Harnessing the Positive Effects of Solo Reflection for Stronger Relationships

Solo Reflection and Relationships - Strengthening Connections and Personal Growth

When you’re feeling down, I wish I could shine a light on the incredible brilliance that is already inside you.

Shaykh Hafiz al-Shirazi

“I could really use some peace and quiet right about now.”

“I need to make time for meditation.”

“I understand the need for breaks, but I just can’t afford to take any right now.”

These kinds of remarks have been made (or heard) by all of us at some point. The implication is that taking a break to relax is good for you personally.

But suppose there’s more to a peaceful lifestyle than that? What if it helps the people you love and the people you live among?

I used to be a live-in caregiver at L’Arche, where I helped people with intellectual impairments get ready for the day. L’Arche is a non-governmental organization that builds communities in which people with and without intellectual impairments live and work together.

After finishing college, I moved there and found that the two years of living and working with fourteen roommates were a fantastic challenge for an introvert like myself.

I had a morning routine of my own when I wasn’t tasked with assisting my roommates. Slippers on, diary in hand, I’d make my way down the stairs. For breakfast, I often sat on a chair in the front room, staring out the windows.

The morning sun would feel good on my skin and lift my mood. My morning routine consisted of sipping coffee in silence while taking everything in.

My morning haven was smack dab in the middle of a fourteen-person family, so I had to get used to being surrounded by noise while my roommates went about their days. After smiling and saying hello, I would immediately lower my head and remain quiet.

My coworkers in direct care were aware of my habits and normally kept quiet around me.

If I were forced to sit quietly, it wouldn’t be for more than twenty or thirty minutes. Too soon, it would be time for me to wake up and start my day of well-organized, caring pandemonium. Even after the sun had fallen, my roommates and I would be hard at work on our assigned chores.

But that peace and calm in the morning kept me going; it strengthened me to handle whatever outrageous scenarios life threw at me. My adaptability, fortitude, and tolerance improved as a result. Simply put, I was a more pleasant companion.

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The sense of inadequacy that my morning routine instilled in me remained unabated, though. As I watched the other assistants go about their days, I felt guilty that I wasn’t helping out. Despite the fact that we all took turns serving in the mornings, I felt obligated to do my part just by virtue of being there.

Thus, I often battled with pangs of guilt. When I rested, I always felt like I was “flaunting” it. That is, until Mary, a coworker and friend, made a remark that turned my world upside down.

When asked what came to mind when she thought of her, she answered, “You know, every time I think of you, I imagine you sitting downstairs by the windows in the morning. I really like how calm and relaxed you seem there. Insights like this remind me that I have the power to create my own peaceful oasis among the chaos of daily life in this place. It’s a boost for me to hear that.

She found strength in seeing my silence. Did that give her the green light to follow suit? I was completely and utterly floored.

Then I read something in Anne Lamott’s book (Traveling Mercies) that confirmed Mary’s remarks were true. Light, as Lamott puts it, “is not yours; it is what you gather and shine back.” And contemplation amplifies its effects; if you slow down and soak it up, you’ll have more to share.

That which you see and reflect. Unconsciously, I spent a lot of time doing that at the windows.

My perspective on my regular period of reflection changed forever after that. Those times of reflection became acts of service to myself and the world at large, and I no longer felt any false guilt for not “doing enough” for others.

Meditation is a subversive, selfless act of service we do every time we sit and think, every time we give in to quiet.

We are going against the grain of a culture that values efficiency above tranquility. We are growing more attractive by seeing and enjoying the beauty all around us.

Despite the difficulty, the decision is ultimately ours to make. The light may shine on us. And if we do that, who knows what we’ll shed light on?

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