The Lost Art of Reflection
You would think that I as a writer should know this and use it. But it took two friends—Joe Byerly and Ryan Holiday—to open my mind to this practice.
Or, more accurately, self-reflection.
Joe Byerly has a new book out (with Cassie Crosby) called My Green Notebook. Highly recommended, by the way. The “green notebook” is literally a notebook that the army gives to its young officers. (As an enlisted man, I never heard of it.) Its purpose is to jot down “lessons learned.”
Sounds really dumb, doesn’t it? But if you try it, it’s amazing how helpful the practice can be.
The Stoics exercised reflection daily, according to Ryan Holiday. Read Marcus Aurelius. Or Seneca or Zeno or Epictetus.
The idea is at the end of the day to take a few minutes, preferably with pen and paper or laptop, and ask yourself, “What did I learn today?”
Just as an example from my own demented psyche, I’ve been involved lately in an unwanted dispute. As I was driving on the highway a couple of days ago, I realized that despite all the unpleasantness, I really had no ill will toward the person I’ve been clashing with. I held nothing against him. I saw our disagreement as no one’s fault—just a consequence of differing needs and points of view. I could definitely get past it. I could go forward with a clean slate.
This was a revelation to me. I had no idea I felt that way. I thought, “I should write Person X and tell him that I hope we can put this kerfuffle behind us and go forward in a positive frame of mind.”
As writers and artists, you and I will have more professional reflections as well.
“Chapter Six is too long. Go back and cut it.”
“Great name for a character—Fred Knipsia.” (I’m stealing this from my friend Norm Stahl.).
The act of reflecting is not like meditation. It’s more like conscious self-assessment. But there’s an element of self-surrender in it too. You have to “sit back” and let the buried stuff rise to the surface.
I realized taking up this practice that there was one area in which I’ve been doing something similar for years.
I’m a huge believer in recording and interpreting (if you can) the dreams and even nightmares that come to you in sleep.
Oddly enough—or perhaps not so oddly—I had a corresponding dream to the revelation above, just two nights later.
Bottom line: I highly recommend this Stoic/Green Notebook practice. It’s like a sailor or a wilderness trekker taking their navigational bearings at the end of the day.
You realize where you are. It helps.