Interview with Graduate Anna Hawkins
Anna: The programs I considered never felt quite right, nor did leaving Maui. I don't really remember how it happened, in the end. It was like one of those cosmic waves that rush up to carry you on to the next phase of your life - suddenly you're doing this and then you're really in it and all those years of questioning and looking for the perfect program and place have just vanished, and the next thing I knew, I was walking along a tranquil wooded path to the Goddard library to register on a bright summer morning.
Being able to work towards a master's degree without having to uproot myself was such a blessing. Though distance learning probably isn't for everyone, I relished reading and writing in my little cottage on Maui. I was encouraged by the rain, distracted by the wind, and tempted by the sun, but I learned that if I can study here, I can work anywhere. The autonomous nature of Goddard's program taught me much about focus and discipline, and the pleasure that comes with nudging yourself along from within.
My thesis wrestled with questions like, "How can we follow a path of study authentically?" "How can we dissolve our self-imposed creative limitations so that we can truly utilize the amazing educational freedom that Goddard provides?" This is the beauty, the supreme value of Goddard, I think - this freedom. And yet, so accustomed to restrictions, I was utterly shocked when I grasped the implications of guiding and directing my own education. I'm in charge? Oh! Now what will I do???
At first, I had felt sure of my planned path in my studies, and later, quite lost, and then somehow I found a new direction though it didn't make sense, and finally, after a good bit of struggling, it did make sense, and there I had a thesis explaining this fruitful time of getting lost and struggling to untangle my way out of certain academic and personal questions. I realized that this was what I had to write my thesis on, this very process, this very magic which helped me to connect back up to integral parts of myself. My thesis documented my path through certainty, despair, hope, and the unknown, until an "ohhh, this is what I was doing all along " realization emerged. Everything I had worked on during my previous semesters gradually coalesced into a sensible whole, with Jungian psychology forming the conceptual base for this transformation.
Although I loved the academic freedom of Goddard, I always worried about the interdisciplinary nature of my degree-would it work in the "real" world? However, I've been pleasantly surprised at the flexibility that my education has given me. I've been able to jump around and teach a variety of classes, emulating the interdisciplinary nature of my degree, which keeps everything alive and stimulating.
Sadly, almost two years have elapsed since I graduated, and Goddard is beginning to feel like a precious dream from another time, but even so, that walk to the library through the forest, the incubated magic of the residencies, inspired conversations with friends and advisors, memories of swimming in summer and watching fresh snowfalls in winter - all these remain so close to my heart. I continue to wrestle with some of the questions I learned how to formulate and pursue, and I now have the personal, creative, and intellectual base with which to continue discovering their answers. I'm incredibly thankful for the richness of my experience with Goddard.
From Anna's thesis, Reaching into Feeling: implications for an education:
I used my educational experience at Goddard as a way to practice learning what I really authentically loved, for myself alone. Doris Lessing, in The Golden Notebook, tells the reader: "There is only one way to read, which is to browse in libraries and bookshops, picking up books that attract you, reading only those, dropping them when they bore you, skipping the parts that drag - and never, never reading anything because you feel you ought" (xxv).
Virginia Woolf concurs; in Jacob's Room, she writes: "any one who's worth anything reads just what he likes, as the mood takes him, with extravagant enthusiasm" (39). Lessing declares that what one should really be learning, is how "to follow your own intuitive feeling about what you need"(xxvi). This echoed what I had been learning in my education, and what I came to understand more and more. The "I need to read this to know that" type of thinking could enter later and fill in the holes that emerged, but during the initial phases of study, I found it better to focus on the questions of "where do you want to begin?" and, "what does the first stepping stone look like?" rather than, "what does the whole journey look like?" and "where will the journey conclude?" For some people, the whole journey is important because they really want to arrive somewhere in particular. For others it may be better to just focus on the first step, because in stepping they may discover where they want to go; they arrive by taking very authentic strides.
Milner's interest in learning how to paint in a different way was fueled in part by a feeling that if she pursued painting according to what "her eye liked," she would be able to address her doubts about traditional education, insofar as education traditionally engaged only the pre-planned mind. She realizes that in education, as well as art, she previously had only experienced a "narrow-focused obedient monologue kind of attention, which shut out wandering thoughts and rebellious moods", and this was the only kind of attention that was deemed acceptable in those venues. But then she discovers that this type of attention "made it both impossible to create a picture with properly balanced items within a frame; and also impossible to create oneself as a properly balanced whole of integrated moods and desires within a body"(111).
This seemed, to me a vastly different goal for education; this espoused personal wholeness, subjectivity living alongside objectivity, interplay between thoughts and feelings, conscious effort combined with surrender. What Milner proposes is, actually, an education that harmonizes our left and right brains.
And how can we ensure that we are communicating with our wholeness? We can adopt a pattern of zig-zagging from silence to the spoken word, and back again; we consult our still silent voice inside, our eye of the storm that we find during meditation, our body. Max Picard suggests that speech is powerful and affective when it originates from the large space beyond words; speech that moves from silence into the word and then back again into the silence and so on, so that the word always comes from the center of silence. Mere verbal noise, on the other hand, moves uninterruptedly along the horizontal line of the sentence.
Words that merely come from other words are hard and lonely (in Welwood 93). Words spun off other words, "hard and lonely" words, must be the same words that tired Virginia; they weren't maintaining contact with the feelingful self. They were words disconnected from the groundedness of the body.
Swooping back to Eugene Gendlin's focusing, we have an example of a therapeutic technique that helps us reach our authentic feelings rooted in the body. Marilyn Ferguson writes in the introduction to Gendlin's Focusing that this technique moves us inward and draws from the "deeper, wiser self ('the body')"(xi). Felt shifts, body-based feelingful sudden understandings, may reflect whole brain knowing, when the analytical left language hemisphere can name "that which heretofore was inarticulate and diffuse, known only to the holistic, mute right brain"(xi). New information is also mediated by the right hemisphere, which is more connected to our older limbic brain.
Reading fiction, for me, was a way to learn how to name again, and to know, and to understand my nonlinguistic perceptions and feelings. This is why I think my shift in trajectory was so important and necessary. Recently while having dinner with a friend, we were talking about being able to name our feelings, and our conversation reminded me of what I had been learning. When she said "I've been feeling abraded, like a cat's tongue has roughed me up all over," and I said "I've been feeling wrapped in a wet heavy blanket, under which I can't breathe," we were naming our emotional experience. We were undoing the dissociation, and restoring the connection, between our silent feeling selves and our voicing linguistic selves. There is something immensely valuable in this, something incredibly clarifying, and the clarification has a revivifying effect, much like falling in love - the world suddenly becomes brighter, crisper, more tangible, more palpable.
It may have something to do with the fact that when we put words to our experience, we own it, we know it, we accept it, we are involved. It is like falling in love. It's like falling in love with reality. I had visited this point before, back in my third semester after reading Virginia Woolf, when I wondered what Woolf's drive was and asked my advisor about this. She replied that Woolf was never satisfied with the half-true; she was "always pressing to get it right." I thought about this, and connected it to one of my guiding semester questions, which was "what am I in love with?" This question was my vehicle into greater engagement with the world, by simply looking for all the little things with which I fell in love, like the dazzling flaunting sassy petals of a coral dahlia, or the way the clouds bunched and obscured my backyard mountain in a purple morning mist, or the way my cat on the desk fixedly stared at the foolish dog outside who jumped for glee alongside the lawnmower man.