I’ve done a lot of seemingly disparate things in my life. In my teenage years I discovered and fell in love with creative writing, poetry in particular. At a garage sale, I found a copy of George Leonard’s book The Ultimate Athlete, in which I first learned about the martial art of aikido; I fell in love and knew I would have to take it one day. I did, in my only semester at Duke University, while the rest of my academic career came crashing down around me. I also fell in love with Zen Buddhism through Roshi Philip Kapleau’s book The Three Pillars of Zen, which I hardly understood but was fascinated by nonetheless.
During the intervening years, I read all the non-fiction I could about spirituality and psychology. I trained again in aikido and also in Okinawan karate and kobudo. I made my way back to school and took courses in technical writing, figuring I could marry my talent for writing with my technical savvy. But, as Zen teacher Cheri Huber likes to point out, it’s not the what, it’s the how, and writing itself wasn’t what I sought. So while I was working a good corporate job editing and proofreading, I began taking courses, first in counselling, and then in psychology, going back to school full time when I, too, became a casualty of massive layoffs. It was there that I encountered the Interdisciplinary Expressive Arts (IDEA) courses taught by my friend and mentor Ross Laird, whom I’d first met in a group counselling course and who modeled an entirely different way of being an educator.
After I earned my BA, I applied to graduate schools for counselling, but when I was shortlisted for one but not accepted, I realized that wasn’t it either. The next year, I applied and was accepted to the Masters program in Human Development, Learning, and Culture in the Faculty of Education at UBC. It was there that I realized what those seemingly disparate things — writing, martial arts, spirituality, counselling, psychology, education — had in common: they are all potentially transformative.
In his 1978 paper “Perspective Transformation,” Jack Mezirow describes this lifelong process of transformation as:
. . . a developmental process of movement through the adult years toward meaning perspectives that are progressively more inclusive, discriminating and more integrative of experience. In ascending this gradient toward fuller maturity, we move, if we can, toward perspectives that are more universal and better able to deal with abstract relationships, that more clearly identify psychocultural assumptions shaping our actions and causing our needs, that provide criteria for more principled value judgments, enhance our sense of agency or control and give us a clearer meaning and sense of direction in our lives.
In short, giving ourselves a bigger container, to borrow a phrase I first encountered in Everyday Zen, a book by the late Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck (though I use it differently from her). Through the process of socialization we often become smaller as we grow taller. This is a blog about ideas that are embiggening.