Throughout a course on guiding reflections, we wrote journal entries answering various questions and reflecting on various experiences.
The first official journal entry of the semester. The question: How reflective are you? What is your comfort level with reflection? What are ways that you take part in reflection on your life, on your relationships, on your work, on your play?
I've been thinking on this question for a while now. I'm nearly finished with my current journal and I've been gluing together a fresh one while I look back at the hundred or so pages I've filled up in the last couple months. I notice that my entries are very scientific. For a while I was experimenting with different sleep cycles, and during that time I took very close notes on when I woke up and when I went to sleep. Also included in these entries are analyses of patterns - maybe I ate too much cheese before bed, maybe I should try and meditate after waking up to better remember my dreams. I also reflect more when I'm on adventures. Some of my best journaling was done on a week-long bike trip, where I took note of every interaction and passing strangeness. I notice, also, that I write much stronger when there will be an audience to read the work. I participated in a writer's group for a few weeks last year - the weekly pull to produce content had me writing draft after draft, excited to find the right words.
Considering all these together, I think I reflect best when I am studying some kind of phenomenon, when I am on an adventure, and when I have an audience or assignment to write. If those pieces aren't in place, I find it hard to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard).
A reflection on chapter 3 of our textbook on reflective learning. What did you find in this chapter that was insightful, applicable, and relevant?
I like writing as a reflective practice. No reflection is neutral: by that, I mean every reflective activity transmutates raw experience into a certain packaged form. If you discuss your experience, your memory will be framed by the conversation. If you draw your experience, you will remember it as the drawing displays it. If an experience is written, it is remembered as writing. Details not included are forgotten. Narrative or rhythmic forms become entangled with the raw data of the experience, if experience can be equivocated with something so binary and objective as data.
I'm especially curious about automatic writing as a reflective process. Think as little as possible, write as quickly as you can. Such unexpected insights and oddities will spring onto the page! Other writing styles, such as short poems or long-form essays, could convey the same experience in a multitude of flavors and rhythms. I think it's true what Mueller and Oppenheimer say, that writing longhand improves memory more than typing on a computer. However, I think writing on a computer is often much faster, and may be a medium more suited to eyes-closed auto-writing.
What questions do you have for yourself? What do you wonder about in relation to understading yourself better or about becoming more comfortable with who you are?
Oh boy, I've got a lot of questions for that guy (me). Why do I not remember my dreams when I wake up? Why is it so hard to focus when the internet is strong? What makes that funny little buzzing in my ear come and go, and what is back pain all about anyway?
I have more. I wonder why I want to eat so little, but I snack so much. I wonder why I sleep for such unpredictable lengths of time, and I wonder why I feel like a zombie for an hour after getting up. I wonder why dogs sometimes growl when they look at my eyes. I wonder why small children like to punch and/or glom onto me.
Really, I wonder what's going on under the hood, to use a mechanical metaphor on myself. What's he thinking in there? Why is there always some song stuck on a loop in my neurological machinery? Why will the same things feel so different depending on the day?
Oh, gosh. What a life.
What is a story from your life that is worthy of reflecting and writing about?
Well, there was one time I sunk a cube.
I spent a summer semester in Norway studying landscape sculpture, a field in which I have no experience but a lot of interest. We were tasked with exploring a local wooded area and coming up with a project to place in the environment. My project was to weld together a cube - I had never welded before - and fill the walls with moss. My plan was to float the cube into a small lake, so it would appear as if a perfect chunk of water had been removed.
It sunk. Pretty much immediately.
My passion for ecological artistry has not diminished, but I do think I will be more careful next time I construct a moss-yacht. I was pretty embarassed when the whole thing fell to the bottom of the lake, but I had an excellent time in the course. Everyone else's projects were really brilliant - wattle-and-daub huts, wooden staircases to nowhere. There is a real pleasure in being outdoors every day, using your hands, making something in cooperation with natural progressions.
If I do something similar in the future, I'll certainly do more experiments beforehand, and iterate more designs before the final project. Maybe my next cube will stand for a little longer.
A reflection on chapters 5 and 6 of our textbook. The same question as the last book review: What did you find in this chapter that was insightful, applicable, and relevant?
Oh gosh, lots. First of all, I enjoyed the term critical incident, because I am partial to everyday terms taken from military contexts. This was apparently some jargon taken from Air Force investigators, and it is now used to identify and reflect on significant moments during a learning experience. A critical incident should be picked apart carefully: How do I feel? How does everyone feel? How did I react to this incident, and how did my colleagues react? Why was this such a challenge, or why did this happen so easily? What do we, do I, do now?
Like I wrote about in my reflection essay, I think taking these military procedures can be very illuminating. Stealing metaphors from other fields can be radiantly enlightening.
Also, I was interested in the discussion about whether to focus on positive or negative situations when reflecting, by yourself or in a group. Is it better to critically analyze failures, or to confidently appropriate successes? What kind of mix is best for doing better the next time? Excellent questions from our reading today.
A reflection done in the last few minutes of class: Consider a "small moment" from our time together today to ponder and write about - something you experienced that is especially memorable, and the reasons why.
Good discussions about values, judgements, and assumptions tonight. Three of us discussed protesting, and what causes we would be comfortable marching for (or against). One other student shared her experience of the women's march, that although the purpose of the march was to highlight women of color, the real turnout was mostly middle-income white women wearing pink hats. The rest of us shared our stories of protest, and for a moment a feeling of soft hopelessness descended. It seemed like our attempts at radical change had been commodified before we even arrived.
I was honored to share the Emoji Simulator with my fellow geeks, and led them in a short activity: we each chose a springtime experience we have had recently, and coded it into the machine. So amazing to see everyone pick up the means and the method to genesis their own little world. Not one person gave up or failed to create something interesting! At the end of the session, we all shared our simulations. How incredible they were! Mine was a doodle of the lawn in front of my apartment window, simulating the nut-eating, poo-dropping squirrels and their wormy friends. As the simulation went on, the squirrels ate the nuts and left poo behind, which the worms ate, all while music flickered around my computer and I stared on in cool awe.
L drew a pond and added some rules for all kinds of interesting creatures to pop into existence: bobcats, gators, seedlings, joggers, flowers. It was just like sitting on a bench near a pond and watching the life flow by.
T's was a complex forest life cycle between cats, birds, and worms. The way he had set up the parameters led to his cats consuming all the birds immediately, which allowed the worms free growth throughout the system. Oops, he had invented an invasive species! While not at all intentional, his unbalanced ecosystem was completely accurate to the real-life effect of introduced predators. So cool!
B's was a very interesting oscillator that included sun, clouds, happy people, and unhappy people. She developed a relationship between objects where sunny weather and happy people made other people happy, while cloudy weather and sad people made other people sad. "For some reason," she said, "other people seem to have a way stronger effect on mood than the weather." I just love these accidental poetic truths that come out of simulation games.
T made a lawn simulator, and worked hard to try and create flowers out of the interaction between seedlings and rain. She failed, and admitted to us that her simulation was completely accurate: her lawn is currently a sopping mud puddle with no flowers to speak of. Funny how everyone seemed to make a simulation that behaved a little too honestly.
K's simulation was another seedling-flower interaction, this time including sunshine in the mix. A field scattered with seedlings quickly evolved into a dense mat of sunny flowers as we watched. Beautiful!
Dr. C's simulation was a thought-provoking mixture of physical, emotional, and active elements. The sun and the trees were in her simulation, which combined with a flurrious cloud of running shoes to produce a glitter of happy faces. All of the happy faces, she said, were representations of her own happiness at the springtime freedom. I think she made brilliant use of the simulation space to represent her own imagination - a kaleidoscopic dance of trees, suns, and happy running feet!
A reflection on chapter 9 of our textbook.
This chapter concerns reflecting in groups of all sizes.
Something I have been mulling on much recently is the strength of shared realities. I notice that working on a project alone takes a lot of work, extra effort, and only is successful against much friction. For others this may not be the case, but for me, it certainly is. Having one other person to work with makes the work go smoother. I am realizing about myself that I can only take so many steps in sequence on my own before passing the ball to a teammate. It was interesting to read in this chapter about different sorts of friend-arrangements, such as triads, action learning sets, and guided reflection groups. It is intersting to me how many ways one can organize groups of people. Of course, there are as many organizational possibilities as there are grains of sand on Mars, but this chapter is inspiring nonetheless.
I especially appreciated the midchapter facilitation advice. "You are not the expert" and "resist the temptation to push your own agenda" and "listen, listen, and listen some more" are all simple, direct, and impossible to overemphasize. This class has helped me dive deeply into the field of reflection, an area in which I was underdeveloped, and every time I read advice like this I feel very grateful to be part of a group (a peer squad? a hextad? a focus swarm?) that is congealing and improving around the skill of reflective practice.
A post-activity reflection. Today in class we were led through some workshops by our fellow students, and T's activity on isomorphic metaphors really got me thinking.
He asked us to brainstorm some curriculum around the use of metaphor in a learning environment. Paraphrasing what he said, an isomorph is formed when two parallel stories are joined with a metaphor. Comparing thee to a summer's day, for example, creates an isomorphic relationship between thee and the summer day. Metaphors like this are so, so powerful. Imagine if you compared your love to the beautiful summer day, and it immediately rained. That's a big red flag from the elves that run the narrative machinery of the universe.
So, we talked about how to encourage learners to play with metaphors and isomorphs. Our idea (and we had many more good ideas) was to have learners flip an isomorph upside down. Comparing thee to a summer's day, for example: what if we wrote a story from the perspective of a summer's day? This summer's day - maybe call her Summer - might describe her love (probably named Autumn) as a fair lady, flipping the isomorph and running it backwards.
This activity would be about exploring the alternate worlds created by metaphors. Through that exploration, perhaps the anatomy of the isomorph could be better understood.
Reflecting on chapter 11 of our textbook.
All books worth their weight in pulp end with a chapter like this one: "Critically Reflective Practice as a Way of Being". This sort of prerogative is a culminative step in any philosophical system, systems that certainly include such practical scaffolds as reflective practice. I am glad this author decided to elevate reflective skills to a Way of Being.
If you'll allow me, a quick leap into medieval alchemical metaphor in order to understand the significance of this eleventh-chapter elevation of practice.
The zodiac signs with which we are familiar have many meanings. My own sign, Libra, is a calendrical month (roughly from mid-September to mid-October). Libra is also a complex of characteristics, which include fairness, balance, and a love of beauty. Libra is also a mythological reference to the Blind Scales of Justice and all the rich classical narrative behind that imagery. While the stories and the cycles of the zodiac are quite old - at least as old as writing and agriculture - the modern twelve symbol sare quite recent. Medieval, in fact. Our zodiacal alphabet comes from the alchemists.
Alchemy is more than chemistry. Much more. Alchemy is the art and science of reflection through the use of physical materials. Alchemists saw that whatever experiments they processed in their laboratories also happened within themselves, in a very real and actionable manner. Gold, for alchemists, represented the bold and proud ego. Mercury - both planet and substance - represented the clear, clever, quick-thinking mind. To dissolve gold in a solution of mercury was to dissolve pride in critical thought. Alchemy is self-reflection through chemical process.
There are twelve steps to the alchemical process of self-actualization. These twelve chemical processes are where our modern zodiacal symbols come from. The first, Aries the ram, is the process of incineration. Libra is the process of sublimation, when a solid turns directly to gas without passing through the material stage of liquid. This can be seen when dry ice makes Halloween fog. The alchemists used hundreds of symbols for all kinds of chemical processes and substances, but only the zodiacal twelve were seen as essential to the work of becoming your highest self.
The final step in the journey of actualization, the same step this final textbook chapter explores, is projection. Pisces the fish. This process has not entirely been translated into modern chemistry the same way the others have - such as incineration (Aries), sublimation (Libra), fermentation (Capricorn), and distillation (Virgo). To me, the process of projection is the sending-out of the final product, the seminal moment of achieving cohesion and publishing an actualized philosophy. This is what I see in our chapter 11 here: a cohesion and projection of the lessons we have learned along the way.
Remain mindful. Be open, always. Put on the pressure but be wise about stress. Breathe. Be bold.
A post-workshop reflection, like last class period.
I really enjoyed both T's and B's reflection workshops. I especially noticed that T's poetry workshop was about us, the students, and not so much about her, the facilitator. I think all activities benefit from this perspective but reflections are an especially important project to do without too much supervision. We were asked to list the poets we could remember, or were thinking about, and there was an interesting mix of the classics (Shakespeare, Dickinson), the ancients (Virgil, Homer), some contemporary writers, and some funny mythic characters which I found interesting (Jesus? Buddha?). We also wrote our own short poem about how we were feeling, which was a good excuse to do some stream-of-consciousness dumping after a head-spinning day.
Here's what I wrote:
the wolves have come back to yellowstone to anchor the riverbanks in blood
rivers of worldly compassion are returning following the reintroduction of critical curiosity into the contemporary neurology these faculties resembling higher-level predatory mammals in the dendritic wildwood of the prefrontal cortex a forest overgrazed by obedience oversimplified and monocropped by the neurolinguistic subfunctionality of the macrocosmic archonic pulses spiraling down the drains oozing out the liquid crystal display sewer drain held at arm's length against the graying shifting baseline once overwhelmingly alive and now as bleached as the coral reef
the wolves have come back to yellowstone to anchor the riverbanks in blood