Reflections: Thoughts and Images Bending Back

This morning, the late winter sky and trees formed a reflection in my coffee. It was the second reflection that I consciously noticed this week. It was much smaller than the other reflection, which was framed by an entire landscape. I was at Cheekwood Botanical Gardens at the entrance to the Japanese Garden path, which skirts one side of a pond. As I looked across the pond toward the mansion, the calm water was reflecting a field of brilliant daffodils and the mansion beyond. Now, my cousin shared with me that for a pond to remain as clean and healthy as this one, it takes some real effort and care to do so. She said there are plenty of products for your pond to keep them clean and healthy, such as barley straw, but it will take a lot of your time. I’d love a pond like the one by the Japenese Garden, but I don’t know if I’d have the time to maintain it. Anyway, I’ve nattered there, back to the stunning setting I’m surrounded by…

The view reminded me that one of the fascinating facts about Cheekwood mansion is the way that every view from the house was made to either see or hear water in the form of a pond or stream or fountain or reflecting pool. Last fall I took a group tour of the mansion, and as we stood on a side porch under a wisteria arbor, we could look down on a rectangular pool flanked by stone benches and statues of muses. Our guide called it the reflecting pool.

“Because it reflects the hills and trees and sky?” I asked, enjoying the landscape and skyscape mirrored in the water.

“Because it’s meant to be a place to sit and reflect,” said our guide.

Ah. I hadn’t thought of that. But I realized that both meanings were true. The pool obviously reflected its surroundings, but it was also peaceful and quiet, a perfect place for reflection of a different kind. Nature is always great for this; I need to start spending more time outside at home. I’ve been looking at outdoor garden sheds to see if I could transform one into some kind of den in which to sit and enjoy my surroundings, we’ll see. Alternatively, being able to sit out on a deck in my back garden with some plush outdoor furniture and gorgeous plants is a great way to spend more time with nature. I’ll have to look into some wpc decking boards as soon as I’m home.

So I’ve been reflecting on reflection. I had never connected the two definitions before, but they both relate to their Latin origin, reflectere. Flectere means “to bend.” (Think flex. Or flexible.) Reflectere means “to bend back.” Energy – in the form of light, heat, sound, and even radio waves – bends back after hitting a surface. It returns in what we experience as a reflection.

Reflect also means “to think quietly and calmly.” When our minds reflect, we keep our thoughts to ourselves, thinking them and then letting them bounce back to us so we can think them again, maybe refining them as we do. Or we join them to other thoughts and let those reflect as well. Here in the South, we often call it pondering, which comes from Latin pondus, meaning weight (as in pound). Ponder means “to weigh in the mind.” We reflect in order to weigh our choices. We reflect in order to figure out what we believe. We weigh our thoughts.

Reflecting and pondering are essential to the process of creativity. A joke among writers is that we spend a lot of time sitting around staring into space and get to call it work. Most of the time, it actually is work. Film producer Samuel Goldwyn said, “If I look confused, it’s because I’m thinking.”

Shakespeare must have done a lot of reflecting in order to create his plays and sonnets. In one of his sonnets, he tells us what else he reflected on:

“[T]o the sessions of sweet silent thought

I summon up remembrance of things past.”

Sonnet 30

Reflecting can also be a type of prayer. Dramatist G.E. Lessing wrote, “One single grateful thought raised to heaven is the most perfect prayer.”

Reflecting to create.

Reflecting to remember.

Reflecting to weigh our choices.

Reflecting to figure out what we believe.

Reflecting to pray.

Five reasons to reflect.

And then there’s a sixth, which circles back to literal reflections, like the sky and wooded hills reflected in the ponds and pools at Cheekwood. We can reflect to enjoy nature. Reflecting is a way to wonder and enjoy the beauty of the world. Noticing and admiring reflections – in a window, a coffee cup, or a pond – enriches the spirit.

“The whole moon and the entire sky are reflected in dewdrops on the grass, or even in one drop of water.” – Dogen Kigen

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Text and photos © 2018 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.