Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Contemplation and Reflection: variations on a theme?

   I've often thought about the difference between contemplation and reflection.  Are they just variations on a theme of considered thought?  Contemplation sounds so deep and spiritual while reflection seems more temporal and cerebral. I found a bit of clarification in, of course, a photograph.

   This is an image I made on St. John.  It was across from the driveway of the house where I was staying but actually you saw this sort of thing everywhere.  Big trees with their roots exposed from having the soil eroded by heavy rain.

   If this happened in northern New England where I live the tree would probably die.  The extreme cold would do it in I'm sure but here on tropical St. John the tree survives and flourishes.

   Now, what has that got to do with contemplation and reflection?  In seeing the exposed roots of this tree, I saw what normally goes unseen back home.  The roots provide the sustenance for the tree...it holds the tree firmly to the soil so that when the tropical winds blow it remains upright but is vulnerable because some of the roots are not grounded.  That is what contemplation is for me, my source of sustenance and my anchor in life's storms.   There is also a bit of vulnerability in the process as all soulful journeys have.  Contemplation risks the exposure of deeply rooted parts of our soul.

   Reflection, well that is for me a "head thing".  You compare and contrast and search for relationship.  Contemplation is definitely a "heart thing".  You feel it more than know it.  This photograph led me in a direction I hardly perceived when I photographed it.  I just knew I had to photograph it. It called to me everyday I passed it.  I knew, on a heart level, that there was a message waiting for me.



kimmanleyort said...

What a beautiful way you've describe these two words, Patricia. I totally agree.

The first year I was at Bethany Spring for the poetry retreat, Brother Paul explained this exact thing.

He said that reflection has to do with looking back and remembering, and then reflecting on the meaning of your thoughts. Contemplation, however, has nothing to do with thoughts or looking back. It is about being here now, in the moment, and seeing (considering) reality exactly as it is, without judgment or interpretation.

I like the way you've added the heart piece.

Patricia Turner said...

Thank you Kim! I believe we must always be aware of the mind/heart relationship to what we experience whether it is through the eyes or through the lens.