Reflection serves as a grounding part of my life. If you asked my parents to describe how I was growing up, they would definitely tell you I was the kid who always questioned everything. “I don’t get it, why?” “How come?” Around my junior year of high school, I began to realize this did not always have to carry a negative connotation. I started to become very curious about the world and why things came to be how they are. Furthermore, I began to challenge my own understandings and beliefs because of this process of becoming more aware. This not only inspired me to do something; it sparked intellectual and creative thinking from within, which was a place I’d never looked or nurtured before. It was not until college when I began to think and act intentionally about reflection, individually and collectively, as a means for growth, wellbeing and social change. As I continue to write and share on this blog, I will unpack what this actually means and what it looks like in my life. For now, I’d like to share personal statements from people of all walks of life on: why reflection is important to them and what role reflection has in their life, including how much reflection/what it looks like for them. I’d like to give a quick shout out to each person who contributed with direct personal statements and also those who have continued to support and encourage me through the journey of processing all this information, formulating thoughts and writing/sharing/expressing.
Love + light,
My life would be dull, pointless, and careless without reflection. Reflection enables critical thinking, which enables understanding, growth, love, and empathy. Most of my reflection occurs while I write because writing forces me to deeply and creatively think, reflect, and understand.” –Courtney Train
“When things go by so fast and the journey is so windy, you have to take time to listen to what is true to your head and heart. If I’m honest, I’m not awesome at it but when I am truly practicing, my quality of life is improved. I believe it (reflection) makes me more alive and open to experiences outside the confines my own mind can create. It centers and places perspective on my life and those around me. I don’t do anything new. I think we can learn a lot from the ancient practices around the world that have been practiced for several hundred years. I try to truly hold a Sabbath, fast 1 day a month and fixed silence or prayer daily.” –Evan Davies, Youth Volunteer Engagement Specialist,VIE, Habitat for Humanity International
“One of my favorite (and most used) quotes is “We don’t learn by doing, we learn by thinking about what we do.” Reflection is the place where I begin to understand myself and the world around me. It is critical to me as it aids my learning about the world and the way I interact with it. Without reflection, I would float through life without questioning and examining what’s around me and inside of me, and that, to me, seems like an empty way to be. Reflection keeps me from existing in scripted responses and old patterns, and allows me the opportunity to see the world (and myself) in new ways and to explore new paths. Reflection is a daily and critical practice for me. I have no longer set aside time to “reflect” as it has simply become how I operate on a daily basis. My first response to most experiences and situations I face are questions – what can I learn from this? What is the best way for me to move forward? How can I best be of service to the people in the room? Albert Einstein was once asked what he would do if he was only given an hour to solve the world’s toughest problem. He responded by saying that he would spend the first 55 minutes coming up with the right question, because with the right question, the answer would come quickly. I believe this to be true. Reflection can be a simple practice of just asking yourself questions, and it is also important to think about what the questions need to be to unlock your own learning and potential. Reflection, in this way, has become a practice of identifying the questions I need to explore to shape my future thinking and ways of being.” –Dave Newell, Assistant Director for Community-Based Service and Learning in Center for Servant-Leadership at Gustavus Adolphus College
“Reflection to me is evaluating.When I reflect upon something, I try to learn from the negative and turn it into the positive. I think reflection is a key element in the way humans process thinking differently. If you reflect on something positively, you’ll be a happier being. I am constantly reflecting. I try to be a happy reflector. Reflecting upon things takes a lot of energy, but in doing so you develop your self identity. You learn how you process events and countless other things thrown at you every day. You learn things about yourself and you teach yourself.” –Clara Wicklund
“I reflect in order to learn and begin to take action. Many times, we receive wonderful information and motivation from classes we attend or speakers we may see. We feel great after these enlivening classes/sessions, however, 30 minutes later, we forget all about them. It is important to take even just 30 seconds to reflect on the information you have had the opportunity to take in, and then decide what you can take away from the experience and how you can put some things into action in your own life or in the world.” –Kelli Remboldt
“If I am not aware of “what is”, there is no way I can change. It has more of a mindfulness role, rather than a “set time to reflect” role. I try to be aware, as much as possible, what I am doing and why I am doing it, and am always checking to see if I am doing it truthfully, then readjusting if I am not.” –Neal Hagberg, Musician and Director of the Tennis and Life Camps at Gustavus Adolphus College
“Living a life without reflection is like navigating the Atlantic Ocean with no compass and no charts with your eyes closed. Of course you have to keep moving–if you don’t, you’ll surely perish at sea. But without knowing where you are, where you’ve come from, and where you intend to go, any changes you make in your course will be purely random and unlikely to help you reach the other shore. Now, I believe it’s entirely plausible that some people could live a good life perpetually “in the moment,” simply spinning aimless circles in the ocean and enjoying the uniqueness and mystery of every passing mile, every passing day. It’s not the life I have chosen, as that wandering approach isn’t conducive to making change in my community. Reflection is the chart I rely on to assess whether or not I’m on course, or whether the course I’ve set is a fruitful one. At its best, reflection happens for me in consultation with the people who are important in my life and when I have the resources to cooly and critically assess the impact that past choices I’ve made have had upon my course as well as the effects of choices I will make in the future.” – Martin Lang, Associate Professor in Communication Studies; Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies; and Film and Media Studies at Gustavus Adolphus College
“I reflect to learn about myself and place in the world. That would be the simple answer. But it’s obviously so much more! I reflect to experience things a second time, and to examine my reactions to what happened and investigate why the experience affected me how it did. I reflect to remind myself of the significance of my life, how as just one person I can make waves of change but at the same time I need to keep things in perspective. I reflect to question myself. I’m a human being, and therefore am bound to have irrational thoughts and emotions and make mistakes. By reflecting, I hope to understand why I feel and do the things I do and I can deeper examine the root cause. By reflecting, I see to understand who I am and make peace with that. It’s important to reflect because so many things happen to us in our busy lives nowadays that if we don’t take the time to step back and think about things, it will all just pass us by. Life is too rich and beautiful to just live it superficially; reflecting is a means to get to that deeper level and become even more enriched by doing so. When one reflects and understands themselves, it makes it easier to accept your emotions and come to terms with your flaws. No one is perfect, but by reflecting, you can better understand how to use your personal talents to the best of your abilities.” -Heather Goff
“Reflection is important to me for many reasons. For one, when I reflect on something, I tend to learn more about the subject. I have noticed that tabling my ideas with my peers allows me to figure out why I feel a certain way about a subject. Whether it be reflecting on the study of biology, or reflecting on discussions about the environment, reflection helps me to understand mine, along with other peoples’ views better. I believe reflection is essential in any form of learning. It helps us to recall the crucial elements of any discussion. Reflection takes on a few different forms in my life. For my biology class we are required to reflect on our experience from class. In other topics it takes on different forms. My environmental philosophy class has sparked conversations with both people who are in the class, along with people outside of the class. For me, this discussion is a great form of reflection.” –Joe Renier
“My life-journal receives an entry every few months (or less). Even with that, it is a cherished possession and would be one of the few things I would want to grab in the event of a fire. It is a haphazard collection of thoughts, poems, quotes, notes and (kids’) drawings. Priceless.” –Steve Squillace
“Reflection is important to me because I am able to intuitively grow and learn from my experiences by reflecting upon them. When I give myself the time to reflect, I seek to actively look within and remain authentic in accordance to my values and beliefs. In addition, I believe reflection is a way to hold oneself accountable. Furthermore, reflection is an important component in evaluating all areas of my life such as organizations and groups that I am apart of. Reflection plays an important role in my life, but I’d say that there is always room for more and more efficient ways of reflecting. For so long, my reflection was solely internal. I would internally evaluate my experiences, mistakes and values. It wasn’t until I joined the Servant Leadership Program at Gustavus, when I began to seek reflection in other forms. This is when my internal reflection transformed into written reflection. I began writing things down and seeking to find meaning in my experiences, mistakes and values. Yet, I also solemnly enjoy interpersonal reflection. I thoroughly believe that one an individual can work through something but have a conversation with someone. By communicating verbally, reflection becomes a collaborative experience. Therefore, I believe my most notable forms of reflection is both written and verbal reflection.” –Haley Coller
“I write a journal everyday in my running log. Yeah, it’s centered around running, but I also reflect about daily life in it. I’m also going to include daily meditation in my reflection. I reflect for three reasons: 1. To take a step back from my daily life to relax and clear my brain – a sort of “grounding” activity. 2. To show others what I thought about my day or something in it. Reading other people’s thoughts is entertaining! 3. To be able to look back over the past months or years and see how I was feeling on a certain day or a sequence of days because it’s entertaining, and it can be constructive in the present! Like, hey, this is how I was thinking on this day when this was happening to me. I felt good that day; let’s recreate that!” –Sam Renier
“Reflection keeps me grounded and centered. Every morning and every evening I try to sit for a moment. First to quiet my mind. Then to bring a person, challenge, or question into my intention. Not to solve it or think about, just to be with it. I am amazed how insights will come and how much more I feel the presence of God when I get out of my own way.” –Barb Larson Taylor, Assistant to the President for Special Projects in President’s Office at Gustavus Adolphus College
“Trying to explain what reflection is or why I do it, or especially why others should reflect is like trying to put a lasso around everything I’ve ever experienced, so instead I’ll just share a story or two–they aren’t the most defining moments of my reflective life or the least, but they paint a picture. It’s easy to look back and connect completely unrelated events, but the truth is everything that got me into this type of thinking was completely unrelated:
My first memory of getting my hands dirty with reflection was in maybe 9th grade, as I was preparing to be confirmed at my church. We were all asked to write a personal essay about our faith journeys. I don’t remember what I wrote about and I’m sure I would laugh at it now, but a couple weeks after I turned it in, my pastor asked me to meet him at the church and go for a walk. He wanted to discuss what I had written–this was one of the first times that someone took the time to help me flesh out my thoughts, and to challenge those thoughts. I remember being surprised, and uncomfortable, and honored. After that short conversation, the wheels were spinning. I began writing all the time, awful angsty teenage poetry. I started a band with a friend to put music to that awful poetry, which eventually matured into some decent songs. I was also obsessed with analyzing lyrics in high school. I loved to pick apart the words and images in a song and try to understand why they were there. I loved knowing that others thought the way that I do.
I was in choir pretty much my entire life, until my last semester of college. I love music because it’s all about connecting–especially in a choir setting, tons of different people come together with the sole purpose of expressing the things that tie us all together. We would do things like singing in a crunch position to learn how to control our breath, or singing in a pitch black room with one candle lit on the piano, or singing the same three measures over and over and over, until they were polished to the point of muscle memory. These moments were all about coming together and feeling what we were doing. I honestly think I learned most of my “life lessons” from my experiences in choir, especially in high school. Choir taught me to really read into simple things like lyrics, or the way someone turns a phrase, or the dynamics of a song–does it start soft and swell into a breathtaking moment, does it repeat the same notes until you notice their subtleties, does it blast you in the face? How do you describe the feeling of standing up to sing O Come All Ye Faithful for the last time to hundreds of people, the music swelling inside of you and your heart literally fluttering? More simply, what is the song saying without actually saying it? I think that’s reflection, at its purest form–what is the world saying to me without spelling it out? What am I experiencing without realizing it? What am I learning? What am I seeing and feeling? What does this say about society? What kind of reality am I constructing, and why? Most of my thoughts come down to that simple last question–why?
Throughout college, I really honed in on some of these questions through various experiences–my Communication Studies classes, writing poetry, Habitat for Humanity trips, and a belief-shaking class called Changing the World. It’s comfortable for me to talk about those experiences because they’re so fresh in my mind, but instead I’ll just say that they taught me to think critically, to hold onto a question rather than forcing an answer, and to connect–ideas, thoughts, experiences, and people. I reflect because I don’t want to be complacent. My favorite poem repeats the line “don’t go back to sleep,” and those words have really become a personal philosophy. Reflection is part of my life because it keeps me awake. For me, reflection is about connecting–about not being alone in my thoughts or in this world, and about helping others feel that.” -Tristan Richards, Program Development VISTA, Habitat for Humanity of Douglas County