“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time…”
-T. S. Eliot, The Four Quartets
As Eliot tells us, in the exploration of life, the journey will take us to greater understanding, “(arriving) where we started and (knowing) the place for the first time.” For me, that “place” is understanding my lived experience; harvesting the learning, the meaning, and the direction that it has given me, and taking guidance from it for tackling whatever lies ahead. I have arrived at that place to reflect and draw on my personal learning several times in my life. And each time I have done it, my self-knowledge and professional understanding “knew it for the first time.” I recognized change in my own development and had a deeper understanding of the role of my life experience as my teacher, but only when I would listen, think, and reflect.
It took me several years to recognize and understand that my passion, what pulled me forward in my career and informed my personal life, was personal learning. Not schooling or teaching or studying, but learning, the stuff that happens as a result of all the things we do. I am, and have been for many years, in love with learning.
Developmentalist Dr. Rita Weathersby once observed,” [People grow]…through an active process of making meaning from experience…Development apparently stops when people…have the experience, but choose not to use it to change their basic way of experiencing the world.” Here, Weathersby was elaborating on a key theme expounded by the famous philosopher and educator John Dewey in his landmark book “Experience and Education” when he stated: “…Every experience enacted and undergone modifies the one who acts and undergoes.” In other words, live and learn.
In my life experience, personal learning possesses two key characteristics: a body of skills previously unrecognized and unacknowledged, and an awareness of my changed inner self, including new values and a growing sense of worth and identity. But, as Weathersby says, and Dewey implies, the key is to extract the meaning and learning from your experience. As you read forward, hold this thought in the front of your mind. Reflection is the way that we extract meaning from our lived experience, understanding not simply what we have done, but how it has changed us; our personal learning.
As I wrote in a previous entry, there have been times in my life when I have been compelled to update my personally held image and understanding of who I have come to be. I have “arrived at the same place and known it for the first time.” There is the person that I see in the mirror every morning. But after the update of image and understanding, life continues, giving me new experiences and new personal learning. So, gradually, yet ineluctably, I am changing (and so are you), growing away from the person I was when I last took stock. In this progression of events, there comes a moment when the new you, the becoming you, outweighs the older image, creating confusion and imbalance in your life. Then, you arrive again for the first time, for a time of rediscovery through reflection.