Saturday, 19 January 2013

How my Masters is Ruining my Life

Ooh, a big title today. 

Before we begin, no, don't worry, this is not going to be a big rant about how going back into studying has stolen all of my socialising time, and I can't do anything but work, and it's ruining my life. Definitely not, because that is categorically [untrue]. And the reason it is untrue is that my undergrad degree was so often fraught with the tension of work vs play that I knew I had to be better this time, and not let my studying stress out my entire life again. Praise the Lord, it isn't nearly so bad this time. :)

How could this guy being in your life stress you out? He couldn't. He's too lush.
No, what I mean by my masters ruining my life is more to do with how what I'm learning is affecting how I look at the world. 'Ruining' is probably also somewhat hyperbollic (maybe I exaggerate too much...?), but bear with...

There's something funny about knowledge that is un-doable. Once you know certain things you can't look at life in the same way - it's the same with people: I'm sure we've all got people that we wish we hadn't found particular things out about, because it just changes how we see them, and the attitude we approach them with. I'm finding this with my Masters, that the more I learn what things are, the more I'm encouraged to 'engage with nature', and the more skills I'm taught about how to notice particular things, the more I can't just ignore them and enjoy nature at face value any more. It's not that any of this makes me enjoy nature less, quite the opposite, in fact; but I cannot shut it off.

Flowery Fireworks
Way back at the  beginning of November (how time flies!), I went to the fireworks display at South Parks in Oxford. I say 'I went to' - I went and stood outside the gate to the park, along with the rest of Oxford's cheapskates who don't pay to go in to the fair, but freeload the fireworks from outside. 

I just love fireworks: I love the fact that they overwhelm your senses with light and sound and the feel of the explosion - they're just wonderful. It's the only thing that makes me think going to the South Bank for new years would be worthwhile. So I'm there, all snuggled up in my gloves and scarf, with my housemate Lizzie, and my brain goes 'That firework looks like an Apiaceae's umbellifer infloresence. And that next one looks like an Asteraceae...' [the one pictured to the left]. 

I couldn't believe it. 'Brain!' I said to my brain. 'Brain - what are you doing?! It's Saturday night! Chill out!' But did it listen to me? No, it did not. Similarly, as I sit on the train in the mornings watching the Oxfordshire/Berkshire countryside roll past, each day I'm spotting different things (when I'm not snoozing, that is), identifying different birds as they fly past, seeing different plant assemblages, wondering how I'd map out that piece of land if I had to survey it. My brain has been tuned into a new way of thinking that means that things I used to see passively I now see actively, and things I'd just look at before, I now study. Before, I would photograph things because I loved the way they look - now I do it because I want to know what it is too. Grass is the worst - having done some grassland surveys I now can't even walk over a patch of grass without my brain trying to categorise it into a specific type of grassland, or revising the latin names of the different species that I can see. (I can 'Achillea millifolium' at you 'til the cows come home...)

But it's how brains learn, isn't it? You become hypersensitive to the things you're learning, and can't switch off from them, can't go back, can't unlearn. It happens to medics who suddenly 'have' the diseases they're learning about, and psychologists who start to analyse themselves in terms of each new theory they learn. Life certainly isn't ruined, not in a bad way, but becomes so changed in outlook and perspective because of what you know that you almost can't remember how you managed to look at life in any other way.

I've been thinking about this a lot over the last little while, and thinking about how many times I've heard people say that becoming a Christian 'ruined' their life. It sounds crazy, especially when you're a Christian yourself, but I can totally see what they mean. You're cruising along happily with your life, doing your own happy thing in your own strength, with your own motives, and in your own abilities; and then suddenly your life is turned upside down by this revelation, or an encounter. Like a middle-aged woman who's just discovered, life will never be the same, in an empowering and potentially dangerous way.

You're called to live differently from how you have before: something different flows out of you, and somehow the things that seem important aren't what they were before. But it's all because you can't see things how you used to any more, everything has a new light. In the light of who Jesus is, and what relationship with him feels like, and the salvation you have that you know you don't deserve, you can't switch off and return to your old life, and can no longer just do things by yourself. It can be hard work and self-sacrificial, and a huge commitment, yet there's so much life there.

It feels like this same type of learning, where you get attuned to new things and you simply can't switch them off.

It's exciting and terrifying at the same time.

Recently I've had a bit of an awakening of that feeling. I think at points during last term I'd slipped from going to God and doing life in his strength rather than my own. I mean, I was doing alright, all of my work was getting done and everything was ok, but there was just something missing; things felt laborious and tiring and stressful, even though they shouldn't have. God has blessed me with a good portion of capability, so I very often forget that it was him who gave it to me, and just try and power on with my own capability and little more. But once you know what living in the grace of God and in his strength feels like, you just can't settle for the old life anymore. I can't settle for stretches of time without God's input, knowing what life with God looks like. I joke about not being able to switch this new engagement with nature off, but now I'm there, if someone took my field guides away from me and told me I wasn't allowed to find any more out I'd be gutted. And there's always so much more to learn too - the more you know, the more you love it, and the more you realise there's still so much more to know. Living life awakened to God is the same - once you see it you can never settle with going back, and can never stop finding out more what he is really like.

I've been listening to Rend Collective Experiment a lot recently, and LOVE this song. Thank goodness that every time we forget, or think we've un-learnt, what it is to live life with him, he welcomes us back. Again. And again. And again. Countless second chances :)

1 comment:

  1. I love this. I totally agree with the brain activity experience (and was forced to give a talk on approaching the Bible as literature a couple of years ago, which gave my home church a terrifying insight into what my mind does to text), and also with the un-learning and re-learning! Hurrah for God, and his grace to give us reminders and catch-up opportunities rather than having to start all over again every time we get distracted.