Passion, Wonder, & Higher Education

Yesterday was my last day on campus as a Master’s student, and as I reflect on the journey that I’ve been on, and the soul connections I’ve made along the way ,I feel overwhelmed with gratitude.  As many questions as the future holds, I also feel a sense of peace and  purpose, knowing that I finally understood on that last day why I care so much about education reform.  I care because I have been fortunate enough to experience a different kind of higher education; I went back to school looking for a profession, and in the process rediscovered what it feels like to be lit up, to be inspired, to feel connected to something larger than myself.  I went to the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology with the hope of who I could become, and gained a deep appreciation of the person I already am.  Today, as I step beyond from my formal education and prepare for teaching in a new culture, I find myself questioning what the world would look like if we were to  infuse all education with the kind of deeper meaning and interconnection I have experienced in my graduate program. 

My undergrad experience was an entirely different story-  in my first years of college, it often seemed  that the purpose of higher education was to fill my brain with a handful of textbook knowledge, and to suck all the joy out of my passions, or at least convince me slaving away to earn a degree was the means to achieving the “American dream”… which as far as I could see seemed to consist only of dreading Monday mornings. I loved reading,  I loved writing, and I loved learning, but suddenly they became tedious chores to earn a piece of paper I could frame in an office.  In particular, I remember taking a creative writing class, and by the end of it, I was sure that this class was where exuberant young authors went to  learn how to become a bitter unpublished professor. I think it was cross listed as “Lit 104: How to Become Your Own Critic/You Can’t Possibly Get Published Because I Didn’t”.

After several years of switching majors, I decided to learn what I wanted, graduated with BA in Philosophy, few employment options, and the recognition that I was never going to be able to commit to a life path if it didn’t absolutely light me up…   which of course was terrifying, because all my friends seemed to be able to suck it up and go to full time jobs that they tried to escape from by drinking or vacationing on the weekends.  As critical as I was of that path, those same friends seemed to be doing a whole lot better than I was at paying bills.

Although it crossed my mind in the years I was struggling to get by financially, I’m SO glad I didn’t settle for less than finding something I love.   After undergrad, I started exploring schools out west that had arts based therapy programs, meditation studies, and looking for something different.  In the summer of 2010, I walked through the doors of the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology* for an interview, and from that moment everything shifted.  I had this profound sense of déjà vu when I met the admissions counselor that day.  Looking back, the magical experience I’ve had here seems like some sort of karmic reward for fearlessly following my intuition to this school I knew nothing about, and for never conforming to a path that belonged to someone else.  When I followed my heart,  I found a place where I discovered that higher education should be more than a means to making a living, it’s should encourage us to discover how we want to live.

Indeed, ITP is more than a school; it’s a multisensory learning experience and an opportunity for personal expansion and growth.  From the first day you come here, teachers encourage you to play, create, and be curious. It’s a place where Aikido is part of the required psychology curriculum, dancing is encouraged, and art is medicine.  It’s an institution where heart is valued as much as mind, where you read the Tao to learn how to be a leader, and where connecting with those around you is as important as the concepts you learn.   It’s a school where neuroscience is taught alongside mindfulness theory, a place where your fellow students may very well become your most valuable teachers, and where learning can be as joyful as it was when you were a child.  ITP is the place where both my inner and outer worlds began to open.

As my formal education winds to a close, I realized that I am a lifetime learner, and a lover of knowledge.  I’ve also realized that education should and can be about about nourishing your soul, finding your inner purpose, discovering yourself, and connecting with those who support and nurture who you are as an individual.  Good education can open us to new ideas, but  great education also ignites passion and brings people together  who share a vision of what comes next.

This may be the last round of courses at ITP, but I’ve come to realize that in each moment we are all students, all teachers, and always learning a lesson… so I know the journey is only beginning.  Maybe the best schools are the ones that recognize this, and while providing us with knowledge, let us grow in ourselves, encouraging us to question not only the answers, but  also to wonder what questions we should be asking.  I’m so grateful for this experience, and it’s why I’m always telling all of my friends  to find something that excites you, why a part of me can’t help but see myself as teaching in the future… because when you find yourself in a place that reawakens your sense of wonder, you can’t help but hope that those around you can be as fortunate.

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*I should note that while I was enrolled at ITP, the university decided to change it’s name and expand it’s the programs it offered.  The artist formerly known as ITP  is now “Sofia University”, sofia being the Greek word for wisdom.  I remember being slightly disturbed that this institution I felt so attached to was changing it’s identity in the middle of my degree; I had a real need to feel like the ground under my feet wasn’t moving….which of course is an illusion.  In retrospective, it seems appropriate; coming to this school often shifts who you are,  and perhaps when we let go of identity and old labels, we are able to embrace new wisdom.  While I’ll always be an “ITP’er” at heart, there is something exciting about being a part of a change, a shift, and an opportunity for expansion.  It also seems only appropriate the word philosophy, in which I got my undergraduate degree, derives it’s name from combining the word “Sofia” with the word Philo, which is the Greek word for love…philosophy, translates to “the love of knowledge”

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