Finding my reflection…again by Ron Thompson

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Ron Thompson is the Director of Housing and Residence Life at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina. He enjoys spending time with his wife and enjoying beautiful South Carolina.

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It just made sense to me. I had just begun working at Marquette University, and as I was immersing myself in the campus culture when I learned about the Jesuits’ practice of reflection. My hall minister, Father Grant Garinger, SJ taught me that these highly educated and notably balanced spiritual leaders of the Catholic Church take a few minutes several times daily to ask themselves some basic questions. They understand that this reflection upon what they have been doing well, what they have not done well, and what they can do differently moving forward enables them to always be honest with themselves, with God, and fulfill their commitment to always seek Magis – a Latin term that describes the Jesuits demand to be more.

Valuing personal growth as I do, I began reflecting immediately. I not only began to reflect two to three times daily, I began to facilitate reflection with my Resident Assistant team. And when I moved into a new role responsible for department training and staff development, I immediately implemented a process of reflection during RA Training. At the end of each training day, we sat together, eyes closed, silently considering how we can apply the content we just explored together.

Unfortunately, as we have all learned many times before, even our most coveted habits can be broken. Sometimes, we let life get in the way, we step away from our normal routine, and before we know it, we have fallen out of even our best habits.

Nearly three years ago, I moved from Miami, Florida to Greenville, South Carolina and changing homes, communities, and jobs. Slowly but surely, the stress of it all was building, and without my daily practice of reflection, it was becoming too much to handle.

In January of my first year, I began to experience flashes of a racing heart, and it felt as though my chest was about to explode. I had no idea what was happening to me, so I shared this with my wife during dinner one evening. A trip to the hospital and four hours later, I was prescribed my first, of what would be several, anti-anxiety medications.

For two years, I experienced anxiety. I had a constant sense of no control, and I never really felt like I knew myself as I had for so many years before.

I recently read Dan Harris’ book, 10% Happier, through which he tells the story of his quest to manage his debilitating anxiety. Through doctors, spiritual leaders, psychologists and holistic healers, the author found his own healing in daily meditation. As I read his book, I couldn’t help but relive my own recent story. As I read about his daily meditations, I asked myself, “How could I have forgotten to practice something that once was the most important daily ritual to me?”

So I quickly executed the steps I once learned from Father Garinger:

  1.  Plan time to reflect. Choose a time at the start of your day, and a time at the end of your day. Put the time in your calendar and stick to it.
  2. Create a comfortable space to reflect. Find a nice seat, free of distractions, and a space convenient and supportive of your practice – whatever this means to you. For me, I have two such spaces; one is in my office, and one is in my home office.
  3. Ask yourself those three basic questions, What have I done well? What have I not done well? What can I do better? There is no trick or short cut. Just be honest with yourself.

Instead of walking into my office now and beginning to work, I now walk into the office before others arrive, close my office door, and sit in chair with feet flat on the floor, my right hand resting in my left hand, with my thumbs touching, eyes closed, and asking myself those three questions.

The result, for me, has been a deeper connection with myself, and a greater awareness in the moment. When I meet with a student, a member of my team, or a campus colleague, I feel a strong sense of being with them. I connect strongly with their thoughts and emotions. And I don’t experience my mind wandering into later meetings scheduled for the day. Returning to this practice has helped me to be less anxious and at peace with myself, more aware of my decisions in the moment, and a better student affairs practitioner. Whether it’s working with troubled students, mentoring entry level personnel, or planning enhancements of our residential life program, being at peace with myself through reflection has enhanced my wisdom and my leadership.

If you don’t make time for a daily conversation with yourself, join me, and start today.

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