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By Jessica Beckendorf and Bob Bertsch

Reflection is an important part of learning about and developing our practice as professionals, but looking inward is not always easy to do. In a study of when and why practitioners don’t engage in reflection, Harry Ferguson pointed out “…there are times when they (practitioners) limit reflection in order to defend themselves as a way of making the work bearable and doable” (Ferguson, 2018).

Reflection can be hard, even painful, so sometimes we may want to avoid it to protect ourselves. During those times, coming to reflection “on slant” can help us brush up against difficult experiences and risk tender emotions that we may have not been willing to face head on.

Bjørn Peterson introduced us to the term “on slant” on the Practicing Connection podcast.

It comes from this Emily Dickinson poem:

Tell all the truth but tell it slant — (1263)

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —

In his work facilitating group discussions, Bjørn has encouraged participants to share their thoughts and feelings by asking them to react to a poem, song, or other work of art. Connecting with these creative works allows people to approach their thoughts and feelings “on slant.”

Coming at things “on slant” is helpful because our inner selves are quite shy. To help illustrate this, Bjørn referred to this quote from Parker Palmer in his book, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life.

“The soul is like a wild animal—tough, resilient, savvy, self-sufficient and yet exceedingly shy. If we want to see a wild animal, the last thing we should do is to go crashing through the woods, shouting for the creature to come out. But if we are willing to walk quietly into the woods and sit silently for an hour or two at the base of a tree, the creature we are waiting for may well emerge, and out of the corner of an eye we will catch a glimpse of the precious wildness we seek.”

Prompts can be an important tool in developing a regular reflection practice, but very direct prompts can be like “crashing through the woods” and shouting. Letting a work of art or literature or music be our prompt may allow us to take a less direct approach to reflection, instead of avoiding the practice altogether.

For an example of what this kind of reflection might sound like, listen to the Practicing Connection podcast episode, “Coming to Reflection ‘On Slant’,” which features year-end reflections from some of our collaborators, all inspired by a piece of art or poetry, a song, a quote, or other creative works. 

As we all transition to a new year, we encourage you to reflect on a work of art, a poem, a song lyric, or some other creative work. What is it telling you? What entry point into an issue is it providing?

Photo by U.Lucas Dubé-Cantin: