Saturday, September 12, 2015

A New Journey (Part 1)

I've been putting off writing here for a long time. There's so much I'd like to say and share, I don't quite know where to begin. And the more I put it off, the more it accumulates... daily.

Ironically, although I shifted the focus of this blog away from my experiences during my leave of absence for Cornell, I've ended up taking yet another leave this semester. But this time, the situation is very different.

A Year in Review

The 2014-2015 school year was, in some ways, a return to the excitement and optimism of my first year at Cornell. I returned from my leave with a renewed sense of purpose, self knowledge, and a broadened perspective. Though I mostly left my depression behind, other challenges, some just as emotionally taxing, presented themselves. But I was a different person, and I was more ready for those challenges and far more confident in my ability to overcome and grow from them. After all, I survived years of wanting little more than to be dead, with no hope of a happy future (see past post).

The contrast between then and now is incredible, hard to comprehend even.

I decided to live this semester as a nomad of sorts. Though being a student at Cornell again was a great experience, there was still something that didn't quite feel right.

In the fall of 2014, I fell in love with philosophy again thanks to my ancient philosophy course. I dove into the computer animation club despite my lack of both computer and art skills, and rediscovered my love of animation, drawing, and storytelling. I explored new systems of movement such as wushu and aikido, and partook in my old habit of sleuthing around for interesting talks and lectures. I also appreciated the delicious convenience of having access to Cornell's many dining halls again.

But there were too many other things crying out for my attention. There were four classes other than philosophy on my schedule that, on their own, were interesting and well taught. Together, however, they used up too much of my mental bandwidth and the opportunity to actually internalize what I was learning was compromised. My physical conditioning, a crucial aspect of my well-being, was relegated to a 50 minute weightlifting class twice a week (which to me was more for further education as a trainer and exerciser than for exercise). I ended up having to end my involvement in wushu and aikido rather quickly, as well as drop a class, curb my talk attending schedule, drastically reduce my service as a personal trainer (eventually altogether), and not be as involved in animation club and learning how to draw as I would have liked. It simply makes little sense to me that in order to be considered a student at Cornell (or full time at any institution of higher education) one has to be flooded with information that's absolutely impossible to assimilate usefully all at once.

Too much of a good thing can become... well, useless.

How do Socrates's methods of inquiry in Plato's dialogues affect the way I pursue my own investigations into the good life? How does Aristotle's description of virtue as the mean between two extremes apply to my personal development? How could I use the study of stoic philosophy to become more resilient and focused? How do these ethical systems compare to the dominant ethical and spiritual landscape of today's world, and how does that guide my decisions?

What is the natural history of the human species, and how does it affect the health and well-being of modern humans? How does basic statistics improve my understanding of empirical investigation and reviews? How do hormones affect my behavior and vice versa, and what is there to do about it? What can I learn from and enjoy through exploring various forms of literature? Can my development as a creative writer (perhaps along with animation) evolve into a whole new platform for connecting with and improving the lives of others?

I could go on and on with these questions, but the point is that they all have something in common. They were the subject of the classes I participated in during my fall semester, and I was not able to go into the depth I would have liked into exploring any them. I had the resources: books, expert instructors and professors, assignments designed to improve my mastery of these disciplines, and a community of classmates to learn with, among many others. But there's no way to make good progress on so many different things. Being a full time student, I had a time limit, deadlines, and many disciplines competing for my limited intellectual and practical resources. What sense does it make to tackle all those things at once? Life happens organically, and learning happens best when it occurs concurrently with life, not when it's crammed into one's head to be soon forgotten. Had I been able to focus on one class (maybe two) at a time, the amount more I could have learned and, more importantly, do, would have been astounding.

I knew something had to change.

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