I take an eco-spiritual approach to coaching not only because I love landscapes and (what we typically consider as) nature, but more significantly, because I embrace the broader meaning of eco as home (i.e., oikos in Greek). Therefore, eco-spirituality, to me, means finding our way home towards the oneness of the world. Although this bigger omnipresent power is wiser than our human egos, our social interactions depend on human narratives. These narratives, however, have kept us in repetitive patterns of pain in our personal lives, and historically, as a civilization.
My own life story can serve as an example. Prior to returning to school to do a PhD, I looked successful externally: I had a string of professional and academic achievements under my name, and I was regularly complemented for my intelligence, talents, and work ethics. But internally, I was struggling to feel comfortable in my own skin, yearning to be recognized for my sensitivity and my vulnerability. My fear of being seen, however, was greater than my desire to be truly appreciated for who I was. Ironically, I didn’t know the difference between who I was and who others thought I should be, nor did I fully appreciate the parts of myself that I wanted others to value as well.
It was not until an existential crisis in the 2nd year of my PhD studies that I realised that I had been depriving myself of happiness because of my own internal beliefs of what I deserved in life. Through several years of healing, which involved a variety of approaches including psychotherapy, tarot and oracle cards, meditation and mindfulness, energy healing, and training in ecopsychology, did I understand that my beliefs and my identity were entrenched in larger intergenerational and collective subconscious narratives of oppression, shame, and not-belonging. In order to move past this pain, I needed to summon a power greater than the destructive forces of our social-psychological structure itself.
There is a saying that healing is a life-long process, but I am grateful that my PhD experience had been a rewarding chapter of my healing journey. I started off my PhD with a small but relevant memory from my childhood: the “poignant” experience of witnessing Lucius O’Brien’s landscape painting Sunrise on the Saguenay (1880), and unexpectedly, a poignant self-discovery journey unraveled. My official research inquiry was, in academic jargon, to “understand how poignant landscape experiences could influence landscape architects’ participation in the world through an ethic of flourishing,” but in reality, it was a springboard to greater life lessons:
- Poignant landscapes taught me to appreciate liminal spaces, because in between pain and beauty, individuality and society, humanity and divinity, knowledge and wisdom, is our greatest opportunity for healing and transformation.
- Flourishing is a process of continuous conscious choice-making, and not an end goal. Flourishing is a reciprocal phenomenon between individual and environment. Therefore, individual sovereignty is important for collective flourishing.
- And most important: my story is just as important as my research participants’ stories. I am the piece of the puzzle that grounds my research. But I am also relational, with landscapes, with nature, and with other people: I exist because there is a connection between me and the world.
Lucius O’Brien’s Sunrise on the Saguenay (1880)
I am here to tell you that your story is important too—to your research and to your life. You may not have started graduate school to learn more about yourself and that’s ok. A self-reflexive approach to my research was not intentional either—nowhere in my dissertation proposal did I say I was going to do research on myself—but I learned from my research participants, from my dissertation committee, and from PhD life itself that our encounters and endeavours are mirrors of opportunity to know more about ourselves so that we can transform in intentional and fulfilling ways.
Your PhD (or Master’s) experience can be just as meaningful to you as mine had been to me. Therefore, I invite you to be part of our world’s flourishing commons.