Seen from a Galloping Horse

The Perfect Length

The Perfect Length

We all have challenges—from minor to mammoth. My mother taught me to sew when I was young, maybe six or seven.  I had to learn to even out my stitches by hemming dish towels.  By the time I was eight, I was learning to make clothes for my dolls, and by the time I was ten, I was learning to make clothes for myself.  To me, the hardest part of sewing was making the hem of a dress come out evenly.  Machine work was simple, but evening out a hem seemed impossible to me.

My Mother had a saying that helped not only with this dilemma but with later problems in my life as well.  The saying was simply that if it can’t be seen from a galloping horse, it didn’t matter.  The saying always struck me as both funny and true.  The phrase goes back a century to the days when it was commonplace for people to travel on horseback.  I always pictured a young girl in a newly-made dress standing on the sidewalk as a young man she likes rides by on the road.  To the young girl, the young man’s perception of her matters greatly, and if he doesn’t notice that her hem is crooked, then the evenness of the hem doesn’t matter.  And, clearly, no one riding by on a galloping horse is likely to be able to distinguish an uneven hem.

The underlying message is that we are too anxious about nonessentials. The newer version of this truism—don’t sweat the small stuff—was also true more than a century ago.  Perfect stitching doesn’t matter unless it’s going to be examined close at hand.   Seen from a distance, the hem need only appear generally even.  I have to believe that is true about much in life.  Do we really need to spend hours making our houses perfect, our cars spotless, and our abs rock hard?  If viewed from a galloping horse, would any of those perfections really matter?

I’m not suggesting that we live, drive, or eat like slobs.  I am suggesting that we give ourselves a break and remember that perfection may never exist in the relative world.  Les Brown, a wonderful motivational speaker, tells listeners to forget the word “perfection.”   He says that practice creates not perfection but improvement, and that is what we need to aim for in our lives.  We all want to be better, but when we try for perfection, we fail and then we blame ourselves. That guilt lowers our self-esteem even further.

Instead of condemning ourselves for our failures or comparing ourselves to the plastic perfection shown in glossy magazines, perhaps we could stop for a moment and imagine ourselves as viewed from a galloping horse.  How would we appear?  Would our hems or our flaws really be so terribly noticeable?  I believe that seen from such a perspective, we would all appear more appealing, even more perfect, and we could be more at ease with ourselves.

Image: 

Vintage dress model and sewing equipment: ID 1152116 © Natalia Guseva | Dreamstime.com

 

Writing is a Fractal Process

Lena River Delta, Courtesy of NASA

Lena River Delta, Courtesy of NASA

A Fractal Process: Writing is a fractal process.  When we view the writing process through the lens of the reflective mode, the foundation of all modes of  writing, we see the branching of ideas that occurs.

Impulse and Flow: We begin writing with an impulse. The impulse may be a prompt, the wisp of a remembered dream, an assignment, even an overheard conversation, whatever, and  that impulse links back to another impulse in our awareness, which links to another, maybe even two others. And branches of thought are born. A text emerges that flows over a page (or screen) like a river sprouting channels, tributaries, creeks, and streams.

Fractal Patterns in Nature: The fractal pattern of branching is a part of nature, visible not only in the way that rivers flow over the land, but also in the way that our blood flows through our bodies, or the way a fern frond replicates its outer edges. It is a pattern of progress, of moving forward through a set of linkages and connections. A fractal pattern in nature is beautiful—filigreed and complex—much like a piece of elegant and logical writing. Each branch supports another and connects to another, spreading out in manifold development.

An Infinite Flow: This fractal nature of writing visually demonstrates for us why writing blocks never have to occur. The flow of ideas from the mind is infinite. Always, another idea is appearing and branching out to yet more ideas. We just have to settle down enough to attune ourselves to the flow of ideas and not mind the gaps. The gaps help create the beautiful formulation and connection of ideas.

Pruning the Branches: It is true that, eventually, we may have to prune those branches and shape that flow for a particular audience, but the flow of nature is always there within us. We simply have to sit to write, turn our awareness inward,  and be ready to catch the flow as it emerges and branches out.

Reflecting on Language

Language18750Reflecting 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 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 (640x425) (295x196)31250Reflection 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’s surface. The light reflected in the window’s surface may even be bright enough that it mirrors a tree outside the building. 

Reflection.DSCF0373 (295x221) (2)00000The Action of Reflection: We can look at the verb reflect, whose definition, “to give back an image of; to mirror; or to 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 adjectivereflective: “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 Sself-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. 

Images: 

Tree Reflected in Window.” Photograph courtesy of Bill Graeser [https://picasaweb.google.com/billgraeser/ForSale?feat=email]

“Dictionaries.” http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photography-dictionaries-image4804547 

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. Encyclopedia.com. 11 Dec. 2010 <http://www.encyclopedia.com&gt;. 

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. Metacognition: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/metacognition 

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[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.