An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away...

Rich Silver, ABD/ND
The Not Doctor

“When we win, it’s with small things,
and the triumph itself makes us small.”
-Rilke

 

When I left University of Nevada to pursue an alternative to my intended PhD in Counselor Education, emphasizing Spiritual Counseling, for a degree in Applied Ecopsychology, a member of my graduate committee at Nevada said pridefully, “Remember Rich, PhDs are the gate keepers of knowledge for the world,” adding with concern, “Ecopsychology in on the edge, Rich.”  

Two things stood out for me in that conversation; one, I have always been “on the edge” living with an awareness that “consensus reality” and academia in general, especially the sciences, had a very narrow band of awareness of the breadth and depth of our multidimensional reality.  Second, those who had brought the deepest most essential knowledge to the world, those I found most inspiring, the founders of the world’s wisdom traditions, did not have PhDs. In fact, they had all gotten their epiphanic realizations, not within the hallowed walls of  academia, but alone in Nature.

I would go on to complete my PhD course work in Applied Ecopsychology at the top of my class. When I met with the Director* of the program after completing two courses, he called me “his knight in shining armor” and hoped I would succeed him in directing his program. I made it clear this was not my intention.  After another course or two, he would say, “You know this subject so well, we want to offer you to test out and just complete your dissertation rather than complete the course work, so you can get on with your work.”  I declined that offer as well, as that would not seem like a doctorate, but, with the agreement that I could design my own curriculum to deepen my studies in understanding our greater human potentials in a nature-based way.

After completing my self-designed studies, I was thrilled to have my dissertation topic approved, titled, The Miracle of We: A Post-Rational Animism, as it would be the culmination of my life’s work to that point and an offering of my deep personal awakening. During my time at University of Nevada my graduate committee chair had informed me that nearly 70% of doctoral candidates are ABD, (All But Dissertation). In investigating why this was so, I found the majority of the candidates simply failed to persevere as the hurdles mounted and jumping through the hoops intensified, however, along with this, a significant percentage of candidates simply had their “brilliant work” rejected by the “gate keepers of knowledge for the world.” I was determined that I would not be among the 70%.

As I submitted the different sections of my dissertation for review and approval my doctoral chair enthusiastically endorsed my work, telling me “keep up the brilliant work.” As I awaited final approval and preparation to defend, all communication ceased, no phone messages or emails were returned from my chair or the program director. When I finally reached the director, he told me they had decided I needed to start over, that they would give me the topic and that they expected me to prove his own life work in some way.

Being true to the very purpose of a dissertation, to bring new knowledge to the world, I must admit, my work had pointed to an error in the director’s personal theory.  I felt deeply betrayed and angered by his decision and decided to leave the program. Three years later the same director contacted me and told me they had reconsidered and offered to award me my PhD, requiring only a few finishing touches.

Over those three years I had learned more about the rejected ABDs, more about the “gate keepers of knowledge,” and how they manipulated academia to their own ends, some referring to them as the “Academic Mafia.” I learned from one of my mentors that those holding PhDs had done more harm to the world than any other humans. I had also reflected deeply during that time as to why I wanted to get a PhD in the first place, actually from my freshman year in college. And while the “love of learning” was central, I also wanted to be one of the “gate keepers,” I wanted the esteem and the power that came with the PhD.

Humbled by the entire experience, I would for the third time in my years of working with the program director, decline his offer. ABD, would be fine. Rather than be a PhD, or a MD, I would settle for a ND, Not Doctor; though I consider myself an Ecopsychologist and often refer to my doctoral/PhD studies.

Like my inspirational heroes, my epiphanic time alone in Nature had inspired and informed my life work in the beginning and continues to do so today. Mother Theresa said, “We cannot do great things in this life, only small things with great love.” University of Earth is the final iteration of my life work, and my humble gift to the world, a small thing offered with great love.

*I have left this person unnamed for ethical reasons and thank him for the difficult and humbling experience.