Why start here?
For the “doers” among us, reflection is a difficult place to start. Let’s be honest, even for the more contemplative among us, reflection is still a difficult place to start. Why so difficult? Because first, reflection requires us to pause from activity, and being still is not easy. Reflection also gives us the opportunity to consider how our behavior impacts others — also difficult. As a practice, reflection includes holding an open, non-judgmental, compassionate space with which to view our experiences and those with whom we interact.
Reflection calls us to acknowledge how we participate in the stories of our own life. It is not an exercise in finding fault or placing blame, rather it is a way of seeking to understand. A helpful image in our quest for understanding is to think about relationships like a dance. Sometimes I lead. Sometimes I follow. But…
The only person I can control in this dance is myself.
This is one of the most life-giving truths to support a journey toward health. I have the capacity to influence the health of my relationships by changing my own behavior. I cannot control your movements any more than I can force you to step to the right in a dance when all you want to do is step to the left.
To determine what I want to work on… if I want to work on anything at all, I need to be able to view my experiences in a way that includes an understanding of how I move and make my way in a relational space. This is much like both being an actor in a play AND being in the audience. This takes time and practice to develop so be patient and kind with yourself and others as you work on this skill. It is absolutely worth the effort.
How this works in real life…
From the vantage point of the dance metaphor, I am able to see that when I prevent my child from doing something she wants to do or having something he wants to have, my child’s understandable response is frustration or anger. I may not want my child to be frustrated or angry. My child’s anger may make me uncomfortable. But if I can mentally move to the audience… I get it. I remember when my parents said “no” to me and I got angry. Then I can both empathize with the emotion AND allow space for my child’s anger. I can choose to affirm the validity of the emotion while holding firm with my limits.
The dance metaphor works with other family relationships too. Someone in my family can say or do something that makes me angry. If I have been working on my reflection skills, I notice my body’s cues before critical words come spewing out of my mouth. I can choose to wonder what the anger is about and explore the details of what was said or done with curiosity to help me learn what the issue really is… possibly something I want that I’m not getting or something I’m afraid will happen or maybe something has made me sad. When I can reflect, I can choose to work with the real issue rather than making things worse with a mis-directed angry outburst.
Other reflective practices to consider…
These are just two examples of being reflective in the moment. Almost any tense relational situation can benefit from the reflection that a pause for 3 deep breaths makes possible. There are also practices of reflection such as journaling or prayer or meditation that are helpful in raising awareness of how our relationships function over time. With journaling, patterns emerge that I may choose to continue or I may seek interventions to help me change. With prayer, I re-orient to a bigger picture that helps me connect to the strength and values of my faith. With meditation sensations, feelings, and thoughts have a chance to enter my conscious mind so I can give language to my experience. Art, music, poetry, dance, creative writing are also pathways of reflection that give us the ability to choose how we will make our way in the world with the people who mean the most to us.
To strengthen the relationships that matter most to you, try one of these reflective practices. Adapt as needed for your situation. As you experiment, notice if you become uncomfortable. Pay attention to your thoughts, sensations, and feelings in that moment and be curious and kind with yourself as you learn and grow.