October 3, 2015

Pause, Relax and Think

It is a good Saturday, and I am sitting at my computer getting ready to start my day. I have a paper to write and two discussion board posts to post/reply to before the day is over, but other than that, I am in good shape (Regent-wise). My week, in review, has been quite good. I survived quite a bit of pain, and I made it through my courses, pulling myself along by my proverbial bootstraps to get to the end of the week. It was a challenge, but God be praised, I made it through in one piece.

Reflection -- It's a Good Thing!

Yes, today is a good day to stop and reflect. It is a good day to sit a while, to stop and to take a long, deep breath, and just relax for a moment. I have been working full-steam the past couple weeks, and frankly, I am worn out. I have worn myself to a "frazzle," and I am at the point where if I do not stop and rest, I will become so weary that I will not be able to go on. I've been to this place before and it is not comfortable. I know better, though, better to head off the "inevitable crash" at the pass, so to speak, rather than to let the extreme fatigue that is waiting, hanging over me, have "its" way. I know what I need to do, how I need to stop now before it is too late. So today, on this lovely October Saturday, I am taking a break, a rest day. I am going to pause, relax, and think (reflect) a while. My prayer is that through this action, I will come to see my life in clearer view, I will come to understand, perhaps, more clearly exactly what the Lord is doing in and through my life as well as the plans He has for me.

My blog is about reflection, self-reflection mostly, and as such, I do spend a great deal of time thinking about my actions, my experiences, and how my actions and experiences shape or influence my circumstances. I guess for some, self-reflection seems maudlin, you know, selfish and self-centered because often those who do reflect, will do so in order to pity themselves or to seek pity from others.

In truth, reflection is simply a way to acknowledge the past, whether what is in review are mistakes or missed opportunities, or are positive experiences of good fortune. According to Merriam-Webster, reflection means "the throwing back by a body or surface of light, heat, or sound without absorbing it." It also means giving "serious thought or consideration" to something. When we engage in reflective behavior, we are in essence, shining a light upon the surface of some "thing" we wish to examine more closely. So when we reflect on a past experience, we are examining it, carefully considering it, and often, we are using the light of the present to illuminate the darkness of the past (if that makes sense).

In Communication, we consider "lived experiences" to be a significant area of study. Ethnography is one way researchers come to understand the way experience informs and influences behavior. Thus, when we take the time to reflect or to deeply think about our lived experience, we are able to create meaning from those experiences. Meaning making or sense making, while traditionally considered more along the lines of a group or social dynamic, does have a role in forming our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.

In my case, when I reflect on my lived experiences, I can learn from them. This process enables me to make sense of my life, and through relational interpretation (seeking patterns and how they interact to creating meaning), I am able to understand (to learn, to comprehend, and to know) my life as a whole as well as how the parts "fit together" to form the whole. Let me explain...

Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning

In computer science, pattern recognition is "the recognition of patterns and regularities in data" (Wikipedia), and is most often associated with machine learning. Machine learning is a sub-field of computation theory and in recent years has been most frequently studied as it relates to artificial intelligence. According to Stanford University, "Machine learning is the science of getting computers to act without being explicitly programmed." Interestingly, humans are by far the most adept when it comes to pattern recognition. Thus in neuroscience and cognitive psychology, pattern recognition is described as "a cognitive process that matches information from a stimulus with information retrieved from memory" (Wikipedia). Humans recognize patterns in a number of forms including language, symbols, music, as well as through facial features and nonverbal cues. It is fascinating to think about it this way but "humans are amazing pattern-recognition machines" (Basulto, 2015). Furthermore, pattern recognition happens almost instantaneously, and often without consideration that it is happening at all. It is a key criteria for decision-making. In many careers as well as research fields, pattern recognition ability is essential for research, analysis, and skillful deduction for problem resolution.
"The ability to spot existing or emerging patterns is one of the most (if not the most) critical skills in intelligent decision making, though we’re mostly unaware that we do it all the time. Combining past experience, intuition, and common sense, the ability to recognize patterns gives us the ability to predict what will happen next with some degree of accuracy. The better able we are to predict what will happen, the more intelligent we become" (Miemis 2010).
I am not sure why this is so, but I love pattern recognition exercises. I have always been able to spot patterns, even as a child, and I always scored very high on any tests that featured these types of questions. I guess that is why I enjoy the reflective process. I like looking for patterns of interaction, to see how patterns in my experiences match up to my stored memories. To me, pattern recognition allows me to search through my experiences, sensory impressions, and then make connections to whatever "thing" I am processing at the moment. It is like as though I am putting together a puzzle, and I have a piece in my hand that doesn't quite fit the overall picture yet. I can search through my data archive of memories and impressions and find a corresponding puzzle piece. Once I have two or three connecting pieces from my memory, I am then able to put the fourth piece (the one in my hand) together and place them into the puzzle frame. In this way, I am making sense of my experiences and I am working to make sense of my world and my place in that world.

Learning Through Experience

I enjoy this learning process. I think I enjoy reflection more than any other experiential form of learning. For me, to sit and to think, to reflect back on lived experiences brings me great joy. It is fun for me to remember, to recollect, and to reorganize my experiences into some meaningful holistic form. I find the process liberating at times, and while I get bogged down occasionally, I still enjoy the effort. I find that I am able to come to terms with my past more quickly and with more control than if I stuffed those memories away and never looked through them again. It would be like taking photos of a favorite trip, but never getting them out to browse through them. You would just store them away, allowing them to collect dust, and you would forget that they were even taken in order to remind you of the experience.

Today as I sit here, and I write this post, I am reflecting on my past experience, on how far I have come and how I am almost ready to be a PhD candidate. It was nearly 23 years ago that I first starting thinking that I could study for a doctorate degree. I had not considered it previously, but one of my professors mentioned it to me in passing. She said to me, "Carol, have you considered getting a PhD?" I thought, "Oh, you are kidding me!" I knew she was serious when she said to me "You should really think about it. You have really good ideas, and you would do well as a doctoral student." I started to think about it, and I can remember asking my friend, Martha, what she thought. She was like "Are you crazy, Carol? Of course, you would be good at it!" I had never thought I was smart or even good enough to get through a Bachelors program so how in the world could I imagine myself as a PhD student? It was true, really true, I was never a good student in school. I barely made it through high school, I almost flunked out of community college, and only after a 6-year break, did I find any measure of success in college again. Now, almost 23 years later, I have completed a Masters program, and I am wrapping up three years of intensive coursework for my PhD in Communication. It is crazy, wacky really, to think that I am about to complete a dream, to a achieve a long held goal, and to embrace a strong desire that God put into my heart and mind so long ago. I am about to graduate again, perhaps for the last time, who knows, and about to begin a new career as a full-time professor.

One of the things I think about now is whether or not I will continue on with my studies. You know, do I stop after the PhD or do I go on? I want so much to keep on studying but I am tired right now. As I was writing this blog post, I thought to myself, "Now, Cognitive Neuroscience would be really interesting field to study?" Yes, I know. I am interesting in brain stuff, and I love the whole field of study that involves meaning making or sense making. How do we make sense of the world? More than likely, once I finish my PhD in Communication, I will probably (Lord willing) study Rhetoric. Yes, I love rhetoric, and specifically, I love studying language systems and language processing. Where do ideas come from? How do we create ideas, thoughts, and how do we attach meaning to them? Yep, that is my little playground. I am not sure where I will find a program to study these concepts, but if the Lord allows me to do it, then I will take a short break, perhaps a year, and then engage in scholarly study a second time through. We will see...we will see.

Thoughts and Processing Details

It is interesting to me that as I close out this chapter of my life, this long, long, long chapter, I am thinking toward the future, toward new horizons view and new mountains to scale. The Lord is the one who is leading me on, so if He desires that I study this thing or that thing, then so be it. He has to find purpose, value, and meaning in the effort, and for that to filter down to me, it simply means that the Lord must purpose and desire that I study a particular discipline. He must find value in the time, and He must determine that it is a good fit for me. I might like the "idea of it" or even think I want to do it, but unless the Lord sees that there is a reason for me to do it, then I will let that spark go out. You see, there is only so much time left in my life. I know, maudlin sounding, right? I mean, that I am 52 now, will be 53 this month, and frankly, I have a life expectancy of about 47 more years (if I make it to 100). That is not a whole lot of time to accomplish much considering what has already transpired. Yet, if the Lord desires it, then He will make a way for me to do the 'thing' on His mind. I am open to it, so long as He does it through me (just like He did with Regent). I cannot imagine any study program being successful without His 100% support and help. I won't even attempt it unless He leads me to it and through it. He is God, and as God, only He can do this kind of work. Selah!

Today, my mind is running to so many memories. I am trying to put my puzzle together, and frankly, I am failing miserably. I want so much to be able to rest, to kick back, and just rest. The path I am on is not quite concluded because I am not at my intended destination yet. I am close, so very close, but I still have quite a ways to go. The Lord knows me best, and He knows what I can and cannot do well. I want so much to do His work, to please Him, and to go where He needs me to work. I struggle, I stress, and at times I contend with Him (strive against Him). Still, I relent, I let go, and I release my grip on the "thing" and I say "Yes, Lord, I trust you." Yes, Lord, I trust you today. Whatever we need to do, let us do it well. Let us walk forward, let us go, and let us enjoy, embrace and fully experience all that you have in mind for our life (yours and mine) this good day. You are God, you are good, and I rest, I rest in your sufficiency, your provision, and your care today. Amen, so be it, selah!

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