Commentary: Take the time for contemplation

By Steve Harrison

Reflection is good. It isn’t always easy to make time for, and looking inward sometimes brings a certain amount of apprehension. I think sometimes we avoid it for fear it will be painful, and sometimes it is. Our lives are so full that it is much easier to just keep charging ahead without spending time looking back.

This time of year beckons for contemplation, while at the same time leaving us with little time for doing it. A slice of pumpkin pie and a list of thanksgivings make the holiday complete. With COVID threats receding, we are grateful to have our lives back, for survival, for the ability to make future plans. The end of the year, holiday compositions, and even New Year’s resolutions require taking stock, looking back, and looking forward.

I hate to admit that I am hooked on Facebook. There is a part of me that thinks it’s evil, one more puppeteer pulling our strings (and pushing our buttons), but another part likes the connection, the mindless entertainment, and the reflection it brings. Still, when I look at some “friends’” posts, I wonder if they realize that all of their posts are a one-note song. I wonder if they think of their news stream as a reflection of who they are.

Periodically, I look back over my posts to see if I like what I see. I think of Facebook as a scrapbook of sorts; I want it to reflect a fairly realistic picture of who I am: politics, dachshunds, classic European cars, recipes, aphorisms, funny memes, pictures of clouds, sunsets, light on the hills, Max (my pup), John (the husband), and friends. I do it fairly regularly, every few months, to make sure several years from now, if I look back on my posts or a random stranger wants to see what I’m like, that the reflection will be somewhat accurate and complete.

Having just stored most of our possessions into tubs for safekeeping, out of harm’s way, during a lengthy remodel, there was time for reflections on objects that we have acquired. There was time to ponder: Where did I buy this? Why did I buy this? Do I still like this? It’s been a good exercise, and happily I find that I’m still fond of most of the things that surround us. When we unpack there will be another chance to assess.

Examining all this stuff, I’ve reached the conclusion that our environment is full but probably not complete. Part of what we do is collect, so though I have slowed down due to COVID, retirement and the sense of having little space left, I’m sure something new will find its way in. I find myself looking for just the right painting to fit over the new mantel. Marie Kondo wouldn’t be pleased; and, perhaps, I haven’t learned as much as I should have from reflection.

I’m sure we have all gone through photo albums, the low-tech Facebook, and been surprised by the subject of the photo, or the ephemera recorded, or the experience captured. Looking back, contemplating who we were and what we have done can be a meaningful exercise.

A therapist I consulted a few years ago about dealing with change and other life challenges, gave me an assignment to write a gratitude letter. The first step toward better mental health requires reflection and contemplation. Restorative, like a nap. In an age when troubles seem to abound, it’s even more important to take a break, contemplating who and what we have become.


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