Sometimes we find ourselves on autopilot. Life settles into a predictable routine and we roll with it. The alarm goes off, we hit the shower, dress and face the day. Just like we did the day before.
There’s nothing wrong with routines. In fact, I’m a big fan of routines and habits, because that’s how we achieve our goals and objectives. But how do we know if the goals and objectives we adopted still stand? The answer?
Our hearts and minds have a funny way of getting our attention. Sometimes, they hit like a brick between the eyes. Other times, they emerge like a subtle but persistent restlessness. Either way, we know when something feels amiss.
“Time flies over us, but leaves its shadow behind.” — Nathaniel Hawthorne
A nagging little voice
I’ve clocked three moments in my life when I questioned everything. It started with a nagging little voice, whispering in the recesses of my mind.
The first wakeup call was in my freshman year of college. I was away from home, living in the dorms and completely on my own. There were parties and beer and girls.
I played keyboards and sang in a rock band. Fun times. I could have easily chased that for a while. But one night, after yet another college party, I found myself alone on a dorm room balcony, staring at the moon.
I knew, deep down, that rock bands and parties would not get me where I needed to go. So, I left the rock band and began reading more. I focused intently on my education. As a result, I graduated with distinction, and went on to graduate school.
“We cannot see our reflection in running water. It is only in still water that we can see.” — Zen saying
The soul will speak
The second time that reflection saved my bacon was when I toyed with leaving police work to draw cartoons professionally.
I was a police sergeant working night shift. I was married and had an infant son. I hated shift work and felt my creative talents were underutilized. I had been drawing political cartoons for the local newspapers and loved it.
A staff, editorial cartoonist position opened up at a newspaper in Albany, New York. The thought of drawing cartoons every day seemed like a dream job. I got swept up imagining a different life, as a full-time cartoonist.
Then one night, I was rocking my infant son to sleep. In the quiet of night, I began reflecting. I had an excellent job with good pay and benefits. I had the support of local family and friends. I enjoyed helping people as a police sergeant.
Even if I got the cartoonist job in Albany, I knew in my heart it would be a mistake. Newspapers were struggling. Many staff cartoonists were laid off, as papers opted to purchase cheaper, syndicated cartoons.
Fortunately, I didn’t get the cartoonist position. It was less a disappointment than a relief. I realized I had financial stability and security in my law enforcement job. And I could always moonlight as a cartoonist.
“Quiet the mind, and the soul will speak.” — Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati
My creative dreams
The third time reflection changed my life was when I almost talked myself out of becoming a painter.
As I rose in the police department, it became politically inconvenient to keep publishing political cartoons. So, I started to embrace landscape painting and took a local workshop. I loved it. Soon, I discovered the artist Scott L. Christensen, and thought about studying with him.
The only problem was that I had a fear of flying and lacked confidence as a painter. Scott L. Christensen lived in Idaho, and most of the people who went to study with him were already accomplished painters. I came up with a million reasons not to study with Christensen.
Fortunately, my wife had a serious talk with me about dreams. About pursuing the things that mattered in my life. She urged me to face my fear of flying, get on that plane and go study with Christensen.
As a result of that talk I did some serious reflection. I asked myself what I really wanted. And I knew the answer.
I made several trips to Idaho to study with Scott Christensen. As a result, my painting improved considerably, and I realized that it was possible to keep my day job and still chase my creative dreams.
I later made other plane trips to Franklin, Tennessee, to study blogging and writing with the author Jeff Goins. These conquests over my fear of flying led to where I am today. Making art, writing, and living a full-time, creative life.
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” — Nelson Mandela
The real texture of our lives
If you want to invite more reflection into your life, you need to push back against the cult of busyness. Modern life is awash in technical advances, but somehow our smartphones and non-stop texting have edged out the stillness.
People’s faces are immersed in the glow of their devices everywhere. People waiting in line (at Starbucks, the doctor’s office, the post office, etc.) have their phones out. You feel dumb if you don’t pull your phone out, too.
When we ask friends and associates how they are, they usually say, “Busy. I’ve got a lot going on.” We view “busy” as a sign of success or importance. Except it’s not. It’s more a sign that we’ve lost some balance.
We’ve forgotten how to connect with others. How to slow down and appreciate the real texture of our lives. Not the digital landscape, but the real one. Most of all, we’ve forgotten how to reflect more on our lives.
Check out this short, moving video about the importance of slowing down.
The deeper meaning of your life
Quiet, personal reflection enables us to take stock of where we are. How we truly feel. When all the noise of life gets shut out, we can hear better the whispers of our soul. Deeper feelings, and even solutions, start to come into focus. Such reflection can correct your course. Maybe even invite more happiness and peace.
Wherever you are in your life, take the time to slow down and reflect. Take stock of where you are in your life, where you’ve been and where you want to go.
You need to do this more in your life. You need to find quiet places. Turn off your devices. Breathe deeply. And then spend some time reflecting.
Let the thoughts roam around a bit, freely, in your mind. If you haven’t done this in a long time, be patient. You might feel like you’re wasting time, but you’re not. Just as a vacation from work can recharge your batteries, quiet reflection can recharge your mind and spirit.
Embrace personal reflection more in your life. Watch how it slowly heals your weary mind. Feel how it stokes the embers of past dreams, and reveals who you really are, or want to become.
Google and social media can wait. The deeper meaning of your life is calling, and personal reflection is the lifeline to help you reconnect.
Before you go
I’m John P. Weiss. I draw cartoons, paint landscapes, and write about life. Thanks for reading!
This article first appeared on Medium.