One morning, the third or fourth day of our vacation, I took a meander around the small lake which hugs one side of the camp we were visiting. There was a point with a cross somewhere at the terminus, and I thought it might make a pleasant place to sit and meditate for a while. The morning was crisp and shimmering with light. The sun had woken me with double patterns on the bedroom ceiling: the first, fashioned directly by the early rays, the other puzzling at first, until I recognized it as being refracted from the lake outside my window. It shifted backward and forward, like a timid square dancer, learning to honor her partner.
After a few questionable moments (where did the trail go...?) I made it to the point and settled on an upended log to take in the view. It took me a while to focus in, and when I did, I was afforded a double treat - an almost perfect reflection of the shoreline, replete with grass, fir trees and snow covered mountains, crowned by a pale blue sky with a dash of cloud. I don't think I've ever seen such a perfect reflection in my life. Or at least, not one where the view was so puzzle-perfect. Where was my camera??? I had to make do with my eyes and hope that memory would serve me well.
Being the sort of person I am, the sort who is rarely content to let something just be itself, I started thinking about the art of reflection. And I've been thinking ever since.
Reflecting is the ability to see something clearly. In some instances, it is the ability to look at yourself and evaluate what you have been thinking, feeling, sensing or experiencing. You can reflect about what is happening in the present, or what you have experienced in the past. St Ignatian spirituality relies on the process of "desolation and consolation" as a means for reflecting on when you were most in touch with the Spirit throughout the day. How did I feel? is a legitimate question as a means of evaluating choices you've made. Some meditative techniques teach people how to quiet their minds (think still pond here) and name what emotions they are feeling in the present. For instance, one can notice that they are angry, sad, or lonely. Viewing emotions dispassionately allows one see clearly what is going on. They can go beyond that awareness and probe even deeper if they desire. Why am I feeling this way? What happened to elicit this response? Is there something I can change?
While possible to reflect on one's own, at times it is helpful to have someone help mirror you. I find that I am involved in that quite often. Friends offer the gift to me, and I reciprocate. It requires the ability to be still, to quiet myself from my own set of thoughts and ideas, and to focus on the other person. They can often hear themselves in a different way while talking to me. I can notice with them what they are saying, and perhaps probe with a question to go deeper. Yesterday a friend came for breakfast and reflected back to me my experience up to my daughter's wedding. It was helpful to remember how I had handled the stress and be realistic about the amount of energy it took to love well.
Socrates says, "The unexamined life is not worth living". The Old Testament prophets encourage giving careful reflection to one's ways. By slowing down and becoming more aware, we can see more truly. We can notice and name what is going on, opening ourselves to deepening our life experiences by changing our behaviors or attitudes. But reflection is not always about problem solving, as I've discovered recently. We can also experience a deeper joy by reflecting about positive memories, allowing the delightful moments in our lives to soak into us. As I'm sorting through the piles of wedding photos from our daughter's wedding, I can choose to reflect on what I felt on the day of the wedding and allow that delight to nourish my soul, weeks after the event.
I like where my thoughts are taking me. It's a big topic, but I feel like I'm getting a bit of a grasp on not only the importance of reflecting, but the value of reflecting on different things and in different ways. I'm sure that will show up in weeks ahead.
A friend of mine, Cathleen Lauer, is a spiritual director who is trained in the art of noticing and naming. She recently wrote a post over at Clarifying Peace, which talks about the value of good conversations. I've learned a lot from Cathleen over these past years. Much of the language I now use, including noticing and naming, has come from her. I appreciate her ability to be a reflective partner. She's a great resource, and if you're thinking this might be helpful for you, I'd encourage you to contact her. She can work not only in person, but also over the phone.