The last week, aside from the Monday Night Reflection, was very much centred around both the discussion of prisons of the mind and the practical development that comes from recognising them. The thought from Elliot Wald was an expression of a deeper collective consciousness, perhaps due to new year introspection, that how we think is how we live out or lives.
I am privileged because I have the opportunity to talk to people in a meaningful way, small talk is limited and our conversations, often online, are rewarding and thought provoking. On the one hand, it is absolutely awesome to share any wisdom and insight I may have, and for my story to be a useful platform from which to help others, however, the most rewarding part is hearing other people’s stories, their insights and their lessons learned. While we all walk our own paths, we travel with others for parts of our shared journey, and to stretch the analogy a little, we are traversing the same terrain.
By talking to others, leads me to marshal my thoughts, in the same way as when some one simplifies and explains what you are doing back to you and saying out loud reveals the rather ridiculous nature of what you are doing (think the plot of Skyfall), when you talk ideas over with others, these conversations make me think through what I am doing. This process extends long past the end of the conversation and this week I stumbled into a behavioural road block which is very much rooted in the life I no longer have. I never planned anything for weekends, when I did I always had them approved a long way in advance and where possible would purchase tickets long in advance to ensure that plan would happen. However, the activity had to be worth it, very worth if it was something classed as just for me, I had to be sure what I was doing was worth the consequences that it would bring, both in the lead up to the activity, during and after. I never left for anything without being in the wrong about something, there was always at least some sort of making up to do.
I rationalised this by saying that weekends were ring-fenced family time and how important it needed to be to sacrifice family time. I would talk about how this was the time to give back for the support of my wife and child which they gave freely without really knowing all the time how much they gave up for me. It sounded great, and I had the line down like I was giving a BBC interview, the reality was I dared not to think about not doing what I was told when I was told at weekend. What happened of course, is that I believed my own lies, and I believed the story to the point where the reality was lost.
In my new life I kept the sanctity of weekends because that is what you do, that is what “good husbands” do. I had no pressure and it was never an expectation, it was just how married life works. This week that behaviour was challenged, because my illness has changed how I do life, and how I am approaching everything I do. In some ways the difference is subtle, in others the change is marked. In my wife’s words, I have gone from hoping to qualify for a British Championship, to retired, to planning my assault on a World Championship Podium. What hasn’t changed through the process is my ability; the change is simply how I am thinking. Instead of hoping small, somewhere I managed to start dreaming much bigger.
Part of that change has been reflection, not just this blog diversion, but generally. The move towards what I called living intentionally. In a sort of irony, the onset of health problems, and in particular this latest bout which is now approaching 6 months in duration with no end in sight, led me to a different place from which to make my evaluations. Previously I was, at first, firefighting and in the immediate present, with the transition to life as it is now, its calm and supportive environment, the welcome of a new family and the warmth of acceptance of me as I am came a focus on the baggage of the past. The ongoing task is, much of it done by Mr Mouse of course, is that of ordering and understanding both what had happened, and what I am to carry forward from those experiences. This blog is a reflection of this, and it mirrors my development and journey in that sense. The past definitely needed facing and dealing with, and it will always be my past, so in that sense it may be like a garage, just as it approaches done, something may need to be done, but it can also be parked and sorted out another day too. It would also be a folly not to recognise that for me, my past is repository of material and energy, in the words of Eric Thomas, it is time to let my “pain push me to greatness”. If I am already in pain, then I can get a reward from it only if I don’t quit. So contrary to many memes in internet land, I do not only look at the past to see how far I have come, I go to the past as a library of inspiration, lessons, and even fuel with which I can go forward better equipped.
The reality of the week was one of quiet doing, and return to routine after the Christmas break, it was a welcome calm. The decorations are gone, the kitchen table a working mess again, the fridge less crammed, the slow cooker back on the counter more than in the cupboard and us both back to work. Consciously there was probably not a lot happening, and even trying to reflect I was conscious that there was not an event to focus on per-se, just the settling of life into its new rhythm. However, there is a big difference at a practical level, with me deciding to walk away from my career a little more completely. In fact, the only client from that life left will be a close friend who doesn’t pay anyway, leaving is hard to do. The truth is, I lost a passion for the profession, but love learning and will no doubt be involved, just more detached and more relaxed.
In this more relaxed week I had decided to think about my blog, the direction it was going and any plans to change it, make it better, and if I wanted to deliberately push for more readers, or just let it be and let it grow out of its own energy. Part of that has been Monday Night Reflection. When I first had the idea, it was vague, to put it mildly and I will be honest I have not put a particular amount of intentional thought into what this Reflection segment is about, going to do, the purpose it serves, or how it is different from Thinking Out Loud, if it needs to be different at all. I suppose the fact that it is so much longer could be enough of a difference, not sure. What I did do way back then was get on Amazon (Marketplace) and order a couple of books on reflection.
I finally read one of my books on reflective practice, and what struck me about it was that I got nasty flash backs to my professional training and the rather unhappy time that was. It was about reflection as an academic discipline to be marked. I did persevere with reading the book and it was a diversion, maybe not a great diversion, to look back at trying to fit something I actually tend to do in an amorphous way anyway into a box to get boxes ticked on the marking criteria. I remembered that actually, reflective practice, in the academic sense, was an incredibly false activity, rather like putting on a stage performance of a day in your life. You mash together an amalgam of reality and what you want reality to be so its is presentable and in a certain format. Reflection to learning outcomes had no reality.
We based our reflection on Gibbs (1988) reflective cycle, and as a framework it looks appealing, but in reality to use it and then write about it academically, you are going to have to forget about honesty and transparency and write from the Conclusion and Action Plan elements so that you can tick academic boxes. While I am not deliberately writing to this framework, I am clearly carrying it around deeply buried in my subconscious because every Monday Night Reflection I feel compelled to both conclude and have some sort of
point to carry forward. I am looking for something where I can vaguely or loosely go round the cycle, and I know it. As soon as I revisited the damn thing, I knew it was there all along just boxing me in. The question, of course, is what do I do with that. Using the cycle, feelings: horror and abhorrence at using any sort of framework, intrigue that it may be useful, Evaluation: right now, who knows, I need to think on this and do some Analysis: what analysis, it’s a framework what do you want me to say, how do I know if it is useful, it won’t be universally applicable, at best its going to help the publication process, but as a tool for life it certainly has massive limitations. Conclusion: there is no absolute conclusion, it is an open-ended process that can be revisited and done multiple times in multiple contexts, even just the applicability of a reflective framework is going to depend on the material and how far the development of thoughts on that material have progressed, my relationship to anything will change over time and therefore anything within the formal categories will shift too. Action Plan, I will think about it and probably pull useful elements out with a bit more conscious thought; more than likely I will be much more deliberate in my rejection of that which I do not want to do, is not useful to do or is not appropriate to do while recognising the root of any compulsion I feel to do those things.
Which drives me back to living intentionally. Reflection is my own thing, and I cannot escape it is guided and shaped by my learning experience, however, having spent time with the process of reflection I am better able to reflect deliberately in a way that I am comfortable with; or in short, intentionally. Without necessarily changing anything, my consciousness of what is happening is enough to move my behaviour from habitual to intentional. I feel this is okay because by being intentional I am also letting go of the sometimes overwhelming drive to change as if nothing about who I am is worth keeping. Which is coming from the messages of my past and not the reality of my present. By being intentional I can keep habits, behaviours along with patterns of thought and action just the way they are. The difference is that I can now be happy that I am happy with the situation, hopefully, lose the compulsion to change, and ultimately be content with any situation, changed or not.