During my senior year (2001-2002) at Elon University I took a year-long seminar course called “Quest for Wholeness”. It was one of those courses that had a bit of a cult following on campus. People whispered about it — I hear it lasts two semesters and there are no tests! — former students wrote about it, and there was a buzz to sign-up for it, especially among those in the Philosophy department. The course was the brainchild of John G. Sullivan, PhD and his wife, Gregg, who had co-taught the class with him for many years even during her own battle with breast cancer.
Before I had switched majors from Philosophy to Psychology, I had taken a few classes taught by John where I felt I had done some of my best writing and thinking, and I had learned much from his sagely approach to teaching. He was the type of professor that would wax poetically about this philosophy or that and encourage debate, but he was also extremely practical in his lessons. One of my favorite stories from him was when he told us about how angry he got one weekend when he tried to get into his office to catch up on some work but found the front door to the main building locked and he without a key. He was so mad about it, he called up his department head to give him a piece of his mind, and the department head replied, “Do you want to continue to be angry and fight about it…or do you want to ask me for a key?” In other words, it’s better to stay calm and focus on what will fix the problem than to get all worked up and stew in your own anger over the fact that the problem occurred in the first place. Now that’s a useful philosophy.
At the time I was eager to take a break from my psychology courses and circle back on what I had learned earlier in my studies. But nothing really prepared me for what a profound impact “Quest for Wholeness” would have on my life. The overall arc of the course focused on the idea of viewing life experiences as cyclical and intertwined with the Four Seasons. I became so taken by this concept that I later applied it to my novel, The Thief Maker, in which I told my story in a “thematic chronology” where events were not grouped in a linear fashion, but by how they thematically related to each other and to the cyclical nature of the Four Seasons. Thus the structure of my novel was broken into four major sections: Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall. So for all those who have asked me if I had been inspired by Tarantino’s non-chronological approach to his Pulp Fiction when writing The Thief Maker…the answer is, “Nope…’twas John G. Sullivan, not QT, who inspired that.”
That’s what made “Quest for Wholeness” so rewarding. It circled in not just on a professor’s personal philosophy, but on my study of psychology, my writing and my every-day life and interactions with others. John G. Sullivan viewed the professor-student relationship as a partnership, and he and his wife opened up their lives and their home to their students. They were the people who invited the whole class over for dinner, and during those two semesters, it was like having a second family where everyone talked about everything in class, and our different disciplines and fields of study were all tied in together. We learned how to become great listeners, how to open up our lives to new perspectives and to other people’s experiences. We were all on that same journey…that same quest, and it was John and Gregg’s sincere desire that they and their students continue that quest long after the course ended.
When I learned of John’s retirement from Elon a few years ago, I was saddened to think that future students would no longer have the opportunity to go on that “Quest for Wholeness” with the Sullivans as their guides. But just recently, I learned he has published a new book, The Spiral of the Seasons: Welcoming the Gifts of Later Life, where he has combined the new wisdom he has gained from entering that next stage of life (retirement) with his life’s work on the Four Seasons. His book is not just for those entering retirement, but for anyone searching for ways to slow down, reflect and find their way through all that life has to offer.
The Quest it seems does continue.
It’s nice to see things come full circle.
Written by David H. Schleicher
From his Amazon Author Profile:
John G. Sullivan is a native of Newport, Rhode Island. The sound of the sea still echoes within him.
Holding a triple focus, he is:
(1) Powell Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Elon University in North Carolina where he taught for 36 years;
(2) a faculty member of Tai Sophia Institute in Laurel, Maryland, where he is principal designer of their MA program in Transformative Leadership;
(3) a participant in the work of the NC non-profit: Second Journey.
His abiding interest is in the place where philosophy, psychology and spirituality – East, West and beyond — intersect and mutually enhance one another.
Learn more about the book by clicking here.