One of the habits that I have developed as a result of writing an (almost) monthly Salon is that I am constantly listening to and observing the world around me, because it is my source of inspiration. People and their ideas, comments, or concerns become warehoused in my mind. Eventually – I hope – some of the thoughts find each other, generating the alchemy for an interesting Salon. Sometimes articles form slowly, but other times an inspiration downloads, so to speak, because of what a person says or the way he or she says it. That experience happened to me the other day during a luncheon with two individuals visiting family in the Chicago area for the holidays.
The psychic background: Now, by psychic background, I don’t mean “to do a reading” psychic. I am referring to the energetic dynamic that occurs when individuals who do not know each other very well get together and enter into the tribal ritual of laying out the power patterns of their lives as a way of immediately establishing their turf, so to speak. Sometimes this includes the need to project the superior lifestyle pattern or, if they are more secure, finding mutual comfort zones. For my part, it happened that the luncheon I referred to occurred at the end of a very rigorous year. Not only was my workshop schedule extremely intense, but I also completed writing my new book, ENTERING THE CASTLE. The pressure of this year was immense, and I can say without exaggeration that I have absolutely no memory of having had a summer vacation. I was a bit overwhelmed by the realization that I had worked almost every weekend this past summer and that yet another lovely season had passed in which I had not even had enough time off to get away for a few days in August to meet someone very dear to me. And from that I concluded, among other things, that the art of reflection is one that is worthy of discussion and perhaps practice in your life.
Let me first define “reflection” and then I’ll bring you back to my luncheon where the inspiration for this topic began in the first place, or rather where the final piece was added. To reflect means to set time aside to think clearly and deeply about the choices you make in your life and their long-term consequences. You reflect on the past and present influences in your life and the stress factors as well as your values, all of which are constantly evolving. Time to reflect allows you to consciously slow down these influences so that you can assess the impact they are having on your life, and make decisions about what changes you need to make as the years go by. Sometimes you’ll discover that you are being pursued by a reptile, as Teresa of Avila would say, that needs to be confronted, such as a fear. Or you may finally come to the conclusion that you need to change the way you’ve been living – period. You may realize that you can no longer go on living a certain way because you are far too unhappy, lonely, or exhausted, or simply that the time has come to reset your life’s compass. Perhaps you want to become more creative or get your body in shape before it really is too late.
Time spent in reflection is the opposite of acting in panic or without thinking. Everyone has had experiences in which they have had to ask themselves, “What on earth was I thinking when I said this – or did that?” Acting too soon or making promises you can’t possibly keep are indications of a lack of reflection. So . . . back to my luncheon.
While at lunch, one of my companions said, “Well, we are all multitaskers, and you know how people like us are. We just don’t have time to go to the movies.” The Multitasker is a new type of archetype – not a major league one, by any means, of course. It’s more of a social wannabe archetype, but it’s definitely related to the Social Climber archetype. The Multitasker is a product of the high-end energy culture we live in that values the art of speed: constantly communicating with someone via Blackberry, cell phone, and laptop computer. The promise of the techno-world is that everything can be done not only better, but also faster and faster and faster – without thought, introspection, or time to reflect on the consequence of the actions initiated by all this high-end, light-speed technology.
I realized as I heard this woman say with great pride that she and her husband were non-movie-going mulititaskers (and they were both very nice, mind you), that I had reached my “speed peak.” I said, “I don’t think I admire multitasking anymore. I think it detracts from the capacity to think deeply about what you are doing and, perhaps more importantly, why you are doing it.” I said that I realized, of course, that we have built our lives around a particular speed zone, and that a certain amount of multitasking is essential to our survival. But I don’t care to see that as something to strive for as a value. For me, the time had come to withdraw from an adoration of doing things faster and more efficiently to choosing what I want to do with more thoughtfulness and care.
A part of this is the result of growing older; of that, I have no doubt. Time does become more precious, like each passing summer, and we can’t afford not to appreciate the gifts and beauty of each season as it comes and goes. We can’t afford to lose months off the calendar each year as if we had thousands to spare, because we don’t. These are thoughts worthy of reflection. I often think of a line that the great mystic Thomas Merton wrote: “This day shall never come again.” That is a truth worth reflecting on, slowly, deeply, and more than once. In fact, it is a truth worthy of becoming the first thing you say to yourself when you rise in the morning: “This day of my life shall never come again. How shall I use this day? What thoughts shall I dwell upon this day? Who will I meet this day? What surprises does life have in store for me today?” And then tell yourself to be mindful, to remain alert to “God in the details of your life,” as Teresa of Avila would say, because God is hidden in the backdrop of your life. The Divine is in the shadows and in the silence and in the noise. It is for you to notice the design of the events of your life and to reflect on the meaning and significance of that design on each particular day – for each design will never come again.
Poetry is the perfect companion for the practice of reflection as it lifts your soul and helps you to withdraw from ordinary life. Poetry inspires and enchants you with a weave of words and perceptions that can make chills run down your spine. Emily Dickinson, the great mystic-poet, is my favorite. Any of her poems is worthy of hours of inner reflection. Many of her poems are mystical love sonnets to God, written in solitude from her home in Amherst, Massachusetts. For example, in, “Love’s Baptism,” Dickinson writes:
I’m ceded – I’ve stopped being Theirs –
The name They dropped upon my face
With water, in the country church
Is finished using, now,
And They can put it with my Dolls,
My childhood, and the string of spools,
I’ve finished threading – too –
Baptized, before, without the choice,
But this time, consciously, of Grace –
Unto supremest name –
Called to my Full – the Crescent dropped –
Existence’s whole Arc, filled up,
With one small Diadem.
My second Rank – too small the first –
Crowned – Crowing – on my Father’s breast –
A half unconscious Queen –
But this time – Adequate – Erect,
With Will to choose, or to reject,
And I choose, just a Crown –
Dickinson boldly writes about her own baptism by choice, rejecting the unconscious act of infant baptism and electing to be baptized into consciousness, fully accepting the power of grace. Such an act of individual choice and the consequence is worthy of reflection, both as she writes about it and because what she writes about – the act of consciously choosing cosmic love and grace – is the ultimate choice of the illuminated human being.
Kahil Gibran’s great work, THE PROPHET, is replete with rich jewels that are pure delight to reflect upon, all of which enhance the richness of your life:
And let your best be for your friend.
If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know its flood also.
For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill?
Seek him always with hours to live.
For it is his to fill your need, but not your emptiness.
And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures.
For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.
Gibran reminds us that we must save the best for those we love and not the worst of us. How often do we turn to our friends because we are in need of support or because we, as he writes, have hours to kill? But we should come to those we love first and foremost when we are bursting with love and sparkling with delight. And – taking this to the deeper level of reflection – we should think very clearly about what we bring to our friendships. What type of friend are you? Are you reliable? Dependable? Trustworthy? Reflect on yourself as a friend and the quality of choices you make in terms of how you nurture your friendships. These are worthy thoughts to reflect on.
THE PRACTICE OF REFLECTION
Let me recommend that you introduce reflection time into your life once a week. Once a day is just not practical for most people, so go for once a week. Select some exquisite reading material, like poetry or sacred literature, and read through it and then apply it to your life. Reading alone is not enough. Bring this luscious material inside of you. Feed your soul.
Especially, let me encourage you to take time to practice reflection when you need to make decisions and significant choices. The adoration of speed and multitasking leaves a great deal to be desired when it comes to managing the needs of your conscience and your soul.