We headed for the railroad crossing. Gus, eager to investigate and explore, pulled on the leash. But when we reached the tracks, instead of leading me across, towards the river, he pulled towards a new path, one that ran along the railroad tracks. New territory for both of us, we spent the next hour exploring, Gus sniffing out new smells, while I followed behind admiring unfamiliar plants, identifying familiar landmarks from new angles.
Since the surgeries, I’ve come to appreciate the discoveries and rediscoveries I make on my new journey through life. Exploring alternate routes, wandering along the back roads, often lead to intriguing finds, about my surroundings, about myself, be it in my writing, as I teach, on walks with Gus, in life.
Prior to the brain bleeds, I processed information primarily linearly. And I regarded any alternative ways of thinking as suspect. They didn’t follow any pattern I recognized. They were illogical, irrational, incorrect.
When I taught, I didn’t understand why some students had trouble identifying linear patterns. I believed that the only way to address their difficulties was to slow down and break each step into smaller and smaller chunks. I was convinced that those who still looked puzzled just didn’t have it–they were incapable of thinking logically.
But in the wake of the surgeries, my ability to think sequentially was compromised, and my mind learned to follow alternate paths. I discovered that nonlinear processing was also a bona-fide option, and my teaching skills improved. I realized that if a student had trouble with the material, the lack was in me, as a teacher. I now enjoy the challenge of figuring out how my students made connections, and how to reach out to them.
Now, as I teach, more than solving problems, I emphasize the process, the paths we take to reach conclusions rather than the actual material. My new goal is to hone the students’ analytical thinking skills. And while learning to address a variety of ways to think, I hone my nonlinear thinking skills Seeing the material through different viewpoints helps me see a bigger pictureand gain a deeper understanding. And my teaching continues to improve.
I’ve discovered that linear thinking can only take me so far. Instead of automatically retracing my steps to find my error when reaching a dead end, as I used to in my previous life, I’ve learnt to consider nonlinear paths. However, old habits die hard, and I often have to give myself permission to let go and allow something else in my mind to take over and lead me through a nonlinear process.
I’ve found that as I explore the back roads, I discover new territory, places I would have missed otherwise. This is the case in many aspects of my life; not just in teaching.
My sense of direction was never great, but became much worse after the surgeries. Getting lost is not a rare occurrence. At first, I’d become flustered no matter whether I had someone or something to navigate me out of trouble . Now, I enjoy the adventure, either keeping going until I reach familiar grounds, or setting up my GPS.
It’s also very much the case when I write.
I always start writing linearly—I begin writing with a story in mind. Sometimes I continue to follow the path I set out on to its conclusion. But more frequently, I veer off into a completely different story. Occasionally, I try to fight the urge to stray, forcing my words towards my original goal. But deep inside me I feel that something isn’t working, that my mind is trying to pull me elsewhere. And when I give in, as I must, I let my subconscious take over. I allow the words that flow onto the page lead the way.
My writing is richer for it, as is my teaching, and my life.