A story about the many ways in which one can practice reflection.
I’m a huge proponent of journaling. Just ask anyone who I’ve spoken to about self-reflection, that I firmly believe journaling is one of the “free” superpower tools that’s available to everyone in the world, even though only a sliver of the population wield this tool to their advantage.
The primary reason I took to journaling was as a way to reflect on my internal state of mind. While meditation brought bubbles of thoughts or unresolved ideas or conflicts to the surface of my mind, journaling is how I could pull those thoughts out of my mind and into the physical world. Like extracting a memory to store in a Pensieve.
But this story is not about journaling, it’s about the practice of reflection.
And as I learned later in life, putting thoughts out on paper while effective, is still incomplete in the larger scheme of reflecting on one’s thoughts. The biggest problem with it is - the paper you write on doesn’t reflect back your voice or opinions in another way. There’s no feedback coming back, no thought provoking line of questioning, no polarised opinion to contrast with your own and so on.
Which is why I believe therapy is an effective method of self-reflection (granted, your therapist needs to be amazing for you to see the biggest positive effects, as a friend pointed out). Therapy is a form of journaling but where the other person can reflect back on your thoughts. And that feedback or questioning or contrast helps one arrive at their own answers.
In my own life, I’ve never taken therapy but I believe I’ve been extracting its benefits since a really long time. Here’s how it naturally happened.
I’d have thoughts surface, conflicting ones where I’m not sure where to take the thought or how to conclude, or what I should internalise now that I’ve stumbled upon a hidden mechanism or force that governs my thinking (and was doing so under my blissful unawareness until that point).
I take those thoughts, think of a friend who I know might ask me the right questions, or engage in fruitful conversations about that topic, or might have expressed their own thoughts or interest in that topic or opinion in the past. And I send them a blurb about what I’m thinking and why I’m thinking about it, and I ask them “What do you think?”
The great part about therapy is that it’s an effective way for you to get an unbiased space for reflection. The bad thing about therapy is that sometimes strong opinions and bias are great.
Now if you’re someone who easily gets influenced by other people’s thoughts and opinions, that’s something for you to work on. Everyone has useful opinions or ideas, but they must pass through your great filter, and only then be allowed to change your opinion about something. That’s a delicate balance, too far on one side and you’ll be someone who stubbornly doesn’t change their mind, and too far on the other side and you’ll always be changing your mind based on which influential voice you spend your time around.
But if you have a well functioning great filter, then the reflection you get back from your friends on your thoughts, ideas and conflicts is powerful. Not only do you hear another human echo back your voice but changed to capture their opinion, you also come across ideas that may lead to dissonance, or sometimes you may receive strong agreement as the feedback.
But in both cases, you get to hear what their perspective is and why they have it. And that helps you reach the next iteration of your own self-reflection.
Without realising or intending to, I’ve enjoyed the benefits of this form of reflection, and quite intensely so as I’d have half a dozen threads of conversations or ideas running with an equal number of friends, distributed so as to not confuse each person with too many ideas (some people have a tendency to do so, I have noticed I am able to think of multiple ideas simultaneously without much hassle).
And many times those reflections come back in the form of an article that they read and was impactful to them, or a book that helped them resolve their thoughts about the topic. I would go ahead and read those articles and books, and each one has been supremely impactful and positive to my life.
Before I wrap this up, it's worth mentioning that, like any meaningful endeavour, reflecting through journaling and heartfelt conversations isn't always a walk in the park. Trust me, I've had days when my journal stared back at me blankly, and times when I hesitated to hit 'send' on a message sharing my deepest thoughts.
But here's the kicker: it's all part of the journey. The trick is to not let these hiccups derail you. Set a rhythm for your journaling – it could be a few lines a day, or a deep dive on the weekends.
As for opening up to friends, start with the easy stuff, the day-to-day musings, and gradually work up to the heavier topics. It's like building a muscle, both in your fingers for writing and your heart for sharing. And believe me, the clarity and understanding that come from this are well worth the effort. Keep at it, and you'll find your stride!
Which brings me to the end of this post. The reason I’ve written this blog post is so you could try this practice in your life too and maybe get the same strong and life-changing benefits that I’ve gotten from it. Cheers!