November 2008 Reflection

I came to Ireland to challenge myself in ways that I have not had the time to since I was a kid. I have spent so many years living an intensely scheduled life, driving from piano to soccer, running from debate society to community service, student government to crew. I look at my schedule from last year and I see an obsessively color-coded paint-by-number drawing, depicting a life of constant motion. That life eventually led to an accidental severe dehydration that put me in the hospital with a new perspective. For the first time in a while I questioned what I was doing. Questions like “how will I fit in all of these tasks into my day?” and “what needs to be accomplished?” had been answered constantly. Now, I began to examine questions long unconsidered like “why do I spend my life this way?” and “what should I be doing?” Not having a sense of philosophy or even broad spirituality was no longer acceptable to me. As I approached “real life,” I wanted to understand these questions before continuing.

My mind immediately went to the process necessary: “how can I accomplish this task?” I study neuroscience, so it derived a neuroscience answer: find views and experiences that challenge my own, and take time to understand them. When under stress and time constraints, people tend to choose environments and information sources that make them feel comfortable, and that confirm their own views, the confirmation bas in action. Americans read American news, while dualist philosophers read dualist critiques of the outside world. The path of least resistance is to remain within our own views. When you’re living a hyper-scheduled life, that’s all that there is time to do. Before returning to “real life,” I hope to challenge as many of my core beliefs as possible while I still have time to do so. That means going to see Beckett’s play, “Happy Days” at the Abbey Theater, and catching a glimpse of the middle age experience that I won’t understand until I reach it. That means traveling to Belfast, Cork, Galway, Limerick, and across Dublin to hear ballads that talk of different interpretations of the times of yore. It means looking at Viennese actionist’s self-mutilation recorded as art, or seeing the Vienna Boys’ Choir in the National Concert Hall. Or, traveling to Morocco to glimpse a slice of Arab culture. Visiting Oktoberfest, Berlin, and London bookended by the Ryanair advertising of “Buy 1, Get 1 Free.” It’s about taking the time to sit down for coffee with someone of a different viewpoint. It’s about reading the book cursorily mentioned in class that seems fascinating, but is forgotten two days later in the whirlwind of activity. It’s about appreciating sitting and reflecting.

It’s about being lucky enough to have the luxury of taking the time to challenge your views from all angles, and ask the “whys” of life. So, that’s why I’m here in Ireland. The answers to my questions are still opaque. Maybe the Djemaa el-Fnaa, (an ancient marketplace in Marrakesh, where I am writing this journal) or quantum theories of consciousness will be the key.

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