Anatomy of a Reflective Moment

November 2, 2010

Don placed his hands over mine; mine were holding the knife-edged gouging tool. He eased my hands onto the handle and that moved the blade to cut gouges out of the wood. In a moment, I could feel the difference between what I had been doing (wrong) and what I was now doing (right). Don was a friend, skiing partner and woodshop teacher. I had asked him how he made such beautiful bowls out of hickory, walnut and maple. Instead of just telling me, he offered to show me first-hand. After several attempts, my bowls looked fit for storing nuts for a few squirrels. Deranged squirrels. Squirrels with no sense of style.

He then backed up and showed me how each cutting tool worked with the turning of the lathe. Then he placed his hands over mine until I could feel the rhythm of the cut. After that, it got so much easier. This is called Tactile Learning, and it is how I learned to play golf, to kiss and chop wood. By breaking something down into its component parts and understanding the mechanics, my mind can comprehend the inner workings of a complicated task.

I want to do the same thing with the skill of Having a Reflective Moment. To reflect is to ponder, search and plan. It sounds like a great thing to do – but how is it done correctly? A sloppy reflection is unhelpful and confusing, perhaps even destructive. So how do we reflect to bring about perspective and change in our lives? Here is what I do.

  1. Step One: Clear the Mechanism. While teaching a seminar two weeks ago, I was in awe of my friend Luke who introduced this concept. He showed a clip from the movie “For Love of the Game”. The scene shows a pitcher concentrating on shutting out all fan noise, ambient sounds and distractions, and focusing only on the task at hand. He called it “clearing the mechanism”. This is how the best reflective moments begin. It amounts to taking the mind and slowing it down by emptying all that is bothering the mind, all that is clouding the perspective. This is where meditation and focusing exercises work great. I find it good to focus on one thought and keep going over that thought many times. Recently, the thought focuses on how much God wants the best for me.
  2. Step Two: Re-engage the Moments. Depending on how often you reflect (I like to do it a few times a day) you take time to look at some significant moments from that day, hour, week or (perish the thought) month. You don’t have to worry about coming up with something. Whatever your mind wants to focus on is important to you. Today, as I sat in a coffee shop eating my lunch, I thought of a phone call I had taken where the caller asked something of me I didn’t want to give them. I also thought of how much time I had wasted on a project when I didn’t have the time to waste. Usually all it takes is a few moments to re-engage with these thoughts.
  3. Step Three: Find Meaning. Simply ask yourself this question abut each moment: “What does it mean?” Why is this important to me? Why does this stick around several hours or days later? Why am I reacting the way I am? Ask God to give you perspective on this and write down anything that comes to you by way of answer. With regards to my phone call, I realized I was annoyed at giving away some moments I wanted to spare for myself later in the week. Resentment always wastes my energy, so now I had a choice to hold onto it or let it go. I let it go, but only after admitting to myself I had to call the person back and reschedule our time.
  4. Step Four: What can I learn? Leo Buscaglia met every one of his kids, every day, at the dinner table with this question: What did you learn today? They couldn’t leave the table without answering him something. Even if their answer amounted to “I learned that other kids are smarter at math than I am”, that was still something they learned. Occasionally, one of them would give up and say they didn’t learn anything. Buscaglia, normally known as an encouraging man, would scold them for wasting the day by not gaining wisdom. I love that concept. A moment of reflection is wasted if you do not garner some level of learning and knowledge from what you are looking at. In my reflection on the phone call, I learned that I must take longer moments to climb into commitments and that I need to deal with an inner sense of obligation to certain people. I learned that I am still prone to answer quickly and then enter regret after.
  5. Step Five: Make a Plan. So what will you do with what you learn? Will you become a collector of truths or one who puts them into practice? The last step of most reflections should be the initiative to decide on one thing that can be done. Be careful not to make the response too large. My phone call realization prompted me to ask someone I get together with every week if they saw me making rash commitments often. That was my action plan and it really set me up for change.

Do you have anything to add to this?



  1. I enjoyed this post, Mike. Thank you. In addition, I would echo the concept of being “present” for times of reflection. Throughout my day, I face a miriad of distractions (most of which are valid and hold some importance) which can detour me from my times of reflection. I find that when I choose to be present during these precious times, the distractions don’t hold the weight they would otherwise hold and I can more easily experience the time of reflection to a healthy, productive end.

  2. Julie: That is a great addendum to this article. Thanks. Being present in the moment is what made Jesus so profoundly helpful to those around him. I think of his interaction with the woman who touched his hem. He “knew that power had gone out from him”…a condition predicated upon knowing the moment.

  3. Respectfully, Mike, you write very well and make many good points, but I’m left feeling a lack of Christ in all this (save your mention that God had a place in your recent “reflection”. It strikes me that Jesus never talks about reflection on Himself and His own being…it was all about hearing and seeing what the Father was doing and saying, what His plan and will was. Should not the meditative process involve God in the very process?
    The very label “reflective” implies that something of us/me is being projected and then re-captured…?
    Of course if we are truly a new creation, and our minds are renewed by the Holy Spirit i”in the likeness of God, then we would be capable of truly meaningful creative thoughts. Still, I feel better if God is all over and wrapped around my process of meditation and every thought I have.
    Any thoughts?

  4. Franco, without a doubt everything you say is correct. You are anticipating my next two articles. However, most people NEVER reflect about anything. In order to allow God to become the center of a reflective moment, one has to have reflective moments. To have reflective moments, one has to know what they look like. Most people who read these articles have no connection to church and many have little understanding of God. So I have to take the process one small step at a time.

    • Thanks for the clarification Mike. Will be looking for the sequels. I like The Lost Art of Practicing His Presence by James Goll. Also Bill Johnson’stuff, and Graham Cooke is great on resting, abiding, receiving and otherwise letting God be God to us. Blessings!

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