Peter Bolland is a reluctant rock star.
As a Southwestern College philosophy professor he brings enchantment to academia with his mild and soothing voice. As a successful local musician, he captivates audiences with his folky sounds.
“He has two different worlds,” said Professor of Philosophy Alejandro Orozco. “One day he’s wearing a suit and a tie and giving a lecture on Buddhism, and the next you’re seeing him strap on a Les Paul doing a Neil Young cover in front of hundreds of people.”
After earning a BA in religious studies from UC Santa Barbara and meeting his wife, he moved on to earn his Master’s in philosophy at SDSU. Soon after he landed a professorship at SWC.
“I feel absolutely humbled and blessed to have this job,” Bolland said. “I get to be the communicator of these great traditions, these great voices from the past who have struggled, but found a way to articulate their ideas.”
Bolland said teaching is more than cracking opening a book, it is a performance.
“You get to get in front of a room and lead people through an experience,” he said. “It comes down to the willingness of being in front of people and being vulnerable. To draw smaller stories to larger stories of philosophy and let people experience themselves and see that they’re struggling with a universal question that we’re all struggling with.”
Bolland said philosophy heals and has a power that transcends the classroom.
“When I’m lecturing on something powerful I see my students lean in, because all of the sudden it becomes significant and immediate and relevant for them,” he said. “They realize that they’re living through this too and realize that it’s not about what happened in some ancient teaching, it’s about what’s happening right now, and it’s about suffering, and it’s about how maybe there is a door, an opportunity to alleviate some of the pressure in life.”
Bolland said he structures classes in a way that is worthwhile for those not continuing on with philosophy by making it relevant and connecting it to a larger tapestry.
“I hope for a more personal change to be happening in my classes. I hope students begin to realize the common theme among the world’s religions, and hope they begin to realize that all around the globe human beings are kind of the same. And through this to be more compassionate, more humble, able to see the underlining humanity and commonality.”
Orozco said he admires Bolland’s passion.
“He’s just such a humanistic person,” Orozco said “He practices a philosophical outlook in life by living through what he teaches.”
Bolland said philosophy can show people a path to happiness.
“Forgetfulness of self is the key,” he said. “Forgetfulness of self and not thinking about me all the time by getting into nature or through the loving kindness towards others or selflessness and the consciousness of service, trying to do your part to contribute to the healing of the well, that’s liberating if you can find it.”
Through these intimate reflections Bolland copes with his daily frustrations, he said. Like anyone, he works on self-improvement.
“I’ve learned to soften my demands and be present with what is actually happening,” he said. “I’m always thinking of that, and when I catch myself falling into the battle of habits, cravings and expectations, and see how miserable it makes me, I focus on how much richer and satisfying it is to be grateful for what I do have.”
Students should grow and explore their discomfort zones in college, he said.
“College is about growth and growth is inherently uncomfortable, it means you are changing, he said. “At the same time making sure we walk this line making students feel welcomed and not like outsiders.”
Bolland said he escapes the machinery of daily life through his music, communicating at the same time his philosophies and ideas about life.
“All of my work is interconnected,” he said,“ The songs I end up writing have a kind of philosophical flavor to them. Music helps us celebrate the whole range of experiences of being alive, and the joy and pain. Sometimes you’re done talking and just want to sing.”
For years he has undertaken numerous collaborations with groups like Jackson-Bolland – which resulted in an album titled “Live at a Better World” – and The Coyote Problem, a collaboration that resulted in two albums, “Wire,” in 2005 and “California,” in 2007. Both won Best American Album at the San Diego Music Awards. Bolland has also released two solo albums, “Frame,” in 2002, and most recently, “Two Pines,” which he said has been his most intimate project yet.
“‘Two Pines’ was seven years in the making,” he said. “I just wanted to bring everything I had into this album and make the best music I possibly could. I wanted it to be true to who I am and true to my aesthetic sensibilities and have complete integrity. It’s a very personal album in that way.”
Bolland said he is able to achieve his musical goals with the discipline of an academic and passion of an artist.
“I’ve learned that when you combine passion and discipline, you can achieve great things,” he said. “Passion isn’t enough, you have to do the hard work and that’s were discipline comes in, to help you push through it. Just like Chuck Close said, ‘Amateurs look for inspiration, the rest of us get up and go to work.’”
There is a lot of suffering in the world, Bolland said, and art serves as a way to cope. Art is often inspired by tragedy, he added, which is part of the human condition.
“Your art is written by your suffering. It comes out of the wounded places, the broken places. It’s out of that urgency that the passion to help others heal comes from. I’m in it because there’s a real need for healing. People are walking around wounded, sad, lost and you feel it when you open your heart and eyes.”
Bolland said he uses his wounds to fuel his creativity and drive to help heal.
“I don’t see my own weaknesses and wounds as a problem. Those of us who teach or are in the arts use that dissatisfaction, the restlessness to kind of push you into looking for solutions and bridges to carry you over the gaps and golfs of life.”
Along with philosophy, life and spirituality, nature holds a significant place in Bolland’s music and life, he said.
Bolland said he believes that nature has a capacity to heal and provides people an escape from the monotony of life.
“Out in nature you breathe differently and your senses heighten because you feel the wind and smell the water and see the different cycles of nature, of birth and death,” he said. “It throws you out of self-absorption and you become the eyes of the world. The self falls away and you become awareness. The boundaries dissolve and you become interconnected with the interconnectedness of everything and that’s very healing. Nature informs and you’re able to take it back into your life.”