I took a year off after high school to work and figure out where my life was going. I had already spent a lot of my adolescence studying Buddhism because public school did not seem to provide that kind of challenge to me. I would say at this point that before I came to Naropa, I was seeking something, inquisitive about the world, but living without the proper community to support and enhance that curiosity.
Several different paths led me here—the most prominent of which was my interest in studying Buddhism and religion in general. I knew that I would not really flourish in the impersonal environment of a conventional institution, and I was excited about becoming part of a community of like-minded people. I read the book The Heart of Learning: Spirituality in Education, which basically consists of transcriptions from the conference at Naropa University of the same name, held in 1997, and I found the ideas about education to be much more aligned with what I believed and how I learned. Another reason was my continued interest in Jack Kerouac’s writing. I came to Boulder when I was sixteen to visit a friend who was earning a certificate in Religious Studies, and I knew then that Naropa would be part of my life at some point. And, of course, the mountains are not a drawback, either!
This aspect of the curriculum, and the educational philosophy at large, has proved to be really vital for my academic process. Although I tend to emphasize an intellectual involvement with religion more than an actively practice-oriented one, the addition of contemplative practice and movement classes has added an enormous amount to my overall experience, and to the digestibility of my more academically rigorous classes. It has been a surprisingly enriching side of my life at Naropa, probably in ways that I don’t yet fully understand.
I am graduating in the next semester, and looking back on the last four years, a few major things stand out to me. Due to Naropa’s unique educational philosophy, its supportive community and its small class size, it seems to attract the most brilliant and creative professors possible. I have made a lot of really meaningful connections with teachers, and those relationships have fostered my growth both personally and academically. Through my four years at Naropa, I have been able to sharpen my academic skills, build relationships and clarify in large parts what my life’s purpose will be and how I will fulfill that potential. I have been consistently surprised at how much Naropa’s community has provided a supportive ground for all of my academic and spiritual endeavors.
I have been fortunate enough to take classes with teachers that have done a masterful job at maintaining academic rigor and integrity while gracefully blending the contemplative aspect that is central to Naropa’s mission. A skillful fusion of pertinent writing assignments, open discussion, experiential learning and a redefinition of the existing teacher-student paradigm has made most of my classes at Naropa extremely engaging and rewarding. Like any type of education, my experience at Naropa has depended mostly on the energy and effort I was willing to put forth. Naropa provided the professors, peers and learning environment in which I have been able to fully utilize my own academic potential.
I would suggest taking the time to really investigate deeply to determine what the right place is for you. Naropa has proved to be an excellent choice for me, but it requires a huge amount of honesty and self-reflection, things that not all people are prepared to confront. Most of the students are here because they really want to be, and if that is the case, the potential is unlimited.