As a schoolteacher we are taught/trained to be reflective in order to improve our lessons as well as our ability to convey knowledge to those we teach. Of course, like most students, we do this exercise simply to get a grade and receive our teaching credential. We are dismissive of this skill thinking that we will figure it out as we go and there is no need to take the time to practice such a “silly” skill. How wrong I was, and I am sure that other teachers were as well as they begin their teaching career filled with all of the “know-it-all” bravado that come with young adulthood.
After 15 years of teaching, I don’t necessarily sit down and write down my reflections on how something went and how to improve, but at least I reflect on how my day went. Being reflective is difficult because it causes you to call yourself on your own shortcomings. It causes you to harm your own fragile ego and do away with the narcissism that comes from being the “center” of attention. We endeavor to put our best foot forward, but sometimes the lesson does not hit the mark due to our own lack of enthusiasm or the lack of engagement from our audience. The most important part is to build upon it rather than dwell on the ineffectiveness or worse, look for excuses to make yourself feel better and place the blame on the other side. I was blessed with the opportunity gain a tremendous level of knowledge and it is my profession to impart that knowledge to others. The goal of teaching is not gloat about how much more you know compared to others the goal of teaching is to make your students smarter than you are. The trick is to be mutually gracious the day that you and the student realize it.
As a Mason, I have used the skill of reflection much more often than I have as a teacher and I wasn’t even getting a grade to pass a class. However, I was getting a much more important grade – a grade for my life within a fraternity based on mutual improvement and growth. Reflection is a healthy component of our craft and should be intuitive to us in all that we do – ritual, presentations, fellowship, etc. We are a fraternal organization that combines social and academics, friendship and outreach, strength and love. When we consider our three principal tenants and four cardinal virtues we shouldn’t respond with, “this is easy, what a cakewalk” we should respond with, “this is challenge that I am up for and it will be worth it.” The goal of being a Masonic leader is to help each other thrive in their own way at their own pace and within their own skill level. This allows for humility to take hold as you attain different levels within our gentle craft and more importantly allows for mutual benefit to be recognized.
Reflection is part one of your ability to grow and be of benefit to yourself, which makes you of benefit to your community. Once you reflect on a moment that has occurred it is important to bask in the glow if appropriate or begin the process of reconciliation. We are given multiple opportunities to repeat our mistakes, but we are given few opportunities to make our mistakes right in the eyes of those we might have wronged, knowingly or unknowingly -intentionally or unintentionally. Allow reflection to be your ability to note the difference and act accordingly.
Now, the next part…
Renewal is often viewed within the context of some sort of spiritual awakening in which you are able to reconcile yourself with your God and/or your personal belief system. We take part in this on a yearly basis with our new years’ resolution. Regardless of if you break it, you made one and you can check off the box. Thankfully, for most of us there are several more opportunities to “fix” something that we have deemed ineffective. Today is Ash Wednesday, so for Christians we begin the period of Lent whereby we correct ourselves in some way and renew ourselves to live a better life. For others that wait for a religious time period to start again on renewing themselves we have Rosh Hashanah, September 6-8 this year or Ramadan, April 12-May 12 this year. More in the realm of societal celebration for renewal we have the Lunar New Year, which began on February 12 or Nowruz (Persian New Year) March 21-March 22.
I am not attempting to make light of renewal nor am I attempting to make it seem to be nonchalant, “I didn’t keep my New Year’s Resolution, but it’s all good I will make it up later.” The fact is that reflection and renewal are ongoing processes that we should endeavor to practice on a regular basis, not just when it is convenient or proscribed by an edict of some kind.
There are four areas of renewal that are to be taken into account when venturing into the practice of renewal: Physical, Mental, Spiritual, and Social/Emotional.
How often have you arrived home from work tired only to find a house full of people eager to share their day with you? At times like these we wish we had just a bit more stamina. We tend to lose sight of the need for physical activity (exercise, walking, etc.). However, it is important to understand that the body fuels the mind. You don’t need to become a triathlete nor begin an intense exercise regimen to begin the process of building up your stamina. I have found that a quick walk around my neighborhood clears my mind and gives me a boost of energy to complete the day.
Our minds need the same sort of exercise as our muscles. We need to stretch and expand our minds. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. has said, “A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” Make time to dive into a good book, look up tutorials on You Tube, develop a hobby, and simply visualize your future. Planning is a great mental exercise that allows you to visualize events and sequence the steps required to accomplish them.
How strong is your moral compass? Are the values that motivate your actions sufficiently strong? These are all good things to consider as you plan to renew your spiritual dimension. This happens in different ways for different people. Some spend time in nature, others in church. Some read scriptures, others read poetry. Some go to confession, while others write their challenges in the sand and wait for the tide to wash them away. All of these things can help us renew ourselves spiritually. Find what works for you and schedule it often.
The social and emotional dimension of renewal doesn’t require us to set aside time, but it still requires effort. It requires that we listen with empathy, that we work together to find solutions to problems that all parties involved can agree upon, and it requires us to check ourselves. The way we relate to others has a lot to do with how we feel about ourselves. The way we feel about ourselves often comes back to how true we are living to our internal values.
Reflection and Renewal are not practices reserved for a specific period of time or as a “requirement” of your job. They are practices that work continuously in order to better yourself as well as your community (family, church, lodge, etc.). We are all in need to remembering that we are a small part of this vast machine. The words and actions we release into the world should be a direct reflection of who we are rather than a reflection of what we what people we want people to think we are.
by Brian P. Bezner
Reprinted by kind permission from the author
The author is a Past Master of Rosemead Lodge #457 in California and has served on several committees of the Grand Lodge of California, including Masonic Education, the Institute for Masonic Studies, and Leadership Development. He also serves as an Inspector.