(reported in the Hamilton Spectator Oct 21, 2021)
The Cambridge English Dictionary defines self-reflection as:”the activity of thinking about your own feelings and behaviour and the reasons that may lie behind them”. The act of self-reflection can be an important skill in successful aging.
Life satisfaction, well-being, feelings of happiness, sadness, our values can change over time. Life events such as retirement, loss of a loved one may force us to re-evaluate our sense of purpose in life. Spiritually are we at peace? Do we feel a sense of connection with the world, our work or other interests we might have? Are we fulfilled by our activities? Do we find joy in our activities? Do we have positive relationships with others and do these relationships bring us joy?
Finding meaning and purpose in life has been shown to help people stay healthier longer and increase longevity. Other benefits are better quality of sleep and even reduced chances of heart attack and stroke.
Some of the ways that we can create meaning as we age are through things like self-reflection, meditation and yoga, walking and other forms of physical exercise, volunteering, connecting with family and friends, doing a hobby, gardening, cooking a delicious meal, learning something new, taking courses just for interest or perhaps, researching a family history or learning to speak a different language.
Some people choose to write about their life or start to keep a journal reflecting and recording activities. There are workshops, workbooks and books available that will guide us in creating a life story. For more information on writing workshops see the website Writing, Aging & Spirit (http://www.writingdownouryears.ca. A quick overview for tips on how to write a memoir see https://www.masterclass.com/articles/6-tips-for-writing-a-memoir#6-tips-for-writing-a-memoir
Socrates once said that the unexamined life is not worth living. If we fail to reflect on our lives, we often lose sight of the things that are the most important. Reflections can take many shapes. Choosing to sit down with reflections for a few minutes a week or completing a monthly review are helpful in discovering ourselves as we change and evolve. It is important to take the time and not to rush. Spending time at the year’s end can be a valuable tool in our self-growth and understanding. Looking back over the previous days, months and years and analyzing one’s life give perspective and ensure that you are living your life to the fullest.
Reviewing the past year may include highlights of your year including certain people or activities, personal or family milestones, travel or changes in our relationships, projects, and interests. Listing highlights and lowlights can provide a great way to find peace and growth. Reflection helps us to respond effectively as often in life we just react, not taking the time to consider our actions or our words. Personal reflection allows us to consider the consequences of our words and actions and enables us to consider the best most effective and helpful way to act in each situation. The act of reflection can include how we feel in our body. Self-assessing our feelings of health, well-being and strength are areas we can include in our reflection.
Serious reflections may lead to thoughts of troubled relationships, unresolved issues in one’s life and forgiveness. Sometimes people have chosen to work with a spiritual director, a chaplain, counsellor or a trusted friend to work through these issues. Self-reflection may also be done as solitary work. Joan Chittister has said that solitude is chosen. “It is the act of being alone to be with ourselves”. Solitude is not running away from life, from the aging process or from our feelings. On the contrary this is a time that we can sort them out, air them, get over them and get on with the burden of yesterday”.
Reflection promotes learning and understanding. Going through life without thinking or reflecting, we don’t gain a deeper understanding of life moving from one thing to the other and never pausing to see what valuable lessons might be there to learn. Taking the time for introspection enables us to evaluate and process what we’ve experienced, think more deeply, and ponder the meaning of our circumstances, emotions and motivations which helps us live a more holistic and integrated life.
Cheryl Anne Fenn, BHSc (Nursing) Retired Registered Nurse. Yoga Teacher, Former Board Member Hamilton Council on Aging. For more information or to donate to the Hamilton Council on Aging please view https://www.coahamilton.ca
Click here for the Hamilton Spectator article.