A word is simultaneously a symbol and an interpretation. A name—a special word, no doubt—is also a symbol and a storyteller for the person it serves.
My name Van Thi is meaningless without a story.
My name traces a history of colonialism, diaspora, and marginalisation through its transition from Chinese to Vietnamese to English. But its origin story, its Chinese meaning as “rhyming poem” is the one I resonate with and the one I share with collective humanity.
We are all poetry ready to express ourselves compassionately into the world.
My mission is to help build a world of social discourse based on conscious awareness and mindful actions. We cultivate holistic ways of being in the world, at individual and collective levels, by shifting our mindsets towards compassion.
I advocate for an eco-spiritual approach to social change because the roots to our social-ecological problems stem from our disconnect from nature—the nature out-there, and the nature within. I embrace the broader meaning of “eco” as home. Hence, eco-spirituality means finding our way home towards the oneness of the world. While simultaneously engaging with this omnipresent power, our social interactions depend on human narratives. But these narratives have kept us in repetitive patterns of pain, historically as a civilization and also in our personal lives.
Changing narratives changes lives.
But that comes with awareness.
My life prior to starting my PhD looked externally successful: I had a string of professional and academic achievements. And I was regularly complemented for my intelligence, talents, and work ethics. But internally, I was struggling to feel comfortable in my own skin. I yearned to be recognized for my sensitivity and my vulnerability. But my fear of being seen was greater than my desire to be truly appreciated. The truth was that I didn’t know the difference between who I was and who others thought I should be. Neither did I fully appreciate the parts of myself that I wanted others to value.
It was not until an existential crisis in the 2nd year of my PhD studies that I began to realise how much my deprived myself of happiness because of internal beliefs I had about what I deserved in life. Through 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. The only way around this mess was to summon a power greater than the destructive forces of our social-psychological structure itself.
Healing is often a life-long process.
If we live life mindfully, every phase of life can be a healing opportunity.
My PhD journey is a chapter of my life that I am especially grateful for. With the support of my dissertation committee, my research offered me a chance to break through stifling academic traditions to explore the space between knowledge and wisdom. More importantly, I was pushed into breaking my comfort zone of invisibility masked as intellectualism. I learned to appreciate liminal spaces, however uncomfortable, because the inbetween is where our greatest opportunity for healing and transformation occurs.
I learned that flourishing is a process of continuous conscious choice-making, and not an end goal.
Flourishing is a reciprocal phenomenon between individual and environment. I am relational—with landscapes, with nature, with other people—because I exist out of the connection between me and the world. But collective flourishing depends on individual sovereignty. And so, my story is just as important as my research participants’ stories. I am the piece of the puzzle that grounds my research.
My name is meaningless without a story, but I am not meaningless without my name.
Our stories are important because we can re-construct them to change the meanings in our lives. We are not victims of our stories. Let’s make meaning to the lives behind our names—through our stories and not because of them. We may not know where our stories will lead us until we’ve lived them out. This process of living out our stories and making value from them, in real-time, is how we nurture our flourishing commons.
Interested in discussing further? Drop me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect via LinkedIn.
- PhD in Environmental Studies (York University, 2021)
- Certified Coach Practitioner (Certified Coaches Federation, 2020)
- Human Design Specialist Certification – Level 2 (with Karen Curry Parker, 2020)
- Year-Long Training in Ecopsychology (with Dr. Andy Fisher, 2020)
- Master of Arts in Humanities (York University, 2015)
- Master of Landscape Architecture (University of Toronto, 2007)
- Bachelor of Architectural Science (Ryerson University, 2004)
PhD research related awards:
- Nominated for York University’s Faculty of Graduate Studies Thesis and Dissertation Prize
- Research Grant & Donald Graham Bursary, Landscape Architecture Canada Foundation
- SSHRC Canada Graduate Scholarship – Doctoral Award