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on the art of reflecting

I must say I am a bit disappointed. I anticipated that my last post would have generated millions of comments, or at least a couple. I was anticipating posting your thoughts and insights into the process of reflection. Oh well, such is the plight of the blogger. They say fewer than 1 per cent of readers ever leave a comment. I guess “they” are correct. So, in case you missed it, I asked you to look at five photos of sunsets. They were basically of the same scene from my vacation, but taken under varying conditions. I had noticed when I looked at the scene as it evolved each evening, that the conditions were sometimes nearly perfect to enable reflection in the pond of the sky, trees and colors and sometimes were not. I believe looking at these photos can help us to see metaphorically the necessary components for optimal reflection.

Let’s look at photo 1, taken on day 6. How reflective is it?

Not very.

Why?

Because the surface of the water is not smooth. There was too much wind, causing little ripples in the surface of the pond. So, while you see the trees on the opposite bank quite well, there doesn’t seem to be any depth to the reflection. It is a blur, and you can only see areas of lightness and dark on the surface. Therefore, to optimally reflect, we have to become still, to allow the image to reflect deeply in our inner selves. Have you ever tried to reflect upon a distressing moment when you are still highly agitated or upset? You can’t get very deep. You can’t make out the details of your reflection. You need to quiet your acute emotional reaction in order to be able to truly reflect.

Now take a look at photo 2, from day 4

I really like this photo because of the depth of color in the sky.

Is it a perfect reflection?

I say NO.

Why?

There are a few things that interfere with perfection here. There are many colors of sunset in the sky: it ranges from golden yellows to deep pinks and purples. The reflection of the sky, however, shows only the pinks. Also, you know that the trees are reflected pretty well in the pond, but the photo is so dark, that you cannot really see where reality ends and the reflection begins. Additionally, the reflection of the top of the center tree that extends above the rest of the tree line is obscured by something in the foreground. This photo is too dark, too close, and was not given a long enough exposure to enable  the reflection to appropriately mirror reality. I could have stepped back a bit, used a longer exposure time, and I could have metered my light off the trees, not the exciting colors in the sky. So when we are too close to the event we are trying to reflect upon, when we fail to step back, fail to give it enough time, and fail to focus on the important components we may notice only what caused our excitement or agitation to begin with. Critical reflection requires a certain amount of distance in addition to the surface stillness that allows this reflection to be better than the last.   What about photos 3 and 4? Look at them again to see the defects yourselves

Which of course brings us to the one I consider the best example of reflection: Photo 5

I don’t thnk this is the most beautiful of the photos, but I do think it has most of the necessary components of optimal reflection: It was taken at a fairly wide angle, with an adequate exposure at a distance, on a calm day. While the colors are not overwhelming us, they are accurately reflected in the pond. The foreground does not hide any of the details of the trees that are being reflected in the water, and we can clearly see where reality ends and the reflection begins. For me, to engage in critical reflection, I need distance (space and/or time), an open mind (kind of like the open aperture that lets in enough light to see details in the photos), stillness of mind so that I can reflect without disturbing the surface, and I need the colors to be somewhat muted so that my feelings don't overwhelm my ability to learn and grow from the experience upon which I am reflecting.

Does this ring true for you? Do you think I am full of hot air?

Or can you see the relationship between the conditions in these photos and the conditions of your mind as you try to reflect? Please let me know what you think, and how you accomplish your best reflecting.

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