Apparently a few of you guys have been inspired to go back to school, and a few more of you are contemplating it, so I thought I'd write a little about school, and being an older student, and funding, and science, and granolaheadedness.
I'd been thinking of going back to school for years, but only in an offhanded sort of way. I had no idea what to go back for, and no money to do it with. But a series of things happened in my world where everything just imploded (sorry if you've heard this before :) My apartment became unsafe because of a crazy alcoholic neighbor, my boyfriend gave me the heave-ho, my spiritual teacher got sick of my mewling, my holistic work dried up, and my best friend was moving out of town. I had no idea what to do next so what I did what I could do: I gave away most of my stuff, packed up the little bit that was left, gave notice on my apartment, and waited. For something to happen. For Life to come thru.
Does this sound foolish? I can tell you that it felt foolish. But when I say that I had nothing left to lose, I mean it: there was nothing left to lose. No boyfriend. No real work. No home. No best friend. No money. No plans. No prospects. No tv, furniture, stereo, bed, or gratuitous doodads. Nothing Left To Lose. I just sat there. In my barren apartment. A small stack of boxes. And a feeling like a small sun inside of me that broke through all of the Mental Shrieking of words like 'loser' and 'nutjob', a small sun that sent rays of: Something Is Coming and Be Ready.
And two weeks before I had to be out of my apartment, a client said: I have an empty cabin in Virginia. Would you like to stay there over the winter? So I packed up my car with kitties and basics and stayed on the mountain for five months. And enough work appeared so that I had just enough money to live on. And one morning I woke up and knew: I need to go back to school.
We live in a time where two worlds are coming together. The new world philosophy of Science is meeting the great mountain of Traditional Healing, which is an amalgam of Chinese herbs and acupuncture and Native (south and north) American shamanism and psychedelic drugs and yoga and herbs and the placebo effect (aka power of the mind) and the contributions of Hawaiian Kahunas and Chi Gong Masters and crazy wise people named Barry and Sailor and Adi and Katie and Ken. Science is right: we have to see some sort of proof and deal with the material world in a straightforward, practical manner. Traditional Healing is right: we have to trust Life and live in harmony with the earth and one another and with ourselves.
But when I decided to go back to school I wasn't thinking of that sort of thing. I was thinking about how I just had no options left that seemed open, and if I went back to school I could take out student loans and it would take me a year or two to finish my BA and by that time surely I could have another plan figured out. And so I got on the net, found out that because I was utterly broke my only real possibilities were a NY state school, and narrowed it down to two schools, SU*NY Albany and SU*NY Buffalo. I choose Albany because the name sounder prettier to me. I filled out the application in the week I had before the deadline, and a couple of weeks later I got a call from an admittance counsellor who said that they wanted to admit me but that I had to choose a major. A major? I had no freakin idea. Why don't you choose Pyschology, he said, it's very popular here. Okay, I said, knowing that head tripping had always been one of my favorite sports. And the drama began.
If you want to know more details, go back to February-November 2004. But for now, I'm going to cut to the chase: I had no f*cking clue what was going on. I was stumbling around like an idiot. I reached out for help to dozens and dozens of people, blindly making phonecalls and just laying my schputz all out there. Because some switch had been flipped inside of me that said Do This, and even though I had no clue how to do it, and because I was brave/naive/stupid enough to do it anyway, someone always always always had the next piece of information that I needed. It was literally like living a life based on a series of human beings as connect-a-dots.
Does this sound fey? Does it sound like fun? It wasn't. It was hellish and scary and I cried and felt incredibly stupid and foolish on most days. It was like being drafted into a marathon, and the marathon was my life. But in late August 2004 when I hit my first class, it was like heaven had revealed itself and I was being given the golden gondola tour while I sipped pink champagne. My mind opened in a way that I hadn't even known was possible, and my course of my life and the state of the world made sense in a way that it never had before. Then came four back to back semesters where I maintained a 3.9 GPA, had very little life outside of school as I deeply immersed myself in the world of science.
What's it like to be a hardcore granolahead studying in a psychology department known for it's cognitive-behavioral research program? (no ridiculous psychodynamics HERE they proudly boasted!) There were many moments where I felt absolutely horrified. I remember a class where I watched a film about a schizophrenic and basically saw the sorts of spiritual mental/emotional experiences that were de rigueur in my former life as a granolahead. The first few reality bashings like that were scary. I wondered: am I mentally ill? Does my psychic ability mean that I am crazy? It was at that point that I started referring to myself as A Spy In The Land of The Mind, because I really was the only one of my kind in sight, and I deeply understood why: we were neither understood nor wanted in academia.
There was no one that I could talk to about the things I was learning and how they fit together with the holistic work I'd been doing the past twenty years. My old granolahead friends either thought what I was doing was uptight and silly or it bored the bejeezus out of them, even if they cheered me on. I'd like to say that this was the hardest part, but in truth, it was all muthafreakin hard. My hair fell out and I gained weight and didn't have s*x and spent my living curled up on a couch reading textbooks and scholarly studies.
Then, a few months before I had to come to some sort of decision about graduate school, I heard a lecture about the field of Public Health and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. And then commenced another Insane Hoohah where I applied to graduate school, took my GRE, finished my BA, and attempted to date a man who lived in England. I had genuinely wanted to go to the school of public health in Minneapolis. It was one of the top five PH schools in the country, and Minneapolis rocks. It was expensive, but I believed that I could get some sort of funding. But in a series of door slammings, no matter what I tried, the only hallway open to me led to SU*NY Albany. And so I stayed.
I have been lucky enough so that Life took everything I held dear away from me, so that this path of educating myself to the world of science would show up inside of me as ultra-important. I don't know why. There probably isn't a reason why. I don't much believe in destiny or fate or even meaning anymore. (see what science has done to me???) All I know is that I have the possibility to make a contribution, whereas before I really didn't. I loved my holistic work, and still do with the things I continue to do, but I feel that something has shifted in me, though it hasn't settled yet, so I still don't know how to talk about it other than to say: science and traditional healing need bridges built between them and I am working toward making myself a sturdier bridge.
What does all this chatter mean? Is there anything of any use in there for anyone other than myself? I've had a lot of people tell me how amazing it is that I've come this far, and I gotta tell you: I just don't see that. What I see is that I felt to do something, and then did it. I don't mean to make light of it, but that is the truth.
What does this mean for you? If there is something that you feel to do, you should start exploring the possibility of it. Even if the whole of it seems impossible, start with the tiny piece that you do know, that you do feel drawn to and know a shred of a glimmer of, and then go and explore it. I discovered that not only would the government pay my tuition and fees and books, it would also lend me living expense money and buy me a computer. What is yours, simply waiting for you to claim?
Life is too brief to waste on unhappiness, to remain stuck in a relationship that doesn't move you and lift you, to stay in a job that grinds at your spirit. I really was lucky enough that Life took everything away from me so that the path ahead was much more clear, but you don't have to lose everything. You can set it down. Or set down just enough so that you can wiggle a hand enough to wave for help or light a match or untie the other hand.
Living is hard no matter how you play it. Even as suffering is supposedly optional. I know it isn't the New Age Peace and Granola Stance that is so ridiculously popular these days, but it is what I have seen both in my living and in the living of every single human being I have ever met, read about, or heard tale of. But you face the concrete layer of living and you get on with it.
So do as you feel to do. Follow your Yes, whatever the heck it is. You will get your ass kicked. And usually it will be you that will be doing the kicking, although there will always be plenty of others who will help you wind up your leg.
This is your life. Are you living it?