The praxis spiral is a representation of “reflection in action.” It is one way of living the “examined life” that Socrates spoke of when he said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” The people around the spiral are a representation of both our togetherness as a national and global community and the fact that we are social creatures who need each other’s care and love to sustain us. In the tradition of Catholic social thought, we are always “individuals in community.” The spiral represents the cycle of having an experience and reflecting on that experience, deepening with each rotation. Experience, reflection, and action are part of the same process, one informing the other.
The “what” is the experience: What did I experience today, both from the outside and from the inside? What did I see? Hear? Smell? Taste? Touch? Feel? Because we recognize that our lives are a group experience, we begin by bonding with the community of people in our lives. This is an ongoing process, but we need to establish a safe environment around ourselves where people feel open but never forced to share or unjustly excluded. Next, we stay with the experience by using techniques such as the examen and journaling to grasp the “what” and understand our experience on the outside and inside.
The “so what” is the reflection, and the process of seeking answers to deeper questions about this experience: So what that I felt this way about this experience? What does it all mean? How can I integrate the experience into the rest of my life? How will the experience change me? This stage involves social analysis. Social analysis is about looking at structures and systems to ask why things are the way they are. Social analysis asks questions of social justice: Who has the power? Who makes decisions? Who will benefit? Who will be harmed?
The “now what” leads us back to action. This means we ask questions about our future actions: What do I do concretely as a result of having this experience and reflecting on it? How can I think differently? Are there others that can help me in my efforts? How has my vision of what the world changed through looking more deeply? How do I think or act differently to make this world a better and more just place? These questions point to the heart of the matter and theological reflection. We discern key experiences (the heart of the matter) and place these experiences in dialogue with where we make meaning, especially religious traditions. This process of making meaning allows us to commit to some kind of action, however small or large.
This action leads to another experience, which leads to more social analysis, and the spiral continues to deepen. This process describes what is already going on and also offers us some suggestions about how to do reflection well. The order is generally correct, but the various stages of the spiral are not necessarily sequential, and any stage may be introduced or returned to at any point. Taken as a whole, this process demonstrates: Bonding with People–> Sharing Life Experiences–> Social Analysis–> The Heart of the Matter–> Theological Reflection–> Action and Vision–> The circle begins again.