by: Nancy Dickerson Hazard

RN, MSN, FAAN         

WHEN OUR SON was 7 years old, he, like many other grade schoolers, was involved in after-school activities. Arriving home one day, within minutes of each other, my husband and I discovered that, through classic family chaos and mis-communication, neither of us had picked him up at school. With what surely looked like a Three Stooges movie, we fumbled and tripped over each other in getting out the door to retrieve him.

Knowing that 20 minutes can seem like 20 hours to a 7-year-old, panic, guilt and disbelief filled the car as we sped to the school. We found our son crying—walking toward home. We spent hours that evening and over the next few days reassuring him that we would always pick him up, that parents are sometimes late and that he should always stay with the adult in charge.

Fast-forward two years.

This time, both my son and I know that I’m the one picking him up, but I’m running late. Remembering his previous reaction, I am becoming increasingly frantic. As I pull up to the school, he is sitting on a bench doing his homework. As I profusely sputter apologies and reassurances, he nonchalantly tells me he wasn’t worried, capping off his statement with, “You know, Morn, I have experienced this before. I knew you’d he here.” It was fairly impressive reflective living for a 9-year-old!

Reflective practices in life often defy linear definition because they involve intuition, understanding of experiences and deep knowing. The Center for Reflective Community Practice at Massachusetts Institute of Technology subscribes to the concept that reflection is an active process in which one witnesses one’s own experience. Whether in the midst of activity or as an activity in itself, reflection involves the ability to explore ones own experience and action and permits the possibility of learning through experience (Center for Reflective Community Practice, 2004).

Accessing past concrete expressions through reflection-- and learning from them—creates a reserve of tacit knowledge. When encountering different situations, we tap into this reservoir, thus providing intuition that guides our actions. Because intuition is the active expression of tacit knowing, we have, in an instant, a deep understanding of the whole situation and are able to respond appropriately.

Reflection enables us to see the world and ourselves in a different way. When we create, clarify and ascribe meaning to an experience, we must examine the assumpt- ions we make about them as well as the actual lived response. This examination pro vides new insights that change us as a person and prompt us to act differently. Reflecting on experiences, their meaning and our assumptions is the foundation for making choices about action, based on chosen value systems and new ways of thinking (Dreyfus & Dreyfus, 1986).

To embrace reflective life practices, however, we must overcome an internalized devaluing of intuition. Frequently, we dismiss our tacit knowing because we don’t believe our instinct has worth. We tend to break situations down into pieces, making decisions or taking action based on a portion of instead of the whole situation. In addition to negating our foreknowledge, we have not engaged in holistic reflection. Failing to consider the unique whole of an experience, we fall hack on familiar, comfortable ways of responding. Without holistic processing of experiences, the reservoir of tacit knowledge is too low for meaningful action.

Giving credence to our intuition conies from reflection on experiences, defining their meaning and learning to create improved responses. This involves valuing and seeking information and knowledge, and it occurs when experiences are articulated, scrutinized, shared and elaborated.

Reflective practice allows us to be witnesses to our own experiences, to draw attention to and examine them. Instead of living just in the moment, we gain purposeful learning for many future moments. Just like that 9-year-old waiting for his mom to pick him up, we can gain certainty from the tacit knowledge that reflective practice brings.

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