Reflection—Stasis and Dynamism

Trees Reflected in a Pond

Trees Reflected in a Pond

Coexistence of Opposites: I’m caught by the notion of stasis in the dynamics of reflection. When we think visually of a reflection, for example, mountains and trees reflected in a pool of water, dynamism occurs in that action of reflection—the bending back of the light rays—but the reflection itself is static (supposing the day to be windless and the water still). I believe part of the charm of reflections is this coexistence of opposites—stasis and dynamism together in the same experience.

Coexistence of Opposites: The Science of Consciousness identifies two qualities—silence and dynamism—as constituting the nature of consciousness itself.1 This coexistence of opposites can be experienced by the human nervous system when an individual practices the Transcendental Meditation technique. The ability of the inner self to entertain this coexistence of opposites may explain why we are charmed by reflective surfaces; reflections capture this combination of stasis and dynamism in concrete and visual ways. We experience the sight of the trees and the reflection of  trees inverted in the pond—unity and diversity at the same time—and we feel a thrill.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

Reflections in Literature: Literature, that great expressions of human writing endeavors, is filled with images of reflections—from mirrors to windows, to ponds and even puddles. From childhood to adulthood, we enjoy the process of reflection and what it reveals. Who can forget the wicked stepmother in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves who gazes into the mirror and chants, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?” But in folklore, mirrors do not lie and, thus, the magic mirror captures the wicked essence of this woman and shows her truthfully  that her daughter is more beautiful. In this fairytale, reflection, though in a way unreal (it is magic after all), becomes a determiner of what is real—here, the evil nature of the stepmother (may stepmothers everywhere forgive me!).

The Reflective Mode: Reflective writing functions similarly to the magic mirror in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. It allows the writer to mirror back images, memories, thoughts, and impressions in order to determine a clearer understanding, perhaps a truer perception of what emerges in our words. When we allow the mind to settle back on memories and stored impressions, we are sifting and sorting to the let the truest image emerge. We are re-seeing—the truest meaning of revision.


1 Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Vedic Knowledge for Everyone: Maharishi Vedic University Introduction. India: Age of Enlightenment Publications, 1995, p. 135.


Lake reflection of trees in early Spring ID 50142569 © Susan Mcarthur-letellier |

Journaling in Any Discipline

Daily Journaling

Daily Journaling

Daily Journaling: Fresh from teaching, I am reminded once again that daily journaling is central to loosening and energizing the creative flow in students. Every class I teach, whether literature or writing, begins with journal writing. This writing is a nonstop, free flow of thoughts for ten minutes, sometimes called free writing. As each course begins, I observe students often starting this process of journaling with the attitude that they can’t think of anything to say. By the end of the course, they are complaining when I call time because they have more to say.

Freewriting: Why does this free flow of ideas, this free flow of conscious (and unconscious) awareness get cut off?  In the 1970s and ’80s, when free writing emerged as a writing strategy, this unstructured process was seen as a breakthrough in developing both creative and critical thinking.1

Standard Essay Model: The result of free writing and daily journaling was both exciting and occasionally chaotic. This more organic approach was sometimes accompanied by some disdain for grammatical knowledge as well as for the standard five-paragraph model to teach the academic essay. This model, minimally requires an introductory paragraph with thesis, three supporting body paragraphs that develop the thesis, and a conclusion. Students did become more plugged into their writing, but the necessary revision and editing didn’t always follow.

Grammar: Recognizing that writers have difficulty revising and editing without grammatical knowledge, writing teachers brought grammar instruction back into the picture. Students could now benefit from the understanding of writing as process. Students could now benefit from the free flow of journaling to skills learned from grammar discussions and learning patterns of logical development, and they became more self-sufficient in their own writing process.

Scaffolding: With the educational concept of scaffolding, the five-paragraph model could be integrated into the teaching of writing so students could practice logical support for a thesis, but they could also try more organic structures that free writing allowed to emerge. For example, structure may occur as a result of the connections between a set of evocative images or from a pattern of repetition or repetition with variations. These structures can have as much persuasive power as logical, deductive reasoning.

In Every Class: Even knowing that journaling can open these creative avenues up, journaling is still often the first element omitted when time runs short in class or practice. Journaling is sometimes seen as merely expressive or as an opportunity or to vent about life and it can offer these avenues. but journaling can lead to so much more.

Benefits of Journaling: I strongly believe that every class, no matter the discipline, can greatly benefit from ten minutes of free writing or even focused free writing. Journal writing allows students to . . .

1. explore new concepts previously learned in class.

2. reflect on what they already know about a topic being introduced next.

3. identify what they don’t understand so they can frame questions.

4. review appealing points covered thus far.

5. generate ideas for papers and projects to come.

6. tap into their own creativity and see what emerges.

7. realize that the mind is infinite (another idea is always on its way).

So, take the time to write, even for ten minutes.


Major, Wendy. “Freewriting: A Means of Teaching Critical Thinking to College Freshman.” Retrieved May 09, 2011 from



Road Trip Shepherdess

Barn Quilt Art

Barn Quilt Art

Class Road Trip: I may not have been herding sheep but taking even a small group of college students on a road trip can be a wandering and confusing drive. Where were those idyllic moments when I expected to be gazing at the lovely Iowa countryside or the moments when I pull over to photograph another gorgeous barn with a quilt painted on the side?

The Long Silver Van: Instead, I was driving a long silver van in the pouring rain, trying simply to see the road, let alone notice any picturesque barns. I had anticipated pointing out interesting roadside scenes, drawing my students into a stimulating discussion about life in Iowa. I found, instead, that only Abbie sitting beside me and Ahalya sitting directly behind me could hear what I said, so I would turn my head and point something out to Ahalya, and she would turn and point out that something to Marin sitting behind her, and from Marin on to Brendan and finally to Kitty sitting in the very back of the van. By that time, we were at least a mile from whatever scene I was pointing out. Like the childhood game of rumor, intention was lost in the transmission.

American Gothic House Eldon, Iowa

American Gothic House
Eldon, Iowa

The American Gothic House: But, as can be the case, out of chaos came wonderful moments and experiences. We were charmed by an American treasure in the tiny town of Eldon, Iowa, where we stopped to visit the house in the American Gothic painting and were warmly welcomed by the friendly site administrator, Molly Moser.

Everyone agreed Molly had the ideal job—organizing displays of memorabilia (including a Babar illustration done in the American Gothic pose!), writing grants, creating PR, planting flower beds, and being a tour guide. Talk about variety and fun in your workday! Molly invited us to return on a weekend when the lady who rents this iconic house serves pitchfork pie and coffee in the front yard.

Bloomfield, IA: Noon found us further south in the town of Bloomfield in a colorful Mexican restaurant call Ranchero Centinela. Vivid murals of rancheros covered the wall, evoking both Mexico and Iowa farms. Inhaling the warm scents of cheese, beans, and peppers, our group gathered around a table and shared our favorite sensory images of the morning. The pungent memory of newly fertilized fields brought a few grins and groans.

The Dutchman's Store Cantril, Iowa

The Dutchman’s Store
Cantril, Iowa

The Dutchman’s Store: Our afternoon excursion took us through the French Renaissance courthouse in the Bloomfield town square. A statue of the Goddess of Justice perched atop the courthouse dome, reigning over town and county. Then our looping road trip through southeastern Iowa ended in the block-long Mennonite country grocery store in Cantril called The Dutchman’s Store. Old-time penny candy, home-canned goods, iron cookware, and stacks and stacks of flower-printed fabric tempted me greatly, the latter reminding me of the old quilting joke: The woman who dies with the most fabric in her closet wins!

Our Day of Wandering: For me, the trip was collected moments of students climbing in and out of the van and watching for interesting sights in the passing scenery: a covered bridge, the Des Moines River, rolling hill after rolling hill of newly planted fields, and finally in the clearing sky, beautiful quilt-decorated barns.

Southeastern Iowa is filled with rich sights and hidden treasures and those of us who followed the state’s back roads in a long silver van through the pouring rain on that damp April day will remember the rich tapestry of our day of wandering with pleasure.


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