What Are Reflective Practices?
Reflective practices are a way for us to become aware of our own state of being. Mindful reflection brings us back to ourselves, allowing us to come closer to our own body, emotions, thoughts, and spirit. This gives us an opportunity to settle into a fresh harmony and balance.
While many people immediately think of sitting meditation when they hear the words reflective practice, there are many techniques for reflection and contemplation. Prayer is a deep contemplative practice for many people. Reflective practices also include walking meditation and other moving meditations, such as yoga or Tai Chi. Journaling, music, and art, if done with the intention of focusing the mind, are reflective practices.
If you find you can’t sit still, try working with another method to start. We give tips on many different practices on this page.
Reflective Practices and Whole Systems Healing
Health begins with us, in our own physical, emotional, and spiritual rootedness. Only when we are aware of our own state, and take steps to bring ourselves into balance, can we begin to offer real healing to others and the world around us.
How Reflective Practices Help
In reflection and contemplation we find an openness to seeing things as they are, not how we think they should be. We find we can let go of our usual self-imposed boundaries and hierarchies, along with our many doubts, anxieties, plans, regrets, ambitions, and other distracting thoughts.
Reflective/contemplative practices allow us to:
- Pay attention to what is happening right now—not what we remember or are anticipating
- Become aware of how we are truly feeling in this moment, whether it be happy or sad, anxious or at ease, sleepy or alert
- Cultivate an understanding that this place where we sit right now, whatever our thoughts and emotions, is the point from which we can always begin again
- Recognize the great gift of simply being in the present moment – alive and aware.
Reflective Practices and Whole Systems Leadership
Woman kneeling on a meditation bench. Her hands are in her lap and her eyes are closed.Once we have established a measure of self-awareness, we can interact more openly with others and become whole systems leaders.
Like others practicing whole systems leadership, we move out of reactive mode and instead practice deep listening. We let go of the need to control outcomes and allow a diversity of ideas and viewpoints to arise. We rest in the trust that the right solution will emerge from the group.
Meditation is not an esoteric practice at all. Anyone can meditate. All we need is a time during which we can set aside distractions and a place where the body can be comfortably be brought to stillness, either seated or lying down.
We can meditate for only a few minutes – or for much longer, if we wish. Once tasks are set aside, computers and phones turned off, and the body quieted, we can bring a gentle, soft attention to the breath. And as sensations, sounds, feelings, emotions, and thoughts arise, as they inevitably will, we just return, patiently, attentively, to the easy movement of the breath in the body. There are meditation instruction videos in the menu on the right.
Start with 10 Minutes
To begin, try to meditate 10 or 15 minutes a day. If you can, find a regular time to sit—perhaps first thing in the morning or at lunch.
Do your best to make this a regular practice, using the beneficial power of habit to cultivate healthy practices. If you find you haven’t meditated by bedtime, sit up for 10 minutes in bed, come to the breath, and meditate before going to sleep.
Guided Meditations to Get Started
Here is a 12-minute guided meditation to get you started. (There is also a 7-minute version if you just have a short time for a break at work.)
Reflective Practice in Everyday Life
Reflective practice is not just for the meditation cushion—you can practice it in every moment.
Reflective Practices to Try
In everyday life, you can work with moment-to-moment awareness. To start, try simply noticing what is going on in your body.
Right this moment, do you feel open and relaxed, or heavy and tight? How is your breathing? Is it up in the chest or down in the belly, deep or shallow, tense or relaxed? Noticing physical cues can help bring you into the current moment and recognize the emotions and thoughts you are experiencing.
Another way to practice mindfulness is called “noting,” where you label how you are feeling, as the emotions flow. You might note that you are anxious, angry, or defensive. Or that you are feeling cheerful, confident, and content.
Practice this in different situations, so you start to recognize exactly how you are feeling at any given moment – and as a consequence how you are interrelating with situations as they arise in daily life and with those around you. The idea is not to try to change the way you are feeling, but simply to recognize your current emotional and physical state by listening deeply to your body and mind.
Mindfulness and Deep Listening
Deep listening is a core characteristic of whole systems healing, from gentle action to leadership to restorative dialogue. In addition to noting our own emotional states, we can also practice listening deeply to others.
In mindful listening, we let go of our assumptions and past feelings about a person or situation and simply let ourselves hear what is being said. We remain open to recognizing the other person’s feelings without trying to change them or letting our own emotions and opinions interfere.
Walking and Moving Meditation
Take a slow walk around your neighborhood. As you do, focus on seeing. Don’t analyze or judge, just notice the colors, the light, the movement.
Then focus on hearing. Again just notice the sounds—don’t analyze, judge, or wonder what is going on.
Then switch to body sensations—notice what you are feeling in your body as you walk. How do your feet feel as they touch the ground? Are you walking slowly or quickly? Are your arms swinging at your side?
Focus on each of these three for 30-60 seconds and keep rotating them as you walk.
Moving meditation includes yoga, tai chi, and qigong. These exercises focus on self-awareness, breathing, and relaxation. They aim to bring harmony to the body and mind.
In journaling, you can facilitate the free expression of feelings, emotions, and thoughts by letting the hand and pen move across the page – or the fingers fly across a keyboard.
The key to journaling as reflective practice is neither to censor nor to pause in an attempt to collect and organize thoughts. You are not editing-- give your inner critic a furlough. Simply write. Let words flow.
If you can’t think of what to write next, keep the hand or fingers moving, simply writing something like, “I can’t think of anything else, I can’t think of anything else, I can’t think of anything else,” until the mind releases and more words flow.
This is a practice that, like meditation, is best cultivated on a regular basis. Then the mind and heart open more easily. But, of course, journaling can also be done on any occasion that you feel a need to be with just yourself, to help resolve an issue, or to touch and feel something more deeply.
Music and Art
Music and art can be tools to bring us back to ourselves. Try these activities.
Pick a piece of music you really like and sit and listen to it. Do nothing else, just let it wash over you, surround you. Afterward, note how you feel. (You can share this with someone if you like and see what happens.)
Do the same thing with a piece of art you love. Simply sit and look at it. What do you love about it? What draws you to it? How do you feel after examining it?
Improvisation, such as musical improvisation, is another way to let go of our continually running thoughts and come into the present moment. In order to improvise, you have to focus and pay attention to what is happening right now. When improvising with a group, you have let go of control and respond to others or things will fall apart.