A Deep Dive Into the Art of Reflection

Updated: Mar 5, 2020

In the image below, you will see two definitions for the word reflection. Generally, we would consider the first definition to pertain to things outside of and around us, and the second one more relevant to internal thoughts and processing.

However, we can learn quite a bit from the first definition as we explore the concept of internal reflection. While external reflections as described above can be things we feel and hear, we tend to think first of a more visual depiction as seen in a mirror, on the surface of the water, or from other shiny surfaces.

Cloud Gate, affectionately known as "The Bean", is a great example of how the characteristics of a reflective surface can greatly alter the information you receive from it.

Cloud Gate is located in Millennium Park in the Loop of downtown Chicago, IL.

This gives us a lot to think about. Because of its shape and the different types of curves, the images that you see reflected can be distorted; making them appear either larger or smaller than they are, or affecting your perception of distance.

If you were to compare this bean-shaped reflective surface to a memory, we could see that depending on where we are approaching it from and how carefully we study it, the information that we receive from it could differ. Additionally, like how part of this surface is covered by snow, our memories are often clouded with or filtered through the lens of emotions, time, substances, etc., as well as confused by the recounting of the same moments by other people.

Now let's look at the surface of water and what we can learn from reflective surfaces that are in motion.

This image was taken at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC and depicts an artwork by Dale Chihuly that was installed onsite during a special exhibit.

In this image, you can see that the water is quite still. While there are plants that sit on the surface, obstructing the view of the reflected sky, you can clearly see that there are clouds above in the sky. Their shapes are fairly clear and you can see approximately the same colors in the reflection as when you look at the sky above it. The glass art that sits at the surface of the water is very clearly reflected on the surface. Because it is much closer to the surface physically, the image has less distance to travel and therefore has less atmosphere in between it and its reflection. The lily pads have no reflection because they are sitting directly on the surface of the water. You can see them very clearly because you are looking at the actual plants rather than at a reflection of them. And the last thing I will point out here is that depending on where the light is coming from and the placement of the glass artwork between the light and the reflection, you can sometimes see the color in the reflection and other times it appears as a shadow or dark silhouetted image.

I could use this image alone to explore the art of reflection and our relationship to our memories and experiences endlessly. But I will keep it more simple for the purposes of this blog post. Briefly, let's look into how what I just described in the physical or visual form and how that is experienced internally.

Images that are further away have a more distorted reflection. The further we are from an event or memory, the more possibility there is for us to remember it differently than we originally experienced it. Also, because time occurs in between, which is accompanied by growth and change, we are essentially a different person in any given moment than we were at the moment of occurrence. The more time that elapses, the more opportunity there is for our perspective to shift and for the atmosphere of our lives to blur the edges of the information we are receiving.

Depending on where the light is coming from and the placement of the object, you may see a colorful reflection or a dark silhouetted image. You've likely heard people talk about our shadow self or shadow side. Terms like these refer to the parts of ourselves that we are not really proud of, or that don't align with the feeling of the best version of ourselves. These parts are still part of us though. And what I really like about using this image to explore the idea of our shadow parts is that it clearly shows that the parts that appear dark and colorless are merely a result of them not getting enough light. They are only a reflection of the actual object which is brightly colored and illuminated in the sunshine. We so often shy away from these parts of ourselves or quickly retreat out of our reflective state when we encounter them. But if we take the time to shine some light on them and explore a little further, we may find that they are just in need of some love and light. I remember reading a book by SARK many years ago where she talked about getting a flashlight and going to explore the deepest, darkest, scariest parts of herself and her memories/experiences. At the time, I was in a place where I was just starting to dip my toe into the waters of self-reflection and remember thinking that this was a wild and crazy idea! Now I do this regularly and help others as they explore their own.

OK, enough on that for now. There is one more concept that I would like to explore with you in this post. This is the idea of the environment in which you do your self-reflection. In the following image, you can sort of make out the reflection of the building that sits on the river bank as it is reflected in the surface of the water. Because the water is actively in motion, the image is more distorted than the reflected images we looked at above.

This is an image of the Hungarian Parliament Building which sits on the eastern bank of the Danube River in Budapest, Hungary.

It is also interesting to note that I took this photograph while on a boat and you can see a bit of what is happening inside the boat reflected on the glass window from which I took the shot. As with the art of photography, it is so easy for our internal reflections to have an obstructed view or incorporate additional filters or thoughts, even when we don't intend for them or often realize that they are there.

This photo was taken at Huka Falls on the North Island of New Zealand.

I took this photo while standing on a bridge over the rushing water coming off a waterfall. This part of the river is at a point where it narrows by more than 6 times its previous width, causing the water to rush at a speed of approximately 200,000 liters/second. It is AMAZINGLY beautiful. And while this is very true, I can't explain to you how loud it is while standing on this bridge, the feeling of unsteadiness you have, or the power that you can sense as the water rushes beneath you. It is not a place that I would go for deep reflection.

Comparing this image to the two previous ones, you can't really see any reflection on the surface of the water. It is far too turbulent an environment for there to be a reflective surface - even though it is made up of the same element as the last two examples. Looking straight ahead into the distance, you can see that the water calms and it's reflective qualities start to return.

This is a great way emphasize the importance of stillness as it relates to contemplation or internal reflection. Thinking, consideration, contemplation, study. These are all similar words associated with the second definition of reflection above: serious thought or consideration. But let's return to the first definition for a moment: the throwing back by a body or surface of light, heat, or sound without absorbing it. The last few words here are quite important - without absorbing it. I have had a fairly strong meditation practice for many years. As with most things I do, I have read about it, practiced with mentors, taken classes, and tried many different ways of incorporating it into my life. One of the most beneficial things that I have learned about the practice of meditation is that it is not about making yourself have no thoughts at all, it is about not following them. Or you could replace the word "following" with "absorbing". Another significant lesson I've learned is that the more you show up - or practice, the better you get at it.

This is my second journal that I've custom ordered on Etsy... yes, I'm fancy, LOL! But honestly I LOVE both the look and functionality of this journal. I have had them both custom designed to specifically fit my preferences and I find it totally worth the money to support an artist who makes quality products.

When you take time out of your busy daily schedule to quiet your mind, you help the metaphorical waters to still, and the reflections to become more clear. I meditate, yes. I also go to yoga, practice Reiki, chant, sing, dance, run, make art, cook, and so much more. All of these are a part of my self-care routine and contribute to the internal atmosphere or "environment" in which I do my own self-reflection. It has taken me years to be able to easily see these links between internal and external reflections. I hope that this exploration of art and reflective surfaces has helped to shed some light on your own self-reflections.

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