Imagine yourself as driftwood, bobbing and floating and carried along by an inexorable current of education. One moment on the surface as though with an invisible propeller, the next under the surface like a shipwreck waiting to sink and be found. Our study lives are framed by our ability to lose and find ourselves in our studies. But lest we get too carried away in our readings, we can always revert to the status of an ordinary consumer of stories and novels, the sort of person that emerges on the shores and beaches saying merely I read that.
There’s more to studying than reading; this we know. We have to go with the flow and add something of our own. Consider the ancient Chinese sage named Zhuangzhi; he wrangled intuition into a simple spine-tingling twinge akin to what we get when we read course material and feel as though we’d somehow known it all along.
“Zhuangzi and Huizi were strolling along the dam of the Hao River when Zhuangzi said, ‘See how the minnows come out and dart around where they please! That’s what fish really enjoy!’
Huizi said, ‘You’re not a fish—how do you know what fish enjoy?’
Zhuangzi replied, ‘You’re not I, so how do you know I don’t know what fish enjoy?’
‘I’m not you,’ responded Huizi, ‘so I certainly don’t know what you know. On the other hand, you’re certainly not a fish—so that still proves you don’t know what fish enjoy!’
Zhuangzi said, ‘Let’s go back to your original question, please. You asked me how I know what fish enjoy—so you already knew I knew it when you asked the question. I know it by standing here beside the Hao River.’” (Zhuangzhi, online).
By seeing the world swim by, by being distanced just enough from society, we can realize our unique position on the reef of learning. We’re alienated in a sense, lost and floating, even as we’re learning and growing. No groupthink captures or enraptures us only to leave us spent and spat out like exitees from encounter group otherwise known as a classroom conversation. On the other hand, we are isolated almost too much unless we test our pedagogy with diatribes and interactions with our peers, family, and fellow students on forums.
This is where the beauty in our brains really shines: unlike brick-and-mortar college kids in demographic lockstep and parental-supervised teleology, we at AU can just go, just go and do the learning and become ourselves as actual individuals. Fishies and humans may or may not share a sense of awareness and yet context matters. Consider Zhuangzhi watching minnows from a bridge and how it’d be to be a garden-variety university student; let’s do so with Dead Kennedy’s lyrics:
“I go to college
That makes me so cool
I live in a dorm
And show off by the pool
I join the right clubs
Just to build an impression
I block out thinking
It won’t get me ahead
My ambition in life
Is to look good on paper
All I want is a slot
In some big corporation”. (Dead Kennedys, online).
By watching the stream of life steam past, as we better ourselves at AU, we can recall what we’re missing. Or, to be true, we can recall that we’re not missing much. In reality, we may be all equal in our consciousness and certainly in our ability to learn. Consider the following analysis of Buddhist metaphysics as it relates to the swimming experience of life itself.
“Going a step beyond phenomenalism, the ‘real’ world experienced in a state of enlightenment (nirvana) is described as empty or void (sunyata); as ‘mind only’, or as pure or foundational consciousness (alaya vijnana) without form. It is described by the following type of imagery: a sky devoid of clouds; an ocean, still without waves; infinite space; or as with Dogen, we’re like fishes swimming in water.” (Morris, online)
So, finally, we can consider how everyone else we’ve ever known is a fellow learner in life. If need be we can even reference Kurt Cobain and the nature of knowing the other as something commensurate and equally unknowable; the idea of learning, like the idea of pain, depends upon our epistemological beliefs and upon our actual decisions. And those choices, unlike course learning objectives, precede our advancement into post-secondary education. Consider how the classic Generation X poet portrayed his vagabond surroundings:
“Underneath the bridge, tarp has sprung a leak, and the animals I’ve trapped, have all become my friends…but it’s okay to eat fish cuz they haven’t any feelings” (Nirvana, online).
It’s up to us at AU to swim with or away from the currents of culture as we learn and grow and decide for ourselves what really matters. Education could grant us no greater benefit.