Transfiguring harmony through the transfiguration of possibility

A senior reflection essay by Timothy Desrosiers ’13

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last two weeks talking to peers about what they were going to write about in their senior reflection essays. Topics ranged and many students felt as though the first sentence either made or ruined the entire essay. When describing what I would write about, the common response was something akin to “that’s it?” Strangely, these responses affirmed my initial urge to maintain a sense of concision and honesty in this final Bennington essay. And so it begins...

My Bennington experience was unlike the average, mostly because I transferred at the nontraditional age of 29. Before transferring I had already notched into my belt an eclectic collection of ups and downs: I had won an achievement award at the age of 14 for being the best competitive accordionist in Massachusetts; had endured the pain and trauma of multiple family suicides and deaths, leaving me homeless and without a family at the age of 20; had been arrested a total of 11 times for driving infringements of the various sorts by the age of 24; had opened up and started my own organic mattress department in a local furniture store by the age of 26; had produced and engineered an album which allowed me to travel the country and survive on music alone at the age of 27; and at the age of 28,I had moved to a Buddhist commune to resume my education at a progressive community college in order to pursue my lifelong passion for environmental sustainability and philosophy.

Up to this point, higher education seemed like an impossibility for me. I felt as though I could never afford an education past the level of community college, and, considering my age, I was also convinced that I had missed my chance. Because of my chaotic background and lack of funding, higher education was an unattainable dream to be romanticized. But I felt a consistent recurring passion for academic growth while at community college, and eventually forced myself to apply to private colleges that seemed to hold prestige for creativity and the learning process itself. My hard work in community college (together with my lifestyle) would be attractive to the schools that I dreamt of attending, and upon acceptance letters and great financial aid packages, I decided to finish my undergraduate education at Bennington.

Apart from academic growth and achievement, Bennington has enabled me to better understand and outgrow many of my flaws. 

Bennington fits perfectly into this collection of events that characterizes my entirety. Bennington took the concept of possibility relevant to my past (which was an impoverished conception of possibility based on chance encounters in the present moment) and conceptually filled it to include my future as well (as possibility in the former sense intertwined with the implications of choosing). Instead of feeling as though life was outside my control, or as something that just happened to me, I began to see life as something that I could control through both the ways in which I reacted to the happenstances that possibility inevitably offers and, more importantly, through the ability to choose what it was that I wanted my future to become. Before Bennington, I wasn’t able to choose what it was that I wanted to be, so Bennington’s educational philosophy is paramount to my conceptual transition described above—it was the way for me to take substantial control over the direction and future possibilities of my life according to my wishes and passions.

The question that every Bennington student initially asks is: “what is my passion and how do I go about pursuing it?” At the time, I answered: Harmony. Considering the nature of my history (consisting of positive and negative experiences in the most extreme sense), my astrological sign (Libra), and my love of Eastern philosophy and the construction of beautiful melodic and harmonic content, studying harmony through philosophy and music was undeniably what I was passionate about and had to pursue.

I had a couple of goals, goals I have either been met or are in the process of being met. I wanted to do advanced work in philosophy that explored the intersections between Western and Eastern philosophy. Thanks to the senior philosophy program, I was able to write a sizable piece called “Deep Ecology and the Conceptual Resources of Neo-Confucianism.” I explored some of the alleged problems and ambiguities found in the Western environmental philosophy of the deep ecologists and attempted to overcome these criticisms, or at least strengthen the arguments in favor of deep ecology, through an in depth look at some of the primary tenets of Neo-Confucianism. I concluded that much of the ambiguities found in deep ecology are ambiguous solely for the reason that its critics have not undergone the practical shift in perspective that is necessary for realizing, or intimately understanding, the claims set forth from ecological philosophy. Because Neo-Confucianism (and most Eastern philosophies in general) is just as much practical as it is theoretical, the movement toward the understanding of an individual’s awareness of an ecological self in the deep ecological perspective became, in my opinion, more realizable; Neo-Confucianism provided a practical model of ecological self expansion in relation to the tenets of deep ecology.

I also wanted to write and engineer an EP driven by my conceptual exploration of harmony. I studied music focusing on theory. It wasn’t until my third term that I began to take recording/engineering classes with Julie Last and Scott Lehrer, study I have continued with the both of them into this final term. I have enough material for an EP, but I am still working on one or two more songs that I would like to add as part of this final work. It is tentatively entitled “The Either/Or Dilemma,” an artistic representation of my work at Bennington, and reflects much of what I learned philosophically and musically. Its lyrics explore the idea of loss in relation to the power of subjective choice (which is greatly influenced by Kierkegaard), and implements much of the environmentally relevant conceptual resources found in my advanced work.

Apart from academic growth and achievement, Bennington has enabled me to better understand and outgrow many of my flaws. Upon arrival I was insecure, skeptical, afraid, broken, and anxious. I was quite anti-social and reluctant to collaborate. I couldn’t clearly see these traits as actual personal problems. Further, I couldn’t realize their consequences, and I tried to get along fine without accepting and coming face to face with them. Being in an environment that is so intimate brings you face to face with what it is about yourself that inhibits your capacity for authentic sociability. Within no time, I became introspective, even more so than before, and I began working through these issues. I’ve become much more secure with my work, both philosophically and musically, and I’ve become passionate about working with others. I’ve opened up socially and have made more connections and friends at Bennington than anywhere else throughout my 31 years of life. Bennington was the first experience in my life where I actually felt connected to everybody most of the time. We are all pursuing our individual possibilities alongside each other.

Upon entering Bennington, I thought about harmony as a way of understanding and interpreting absolutely everything that happens and exists in life in relation to balance. Upon leaving Bennington, it is the same thing, but larger; my perspective of harmony has been transfigured in terms of my new understanding of possibility. Initially, harmony was the only tool I had on my belt for explaining and justifying the positive and negative extremes of my history; I could take it out when the going got rough and hammer into my future the hope that positive happenings were necessarily on their way. I would also do this in the contrary fashion. In other words, harmony gave me faith in existence itself, a faith that allowed me to ponder my life as a ride of extremes.

Bennington was the first experience in my life where I actually felt connected to everybody. 

This perspective is impoverished. It posits within the individual the idea that future occurrences are completely out of personal control. After undergoing the Bennington education, harmony has taken on a much more personal character. I realize now harmony is not merely passive, it is also necessarily active. True harmony cannot exist for an individual. The Neo-Confucian perspective holds that everything is a mix of the passive and the active, of yin and yang. Although much of life that happens is out of one’s control, there is an entire aspect of life that becomes possible only after you posit control over yourself, or, in Kierkegaard’s words, “choose to choose.”

Because of Bennington, I move on with newfound confidence in my capacity for dealing with future possibilities because this education forced me to interact with possibility in a way that enabled me to see its personal dimension in relation to myself and to my growth. Harmony is something that I actively strive for through the sincere realization that my future is not only constituted by the infinite possibilities that lie outside myself, but also by the possibility for choosing personal change and growth which is only found within.