At a time of year when we are typically swept up in the holiday bustle, tightening up the year’s loose ends, and musing on new beginnings, perhaps in the form of resolutions or lofty aspirations, we are now grappling with how to preserve traditions, maintain social closeness, and avoid totally losing it on our ten-month quarantine crew. As we navigate this uncharted holiday season and attempt to find closure with 2020, how can we carve out our corner of “peace on earth” and peace within? While I am feeling hopeful and encouraged about the start of a new year, I have had to consistently reorient my anxious thinking toward a practice of restorative reflection. Reflecting to restore my mind, body, and spirit to a condition of hopeful anticipation. To a condition of acceptance and growth. Reflecting to learn from what this past year has stirred in me, to understand who I’ve been in 2020, and to create an intention for myself in 2021.
The dictionary definition of reflection is “serious thought or consideration.” The definition for restorative? “Having the ability to restore health, strength, or a feeling of well-being.” I believe that through giving serious, honest consideration to the challenges we have endured in 2020, whether we have been the inflictors or the recipients of pain and suffering, we can engage in a learning process that takes us to a state of restored well-being and hope.
The practice of reflection as a method for learning and restoration is one used within drug and alcohol recovery programs, academia and classrooms. Across its uses, the intention is to understand events past for the purpose of better understanding ourselves, and carrying honest self-awareness with us for future growth and benefit. As tempting as it can feel to look away from regrettable or painful circumstances, we cannot learn from what we cannot face.
In a distilled article on researcher Caroline Humphrey’s work on reflective practice in relation to experiential learning, the author tells us that “reflection may feel puzzling and confusing because it requires us to look at things in creative and interdisciplinary ways—it exposes a diversity of ways of knowing and understanding, and it is intellectually difficult.”
It is intellectually difficult. Never had I thought of personal reflection in this way, having always glorified it as a calming, meditation-like practice. But in considering the purpose of honest reflections on our past selves (who are still very much part of our current and future selves, by the way), it should feel uncomfortable and challenging. Otherwise, we are telling ourselves rosy half-truths, or flat out non-truths, never giving ourselves the gift of growth and restorative learning.
There have been several moments over this past year when I have not lived out of my personal values, particularly in my relationships. In debating all of the difficult and controversial issues 2020 has served up on a platter, I have been reactive, self-righteous, ungracious, and judgmental. In the immediate aftermath of each argument, sure, I would give some thought to my behavior in a half-concerted effort to take ownership of how I could have behaved differently. But more than anything, I would stew and recount and rework my arguments in preparation to be right the next time around. What I continue to remind myself is that even if we are right, if we were wronged, the only restorative learning we have accountability for is our own.
One healthy medium that brings tangible expression to our time of reflection is journaling, or even simply considering guided questions to help us dig deeper into our experiences. Below are some questions that I’ve found helpful for me this past year:
• Am I holding onto anything that I need to let go of?
• What do I say I value, but have a hard time showing I value?
• What do I want others to do for me that I have not so easily done for others?
• What kind of communicator do I wish to be perceived as?
• When did I miss an opportunity to listen and learn?
• Were there opportunities to be more generous, gracious, and empathetic?
These are just a handful of prompts that have helped me to home in on the precise moments of 2020 when I relinquished control over myself to external stressors and triggers. Rather than feeling guilt and shame in experiencing this perfectly human behavior, I am finding considerable encouragement and hope in the opportunity to reflect, learn, and move into 2021 feeling more restored in my mental and physical health, sense of self-awareness, and personal values.
Swiss Psychologist Carl Jung said, “Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darkness of other people.” And, if I may add to that, it’s in understanding how to shine a light on our own darkness that we will also brighten our light in the darkness around us. This is the social power of restorative reflection I wish for us now and for every New Year to come.
Spending time in reflection, while having the potential to be peace-giving and healing, also carries the risk of triggering us in ways we should not attempt to manage on our own. While our practice centers on self-awareness, we should absolutely make the space to process with a partner, friend, and preferably a mental health professional as well. It’s critical to set up a healthy practice of reflection in order to maintain the boundary between reflection and destructive self-criticism. If you are struggling with depression, anxiety, or any form of mental health issue, please visit this page of resources from the CDC.
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Libby is an organizational development consultant focused on organizational culture, group facilitation, executive coaching, and leadership development. With a cross-disciplinary background rooted in psychology, team development, client engagement, organizational behavior, and social justice, Libby continues to pursue opportunities that challenge a status quo worldview in order to implement meaningful change in her life and the lives of others. Her passion for designing equitable, creative, and empowering organizations inspires her in all of the roles in her life, including her role as a wife and mother. Libby resides in Morristown, New Jersey with her husband, Tim, twin daughters, Willow and Everleigh, and their rescue dog, Dobby.