NATASHA THOMAS: Challenging Conversation Corners — A Case For Mind Blowing Experiences

I started my doctorate this summer (I know, I’m crazy, you may never hear from me again).

One of the most memorable pieces of advice I received before I started this process was to be aware that I would be learning “increasingly more about increasingly less” (I don’t remember who said this — see, the memory loss has already begun). That is to say, I will be becoming an expert (learning increasingly more) within an incredibly narrow scope (increasingly less).

I was prepared for this.

What I was not prepared for was that my mind would need to be completely blown open first before I could even begin to narrow my scope.

First, I’ve had to ensure that my lens was pointed where I thought it was pointed. I was trained as a therapist in a very Humanist approach — think “Hippie Drum Circles” — but with an appreciation and instilled knowledge of Cognitive-Behavioral “Talk” Therapy, so that’s what I always thought I was: a Humanist with a CBT bend.

But I’m learning now that my lens has been colored by things such as critical race theory, indigenous perspectives, feminism and post-colonial constructs that I have always carried but never fully realized as elements of my scholarly scope. Then, there’s chaos theory, existentialism and all these other lenses that I’ve had to force myself to “try on” in order to confirm they don’t fit me, or at least don’t fit me as comfortably as others do.

And I’ve done all this alongside an international cohort of my peers over a three-week residency that will kick off the next several years of my life, so goodness knows there’s still more mind blowing to come.

All this to say that, while I know I won’t know everything about all the things when I leave my PhD program, just the awareness of how deep the roots of that fundamental fact go, really coming to know and respect that I won’t come out of this knowing everything, is more crucial to my scholarly growth than I ever realized.

Just learning this month to open myself to seeing how many ways there are to view the few things I do hope to amass knowledge about has been truly changed me forever.

I think everyone should go through this at some point in their lives. Not the PhD necessarily, but the mind blowing: that cracking open, explosion of one’s world views. I have found in this process a true sense of the vastness of our world — and the vastness of our knowledge base as human beings. And with that comes a newfound respect for the unique experiences and backgrounds of my fellow earthlings.

Imagine if more of us exposed ourselves to such processes on a regular basis? What might we learn? What might we share? What might we do?

Now I can hear the excuses flowing already. You may be telling yourself “That’s cute, but I can’t afford a PhD,” or “What, this girl thinks she’s better than me? Pfft.” The answer to all those comments is this: I’m no better than anyone, and the piece of paper I’ll get at the end of this journey of mine isn’t the point here.

There are ingredients to this process that I think anyone can — and should —sample as often as possible in their lives, not only in order to enrich their own experiences, but to make our world a better place for future generations.

Mind blowing should be a continuous process, one that constantly challenges you to grow and create growth within and around you.

So I say again: imagine what might be learned, shared, and done … if we talked more often with people who were different from us? People who came from different places, ages, and backgrounds?

… If we traveled or read more often, looked into and learned more about the history of our cultures, environments and ways of thought?

… If we took time to write and reflect more often, on our own experiences, seeking new and unique ways to express the intangible?

What might we learn? What might we share? What might we do?

I don’t have the answer. I may never have the answer. That’s not the point. The point is in the process. It’s in the action of learning, the action of sharing, the action of “doing.” I’m looking forward to a lifetime of this kind of action. And I’m looking forward with much gratitude to acting alongside any and all others who would embark on this same journey with me.

Who knows where it will take us!

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