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In this high place

it is as simple as this,

leave everything you know behind. 

Step toward the cold surface,

say the old prayer of rough love

and open both arms. 

Those who come with empty hands

will stare into the lake astonished,

there, in the cold light

reflecting pure snow 

the true shape of your own face. 

—David Whyte

I once read of a beloved college professor being honored by his students. Many of them recalled a favorite phrase he used: “Without reflection, there is no true learning.” Reflection affirms our purpose and helps us set our compass. And though we should always endeavor to incorporate some time to reflect, autumn is a particularly auspicious time for reflection. For looking back on the year so far as we gather the harvest and note where we’ve been. For collecting the experiences which we can internalize as lessons in our lives. It is no coincidence that many autumn holidays are characterized by offering time for reflection and gratitude. This is a time when nature’s rhythms slow and we turn inward.

Whatever your work, reflection is a practice that can help us become more sustainable, and build a more sustainable, humane culture. I’ve often thought we’d all be much more productive if we could dedicate even a day of our week to reflection and rejuvenation. To evaluate our work individually and with co-workers and friends, and devise new ways of approaching challenges. To write about our purpose and vision for our work and lives. To volunteer in our communities. To looking at what we need to do—and what we actually do—on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis.  All of our work—particularly in sustainability and social change—is so complex that we owe ourselves this time. Not enough time to take a day a week? A half-day? Maybe that’s telling us something. Reflection is essential to keeping us on course, to seeing things as they truly are, and as a pre-cursor to the planning we all must do to structure our lives and remain effective in a culture which demands so much of our time.  E.B. White has written: “I awake each morning with the desire to save the world and the desire to savor the world. It makes it hard to plan the day.” If we don’t leave ourselves the time to savor the world and our experience, we can’t honor what it is that is most human in us…our capacity, and our need, to reflect. How is it that you take time for reflection? How does this help affirm your purpose and help you plan and manage your time? Do you have any favorite techniques for managing your time which help you feel both productive and provide time to reflect?

September 2005