I got a frantic email from a client this week. Her ambitious daughter is in law school and she wanted me to coach her because she was not sure why her daughter was struggling and frustrated. I had an amazing time coaching this young woman and the conversation reminded me of something I have always meant to share publicly but I have not really done.
I attended Georgetown University Law School in my early 20’s. I attended Candler School of Theology at Emory University in my late 40s. Often people have asked me the difference, as well as my preference.
Here is what I discovered. Law school is very “heady” and it is a totally mental experience. It teaches you one major skill: How to find a problem. It teaches you how to analyze narrative and its connection to the law create and expand holes in the gaps that you find. Again, it teaches you how to find a problem.
I came away, and many people I know, from the practice of law, suspicious, broken and burnt out because of spending year after year looking for problems and being paranoid about not missing anything. This creates a hard shell and an impenetrable exterior for many people that practice law. But then there are those that are built for it.
Seminary, on the other hand, taught me the art of reflection and taught me to engage with language not just with my intellect but also with my emotions and even with my body. I found Seminary more academically rigorous than law school, but seminary grew me as a person. So, for me, today, my preference is my seminary experience. Yet, I recognize that I would not have been ripe for it if not for my law background.
Just remember this if nothing else: To a hammer, everything is a nail. To a person trained in finding problems, there are endless problems to be found. To a person trained to reflect on meaningfulness, there is much meaningfulness and satisfaction to be found, even in the simplest bouquet of flowers.
Back to my client. When I shared this difference between law school and seminary with her, she sobbed. She cried like a baby. It gave her clarity about how she was feeling. She felt she was losing herself in the system of legal training she was receiving, and she did not like how competitive she felt and how dissatisfied she was with everything. She woke up feeling inadequate and went to bed feeling even more inadequate. I took her through a couple of reflection practices and she was able to reconnect with her core and she felt better. We continue to work on her life work.
How does that apply to you?
Well, hold on and let us do a time thingy here. The flow of time and how we interact with time in our minds is important to understand how we become more positive.
“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” ― Søren Kierkegaard
Actual factual events happen in the past and we put an interpretive lens on those occurrences and make perceptions about them. To process and release inaccurate or negative perceptions, we must practice reflection on past experiences. Otherwise, it is easy to find ourselves ruminating on past experiences. It is always important, when something significant happens, to do a post mortem on the event.
“Just as a snake sheds its skin, we must shed our past over and over again.” ― Gautama Buddha
Present events are moments in time that we often blur past and pay very little attention to. Later on, we may recognize the significance of them as we recognize our perceptions of them. Meditation is the practice that helps us stay in the present, our only real reality. Too often, instead of practicing presence, we practice absence as we are ruminating in the past or worrying about the future. This is where our bodies speak to us and we have to pay attention to the mildest nuances of emotion and where they are housed in our bodies.
Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.- Peter Drucker
Future events are not yet here but are anticipated. The way we anticipate influences significantly how we deal with the future. We can worry and anticipate negative outcomes, or we can infuse the future with optimism and hope through our imagination. Sometimes, we just treat the future as a checklist of things to do as the opportunities arise and we may not invest enough time into anticipating a hopeful and wonderful outcome.
Study the past if you would define the future. – Confucius
Using the analogy of a tree, the past are the roots, the present are the trunk, branches, fruit and leaves and the future are the seeds in the fruit on the tree. If the roots are not in good rich soil (nourished by reflective practices), then it affects the quality of life for the trunk, leaves and seeds. You cannot have a rich future without processing the past.
To live a positive life, we must respect the interconnectedness of past present and future as well as reflection, meditation and anticipation. This allows for wisdom to flourish in our lives.
Mindsight tells us that there is a tripod of reflection: Openness, observation and objectivity about what is going on both inside us and inside others.
Openness implies that we are receptive to whatever comes to our awareness and don’t cling to preconceived ideas about how things “should” be.
Observation is the ability to perceive the self even as we are experiencing an event. It offers us a powerful way to disengage from automatic behaviors and habitual responses; we can sense our role in these patterns and begin to find ways to alter them.
Objectivity permits us to have a thought or feeling and not come swept away by it and allows us to develop awareness and discernment.
Why is it important to know the difference between reflection, meditation and anticipation?
It is important because this is how you release judgment, especially judgment of yourself. You cannot move into a positive mindset if you are constantly barraging yourself with negative self-judgment. By intentionally engaging with reflection, meditation and anticipation, you cultivate self-awareness.
Developing your self-awareness is key to increasing your emotional intelligence. You cannot develop your emotional intelligence, that distinguishing mark of an effective leader, unless you process self-judgment in a healing and loving way.
If you are not open to yourself, if you think you have it all figured out then you are not open to your own self, talk less of other people.
If you are not able to observe yourself, you are not able to choose a wise “response” and instead you “react” in a knee-jerk manner.
If you are not able to be objective, then you are allowing your limited perspective to rule the day, cheating yourself of reach options that awareness brings.
Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself. – Leo Tolstoy
It is always all about you. You have the power to change and grow and blossom.
This week, my invitation to you is to play with reflection, meditation and anticipation. See how they are interwoven. Notice how you are judging yourself. And most of all, be kind to yourself. Let it go and embrace yourself. Learn to reflect.
In the meantime, tell me, what are your questions about this information? Does it resonate? How can you apply it?
And, O, happy Valentine’s day, this week. And for those of us who observe Lent, peace and tranquility to you as the season begins with Ash Wednesday.