Sunday, October 14, 2012

Research Limitations

As I round the corner and head for home I feel Methods in Research has been a bittersweet experience for me.  It's no secret this is a tough class with too much expected in too little time. Compound that task with teaching through independent learning, uncertain feedback from fellow students and late-in-coming instructor comments which tell rather than show and the end result feels like an exercise in futility. 
Once I blew past the useful but dry text I realized I had to conduct a literature review, write a research proposal and organize it in a creative way. Top that heavy load off with patchy information on how to do all of this and I realized I was already up a creek looking for a paddle. I thought this was about as much fun as teaching myself how to juggle. When is the right time to throw in that third object? I can feel it, but I can't explain it. And apparently neither can anyone else.  As I fixed lunch yesterday I thought if this research project was an exercise in intellect (like fixing a recipe) it could probably done fairly easily for it would merely be structuring puzzle pieces which already exist. But I chose graduate school based upon something I am passionate about and were I to lose heart and allow the intellectual process to dominate my learning; I would learn very little and care even less.

My research topic has been silence. In the past I could withdraw into silence with practiced ease. It is no discomfort for me to remain silent. Sometimes my retreats were petty and other times it seemed like a better idea to allow the other person to vent their anger without interruption. However in both cases my silence seems to hurt others and leave me untouched. So I wanted to use this time to find a positive way in which silence could be chosen. 

I felt similar sense of frustration when I graduated from college. My major was English and all my life I loved reading. I came to the point in undergrad that I promised myself I could quit reading after I graduated. After I gradated and separated myself from that program I found I still loved to read.  Now I find I truly enjoy the thrill of research but perhaps this online format is the pits. Perhaps it is academia and I which do not agree.

In undergrad I only filled out end of the class surveys for classes I liked. Yep, all those mean (art history), harsh (history of Japan) and mediocre teachers received nothing from me. I highly value insightful feedback and, for me, it takes a lot of effort to think about and articulate it. So I have a working philosophy of only spending my time and energy on the things I want more of.  I haven't filled an end of the class survey out since the third class in this program.

Once I saw it was me who had the issues with the program format that no amount of feedback would change, I could not see the point in repeating myself. In silence I have had to come to grips with my dissatisfaction with parts of this program. In silent reflection I have learned the limitations of an online class teaching research methods. In silent reflection I have realized research methods may not have as much meaning to me as practical life applications. I mentally debate with myself which course of silence is healthy. I wonder, if in deliberate silence I will learn more than silent teaching has ever taught me.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Murder(ous Thoughts) and Meditation
"It is a thin line that separates us from these people who stare at us from inside this cage. The same thing that does not go beyond the threshold of our thoughts have crossed, in their case, the threshold of action. But still we are alike, inside our heads we are all potential criminals" from Doing Time, Doing Vipassana.

 Through much of this graduate program I have sought an answer to who is responsible for the ugliness in organizations.  Is it, in the case of prison the criminals behind bars who maintain aggressive stances to survive? Or is the prison responsible through inhumane treatment to maintain control over agitated, aggressive prisoners?  Of course I've come to realize a complete answer is not available (because it always depends), instead we can only develop a better understanding of the organization and its people. 

Doing Time, Doing Vipassana is a fascinating study that reminds us: "We are all prisoners undergoing a life sentence, imprisoned by our own minds. We are all seeking parole, being hostages of our anger, fear and desire." The film literally shows us how to transform some of the most desperate members of society through sitting in silence. This practice of sitting in silence was replicated in a U.S. documentary 10 years after the first film. I recommend seeing both Doing Time, Doing Vipassana and The Dhamma Brothers to see the power of transformational silence. 
Doing Time, Doing Vipassana from Enlightening Eight on Vimeo.

Through my pursuit to understand silence I have learned to appreciate those who fear silence. For in silence we can no longer run, we must face our true selves. We cannot escape our problems, our responsibilities, our mistakes. Even knowing this, I still study silence; for their is an even greater reward to sitting in silence. That reward is we are not likely to choose or sustain murderous thoughts.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Silence as a Weapon

It has been difficult for me to write this post.  I have learned so many wonderful, positive aspects to silence and that is where I would like to focus. However, when I mention silence to others I am usually bombarded by the person's historical pain from one silent "treatment" or another.  Somewhere along the line of human development silence has crept in the arsenal of human warfare.

Is it an issue of authority?  On the first day of school a child begins to learn to silence her voice.  When you break a rule you are banished to a time out zone, to remain silent. The school librarian is perhaps the most famous shoosher, followed closely by the movie buff.

As an adult if you break the law and are sent to prison your voice is silenced and if you break prison rules you will be sent to solitary confinement. Prison gangs and thugs dominate prison yards, cells and floors; silencing other inmates.

Ok, I'll admit the preceding paragraph is based upon observations of documentaries.  But Western society has long publicly celebrated the strong, silent type male and spread the myth that women talk too much.  It is true silence hurts, even when it is not intended as a weapon.

My Reincarnation PosterI recently saw a documentary called My Reincarnation. It was a familiar father son story. Yet unfamiliar because of the reincarnation twist. The son was a recognized reincarnation of the father's uncle. The son grew up in Italy (watching a Tibetan talking with his hands Italian-style was very amusing) and outside of Tibetan culture. The father taught outside the home and around the world; he was greatly appreciated by the community and the son felt disconnected from his father.  The son's main issue? His father did not answer many questions and the son could not understand his father's silence.

Is the silent person the abuser? What responsibility does the other individual hold to interpret silence? Of course it is more complicated than that. Only one truth seems to hold me for further study: evaluate the motivation behind silence before ruling it a weapon.