My name Van Thi is meaningless without a story.
It traces a history of colonialism, diaspora, and marginalisation through its translation from Chinese to Vietnamese to English. But its origin story, its Chinese meaning as “rhyming poem” is the one I resonate with and the one I share with collective humanity.
In search for home
My mission is to help build a social world that is based on conscious awareness and mindful actions. Seeing that our social-ecological problems stem from our collective disconnect from nature—the nature out-there, and the nature within—I advocate for an “eco-spiritual” approach to social change. That means, finding home (eco) in the (spiritual) oneness of the world.
However, as social beings, we depend on human narratives. Yet, ironically, the narratives we tend to get attached to are the ones that keep us in repetitive cycles of pain, as can be witnessed in our collective history as well as our personal lives. Changing narratives can change lives, but this endeavour requires a struggle with awareness.
For me, this glimpse of awareness, followed by immense struggle, first appeared in the 2nd year of my PhD studies, when I began to realize how much I had deprived myself of happiness because of internal beliefs of what I deserved in life. Yet, on the outside I had a fairly “successful” life: I had been a top student; I succeeded in becoming a landscape architect, the dream career I had envisioned in high school; and I was regularly complemented for my intelligence, creative talents, and work ethics. But internally, there was rarely a moment that I felt completely comfortably in my own skin.
I yearned to be recognized for my sensitivity and my vulnerability but my fear of being seen was greater than my desire to be truly appreciated. The truth was that I didn’t know the difference between who I was and who others thought I should be. Neither did I fully appreciate the parts of myself that I wanted others to value. I didn’t know at the time that I was an empath—someone who was intuitively attuned to the energies and emotions of people around me—and like many other unaware empaths, I believed that all the emotional baggage I could feel was mine to carry.
Through years of healing, which involved many things (including psychotherapy, tarot and oracle card readings, crystals, meditation, osteopathy, reiki, sound therapy, homeopathy, completing my PhD, learning and training in ecopsychology, Human Design, life coaching, and forest therapy), did I understand that my beliefs and my identity were entrenched in larger intergenerational and collective subconscious narratives of oppression, shame, and not-belonging.
The only way for me to move through this chaos was to summon a power greater than the destructive forces of our social-psychological structure itself. And so, I realised that the ultimate power to personal and collective healing is faith.
Flourishing in the between
I still find patterns of self-deprivation and self-doubt lingering in the corners of my conscious and subconscious mind. But I know that admitting to being wounded is an act of self-empowerment and a prerequisite for healing. Recognizing that these wounds are also collective and intergenerational makes room for compassion. If we live life mindfully, every phase of life is an opportunity to heal, not only for ourselves, but also for the collective.
Sometimes I envision life as a continuous hiking trip on a diverse landscape. This sojourn is our temporary stay on Earth as human beings, but also our timeless engagement with the truth of our divinity. Each piece of landscape we encounter teaches us a lesson about this duality.
My PhD journey was a chapter of life that taught me about what it means to “know” and what it means to “flourish”. As my research offered me the chance to break through stifling academic traditions to explore the space between knowledge and wisdom, I was also pushed into breaking my comfort zone of being invisible and finding false security through the mask of intellectualism.
In the years that followed, I learned to appreciate liminal spaces, however uncomfortable, because the in-between is where our greatest opportunity for healing and transformation occurs. Simultaneously, I learned that flourishing, most profoundly, is a liminal process made of continuous conscious choice-making, and not an end goal. Flourishing is a reciprocal phenomenon between individual and environment. I am relational—with landscapes, with nature, with other people—because I exist out of the connection between me and the world. But collective flourishing depends on individual sovereignty.
And so, my story is just as important as the stories I collect from others, whether that be through research or through the simple process of life. I am the piece of the puzzle that grounds my knowing. And I am the authority of my own life’s flourishing.
My name is meaningless without a story, but I am not meaningless without my name.
Our stories are important because we can re-construct them to change the meanings in our lives. Therefore, we are not victims of our stories.
Let’s make meaning to the lives behind our names—through our stories and not because of them. We may not know where our stories will lead us until we’ve lived them out. This process of living out our stories and making value from them, in real-time, is how we nurture our flourishing commons.