Congratulations to Naropa University's class of 2013!
More images from graduation are available on the Naropa University Facebook page.
Transcripts of Commencement Speeches
Naropa University Commencement Speech by Jeffrey C. Walker
It is amazing to me to think that here at a Naropa in 1974, a group of meditators and academics, launched a University where contemplative practices were integrated into the entire curriculum. What a crazy idea at the time. That took passion, confidence and collaboration.
From that beginning, almost 40 years ago, a movement has grown. You who are practicing contemplation are part of a tsunami .. a wave that is flowing through all fields of work, play and self development that is being powered by contemplation and the collaboration that comes from it.
I’m going to share a few thoughts with you on how I see this wave growing and how we can use it to benefit ourselves and others. But first I’d like to tell you how I got so interested in meditation and how it relates to my passionate interest in collaboration. I do believe the two are linked.
I was born a nerd. I wasn’t cool. While other kids surfed, I read. I moved eight times before I was 18. My Dad was a computer programmer and worked on the Apollo space program in Florida where I got to watch many spaceship liftoffs. There I came to believe people, together, can accomplish almost anything...including landing a man on the moon. The contemplation movement is a bit like that.
At the University of Virginia I was an accounting and computer science major—still a nerd . But I also had a strong interest in the spiritual side of life. Late one night in 1973 sitting in a field at the University of Virginia I tried to see if I could become enlightened, I clearly had been reading too many books about the Buddha. I never became enlightened but I did do my first meditation. During that first sitting I had a calm mind and was thinking of nothing else other than just being ... I can still feel the cold night air in that open field and see the moon in the sky overhead as I sat. I was hooked. Think of the first time you meditated.
That first meditation reminded me of my early experience as a musician. I played tuba (yes, still a nerd) and was involved in every band there was…jazz, orchestra, stage band, marching band. I loved that flowing state, that feeling of being connected to something bigger than myself as I worked with others to play a great piece of music. I started working to find that feeling in other areas of my life - work, social, and family. My ah-ha moment after a while of exploring was that great connection and joy can be attained not only through music but also by being present and working collaboratively with others on challenging projects. The most successful boards, teams and companies I have been associated with have all felt like we are a band working together playing a great piece of music. I hope the Naropa board is like that.
So I set about developing my contemplative and collaborative skills and applying them in my life—including my business career. I was a venture capitalist and private equity investor for 25 years. I loved building collaborations with management teams in companies that ranged from Jet Blue Airlines and Petco to Guitar Center. My contemplation practice made me a better partner, a better leader and a better person. After 9/11, I brought stress management tools to my group at JPMorgan Chase. (Of course “stress management” was just code for meditation.) My group earned great investment returns for twenty-five years partly because of some of our personal practices our group used and my partners, like Jerry Colonna, have become lifelong friends. We are all still finding ways to collaborate with each other even after we have moved on to other places. The band is still playing gigs together.
These days I spend 90% of my time on non-profits and social enterprise and I am having a blast working with others on some big hairy problems. I’ve been studying and working on collaborations that address issues such as deaths from Malaria, global health and educational reform. Working with others on problems that are larger than our individual selves is a joy and makes my life more meaningful.
And through it all, I’ve continued to be fascinated with mind training. What is happening to our brains when we meditate? As an old investor I am always looking for trends and the contemplation movement is one of the most useful and productive ones I have seen in a long while.
Mindfulness and contemplation used to be restricted to small groups of new agers sharing their secrets (like what it must have been like in the early days of Naropa). I was one of those nerds and now we have all taken our practices out of the closet and discovered many more people to collaborate with. Mindfulness, yoga, and other practices are topics of discussion on Oprah; Deepak Chopra is teaching meditation on YouTube; 33,000 people a year go to a retreat site called Kripalu to work on their yoga; Penn State is designing approaches to bring contemplative skills to teachers; U of Miami is working with the U.S. Military to give soldiers the skills to handle stress in the field to reduce PTSD; UVA raised $15 million from a hedge fund manager for a Center for Contemplative Studies…and it goes on. Contemplation has moved out of the closet and into the everyday world.
I had a group of some of the most successful hedge fund investment managers down to the University of Virginia for a symposium two weeks ago to talk about their philanthropy and self development practices. Can you imagine what most people think of when they think of hedge fund guys…money focused, uncaring? Not these people…They say that contemplative practices have helped them see the world more clearly and so made them better investors and more impactful philanthropists. They are bringing these practices to their firms. Google has meditation and yoga rooms in their offices. Golfers are developing mind training practices to improve their game. And in business schools these days the most popular classes are those that focus on self-inquiry. At Harvard it is called Authentic Leadership…at UVA it is called Wisdom and a Meaningful Life, and at Stanford they call it “touchy feelie.” Naropa, as usual the cutting edge leader in the field, has had an authentic leadership program in place for 20 years.
Next week, I am going to be with many researchers and lay people at the U of Wisconsin where we will be speaking about global health and contemplation with the Dalai Lama. Applying the tools of contemplation to real world issues.
There’s also a scientific and technical side to this story. (Yes, I am still a nerd at heart!) I support a project at Yale, called GoBlue, that has had many meditators lie in an FMRI which measures brain activity on a real time basis and they meditate to control the firing of their brain neurons through biofeedback. They do this by watching a computer monitor and watching a simple bar (blue for present, red for distracted). The researchers discovered an area of the brain (called the PCC) that goes quiet when you are an experienced meditator….the mind seems to stop wandering, there is a feeling of a flow state….and they have designed a biofeedback mechanism that helps you measure and guide your brain more easily into a “present flowing” state. Now they are developing portable EEGs to bring mind biofeedback systems to many more people. Imagine whole teams of people who can more easily enter a flow state together for a common purpose. Think of teachers who even more quickly can be given contemplation tools to handle stress.
There is a company I am involved in called Interaxon (http://www.interaxon.ca) , that has a headband with sensors that measure alpha, beta, gamma and delta brain waves. This device lets you use your mind to interact with software that helps you train your brain. Someday we hope this feedback will be used to help kids overcome ADHD without drugs, help smokers kick the habit, and help people find natural pain relief. There is solid scientific evidence that shows contemplative tools are effective for those applications.
Changing how your neurons fire is one thing but then developing the skills of compassion as you have a more present mind is another. I believe that linking the skills of contemplation to deep collaborations is one way to open that compassionate connection with others.
You at Naropa all are on the leading edge of this wave and going forward you can have an important impact on the world using the contemplation skills you have gained here. Those skills will help you build the relationships and collaborations you’ll need to tackle the big issues of our day whether in education, health, the environment, poverty, world peace, or personal spiritual growth.
As you practice and use your contemplative and collaborative skills, there are eight things that I would recommend you consider:
- Keep it simple. Look for simple ways to apply your contemplative skills to real-life problems. Don’t overstress on achieving enlightenment, yet. Start with one issue to focus on and then layer in others as you build your confidence. Work on getting to sleep more quickly, move off of ADHD drugs; manage stress better; stop smoking. It works. Then you can model it and maybe teach these skills to others. Make it easy for others to start using contemplative skills. One place you can direct them to is http://www.Headspace.com , a company I am involved with that has great web and mobile app that will help anyone start.
- Build meditation into your daily routine and bring it into your job. Evidence is growing that multi-tasking is actually impossible, and even trying to do it is unhealthy and counter-productive. So put down your iphones and ipads. Don’t tweet or check your texts. Be present..be with yourself. I had a chance to talk with Jeffrey Hopkins, one of the Dalai Lama’s early translators. I asked him how many times a day he meditates and he said 8…I said “Wow, for how long?” and he said “sometimes for a while, but most of the time for a minute because that is all I need to remind myself to be in the present moment”. Imagine that, always living in a present state. Studies say that 70% of our thoughts are about the past, 20% are about the future and only 10% are about NOW. Try to live more in the NOW and increase that 10%. I think you will be happier at work and home.
- Learn to listen well. This is key for collaboration. You know what you know; you don’t know what the people around you know. So develop real listening habits. Don’t look over the shoulder of the person you are speaking to in order to see whom else you would like to speak to. Look your conversation partner in the eye. Don’t think about the next question you want to ask or the counter-argument you want to make…try to go deeper with them in that moment.
- Manage your ego. Don’t take yourself too seriously. It is hard to get rid of your ego completely but remembering that you aren’t more important than others is useful. Understanding you have much to learn from everyone is a huge leap. Having a managed ego is an important trait for people who are trying to build collaborations. People want to work with others who will listen and see others as having significant value to add.
- Bring people together around shared purposes. Practice Collaboration. One way to do this is by having connective, stimulating group dinners. I call them Jeffersonian Dinners since we originally developed them based on dinners Thomas Jefferson had in his home at Monticello. These are whole table, single conversations that allow a small group of 12-15 people to benefit from a joint mind conversation on one topic. At these dinners you, in fact, are not allowed to speak to the person next to you … you speak to the entire table…and everyone participates. Many of these dinners are focused on discussing problems that the group can work on together to solve. People love to work together to solve problems. We have held the dinners around the world on topics ranging from curing Malaria to bringing music to school kids in America. We even use the format at dinners with family or friends. They are great ways to discover others passions and find openings to connect with others on those common passions. Check out this link http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeffrey-walker/jeffersonian-dinners_b_2517103.html if you want to know more.
- Keep developing your connections with other people. Be Collaborative Glue. Networking isn’t a bad word…we all desperately need and want to have supportive groups of people we interact with...I heard the Dalai Lama say that the western world has taken the teachings related to a strong wisdom practice from the east but seems to have missed the importance of using Sangha as well—which is the idea of group work/connection that is also very important in a deep contemplative practice. As you work and live life, take the extra moment to develop connections and relationships and work to deepen them. I know my wife and I are still working on deepening our relationship and we have been married 28 years.
- Find Mentors. Build your collaborative network. Team up with people who are entering the later parts of their careers (like me...like Jerry…like the board of Naropa). They want to work with others on things more important than themselves. Find a mentor…you have as much to offer them as they do you. Your energy, creativity, perspective matched with an experienced mentor who has a network, experience and leadership skills…..what a great fit.
- And Lastly - Simplify, don’t make things more complex. This is key for effective collaborations. We used that advice when we worked on the Malaria project with the UN and other international groups. We focused on the simple idea of using long lasting bed nets to protect people in Africa from the mosquitos that transmit the disease. With that simple idea put into operation and with the money and collaborative teams we matched to it, deaths from Malaria have dropped in the last four years from over a million a year to half as much. Now our goal is to drop deaths from Malaria to zero by the end of 2015. I hope you’ll apply this idea of simplifying to other important causes. The global warming movement, in my view, has stayed way too general…and have worked to mainly scare people. …don’t try to scare…or be too general…come up with simple ideas/goals…to rally around and build collaborations to achieve them.
Those are the eight points.
Working with others, using the skills that come from extensive practice in contemplation such as deep listening, increasing flow states, being a better team player, having a managed ego, and creating open, present, collaborative environments will make you a great employee, a stronger leader, a better friend, and a more effective parent. Be generous and give yourself, your time and your skills to causes you can have an impact on. Bring your passions and work with others who share them.
Finally, please join with us to build the collaborative networks of generosity that will help our world be a better place. Come to the generosity network website we have set up (www.thegenerositynetwork.com) and join our movement.
Contemplative practice helps create effective collaborations. Effective collaborations can be used to address critical problems of our times. Naropa has given you the skills to ride the coming wave of the contemplation movement. Have fun riding the wave.
Thank you for listening and congratulations.
On behalf of the Board of Trustees, the Naropa Faculty, Administrative staff, students and the entire Naropa University Community, I want to welcome all of you to the joyous pinnacle of Naropa’s academic year. The successful completion of the academic and personal journey at Naropa is a remarkable accomplishment and one that we all are grateful to have shared with all of you who are receiving degrees today. We are honored that you have elected to share your learning and wisdom with us. The community is constantly enriched and challenged by the great energy, honest talk and diligent effort that each and every one of you has brought to Naropa.
Naropa is not an easy place to work, to teach, to study or to manage. For 39 years this has been a cauldron of disciplined study and contemplative practice spiced up by occasional inattention and distraction. It is after all, a community of human beings.
Naropa is also a nurturing community. One that expects-and welcomes- chaos. All of Naropa’s manifestations are the ingredients which combine to reflect the rest of the world and to challenge us all to continually work on our own realization, our own growth, our own sanity-making a difference to the world around us-or at least not to be a nuisance.
The student path at Naropa is challenging-not just academically but personally. There is no shortcut to looking deeply at who we are as human beings, acknowledging the whole picture and working hard to become the best version of ourselves. At Naropa you have been offered many tools-first to simply create the space to take stock-to really find that we each arrived with all the raw materials needed to evolve-as professionals, as educated persons, and as compassionate and effective sentient beings. At the same time you were urged to focus, to find the places of unique inspiration and to apply knowledge and wisdom so that your personal manifestation in the world is joyful, meaningful, compassionate and helpful.
In the Buddhist tradition there is a teaching which exhorts the practitioner to Be
Grateful To Everyone. I think that is a particularly apt recommendation.
Now this is not a feel good aphorism but one that really means what it says. Everyone Means Everyone. It’s pretty easy to be grateful to someone. It’s the “everyone” that causes heartburn.
The work begins when that expression of gratitude is extended to those that the conventional mind would suggest are putting obstacles in our way. Those around us who freely share their neurotic manifestations as if it’s a gift, or as if we care. Gratitude toward those people and situations takes work. Naropa’s model of contemplative education is, at its heart, providing our students with the tools to succeed in that work. For real progress, real social change, real success begins with an evolved attitude of gratitude.
We take the time to practice, and apply, the many disciplines offered so that each of us can begin by being grateful to who we are as human beings. To welcome our own obstacles as fuel for the flame of compassion to ourselves. And then to extend that gratitude to others who are really not different from ourselves. That is what supercharges the journey.
From that foundation, we can become more open and ready to learn the specific skills
we offer. To become therapists, teachers, scholars, poets, actors, musicians, chaplains,
social entrepreneurs, scientists and all the rest of the ways we each may manifest
as fully engaged human beings.
Success in any of the career paths you choose is more likely and certainly more meaningful if we have true empathy and genuine concern for the world around us-whether sentient or inanimate. All are equally deserving of our concern and our best effort.
Naropa is built on the wisdom and efforts of the thousands who have preceded us here today. Beginning with Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s vision to create a university, countless faculty and staff worked with dedication and devotion to be sure it took root and then-in the tradition of the great Nalanda University in India- to share the Naropa home with a great community of scholars and students from any number of spiritual backgrounds or no particular background at all. We have not always played well with others but the joy of being at Naropa is that the world is generous with its feedback-whatever that may be and we all can learn from that. Our students are among the most generous offerers of unvarnished feedback that. We have the chance to grow every day.
It remains an honor to serve as Naropa’s president. Naropa has the distinction of
being a place that is chosen quite carefully by its students, many of whom have had
experiences at other schools and were moved to find a more personally meaningful educational
and transformational home. As a result our faculty continues to be moved and enriched
by the quality of the students, their genuine curiosity, great skill and diligence
and with a burning desire to make a genuine difference to the world.
My colleagues and I are very aware of the support and sacrifice which so many of the parents, partners, children, friends and relatives have offered our students. We know that the graduates here today don’t take that support for granted and neither do we.
We all wish you the best as the next chapters unfold.
And in the words of Trungpa Rinpoche
In the garden of gentle sanity,
May you be bombarded by the coconuts of wakefulness.
Good afternoon! What a beautiful moment, within a precious day, among a beloved community!
I am here to offer our – about to emerge into a world that is calling them – graduates, some final words of wisdom on behalf of the faculty. Yet, what might I offer that you do not already know?
A few years ago, I had the honor of introducing the bow at the new student orientation – perhaps to a few of you that are graduating today. At that time, I framed the bow as part of a rite of passage on the journey our students embark. Rites of passages follow five stages: Preparation, Severance, Crossing the Threshold into the Sacred World, Reincorporation, and Reintegration. The first stage, Preparation, consists of all of those things one does in order to leave on the journey. The next step, Severance, is the processing of leaving. With the third stage, Crossing the Threshold into the Sacred World, one embodies the heart of the journey’s trials and emerging gifts. Next is Reincorporation, the physical return from the journey. And finally, Reintegration is the much longer process of reconstructing one’s reality and actions as a result of being changed by the journey.
When you first came to Naropa and dared to enter this rite of passage – you prepared for a new life – one in which your assumptions would be challenged, your mind and heart broken open and one in which you would hopefully make some dear friends and perhaps learn some new things. In coming here and leaving your home, family, friends and old identity – you severed many pieces of who you were and dared to cross the threshold into a new world.
And in the years you have been here, might I dare say you encountered something strange, something remarkable, something of inconceivable value?
From a distanced view, Naropa may appear to be shrouded in mystery. Folks seem to wonder “what on earth goes on there?” “What special thing do they teach and learn that sets them apart from other institutions?” “Does this contemplative stuff gift them with some sort of magical ability, a super power?” And I must say, why yes it does! While Naropa is certainly no Hogwarts, our graduates do emerge with magical abilities provided that we understand the true definition of magic is pattern shifting. And in order to shift the pattern, we must see the pattern.
Sometimes I am baffled at the infatuation pop culture has with monsters and the battle between light and darkness, a duality of good and bad, right and wrong, winners and losers. Movies and television shows bombard us with vampires, werewolves, witches, ghosts, zombies, superheroes, villians and all sorts of characters that illicit our fear. This seems to be no small metaphor for the fear our society is gripped with, yet we needn’t stuff ourselves with imaginary fears when we live in a world with so many genuine and obvious fears. In the context of our interlinked crises – from the collapse of our natural systems, social injustice, economic insecurity, widespread violence, addiction and trauma, our world is choking on fear. The mess we have collectively created is so great, that we are too afraid to look at the suffering and the large shadows we have cast. So many choose to live in denial and in darkness – the darkness of not seeing.
So perhaps the magic, the unique gift of a Naropa education is the ability to turn on the light. Any nightmare ends when we, turn on the light. And the process of turning on the light certainly starts from within and with practice, our lights burn brighter, and brighter, and I see before me now the most beautiful flames about to shine their lights out in the larger world.
While I am no scholar on the history and vision of Naropa University, I do understand that the founder the Venerable Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche sought for us to manifest an enlightened society. I am also not a scholar of enlightenment yet the process of turning on the light, our lights, seeing what is and moving consciously from this place through a collective engagement with other beings is perhaps not so far from enlightenment. To enter our fears, we become fearless warriors and spark our lights in service to this world.
Returning to the context of your Naropa journey as a rite of passage – you did dare to cross the threshold and enter into the sacred world. In these final stages of reincorporation and reintegration, you are bringing your wisdom out into the world, literally bringing your physical self into the “real world” that needs you and you are now challenged to bring your learning, your practice into everyday situations, facing fear, bringing light, being of service.
Yet this rite of passage is not over. It is not linear but cyclic, perhaps a spiral and with the ending stages you return again to the beginning, to preparation – this time preparing to leave, severing from this institution and to once again cross a threshold into a sacred world.
So in offering wisdom to the graduates, I must say I have so very little to offer, for you have already brought to light so much wisdom in yourselves, in others and in this world. A wise person or a sage is one who is a perpetual learner – a being who does not stop their journey with the achievement of a degree. A sagacious (SA-GAY-CIOUS) or what I like to call a sagalicious being, constantly changes through encountering the breath of life. On behalf of the faculty, may the next steps of your journey be blessed in each and every moment and may you keep turning on your lights!