Indeed, if not for their comments on my posts, this would not have happened.  Many showed a heartening acceptance and encouragement of ‘otherness.’  Others asked for more information after sharing about their own experiences.

A special thank you to Bonny White and to Jim Curtan.  Bonny provided technical assistance in proofreading and editing this blog.  And both Bonny and Jim have been generous in their understanding, support and encouragement.


Corson, Roberta Bassett.  (1998).  Wounds of the Medial Woman in Contemporary Western Culture.  Santa Barbara:  Pacifica Graduate Institute

de Castillejo, Irene Claremont.  (1973).  Knowing Woman: A Feminine Psychology. New York: Harper & Row.

Estes, Clarissa Pinkola.  (1995)  Women Who Run with the Wolves.  New York:  Ballantine Books.

Ford, Michael.  (1999)  Wounded Prophet:  A Portrait of Henri J. M. Nouwen.  New York:  Doubleday.

Finley, James.  (February 22, 2014)  Mystics and the Mind of Christ.  Retreat day for Stillpoint:  The Center for Christian Spirituality.

Myss, Caroline.  (2001)  Sacred Contracts.  New York:  Harmony Books.

Progoff, Ira.  (1975).  At a Journal Workshop:  The Basic Text and Guide for Using the Intensive Journal Process.  New York:  Dialogue House Library.