After an anticipated January start to my MAIS course and an actual start of February, I am about to attempt my first quiz of my master’s degree. Though it’s only worth 3%, I’m still nervous. Not only have I been avoiding completing this exam, I have also found myself avoiding submitting any work for this course, and I have been wondering why. Then it dawned on me: I learn in community and I don’t have one yet. This has inspired me to find any way possible to chat about what I’ve been working on. While I’m not sure if I’ll find any sympathetic ears here, I thought I’d try in as many forums as possible. We’re working on the first two chapters of Self-Directed Behaviour by David L. Watson and Roland G. Tharp and are expected to eventually undertake a self-modification or self-experimentation project as a major part of the course.
So here are some of my struggles and reflections on the first Unit:
The readings for the first unit were easy to understand on an academic level. The guidelines for self-change in the textbook were in the typical step-by-step form of all self-help books and provided interesting examples. In addition, the class looked at the life of Ben Franklin as an additional example of successful self-modification. Franklin created a list of virtues and, on a week-by-week basis, concentrated on manifesting each virtue for seven days in succession. He kept track with a simple tally chart of instances where he demonstrated each virtue, but focused on only one per week. Sounds like a simple way to be a good person, but if this process is so easy to follow, why does the assignment feel so monumental? Why does the thought of change both stir a deep reminiscence of unbearable excitement while, at the same time, awaken a sense of dread?
On the one hand I would like to say that it is the nature of self-imposed and structured change that causes something deep within me to buck. On a certain level I believe that we live in chaos and that no matter what system of meaning we impose upon it, life will always be beyond the best laid plan. The starting gun that propels me into self-change will not get me any closer to the ceremonial ribbon-crossing where I can toast my accomplishments. Neither of these exist; so, what’s the point? In this vein, the key to life is floating. Never really taking the initiative to move beyond the slipstream of life that takes you where it wants you to be. The romantic view of this is serendipity. The fatalistic view is determinism.
While I like the notion of serendipity, the problem is that lady luck is a busy woman and if this is the only inspiration for my self-development, I’m in trouble. When you ignore your “self,” it will begin to ignore you. Classic phrases that tell you your self has vacated include: “Who am I?” and “What the hell am I doing?”
The voice asking those questions is new to this game. A new me has awoken to existence and sits in the wings observing the merry-go-round before jumping in. She’s clever, this one, and looks for patterns that prompted her predecessor to get out of Dodge. She’s patient because she is conjuring the breeze of change within her to bring this weary traveler some respite. Her whispered stories of our future together bring my nose from the ground to the delicious apple dangling before me, and suddenly my load seems lighter, my journey not so long, the chaos a little more negotiable.
In trying to “begin,” my friend Marilyn reminded me to “give yourself a break… stop thinking that you always have to do… remember wisdom comes from contemplation on the life you live.” In thinking about this project with fresh eyes, I can begin to see it as something for this new self to do. Like a young child, she can’t wait to get her hands dirty and she’s excited to be able to help, but she also lacks the confidence to just jump into the chaos of my life. I’ll give her time to observe and trust that she’ll join me when she’s ready