Monday, September 27, 2010

Monday Meditation: Aspiration and Introspection

I had a wonderful conversation with my father this past weekend about the nature of happiness. We often talk about things like that over the phone; it’s one of my dad’s favorite things to do. We sit at either end of the phone, each with a cup of coffee, and we just chew away on the problems of the universe. Over all, a perfectly pleasurable way to pass the better part of an hour.

Anyway, one of the things we both agreed on about happiness was that, as a condition of realizing it, we cannot understate the importance of aspirations and the daily work of trying to discover and nurture our authentic selves. As we were mulling this point, I began to wonder how many people even have aspirations. This brought me immediately to a conversation from the week before with a student, a senior, who was in the process of applying for colleges. It was a beautiful fall day, and Maureen was sitting at a picnic table outside by the door I use to enter the building. She was scratching her head, clearly wrestling with something she was writing. When I asked what she was working on, she said that one of the questions on the college application she was completing asked her to describe a moment of introspection she’d had. She asked for some help, so I offered suggestions about where to look in her past experience, but as we talked I began to discover that Maureen simply didn’t have any to draw on.

I have to be honest here; this surprised me greatly. I mean, I’ll admit that I spend rather a great deal of time in the practice of introspection, so it’s not so out of place that Maureen would not engage in the practice to quite the same degree. I also recognize that it’s not common to find teenagers to do it because they are only just beginning to reach a stage of development that allows for such things. I guess it just caught me that, after nearly 18 years of existence on this planet, it wasn’t possible for her to recall even a single moment on which we looked back and think about what she’d just experienced. Is it possible, I think now as I write this, that she just doesn’t know how?

There is a connection between introspection and aspiration. They each, in their own way, connect our inner selves to the outer world. When we work to move our internal selves closer to our aspirations through introspection, we are changing external reality, bringing together that potential we see in ourselves and the world of which we are a part. There is not supposed to be a distinction between “self” and “other” (yes, I know that sounds incongruous). Some of the most important work we can do as participants in the human experience is to lessen the gap between the two. I like Sonia Johnson’s take on this:

“When we seize power in our own world, the outer world will have to change.” (1987)

I offer, then, the opportunity to take a moment and engage in introspection. Sit and think about a moment in your life for a few minutes. It doesn’t matter when the moment occurred, or how important it was at the time. Just let your mind rest on one and allow it to sit there in the center of your awareness. Not too long, mind you. We have lives, after all. When distraction starts to take over, get up and, if you have time, find a piece of paper. If you like to write, write about your thoughts. If you like to draw, do that. If you’d rather move and do something that puts into action your thoughts, then so be it. For a few moments, just do with the moment still at center. When you’ve done, however long you’ve taken, set it aside. Sometime later this week, go back and look at what you did. What do you think?

I’m all about providing exemplars for stuff like this, so I’ll work on it over the next day or two and share what comes.

Happy Monday!

1 comment:

Mrs. Chili said...

I am constantly reflecting on my experiences (or, at least, it sometimes feels that way). I needed to open a blog as a place to put some of that stuff, in fact....

My experience with high schoolers, though, is that they aren't especially meta-cognitive. I spend a good portion of my instructional time asking them to reflect, though (it's a feature of my discipline), and I DO see them improve as we practice this habit of thinking about how we think...