Wednesday, October 01, 2014


The Nature of Reflection
Reflecting on Language: My father had a passion for words that never dimmed. My clearest memory of him is seeing him sitting on the couch, reading, various dictionaries lined up on the couch beside him. Daddy had dictionaries for different purposes and liked to use them all. I inherited his love of words and am always curious about the etymology of words I encounter. I enjoy learning when words first appeared in English and how their definitions differ or change over time.

Defining Reflection: Thinking about reflective writing over the past few weeks has naturally led to my thinking about the word reflect in all its forms: the adjective, reflective; the noun, reflection; and the verb itself to reflect. The various definitions alone provide food for thought. The noun reflection is defined as “the fixing of the mind on some subject; serious thought; contemplation,” or less ponderously, “turning one’s thoughts upon.” Somehow, that first definition with the “serious” and “fixing” business suggests a certain moral slant I can’t embrace. The simpler “turning one’s thoughts upon” is more in line with what I mean when I speak of reflective writing. Yet, these definitions leave out an underlying dynamic that intrigues me.

Reflection as an Element of Consciousness: When we reflect, we are not just considering, we are considering a topic (focus, thought, whatever) in the larger arena of our entire consciousness (our memories, our intellect, our experience, even our personality, in fact, our entire being), and whatever new thoughts we produce, bring those influences back with them to our surface awareness, and, consequently, into our texts. So, I want to explore that underlying dynamic.

Reflection in Nature: Reflecting occurs in nature. If a light is bright enough, some portion of light reflects off of nearby (and not so nearby) surfaces. The moon reflects the sun’s light all the way to earth. On a smaller scale, light reflects off a window’ surface. The light reflected in the window’s surface may even be bright enough that it mirrors a tree outside the building.

The Action of Reflection: We can look at the verb reflect, whose definition, “to give back an image of, to mirror, or reproduce,” captures this dynamic. Here, the visual mechanics of light reflecting are emphasized. We can think of images in a mirror or in the water as clear, visual examples of this definition of the verb. These definitions suggest a degree of nearly exact mimicry though reversed on another plane, a kind of dual representation of the light.

Reflection in the Mind: A rarer definition of the verb reflect, “to fold or turn back,” echoes this notion of dual reflection. This manifold reflection concept is a closer parallel to what occurs in nature and what occurs when we reflect during the writing process. A definition that recognizes this connection is one I found for the adjective reflective: “taking cognizance of the operations of the mind.” This definition takes us a step further in looking at the dynamics of what is happening when we write reflectively. We are looking at how our own mind operates—metacognition.

Reflection as a Form of Metacognition: The term metacognition suggests a phrase I used earlier in writing about a Consciousness-basedSM approach to understanding writing—self referral.[1]Metacognition is defined simply as awareness of one’s thinking process: while self-referral is defined as a folding or turning back on the Self (consciousness being aware of itself).[2] I like the parallel between these terms and how they both relate to reflective writing. Each concept suggests becoming more aware of who we are, how we think, and how we can expand our boundaries.

Reflection in Our Writing: Writing can skate on the surface (often attractively); it also has the power to pull up the depths, bringing the reader that manifold impact, the attractive surface and the substantive depths. What makes reflective writing appealing to me is that it can produce not only a rich, layered text but also is a simple entrance into the writing process. All reflective writing requires is some time set aside to begin to write and freedom to see where the process takes us.


Tree Reflected in Window.” Photograph courtesy of Bill Graeser []


Definition Sources:

1. “Reflection.” Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved December 11, 2010.

reflection late 14c., in reference to surfaces, from L.L. reflexionem (nom. reflexio) “a reflection,” lit. “a bending back,” noun of action from pp. stem of L. reflectere, from re- “back” + flectere “to bend.” Meaning “remark made after turning back one’s thought on some subject” is from 1650s.

2. reflect divert, deflect XV; throw back (beams, etc.), turn one’s thoughts upon XVII; cast reproach. — OF. réflecter or L. reflectere, f. RE- + flectere bend.
So reflection, reflexion throwing back of light or heat XIV; animadversion, imputation; fixing of the thoughts XVII. — (O)F. or late L.

T. F. HOAD. “reflect.” The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. 1996. 11 Dec. 2010 <>.

3. “Reflect.” [edit] Noun

A water reflection

1. the act of reflecting or the state of being reflected
2. the property of a propagated wave being thrown back from a surface (such as a mirror)
3. something, such as an image, that is reflected

The dog barked at his own reflection in the mirror.

1. careful thought or consideration

After careful reflection, I have decided not to vote for that proposition.
1. an implied criticism

It is a reflection on his character that he never wavered in his resolve.

1. (computing) The process or mechanism of determining the capabilities of an object at run-time.


[1]See the earlier posting on “Reflective Writing and the Experience of Transcending.”

[2] The “self” here is the larger Self, pure consciousness, pure intelligence.


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