Ahava Shira, PhD’10

Ahava Shira, PhD’10

What was your first job after graduation?

In the summer after I graduated, I reconnected with a colleague with whom I'd worked a few years before at another organization. She had since founded a new organization and asked if I wanted to be involved as a facilitator. Since that first small contract, I've been working with her at Connecting Generations, happily developing programs for mentorship between youth and adults in our community and facilitating an intergenerational writer's group. We're publishing the second anthology of our writing this fall.

What was your ‘aha’ moment?

In the fall of 2007, in a research methodology class called Living Inquiry, Professor Karen Meyer invited us to spend time practicing awareness of ourselves in the world with a focus on one of four themes: Space, Time, Language and Self/ Other and then to write, draw, photograph etc...in response to our experience.

At the end of the course, she asked us to creatively render these fieldnotes, to present them, and then hand them in as our final project. In rereading the poems and stories I had written, I realized that each time I practiced awareness, I was interested in shifting my experience from violence, aggression, prejudice and other forms of disrespect to kindness, compassion and love. So I changed the “i” in Living Inquiry to “o” and named my process Loving Inquiry, which became the subject of my doctoral thesis and is now the
name of the pedagogy I teach at the Centre for Loving Inquiry, my studio/ classroom on Salt Spring Island.

How do you make the best of all situations?

I practice gratitude and am willing to let go of my "agenda" so I can open to what is actually happening. I respect impermanence and value the unfolding of experience in unexpected ways. I trust life and believe there is always another way of seeing what's going on. I love learning and growing and saying yes to opportunities that arise. I let myself feel whatever I am feeling and take care of myself through journal writing, yoga, meditation, talking to a friend or walking and being in nature. And finally, I release my need to be "right" and instead focus on being happy, peaceful and enjoying the present.

What is your best memory from your time at UBC?

I took the early morning ferry from Salt Spring Island to Vancouver, drove the highway into the city and landed about 8:30 am on campus at UBC, ready and excited to begin. Then I couldn’t find the right building. I looked for the Dorothy Somerset theatre, as that was where the class was taking place according to the online course description. But I  couldn’t find it. I walked to the Frederic Wood Theatre, thinking that it might be nearby, and that’s all there was, no other smaller theatre in the back. I walked into the theatre department building just south of there, called out into the empty space, looked around for signs. Nothing.

Feeling anxious, I started to walk back toward the Scarfe building. I began to panic. It was raining. It was 9:20am and class was supposed to have started at 9am. I was already 20 minutes late. I’d been walking around for over 50 minutes, trying to locate this mysterious space where the class was supposed to be. The rain started coming down harder and staining my new orange leather handbag which I had just bought the week before on Salt Spring. I had never worn it in the rain.  I brought it with me to Vancouver that day because it was new, like the process I was about to embark on as a doctoral student. I began to worry that the rain would ruin the bag!

As I walked south along West Mall, I became acutely aware of how anxious I was feeling—a sense of dread about being late and lost. I felt uncomfortable, my heart beating fast, my mind buzzing with reasons and repercussions: Maybe this wasn’t the right thing for me. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to do the PhD after all. Was this a sign that I should just return to Salt Spring, let go of the impulse to go to school, to further explore my experience as an educator and a writer.

Suddenly I stopped walking. I felt my feet on the sidewalk, the rain falling on my head wetting my jean jacket, and my new bag. I breathed in and out. Then I realized I had a choice! I could continue to panic, to worry and feel anxious and concerned, to make up stories about what it meant, or I could accept that I was lost and then be fully present with where I was. I breathed in and out a few more times, entertaining the idea of being lost as an invitation, an adventure to be excited over. I even allowed myself to consider that I might not find the class at all, that I might just stay lost, which felt sad and unacceptable and yet it was a possibility.

Then I started to walk again as if what I was meant to do was to simply be there—to smell the rain in the air and watch the smoke rise from the chimney of the three story glass building I was passing on my left. I noticed the trees around me, felt their presence ground me. Then I decided I would try one more time to locate the space. I went to the Scarfe building and found a sign that said the class was in Hut-18, across the road. I knew that space, had taken a theatre class in the fall of 1998, while I was still living in Vancouver, the only other class I had ever taken at UBC.

I walked over and found the class. By that time it was 9:35am and I was 35 minutes late. The group was playing a game of introduction and I joined right in. After, they welcomed me into the circle. I was no longer lost. I told them what had happened to me on the way to class, how I had gotten lost and how I had chosen to embrace being lost and how being present to the experience helped me to fully show up in the moment on the sidewalk and in my body, and enabled me to finally find my way to class.

What is your dream job?

I'm living it.

Since I graduated from my PhD in 2010, I have transformed my PhD thesis into a pedagogical process that teaches women how to love themselves through  exploring their creativity and sharing it with others.

I work at home, on the farm where I live, and have my own studio which I call the Centre for Loving Inquiry, where I facilitate creative mentoring programs including A Year to Love: a 12 month guided journey that includes individual mentoring, group retreats and bimonthly lessons.