Developing the muscle of reflection in meditation practice

August 8, 2023

Greater awareness develops in three phases in Reflective Meditation. First, we meditate, allowing whatever to transpire. Then we take a step back and reflect upon it, finding words, often in writing, for what happened. Then we speak it aloud to a teacher and/or to peers. Each of these phases shines the light of awareness, each a bit differently and from a different perspective.

A capacity for reflection slowly develops. Why we use the metaphor of muscle is because muscle develops slowly. You need the right nutrients to develop. Good nutrition: kindness, curiosity, flexibility. Changing our diet. Refining it. Muscle helps us with the ‘heavy lifting’. Reflection can also help metaphorically with the heavy lifting– what is difficult or demands our greater effort. 

We enact a culture of reflection. We do this individually and together. The capacity to reflect naturally flows into our thoughts and perceptions outside of meditation. This changes a great deal; we begin to look upon our life experiences and that of others with more curiosity and kindness. It wears away at apathy, indifference, hostility and ignorance.      

We structure this strongly in our practice. Events always have time for reflection. It is our practice! A bell to begin the meditation, a bell to end the meditation and the transition into reflection, a bell to mark the end of reflection and the transition into sharing. That’s a lot of bells. No whistles! Reflection goes with meditation and has a high value – just as walking or chanting does in other practices.

Doing reflection together bonds us. Is connecting, like connective tissue. We are expecting people to tell us about their experience and their reflections on their experience. ‘Tell us more’ is another way we talk about this.

It takes openness and reflection to move beyond certainty and perceive more conditions at play. Here we’re back at the teaching of conditionality, blended throughout experience. Conditionality questions certainty and quiets the fires of extremes. 

Listen to more on Developing the Muscle of Reflection on Apple Podcasts:

Developing the Muscle of Reflection:

July 9, 2023          An expansion of Sati, awareness

July 10, 2023        An enlightenment practice

July 11, 2023        Reflecting on right speech

You can read more about Linda Modaro and Nelly Kaufer’s reflective meditation approach in their book, Reflective Meditation: Cultivating Kindness and Curiosity in the Buddha’s Company. Available at



2 Replies to “Developing the muscle of reflection in meditation practice”

John Graham

We can be forgiven for our bewilderment. In today’s social whirl that seems to have been accelerated by the culture wars here in the West, what may be called my reflective practice has been invaluable in orienting me to an openness towards others. Many people shudder when I indicate that my work has been with offenders. I understand such fear and distaste since the individuals I have encountered in my professional role can indeed appear threatening. The point I would like to make is that for most of us, impulsivity can often feature in our behaviour, but this aspect becomes a matter of survival in the chaotic environment that all too often characterises the early lives of so many who go on to offend. Reflection is a way out of these cycles of impulsivity. We are all prone to impulsive thoughts, it’s how TV and newspapers manipulate us emotionally, delivering up a shocking image or an outrageous headline while carefully withholding any meaningful context that might encourage reflection and help us to a more nuanced appreciation of a local issue or a world event.

I recall the words of the English revolutionary poet John Milton, who wrote in his An Apology for Smectymnuus (1642) ‘They who have put out the people’s eyes reproach them of their blindness.’ Coming to terms with this profound observation is a step towards greater understanding and compassion in a bewildering world in which the powerful are promoting ignorance. Reflection is an indispensable attainment in these times of increasing division, and the celebration of reflective focus within our quest for curiosity and kindness that Linda and Nelly highlight is surely vital. That reflection together in company might bond us socially as a connective tissue is another fantastic and promising observation. Thank you both for your gentle words of encouragement.

John, I appreciate the connection you made with impulsivity. Speaking for myself, reflection does feel like a ‘safe-guard’ for those impulses that are impossible to stop entirely but I relate to them much differently when brought into my meditation and reflection practice. That’s the captivating thing about Sati (of which we include reflection): becoming aware of the impulses while under the influence of meditation and reflection leans us in the direction of conditionality, kindness and curiosity. Thanks for continuing the conversation!

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