by Anne Martin -- August 24th, 2015
There is something fantastically energizing about conducting research—liberating even.
You begin with a question, wrapped in layers of uncertainty and engineered by your own curiosity and imagination. You commence to unravel it bit by bit like a ball of twine—unrolling it with a significant degree of dedication, and (hopefully) with plenty of adventure, intuition, and discovery along the way.
Some days more layers are added, and it feels like you’re going backwards. Everything becomes more complicated.
Other days it’s as if you just added the last piece to a grand puzzle, and suddenly the whole image becomes startling clear. You stare at it in amazement. You are enraptured by your quest to know—to explore all the complexities of this idea that you are so quickly falling into.
Doing research, particularly fieldwork, often leads you to finding yourself in unexpected places, and walking down unanticipated paths. You hit dead ends, you lose your way, change your course…always you are led by this desire to know. To find out. To be changed…to see your world a little differently than you did before.
To make a difference, maybe.
The world is so large, so magnificent in its immensity, but it is also in its tiny intricacies, its most minuscule details. The fact that it even exists at all is a miracle, you realize.
Designed and built from interconnected webs, the constant shifting and changing of trillions of both living and nonliving pieces, the continuous transformation of its parts, swirling pieces of universe…life on this world is incredible and mysterious and awe-inspiring.
It demands to be paid attention to.
And yet it is easy to fall into a habit of stumbling through the days blinded to its beauty and its complexity. There is magic even in the act of breathing. In being able to read these words. But we forget.
We are sucked up by the cyclical domain of the routine. We begin thinking of our lives as mundane, distracted and consumed by things that don’t awaken us. We are lulled into passive kind of living.
We forget to wonder. We stop noticing the little things.
We walk past the small army of ants diligently carrying giant leaves across the sidewalk. We miss the way the sun lights up the tips of the clouds, tracing their rounded edges in little pink and purple crescents. We don’t hear the wind playfully coaxing the tree leaves to shake and shimmer.
We cease to put ourselves in the way of beauty.
Most importantly, we stop asking questions. We stop asking why. Or when. Or who. Or how.
I’m not sure why this happens. We feel the pressure to focus determinedly on spinning a flimsy shield of safety and stability around us–like some sort of paper maché cocoon. We are ensnared and driven by the promise of “regularity” and “security”.
We forget that this is not what life is really like. Life is, in reality, utterly unstable—its only constant change (and often of the unexpected kind)…and yet we hide from the undeniable unpredictability inherent in every one of our steps.
We forget what it feels like to break free of it all…how liberating and terrifying it is to see the world truthfully and honestly for what it really is: uncertain, capricious, changing, fierce, painful, and yet…also beautiful.
Research helps, I think. It reawakens us.
It is an avenue for creativity, for analysis, for attention to detail, for learning about the shocking and terrifying and miraculous life (and those lifeless pieces as well) surrounding us, filling us even.
It begs us to be curious, to ask questions, to be inquisitive, to examine and explore. Research intrinsically sets us up for surprises, it demands that we be open-minded, that we think critically, that we take risks, that we consider the larger world (its patterns and its rhythms)—even as we dissect but a tiny sliver of it.
It can bring us back to a child-like state of attention and inquiry. It is eternally hopeful.
I have no idea what this year will bring…I have no idea where my life will go.
But I hope to shed my cocoon. I hope to shed it completely.
I hope to ask the kinds of questions that get me there…may they spin me forever along this long and windy road…