Time for Reflection

 

There are magical times of the day when our lake transforms into a looking glass. A mirror image of clouds, sky, and trees is painted on the silky smooth water, doubling the ethereal beauty. Dawn and dusk are the enchanted hours, when all of nature whispers, “It’s time for reflection.”

Have you ever reached the end of a week, a month, or a year, and wondered where the days went? They all run together, and experiences and lessons from one day are smothered by the next.

We need time for reflection.

When my children were young, I asked them nearly every evening the best and worst thing about their day. It was a way to stay close to them, but I also hoped it helped them reflect on their day, celebrate the good, and grow from the challenges.

As a literature teacher, I discovered my students needed encouragement to process what they read. Discussion and reflection allowed them to personally connect with a story or poem and apply the theme to their own lives.

I must admit, my own reflection time is often in front of a mirror where I scrutinize superficial bits I fully know don’t define my worth. That’s not the kind of self-reflection we need. We learned that cautionary tale from Narcissus, who stared at his own reflection until he withered away.

Self-reflection refers to serious thought about our character, actions, and motives. The beginning or end of the day seems the best time for clear reflection. You may prefer to journal, walk, pray, or simply ponder.

I would not be so bold as to tell you what questions you should ask in daily self-reflection, but I will share mine as a springboard for your own ~

  1. What are my three core values? (Yes, this requires intense contemplation.)
  2. Today, how well did my thoughts, words, actions, and interactions align with my core values?
  3. Tomorrow, how can I better live in alignment with my core values?

“Self-reflection is the school of wisdom.” ~17th century writer Baltasar Gracian

 

Hurry Never

 

My hands were full of fall treasures after my morning walk ~ a heart-shaped leaf, a perfect acorn, and a few stems of pretty white wildflowers. I worked through my chores accompanied by soft jazz, stopping frequently to watch hummingbirds dance around our feeder.

I drove to town slowly enough to spy three deer and a chubby groundhog enjoying the afternoon. At the grocery store, I made way for shoppers frantically pushing their carts and invited a mother with a cranky toddler to go ahead of me in line.

I haven’t always moved through my day so leisurely or with such delightful awareness. Even after my children were grown and I was no longer teaching, I still found myself rushing. I walked, drove, talked, moved, and acted as if there was a sense of urgency, when there was none.

I had a hurry habit, a habit that isn’t merely a symptom of our fast-paced, modern world. It seems the want to rush has been a problem long before our time.

These words were written in the 1600s by Saint Francis de Sales, “Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset.” 

A tortoise in Aesop’s fable taught us, “Slow and steady wins the race.”  

One translation of Proverbs 19:2 reads, “Desire without knowledge is not good ~ how much more will hasty feet miss the way!” 

My Symphony, a poem written by William Henry Channing in the late 1800s, reminds us, “Hurry never.”

Like Thoreau, we came to the woods to live more deliberately. Living closer to nature has helped me absorb its peaceful rhythm. I’ve discovered breaking the hurry habit can improve our lives in at least these five ways ~

1. More Beauty ~ The more we slow down, the more we notice nature’s beauty; the more we notice nature’s beauty, the more we slow down. No matter where we live, nature is waiting to help us pause in awe and wonder.

2. More Good-Feels ~ When I catch myself rushing, I can feel my heart race, my muscles tighten, and my breathing constrict. Right now, take a deep breath and relax your body from head to toe. Doesn’t that feel better?

3. More Pleasant Interactions ~ Being in a hurry can cause us to seem rude and self-centered. Slowing down makes us better able to be more compassionate, patient, and aware of others.

4. More Productivity ~ It may seem counter-intuitive, but hurrying doesn’t always help us get more done. In fact, rushing often results in mistakes, accidents, and bad decisions.

5. More Elegance ~ There’s nothing attractive about running around like a chicken with its head cut off. When we slow down, we can glide through our day with more grace and composure ~ like a swan.

 

 

Weathering the Storm

 

At some point in your education, you may have learned about a psychological theory called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The theory is often shown in a five-tier pyramid, with basic physiological needs at the bottom and self-actualization at the top. Abraham Maslow’s idea was that, in general, we can’t advance to the next level of personal fulfillment until the previous level is met.

I’d venture to say much of my time, and yours, is dedicated to self-actualization ~ realizing our personal growth and potential. We are fortunate to have our basic needs met, so we are free to pursue loftier goals.

But if disaster struck, how quickly we would slide down that pyramid. We wouldn’t give a fig about self-actualization!

Last weekend our power went out during a rain storm. Mike and I stopped everything we were doing, lit candles, gathered flashlights, and checked our food supply. The outage lasted less than an hour, but it briefly upended our priorities and concerns.

Later in the week, we learned 2,975 people lost their lives in Puerto Rico last year as a result of Hurricane Maria. By the end of the week, Hurricane Florence was ravaging the Carolinas.

Nature offers such peace and beauty, but there is wisdom to be garnered from the raging storms, too.

We remember what’s important. When forced to evacuate, people grab each other, pets, and maybe a few sentimental items. The house, furnishings, decorations, clothing, jewelry, and electronics are all just things. It makes us question if any of that stuff was ever getting us closer to self-fulfillment.

We realize we’re all the same. In a disastrous situation, we get a taste of the lives of those who struggle daily for nutritious food, potable water, and safe shelter. Social and economic status can make human beings seem very different from one another, but in truth, we all have the same basic needs and desires.

We rely upon our resourcefulness. There’s a reason why television shows and movies about survival are popular. They challenge us to think about our ability to meet our basic needs without depending on modern conveniences. Storms, of all kinds, test our physical, mental, and spiritual strength

We are put in our place. Most of us like to feel we’ve got it together and are in control of our lives. It’s all smooth sailing, and then WHAM! Stormy weather reminds us we can’t control everything. Sometimes we have to surrender and have faith the storm will pass, and the sun will shine again.

We need each other. Maslow’s theory includes the human need for love and belonging. In times of disaster, there are always stories of people helping people, reminding us of the good in humanity and in ourselves.

You can help people affected by Hurricane Florence and other devastating storms by donating to the American Red Cross at http://www.redcross.org. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soft as a Feather

 

We were taking a sunset ride on the lake, but I was distracted, barely noticing the painterly clouds and sky. Suddenly my husband shut off the boat, jumped out of his chair, laid on his stomach, and grabbed something in the water. He stood up and handed me a fluffy white feather with a perfect black circle at the top. Whatever I was fretting about faded away, and I felt myself relax and soften into the moment.

Feathers are one of nature’s most beautiful and magical gifts. Mike and I have given them to each other for years. In many cultures, feathers represent a connection to the spiritual realm, and people often believe they are a sign from angels or a loved one. Isn’t it curious how feathers appear at the oddest of moments and in the strangest of places?

Imagine picking up a feather that has fallen in your path. Hold it in your hand. Look closely at its anatomy. How marvelous!

Native Americans thought of the feather’s hollow quill as a way to send prayers and receive blessings from the creator. The quill divides the feather into two parts, perhaps representing two sides of ourselves. The downy fluff at the base of a feather symbolizes our continuous growth. The many vanes of the feather are our individual days and the choices we make.

With those amazing parts of a feather, birds can fly. Let that soak in for a second. They fly! They soar with nothing more than simple feathers like the one Mike gave me, the one I took home and put in a glass bowl with the others as a reminder.

Because for all their symbolism and scientific wonder, for me, feathers are a reminder to stay soft.

The world can make us hard and bitter. It can cause us to view life as a struggle and a competition. We can begin to see the dark instead of the light, fear instead of hope. It can make us clench our minds like a tight and angry fist.

But, a feather ~ a feather stays beautifully soft and powerfully gentle, no matter where the wind takes it. With that frame of mind, we all could soar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chop Wood, Carry Water

 

Our friends and family know Mike and I enjoy working on outdoor projects together. Our latest DIY venture has been removing and replacing several rotted retaining walls.

I have to admit the job has had this old girl sprawled on the ground breathlessly complaining, whining, and crying. I know there’s no crying in baseball and other virile pursuits, but I have shed tears while moving a thousand 45-pound concrete blocks, digging trenches, and shoveling rock. After a good cleansing melt-down, I usually regain my composure, pick up a shovel and get back to work.

For years, I’ve encouraged myself to complete overwhelming, difficult, or mundane tasks to a rhythmic refrain of, “Chop wood. Carry water. Chop wood. Carry water.” My motivational mantra refers to a Zen parable I read when I was about twenty. It goes something like this ~

There was a young monk who dreamed of learning the secrets of enlightenment. At the monastery, he spent his days chopping wood for the fire and carrying water to the kitchen. Tired and frustrated, he complained to the Zen master who told him, “Before enlightenment, chopping wood and carrying water. After enlightenment, chopping wood and carrying water.”

I certainly don’t consider myself enlightened, but I find this story filled with simple wisdom ~

Just Do It. The successful Nike slogan reminds us to stop making excuses. Yes, it’s hard and you’re exhausted, but the work needs to be done. Chop wood. Carry water. Harvest field. Change diaper. Build bridge. Sweep porch. Cure cancer. Work is what gives our lives meaning and purpose.

Be Mindful. Whatever our work, we should try to be completely present and give it our best. There is a saying that how we do anything is how we do everything. What matters is the task at hand. Forget about multi-tasking. Just chop wood. Just carry water.

All Work is Meaningful. There is no unimportant work. I have a new appreciation for retaining walls and the people who build them. The young monk was learning that all work, no matter how educated or enlightened he became, is really nothing more than chopping wood and carrying water.

Attitude is Everything. The Zen master in the story made it clear that with wisdom, the monk’s tasks won’t change, but his perception of the tasks will. The late philosopher Wayne Dyer similarly said, “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

Find the Fun. As my favorite Disney Zen master, Mary Poppins, sang, “In every job that must be done there is an element of fun. You find the fun and snap! The job’s a game!” Working alongside my husband makes every job a little more fun. I guess that makes him my spoonful of sugar.

When our retaining walls are complete, there will be plenty more things on our to-do list. Maybe we will plant some fall bulbs, paint the dock, or rebuild the creaky stairs. Thankfully, our work is never done, because when we stop chopping wood and carrying water, we stop living.