It may be winter but tucked into the ups and downs of gullies and hills wattle trees are splashing Warrandyte with sunshiney colour. Every afternoon, around 4.30, as the light starts to fade and the cold starts to bite, it’s time to stoke up the wood burner or turn up the heating. As cartoonist and poet Michael Leunig says, ‘It is time to go inside. It is time for reflection and resonance. It is time for contemplation. Let us go inside’.
Winter, with its opportunities for quiet reflection, can be full of surprises. Once the children are grown and energy levels have a slumped a bit, there’s more time and a greater inclination to sit and give mind space to one’s life experiences – the highs and lows, the firsts , the regrets.
However, reflection is not a dreamy flick through an imaginary photo album, but a conscious bending back over events, ideas and images and the emotions connected with them. It takes time and needs silence and it touches us deep inside, reaching into our subconscious where memories are stored. I like to compare it to a slow cooked winter casserole. The wonderful flavours that drift across the table when the lid is lifted have taken hours to develop and stand out.
I am bemused by the occasional autobiography written by women or men still in their twenties. Generally speaking, life hasn’t yet given them that time and space that reflection needs. Later life is an opportunity to turn raw experience into wisdom. Thomas Merton was just 31 when he published the story of his life and in later years cringed at what he described as its lack of prayerful reflection.
If r psychological and emotional growth is to catch up to cognitive ability, then we need to invest in the will power and concentrated effort that is reflection. As we revisit the stand-out experiences in our life, as we identify the underlying emotions that have cupped them, we begin to recognise personal strengths and weaknesses that may have been hidden from us in more active situations. It takes time and patience as well as courage to face the past and to make connections that surprise and sometimes challenge our perceptions of who we are. Whoever said that old age is not for sissies knew this.
Four hundred years before the birth of Jesus, that wise old Greek Socrates said, ‘An unexamined life is not worth living.’ Winter is a good time to do some of that examining, to explore the texture of our life experience, to remember, to feel. We all have hidden depths that only reveal their wisdom to a quiet and listening heart. Taking time to reflect can put us in touch with the God-shaped emptiness and yearning that hides beneath our everyday experiences. Augustine said it so well, ‘Our hearts are made for you God, and will not rest until they rest in you.’