Pondering the joys of deep fried prawns and the possibility of subsisting for several days in a row on the same meal, a menacing concern began to gnaw at my entrails: what if variety isn’t the spice of life at all? Maybe when we have a good thing, such as a favourite academic discipline, we should stick with it rather than always seek to test our boundaries. What if all those extra electives taken to broaden the ambitions of my intellectual viscera were just distracting from what was bringing me a sense of educational well-being? Peace is not, after all, only a geopolitical state. It can also be a psychosocial reality especially within one’s academic being.
Learning requires not only a serene physical setting but also a certain inner peace about our skills, interests, and predilections. However, to appreciate peace in its most literal sense as freedom from war requires contact with a living memory of war or its facsimile within our Canadian lives. Conflicts breeds appreciation of its absence, you might say. When the study struggle is real it’s not because of gunshots down the street or secret police at our window. Yet pressures we apply on ourselves can be their own force for oppression. A panoply of conflicting ideas can stimulate the mind, but they can also stir up existential murk. Demanding consistency itself induces a lack of peace.
Conflict is not only an external and coercive force. To this end, as the UN every September 21st marks an International Day of Peace they note that “true peace entails much more than laying down arms. It requires the building of societies where all members feel that they can flourish” (online). In our private distance education nation of one, personal prosperity from peace suggests we not stifle conflicts of ideas or even internal turmoil so much as allow harmony to resolve itself with placid acceptance of diversity. Likewise, in our larger life peace can be about granting ourselves and others and the planet space to truly flourish. Finally, peace is knowing and accepting ourselves as a student with strengths as well as weaknesses. Instead of striving to always branch out and change ourselves or our ideas we may want to in our studies try and just focus on what we most excel at. Innate talents are fodder for growth and not only invitations to try something new and out of our comfort zone.
Reflecting on our Educational Past to Appreciate our Peaceful Present
Peace implies an acceptance of a panoply of realities within a homeostatic social whole. Variety goes with college education, such as when we hit the road to pursue our studies. I think back to a sunny September day in Nelson, BC. The year was 2004 and I was on foot from my Baker Street apartment to the 10th Street Campus of Selkirk College where, tucked away as an old library of what had once been a Catholic College, a small vanguard of academia known as the Nelson University Centre held court. In conjunction with Athabasca, they offered classes of which I’d enrolled in several. The largest class size was a heady threesome, and the smallest was just me with a fascinating and erudite German-Canadian scholar whose PhD was in history from the University of Chicago. Walking to class that fine morning I passed what can only be termed an old school hippie fellow with long Biblical beard and a scruffy but polite demeanour. He had alighted upon a rock pile and around him were gathered an assortment of green and pinkish tomatoes. Culls from a community garden, perhaps. Like admirers congregating to hear their bard speak, these fruits of the soil were implying themselves to him perhaps as a number of meals. Like a desert island castaway subsisting on coconuts or a teenage stoner with a national dietary plan of jujubes and gummy sharks, variety was abiding with this guy more than any protean culinary possibilities. He was a happy camper. At least in that moment, anyway. We are what we eat, I thought, and so are we what we learn. Most of all, we are as placid and peaceful as we allow ourselves to be. No one else I spoke to that day was as calm as this humble one-item eater.
My class that day was Art History (now known as ARHI 201), in conjunction with Athabasca, and in it we learned about symbolic visual depictions dating to ancient times and how, be it imposing lions at the gates to a Mycenaean fortress or frolicking porpoises adorning a Minoan fresco, the leitmotif of a place and a time followed themes of peaceful trading or conflict and conquest. Compare and contrast, that study guide practice question that probably goes back to the stone age, asked us to consider the nature of art as an expression of particular historic times.
Which artists abide most effectively in a given circumstance? Clearly an artist or academic needs a degree of tranquility to attain any degree of success. But, like kitties seeking mice in Egyptian grain silos while also helping to prevent the spread of disease and pestilence, artists don’t only express their private concerns. They also embody public and cultural realities and those, by the nature of life, involve conflict. Artists and students both need relative peace to conduct their life’s work.
However, were life truly all about peace nary a new idea would emerge; stimulus by nature is a challenge inciting dialectical thought as concepts confront one another. Truly pacific calm wouldn’t lead to a desire to express anything at all, it’d just be a life of passive receptivity. Whereas mortal combat leaves little time for higher pursuits like education and creativity, a little critical thinking is maybe the stuff of success. Time to reflect and even experience monotony, rather than always seeking variety and new experiences, is key. Alan Watts wrote that “to be silent is not to lose your tongue. On the contrary, it is only through silence that once can discover something new to talk about” (Watts, 91). Like sitting with an audience of tomatoes or prawns, our wisest moments may come from feeling stability and being at peace with reality just as it is.