The Good, The Bad, & The Soon-to-Be: What Reflection is Teaching Me

I’ve been taking time every night as I get ready for bed to jot down a quick list of three things that happened throughout the day. I call one of them the “rose,” the moment that I am most thankful for and that made the day better, even if only slightly. The second is the “thorn,” or the thing that was, well, less than awesome that day (note: I sometimes have a hard time narrowing this one down). Lastly, I make note of a “bud,” something I am looking forward to or expecting to be great in the next couple of days. The whole process usually takes about five minutes, and then it’s done. No elaborate explanations, no cliched journal entries about my deepest and most philosophical thoughts–just a rose, a thorn, and a bud.

It’s an old exercise that I’ve stolen from my days working as an Orientation Leader in college (and probably from any of the other leadership/service/people-related activities I’ve participated in at any point in my life). The whole idea is that, in an effort to help process potentially overwhelming experiences like moving to college or, say, living in a Southeast Asian country, it can be helpful to identify singular moments, both positive and negative, and to reflect on them. Among my more optimistic friends and co-facilitators, the “bud” is seen as a way to shift focus from processing the day’s events to instead envisioning something that has the potential to go really well in the future. Devoting time to these three items should, in theory, lessen the burden of grappling with a whole day’s worth of stuff, good or bad, helping to mitigate feelings of stress or anxiety.

I’ve been doing this little reflection every night for the past few weeks as I’ve found myself struggling with the day to day stresses of living and teaching in Malaysia (e.g., language barriers, planning events, the occasional typhoid week). I won’t pretend that it’s completely changed my life, or that my days are now dramatically better because I’ve chosen to thoughtfully reflect on them. Every day, I have something to write down for each category; every day, there is good and bad. Some days, I even have moments that seem to defy this cut and dry categorization, and I’m forced to gloss over them in favor of others that more easily fit into my three boxes.

I’d like to think it’s doing something, though, this daily reflection of mine. I haven’t been transformed by “the power of positive thinking” or any other sort of romantic notion; in fact, part of the reason I value rose, bud, and thorn is that it acknowledges and embraces the whole spectrum of things we experience on a daily basis. I do think I’m beginning to notice a change, though. Subtle, uncertain, fleeting–but present occasionally, and worth celebrating. It could be that I’m sleeping more, or that I’ve recently tripled my water intake (no joke, y’all), all of which are bound to make for a better and happier me. But I’d like to think that this slight uptick in good vibes, this feeling of contentment that seems to last longer and longer each day, might also be due in part to spending my last waking moments in focused and intentional reflection.

Don’t get me wrong: life here isn’t horrible, and it’s not like I’m in need of some major transformation to get me through all of these awful things that are happening. In general, I’m happy, I’m doing good work, and I’m living a life that I am infinitely grateful for and that I can’t wait to experience more of. Cultural adjustment is hard, though, and there are definitely days that seem to have a much higher ratio of thorns to roses. I think the most important thing I’m learning is that it’s okay to acknowledge these days, to admit that sometimes I leave my school and wonder if that movie night I’m planning will ever actually happen, or if my Form 3 students will ever actually understand Around the World in 80 Days. It’s okay to have sucky days.

But each day has its rose, its one redeeming moment, no matter how brief. Maybe it’s that one interaction with a student between classes that leaves me laughing for the next five minutes, or the fact that the wifi at our favorite curry house is finally working again. Today’s rose is definitely the fact that I’ve had so much free time to sit in the air conditioning and work on this blog post, something I’ve been wanting to do for the past couple of days. Whatever it is, each day has some reason to be celebrated. And I know it sounds cheesy and [more than] a bit cliche, but these are the things that get me through. It’s nothing profound, but it’s working for me.

Stay tuned for more life updates in the next post–I’m going to Thailand next weekend (!!), so I’m sure there will be plenty to write about.

Until next time,

Kyle

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