When the new Upper School and Middle School schedules were launched this year, I was delighted to see that a five-minute reflection time was included every afternoon. Unlike the morning and afternoon prayers over the announcements, reflection time would be five minutes, where the entire Middle School and Upper School divisions pause to say and do nothing. To just be.
For me, those five minutes of reflection are like a shaken snow globe after it is set down. The flurry of activity settles, and I am left with the beautiful, present moment at the center of it all. I concentrate on the calm of my soul and my body settling down. As the five minutes draw to a close, I do a quick inventory of the present moment, and more often than not, it is filled with grace and joy. More often than not, it becomes clear that I have so much to be grateful for and that my flurry of worry has kept me from glimpsing that joy.
You see, the present moment is everything. I have said it a million times - at Mass, in my classroom, in Campus Ministry, in meetings, in the halls. The past and the future are essentially out of our control. We do not live there; we live now. In this present moment, we are, as we say, placed "in the presence of God." We have choice and power over, as we also say, "our every thought, word, and action." If we do not pause to consider this present moment, we miss our chance to "BE who we are...well."
Viz students—and teachers—are professionals at living in the future. They study. They prepare. They apply. They plan. They set goals. Their hard work bears fruit in the future, and I suspect this is why they chose Viz to begin with. Viz students work hard all day long, trying to secure the future they envision for themselves. I suspect this is why Viz students and teachers are not professionals at reflection time.
It is not my intent to be negative, but I have to report that as I walk the halls during those five minutes of reflection time, the work of perfecting the future continues almost in full force. In rooms where some students have quieted themselves, others continue to work on homework or fill out college applications. In some rooms, teachers attempt to calm students engaged in discussions of assignments. And in some rooms, the day continues as if nothing has interrupted it, attempting to recover some precious class time.
No one is in trouble here. Working hard and being productive is muscle memory for Viz teachers and students. I get it. A lot is going on at Viz. Stopping for any reason seems counterintuitive. So I am here to make a case for reflection time.
Let's start with research. In a mixed-method study combining laboratory experiments and field study, a Harvard Business College working paper concludes that reflection on an experience is as important or more important than the experience alone. They report, "Results suggested that taking time away from training and reallocating that time to reflective learning efforts improved individual performance." (Di Stefano et al.) They also conclude that their research echoes what educational philosopher John Dewey said long ago: "We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience." (Di Stefano et al.) From a research perspective, asking the Viz community to pause, even for a few minutes, would be a beneficial use of time.
Scripturally, there is a ton of support for taking time to reflect. But in this Catholic school founded by the Sisters of the Visitation of Holy Mary, we need to look no further than the example of Jesus and Mary themselves. After recording all the events of the Annunciation, Visitation, and Nativity, the Gospel of Luke tells us that, "Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart." (Luke 2:19 NAB) Additionally, as the Gospel stories continue, we see Jesus continually taking time to reflect and pray. Luke 5:15 reports the activity and fame of Jesus, noting that "great crowds" would come to be healed. Nevertheless, Luke immediately adds, "but He would withdraw to deserted places to pray." (Luke 5:16 NAB) Surely, we who "Live Jesus" also can live His practice of withdrawing from the stress to pray.
It is tempting to suggest that this new reflection time isn't working and should go away, but I am unwilling to give it up. It will take some time for the Viz community to build muscle memory for reflection, but I have confidence that after the Viz community pauses its flurry of activity for five minutes out of their day, the remaining 1435 minutes will be even more joy-filled and thus effective.