1.20.2011

Semester 2: Soul

Chris took me to the Brain exhibit at the AMNH for my bday.
The first semester of Project Learn has been a big learning experience- and not just learning about memory. I think I expected that to be the case (it would be nearly impossible to nail the experiment on the first shot, non?), but here are some observations that were surprising to me:
  • I really like having a class in my life. It makes me more motivated to do things, to wonder aloud with people, to feel as though I'm working on something outside of work work. 
  • I need to do a better job vetting books for the semesters. Just because a book or an author is famous doesn't mean that I want to spend my time reading it. (See: Oliver Sacks)
  • Being accountable on a weekly basis (i.e. Friday memory posts) made me feel as though I was still connected to the project, even on memory-light weeks.
  •  Even though this class wasn't for credit and lasted for 3 months, I STILL procrastinated about some stuff til the end. Sigh.

I started thinking about the second semester of Project Learn a few weeks ago, right around the time I was reading Ingrid Betancourt's book. What most impressed me was how she was able to dig deep within herself and find strength over six and a half years of captivity. How did she do it?

A lot of her strength came from reading the Bible. She found insights and inspiration for how to get through whatever horrible situation she was in, often in the very verses she was reading on a given day. Have you ever heard people speak about this? They have a problem and they go to the Bible and suddenly they're seeing solutions or possibilities inspired by the random text they happened to read that day.

I don't know what to do with that. With all due respect, I think that our brains have the power to make associations and metaphors on their own without divine intervention. I'm not saying that the text of the Bible isn't perhaps a vehicle for its readers to communicate with a god; what I'm saying is that I can see how text, any text, has the potential for that. 

That got me thinking about the skill one needs to do what Ingrid did, to comfort oneself. It is a slippery slope to struggle once a few disappointments pile up; depression comes quickly, particularly for some. Even in everyday life, I have examples of bursting into tears when the potatoes burn or when I can't figure out the television. How shallow, right? And how weak. But how human.

What I'm interested in is how people not only make it through true ordeals in their lives, but come out the other side with insight that has been squeezed from environments as moist with inspiration as dry sand. Why is it that we need to fight to get at those gems, the precious insight that help us make it through? Why don't we have access to it from the couches in our living rooms?  

Why does discomfort inspire revelations?

For a few weeks, I could feel myself circling around a topic, but had a really hard time putting my finger on it. Was it as simple as discomfort? Did it have to be captivity? Or was I interested in plain, old struggle?

Cue New Year's and my new running plan. I've only been at this 20 days now and already I can see how digging deep while running may be another example of inspiration or motivation due to discomfort. And to be honest, it makes me feel as though I've been missing out on a whole level of myself, a level that has rejected competition in the name of always being sweet and kind. A level that has held her tongue in the name of not making waves.

You add up the experiences of your life and the family you grew up with and the friends who influenced you along the way and it starts to seem as though you are a product of circumstance, a combination of experiences. Studying memory certainly makes you think so.

But what's deeper than all that? Who am I beneath my memories? There may be a dark little space, somewhere between my nature and my nurture. I'm interested in thinking more about that space, what some people call it, and how to get more in touch with it.

I'm talking about soul, people.

So I'm very excited to announce that semester 2 of Project Learn (which starts on February 1!) will be about all these things and more. Syllabus is still in draft mode, so please feel free to add any materials or resources to the comments that you think are relevant. Let's do this thing!

P.S. Obviously I will be listening to soul music all spring.

Coming soon: The Soul: a quest for discomfort.

2 comments:

Britt said...

I'm not sure that I can pinpoint what exactly about your new Semester made me think of this, but I feel like Mark Twain's "The Mysterious Stranger" might be a good read for this one. It's short and pretty dark, but is filled with some intense existential-type questioning. Even if I'm wrong and it doesn't wind up being directly relevant, I'd still recommend it. One of my favorites.

LK said...

Okay _ I am super excited about this because...and I know you know this is coming...along with the discomfort of running, you should get into the discomfort of yoga. Yoga is all about sitting with your discomfort and finding whats going on inside. I am fond of saying that nothing good comes from stagnant, from comfortable. We have to be uncomfortable to get a move on :)