Alumni Love Stories
Naropa alumni were asked to share their Naropa Love Stories—expressing their love for Naropa and/or how they found love in the Naropa community.
Here are their stories. Enjoy!
Chrissy Coates, MFA '13
One October morning, I was in the studio space, 9190, at the Nalanda Campus working on developing source material for my thesis. I really wanted my show to be created through physical impulse and my current obsession was with boundaries of space, particularly doors. I had a playlist going in the studio, and I was literally dancing with the door and exploring the many ways that I could physically interact with this object.
At one point, I was hanging off the top of the door and swinging it open when I saw something out of the corner of my eye. It was a man, Jacques Daniel Morrow, currently a first year in the department, and he was standing outside the door staring at me.
Apparently, he was feeling quite blocked while working on a solo performance project in the studio across the hall when he heard some loud banging sounds. Thinking someone was in trouble and in need of assistance, Jacques left his rehearsal to investigate the commotion. When he caught me in the midst of my exploration, I looked at him feeling quite vulnerable and exposed. He looked back at me not as a person full of judgement, but as an inspired artist ready to play. I screamed and hid behind the door.
In my few seconds of alone time I thought to myself, "should I let him in?" Before I could answer the question, the door swung open and he entered the room. I looked at him, giggled, and ran off into the space. He followed me and without a spoken word, we began to dance together. It was so beautiful and fluid as if we had been dancing together for years. Our bodies seemed to have a unique language separate from our intellectual minds. Without hesitation, I asked him to be in my thesis performance with me and he agreed. We spent the next 6 months creating a show together while our affection for each other grew. Once the performance was completed, we began a new adventure as a couple and within months were very much in love.
Sean Carmichael, BA '10 & Nova Golonka Carmichael, BA '09, MA'12
I met Sean in Buddhist Psychology II and was immediately struck by his poise, wit, and humor. We sort of broke the rules of an "active listening" assignment and I became his listening partner (ideally we were supposed to find someone outside of class). For one hour each week I would go over to his apartment and talk about everything and nothing and he would listen... without speaking, just listen... actively.
Toward the end of the semester he revealed that he was in love with me, and we began dating. The summer following my BA graduation he proposed and the next summer, following his BA graduation, we were married. I am grateful to Naropa for many experiences, this one, of course, is particularly luminous.
Voniè (West) Stillson, BA '04
I came to Naropa in fall of 2002, as a 19 year old sophomore, from Laurel, Mississippi. I moved to Naropa on a leap of faith, having never traveled that far West, only having learned that dance/movement therapy was an actual field of practice and study in spring of the same year. It was a leap of faith that changed my life for the better. Naropa was a place where I was able to become comfortable in my own skin. To embody my own emotions and take up the space of whom I am without shame.
This has served me tirelessly as I went on to become a Board- Certified Dance/Movement Therapist and Nationally Certified Counselor. Meditation did not come easily to me, and I often fell asleep sitting up in the middle of Buddhist Psychology I's hour long sitting meditation, even with no back support. However, the older and wiser I become, the more I appreciate the things I learned in that class and from Naropa overall. Barbra Dilley and Dr. Peter Grossenbacher both had a profound effect on my academic and, as a result, my professional career, as did numerous peers who taught me so much in unexpected places in unexpected ways. Naropa gave me the gift of loving kindness for myself, which provided the grounding I needed so I could soar.
Shin Yu (Doris) Pai, MFA '98 & Markus Kortlan (Kort) Bergman, BA '98
Kort and I met at the Japanese tea house on campus. Curious about studying chanoyu, I sought out the resident tea teacher hoping to learn more. On a Wednesday morning, I approached the wooden house on stilts on the west lawn and knocked on the door. A man with a close-cut beard, a small silver hoop in each ear, and bright blue eyes slid open the door and peered out at me through the tiny doorway. I asked for the teacher and he replied, "She's not here right now." I retreated and heard the door slide shut.
It was a few months before I returned to the tea house to look for the teacher again. I knocked on the sliding door and someone different opened the portal. I asked to see the teacher. "She's not here." "When will she be back?" "I don't know. Would you like to come inside?" I removed my shoes and climbed into the tea house. Inside, the room was dimly lit, but I could see a shrine with a hanging scroll and someone moving around. Incense and the scent of tatami mats filled the room. "I'm Chip and that's my brother Kort." I turned to find myself looking at the man who had greeted me at the tea house months before. Flustered, I asked, "How do you spell that?" The spelling defied mental logic. Who named these guys?! When the tea teacher failed to materialize, I left.
Eventually, I found a tea teacher off campus in North Boulder. Tea lessons at Hiromi's house were filled with noisy children knocking over trays full of sweets and tea dogu. My classmates were elderly and edified women of means. A semester later, I returned to the Naropa tea house and found the teacher giving lessons on a Wednesday afternoon. The wife of a Jewish rabbi, Shoshana had been teaching tea at Naropa for several unsanctioned years. I became a Wednesday regular and noticed subtle differences between her style of tea and Hiromi's. At my first tea lesson, I was shown the back kitchen and directed to load the tea caddy with powdered green matcha. I regarded the skinny bamboo scoop and the lacquered container the powder was to be transferred into and began the messy task. Kort sat down inches away from me in the narrow space and offered to show me how to load the natsume. "Like a mountain," he explained, filling in and shaping the mound of tea.
Amongst the women of the tea house, I discovered that Kort, along with his friend Seth, were regarded as "tea Nazis" in their passionate adherence to proper form. Some of the tea house regulars spoke critically of Kort. So I defended him. This raised the curiosity of the teacher, who took it upon herself to visit Kort while he was waiting tables at Sushi Tora and suggest to Kort that someone in the tea house might be interested in him.
Soon after, during one of my lessons, Kort was assigned the role of first guest – the person who receives tea. I prepared the utensils as my teacher Hiromi had instructed me – careful to make the knot on the bamboo whisk point upwards. Kort observed this difference in style and interpreted it as a sign of flirtation, erotic suggestion. I did not realize this until much later. We dated throughout the summer and at the end of the Summer Writing Program, I moved to Chicago to go to art school and Kort prepared to make plans to move to Japan. We stayed in contact and reunited when he returned from a year abroad studying tea. We have been together since 2000 and married on August 6, 2005. Our friend, Jack Greene, photographed the ceremony which was officiated by Lama Karma Chodrak in an overgrown meadow in Taos Ski Valley. In 2013, we gave birth to our son, Tomo Kole Bergman, whose first name means "wisdom" and "friend."
Daniel Wolpert, MA '87 NEW!
I look back upon my 10 weeks of maitri practice at RMDC, done as part of the MA Contemplative Psychotherapy program, as some of the best weeks of my life. The beautiful setting, combined with the power of the meditation practice and the community of our class was nothing short of amazing. Everyday brought some jewel of wisdom, some flash of insight, some moment of clarity, not to mention the fruitful struggles and the joyous laughter. Even volleyball took on a miraculous quality and I will never forget the enthusiasm with which one of our classmates charged the volleyball court, only to inadvertently launch himself through the air, land with a scream on the ground, and pick himself up to join the game! As each of us took turns in the different rooms, our manifestation in the world would shift and flicker, revealing the different stunning and stunted qualities of our minds. Then, as a healing community, we learned to relate to one another and ourselves, with increased compassion and understanding. If only everyone would have such an opportunity, the world would be a much better place. For me, this experience epitomizes all that is good and valuable about contemplative education. Thanks Naropa!
Monica Nelson, BA '09 and Aaron Guman, BA '10 NEW!
Aaron and I had our first real interaction in the Student Lounge. Our Alternative Spring Break '08 group was meeting about the service work we would be doing in New Orleans. We hit it off immediately and the next day, strategically but subtly made sure to be in the same car on the drive to Louisiana. In Kansas we bonded over jokes about Toto's shocking escapades in the passing wheat fields, and kept laughing long after Kansas. Throughout the week we naturally gravitated toward each other, and on occasion found ourselves working alone. As we swept toxic dirt and moved debris, we had great conversations, and a first kiss. Nearly four years later, we are engaged, and living with Ms. Coco the cat, in Vermont--a beautiful place neither of us can imagine having gotten to without each other. Our relationship is built on humor, communication, active partnership, ethics, and a balance between individuality and relationality.
I highly recommend getting involved in groups that stand for something positive. In my experience, the odds of finding a healthy and uplifting partnership turned out to be much better in a good environment that represented attributes of my better self. I love you Aaron!
Jeff Price, MA '97
In 1994, I applied for admission to the Naropa Institute. Shortly after sending in my application I got a call from Admissions. Among other things, I was offered an introductory video tape explaining a few basics about Naropa. I eagerly accepted her offer. I played the twelve-minute tape over and over. I fell in love with the school and knew this was the place for me.
After graduating in 1997 I was hired as Naropa's first coordinator of alumni affairs. Part of my job was to network with staff, faculty, and students. This was when I crossed paths with the administrative director of religious studies, Janet Solyntjes, and was, to say the least, infatuated, captivated...downright smitten.
We married in 2002.
At some point I told her of this journey and of the videotape. She told me she was on that video; not once, but twice! What?! I quickly found it and put it on. There she was. Teaching. In two places. Unbelievable! In 1994, sitting in my home in New York, I was watching my future wife!
Whitney Harrell, BA '09
I met Jessee in the fall of '07 in the smoking area. The poppies were blooming, and Jessee was the most attractive of tattooed folk at Naropa at the time. He said he had been planning for weeks to talk to me, and as I was showing off a new tattoo to a friend, he slipped in to say hello. I quickly discovered that Jesseee was a wonderful tattoo artist. I asked him to apprentice me. After about 6 months of "professional" interaction, it became too clear that we were interested in more than a business relationship. We have been together for three years now, tattooing, studying, and livin' the dream. We just found out that we will be expecting a baby in August. Thank you Naropa for your many gifts. You will be happy to know, that after the stress of college, with my newfound love and bun, I have quit smoking!
Brian Jacobs, MFA '96
I have always said, there is no place in the world besides Naropa that writers can be writers amongst lovers of writers. Also, Naropa offered me two opportunities of a lifetime. One was being ALLEN GINSBERG's assistant and the other was allowing to to walk around the world for peace and write about it!
On August 2, 2008, I married my husband Michael after having met three years prior. Michael is from Malaysia. Our wedding celebration was the most glorious event of our lives! Over 120 of our friends and family came to encircle us with their love and blessings for a fruitful life together, full of love, intimacy and caring. We decided to get married because we love one another and we share the same values and goals. I also married Michael because he is my hero, having come to the United States just three and a half short years ago to pursue his dreams of becoming a nurse. Now he IS a Registered Nurse. How brave you must be to leave everything you know behind!
Adam Perry, BA '09
I left my life as a rock drummer and preschool teacher in San Francisco early in 2008 to finally finish my education, and Naropa was a great choice for many reasons. None better than meeting the love of my life my first day on campus, which was also my first day ever in Colorado.
When I picked up my student ID that first afternoon at Naropa, someone mentioned that the school rents bikes for free. In the midst of picking out a bike in the snow, a young former professional ballerina named Irene who was then studying psychology and yoga at Naropa introduced herself to me and I could feel sparks even then. Alas, she was also in my first class at Naropa and we became close friends immediately.
Irene and I initially connected by writing and performing songs together and hiking at Chautauqua. Three years later, we are living in Maine with our beautiful one-year-old daughter, Sidney, and loving each other and the world around us while striving to survive in a rough economy.
Rebecca Foglietti, MA '95
I met my husband at Naropa in 1986 during a weekend Dance Therapy conference. We were "partners" for an exercise during which we moved through all of life's stages, including marriage, childbirth, and death. We were always together after that. We married in 1990 and now have three sons. I am fully enjoying "living" the rest of the story!
Travis Macdonald, MFA '07
I met the love of my life while studying Poetry at Naropa. In my final thesis semester, while living in Denver, I was working on the layout and interior design of Bombay Gin. Unbeknownst to me, she was working in the Writing & Poetics Department and designing the cover of the magazine at the same time. Somehow, we managed to miss each other at every single production meeting. In fact, it wasn't until the release party in mid-December that we finally managed to meet. I offered her my chair and we talked all night. We've spent nearly every wonderful day together since. Three years and three cities later, we wake up next to one another every single morning and run our very own small-but-successful literary press. Thank you Naropa!
Marvin Naiman & Margery Goldman, Trustee
Margery Goldman accepted an honorary degree from Naropa for her beloved husband Marvin Naiman at Naropa Graduation 2005. Margery now serves on Naropa's Board of Trustees and administers an endowed scholarship established in Marvin's name.
Naropa University has never known anyone like Marvin Naiman. Serving as a member of the board of trustees from 2002 until his death following heart surgery in the spring of 2005, Marvin brought to the board unique talents that he shared generously as well as an undying love for Naropa's mission and its students. Marvin was a self-made man who never graduated from college. His early passion was real estate, where his genius was recognized across the country, as he served on numerous task forces, lectured, wrote and taught broadly.
But Marvin's abiding passion over the past thirty years was the exploration of his inner life, of deepening his self-knowledge. He delighted in sharing with family and friends his own enthusiasm for spiritual teachers. Marvin's own urge to grow was unflagging. It is no surprise that it was during these years that he and Naropa came to know and love each other.
As part of his own never-ending process of growth, Marvin had recently resumed his academic studies at Naropa with the goal of completing his undergraduate degree. He knew and appreciated Naropa's inner spirit as well as anyone, in part, because it coincided so closely with his own spirit—a spirit transparently evident in his warm, broad smile. In appreciation of that spirit, of his extraordinary generosity to so many and for his modeling of the qualities that we wish for in our staff, faculty, students and alumni, Naropa University humbly offered to Marvin Naiman an honorary degree, the degree of Bachelor of Arts honoris causa, that was received by his widow, Margery Goldman, at graduation on May 7, 2005.
Lisa Trank-Greene, MFA '99 and Jack Greene, MFA '99
Jack and I got married the week between the end of the spring semester and Summer Writing Program in 1996—we'd been together for 11 years and were finally making it legal. We got married on Flagstaff with Anne Waldman and other SWP and Naropa notable folks in attendance, as well as our beloved friends and family. We partied after at Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art. Our invitation was printed by Brad Hall at the Harry Smith Print Shop; our wedding was catered by Lenny Martinelli and Bob Sargent of Naropa Café, and our cake was baked by a Naropa student.
Seth Braun, BA '03
August 2002—AnaVictoria and I worked in the InterArts office, back when it was in the South side of Sycamore Hall. Her daughter Paloma came and sat on my lap the first time we met (in the middle of a "Listening meditation" during orientation). AnaVictoria had a crush on me. No really, she is the one that had a crush on me! Seriously!
Anyway, we got married, had a baby and became a family of four, right before AnaVictoria graduated. We got divorced about a year and a half later. Talk about awful. Pain and hurt. Big time. But, as a totally unexpected miracle, we found ourselves getting remarried two years later, in the Summer of 2009. Now here we are, two InterArts graduates. With our artist kids. Because of their early infusion of campus arts, they love to dance and act. We couldn't have done the impossible without support from our communities and without our faith. And bythat, I mean our Christian faith, but it could be faith in Basic Goodness, or faith in the tradition, the lineage or nature. And that knowing that with faith and with community, anything is possible, has been a sweet gift. We have learned a little bit about what it means to really love—to make the other person more important.
Chaz Mortimer, BA '06 & Soraya Sayani, BA '06
I believe Soraya was working on a paper about "synchronicity" at the time. We had both just started during the winter term of 2004 and Soraya's roommate had invited me over to hang out. I knocked on the door, Soraya answered and told me the roommate had just left with some friends. Over the next couple of weeks, this happened two more times! The third time it happened, Soraya and I chatted for a minute...neither of us had anything pressing so we decided to go catch a movie. Naturally, we were hungry afterwards, and over sushi we discussed the tumultuous paths that had brought us to Naropa and how everything seemed to be "lining up"...the bill came, and as I reached for my back pocket, there was no wallet! Soraya covered the meal so I was obliged to get the next one. This went back and forth for a while and as they say, "the rest is history." We were married last summer in Portland, OR, and Vancouver, BC. The seeds for our life's journey together were truly planted at Naropa.
Arron Mansika, MA '04
A letter from Naropa was delivered to my mailbox in April 2009. Above the return address, in handwritten ink, was the name Melissa Holland. She had cut out and mailed me an article from a local magazine which had done a story on me and the company I started, Boulder's Best Organics. She had moved to Boulder just four months ago to work as Naropa's Alumni Relations Officer, and she aimed to meet as many alumni as she could. She congratulated me on my accomplishments and asked when we could meet.
At the time, I was preparing to sell the company and could focus only on the career move immediately in front of me. Sure, I said, I'd be happy to have a meeting with you—how about in June?, I asked.
In early June, I received an email from Melissa asking about the business and checking in about possibly, finally, having that meeting. Having successfully sold majority of thecompany, and now with an air of tremendous relief and calmness, I suggested we meet at Boulder's Dushanbe Tea House. That's the meeting which turned into our first date.
I arrived a few minutes early, and Melissa was already sitting in the sun by the front door. Making eye contact, we figured out we were there to meet each other. Over lunch, we talked about her new town, the unique university we had in common, and how we both ended up part of Naropa's community. Gradually, the conversation shifted. Where'd you grow up? What do you like to do?
Parting, she asked if I'd speak on an alumni panel to answer the questions of new students. Agreeing, of course, I knew I'd see her again. "I need to get you some paperwork about that event," she claimed. "When can we meet again?" I was curious—but only for a moment—why the papers couldn't simply be emailed to me. I suggested we meet about "the paperwork" the following Friday... at 4 p.m.! Our second encounter was now all set.
Friday's "meeting" led to Sunday's hike, which led to Wednesday's movie at Red Rocks Park.
We've been together ever since.
Helena Unger, MA '83 and Bob Unger
Bob and I met at Shambhala Mountain Center in 1982 during Maitri. He was on the SMC staff, and I was there for the Maitri program. It was love at first sight and we have now been married for 27 years. My Naropa love story is that the university and its faculty helped me to trust my heart and my mind by talking about and modeling basic goodness.
For these two reasons, I will always owe Naropa University a deep debt of gratitude.
Donna J. Karaba, MA '05
I LOVE Naropa. Naropa spoke to my soul first via its well written catalog and then inspired me through its enriching classes. Naropa helped me transform my life. Just prior to attending, I left the security of the corporate world to follow my entrepreneurial heart and open my own professional coaching business. The meditation portion of the graduate program interested me because I felt it would help me increase my intuition and thus help me be a better coach. The meditation experience exceeded expectations. It was amazing. Naropa helped solidify the next phase of my career by allowing me a safe and nurturing place to search my heart and soul for my true calling. The service project inspired me in my work with leaders and caused me to act on another passion which was to teach meditation. I began teaching yoga and some seated meditation at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.
I also focused my business direction during my second year's research and writing period. Not long after graduating I began enjoying a thriving business doing meaningful and joyful work - the things I had longed to experience in my career for over two decades. I learned how working in service to others brings oneself great joy.
Naropa's faculty was outstanding, caring, and honoring of the soul. I was encouraged to speak from the heart and listen from a deep place not only to others, but also to myself. The sharing among students and faculty created a safe space for soul exploration. My meditation practice began at Naropa and was truly transformational in that it deepened my sense of connection in the world and inspired me to follow my interests. For example, when I heard about the Visionfast in the Wyoming desert, I leaped at the opportunity, where previously it would have felt too self indulgent to actually do. I learned how to take better care of myself by listening and answering these callings. I learned to trust the universe during this time. I also gained insight into leaders working in the business world who have the Naropa heart and mindset of compassion. The authentic leadership program solidified my plan to specialize in authentic leadership in the workplace and become an executive coach. I am grateful to have witnessed and experienced Naropa's authentic leadership in action. This experience gave me the courage to lead others in a similar fashion from the heart.
Supporting business leader's professional growth in this way would never be possible had I not experienced so many wonderful things at Naropa. I have lead workshops using the council format in the most unlikely environments and received wonderful responses. I have also sat on a park bench in downtown Cincinnati guiding an executive client in a seated meditation. My clients have certainly benefited from my Naropa experience. It is an honor to share what I have learned from Naropa with others. I hold a kind and compassionate Naropa torch while I do my work in the business world and am excited to continue down this path wherever it may lead.
Thank you Naropa University. I love you and will remain forever grateful for the graduate experience in Transpersonal Psychology!
Jonathan Kirkendall, MA'93 and Scott Perkins, MA '93
It was February, 1992, and I was in my first year of the MA Contemplative Psych program at Naropa, which at that time was at the main campus. I came in through the back parking lot and was on my way to class when I ran into Scott Perkins (MA Buddhist Studies, 1993) outside the Naropa Café. Scott and I had met in fall 1991 right after I arrived in Boulder, and we knew each other, but not well. What I did know about Scott was that he didn't play on my team.
It was a bright, sunny day, and Scott just had a long sleeve shirt on, unbuttoned, and under it a white t shirt with large black letters which read "Nobody Knows I'm Gay." I rolled my eyes. "Oh man—I hate it when straight people wear that shirt," I told him. Suddenly, Scott looked at me very intently, with a puzzled look on his face. "What?" he asked.
And then it dawned on me: Scott Perkins, the cool, Buddhist Studies admin assistant, the cutest time keeper ever for the 8 a.m. sit, was gay. Like me. Embarrassed, I grabbed my book bag, swallowed hard, muttered something, and fled.
On my way up the stairs once inside the building, I ran into a woman who was a friend of Scott's. She stopped me and said, "Jonathan—I have to talk to you about a friend of mine. He's trying to come out, but nobody actually believes he's gay. It's Scott Perkins—do you know him?"
Later that day I gathered my courage and made a point of stopping by the Buddhist Studies office and invited Scott to the GLBT (no "Q" or "I" in those days) potluck that was happening the next week. He accepted and seemed very appreciative of the invitation. When I arrived at the potluck, Scott was already there—with a woman. In matching t-shirts. Now, I was really confused (later I met her—it was Alyson, his last girlfriend and the first person he came out to. Gratefully, Alyson remains an important part of our lives to this day).
Then came my ten-week Maitri program up at SMC, and I was gone, exploring my mind and the five Buddha families. When I returned, it was late spring. Naropa was out for the summer. The MACP students had internships to find, and so I was back and forth to the campus. On one of those days, I again ran into Scott. He suggested that we get together for lunch. Again, I swallowed hard, and fled without making any plans.
One day in August, before the school year began, I managed to rouse my confidence enough to call Scott and make a lunch date. We met at the restaurant. I was coming down with a summer cold and felt a little miserable. After lunch, we walked back to Naropa. I told Scott that with the cold and the new internship and classes starting I needed to hire someone to take care of me. He doesn't remember this, but he simply turned to me and said, "I'd take care of you."
And he has, for 18 years. Turns out, he does play on my team.
Tim Hernandez, BA '07
I wanted to attend Naropa because of its unique approach to higher education, and I wanted this to inform the things I write and how I write them. I've always felt that through my writing I could engage the world in new discussions, new ways of thinking and being. At Naropa, I learned that to achieve this, I would have to turn my eyes and pen inward first, investigate my internal landscape honestly, before I could even begin to write about the outside world. Like all encounters with "love," what I found out about myself was not entirely idyllic. But this is where the "real" relationship with myself began. From here, I learned that the changes I would encounter would inform far more than simply my writing. I became a father, husband, son, man walking with some intention, a lightness, a fluidity. Too, Naropa provided me a community of like-minded people, thinkers, and artists, and this is where I found perhaps two of the deepest friendships I've ever had in my entire life of friendships.
Rebecca Noon, MFA '08 and Jed (William) Hancock-Brainerd, MFA '08
Jed and I met in London in 2006. We were both in the MFA program through Naropa/LISPA and both from the US (he from the East Coast and I from the West). We met at the first MFA meeting, before classes had started. He had on pink nail polish and was very quiet and gentle. I assumed he was gay, like most men in theatre. He later told me he thought I was real tough.
Over time not only did I discover he dated women, but I found him to be an amazing theatrical collaborator and also an all-around fascinating person. I would seek him out at parties just to hear all the crazy stories he had to tell.
Eventually we started dating, we moved in together in the second year, we traveled around Europe on breaks, and upon graduation we took shows to Cairo, San Francisco, and Philadelphia. We created a theatre company and last August got married in New Mexico. Our love grows simultaneously as life and artistic partners. Without Naropa I would not know my best friend and true North.
Jipala Reicher-Kagan, BA '99
My husband and I met in the alley way directly before a Tibetan medicine class, that is what I recall. He remembers meeting me on the library steps. Regardless, we met at Naropa. We have been together for 13 years, married for eight. We have two incredible boys, a black dog and a cat that was born in Boulder. If someone were to accurately describe to me how difficult it would be to stay with someone for so long or how challenging it is to raise children, I would never have signed up. But if someone were to tell me how amazing my children would be or how profound the connection between my partner and I could be. And how much these relationships would teach me and force me to grow...then I would sign up. Trungpa talked about how life resembles the process of getting worn down, like a polished stone. The process of polishing is painful but the stone is beautiful and unique. I would like to remember this always, embed it in my bones and have it regenerate every seventh year.
Cassie Bull (aka Janice Beard), MA '88
It was the summer of 1985. I was a dancer, a baker, a teacher, a wild woman in search of essence filled experiences that would change the world when I heard of Naropa. I was teaching dance in Boulder and over time began to observe that my students didn't come to learn the technique of dance in my classes but to somehow engage the wisdom of their moving bodies for healing. Watching the experience of movement engaging a deeper sense of well being in my students I became curious about the possibility of explicitly using movement as a healing modality. I had heard of Dance Movement Therapy but not Naropa, not yet. I researched schools and applied to UCLA to continue my graduate education in Dance Movement Therapy. I was accepted into the program and then began to question moving to Southern California. While I was rehearsing a dance (and questioning) one afternoon in early August, someone said to me, "What about Naropa? It is right here in Boulder." My world changed in that moment!
That day I walked the few blocks between the studio and Naropa, picked up an application for the graduate program in Dance Movement Therapy, applied, was accepted, and began the journey of a lifetime. An educational journey that was profound, extraordinary, life-changing, revolutionary, exciting, challenging, rigorous, individualized and grounded in experience! I was ecstatic! This was the education that I had been searching for my whole life—an education that was grounded in the body and committed to letting experience be the teacher!
I had remarkable teachers—Katie Hendricks, Christine Caldwell, Susan Aposhyan, Tara Steppenberg, Bernie Marek, Irini Rockwell—all devoted to the moving body as the primary vehicle for experiencing health and healing. Each of them led with curiosity and an invitation to let each moment be a whole body experience. Each was committed to balancing the development of the emotional body with the physical body with the mental body with the intuitive/spiritual body. Each of them, truly and deeply, believed in experience being the teacher and so created abundant opportunities for me to experience the theoretical framework of dance movement therapy in action. It was exciting! It was everything in each moment. It was creativity with every breath and it was all grounded in practice which served to begin the process of harnessing the amazing amount of energy that raced through my system and bring it into a form that was of service to living a life infused with health, vitality and creativity—inme and in others.
My education at Naropa laid down the template for what I would continue to be passionate about my whole life and which has become my work in every way—embodied, experiential education as the pathway to personal and global transformation. The crazy wisdom at the heart of Naropa's inception infused my education in extraordinary ways. It has become the foundation of all the work I do and cultivated an unswerving, passionate dedication to embodied, experiential education that continues to infuse all my work as a teacher, artist, parent and cultivator of whole human beings!
Lifetimes of Loving 'My Man'
I was living in New York, working in a psychiatric hospital, dancing with a company, baking in the early mornings and developing my private practice when two events collided that catapulted me into the next stage of my life. I became pregnant and received a job offer from Naropa. I said yes to both and in August of 1991 I packed my little blue Honda Civic with all my possessions, climbed in through the car window and began driving to Colorado—pregnant, alone and excited!
Arriving in Boulder I began teaching in the Dance Movement Therapy program, was deeply involved in supporting the administration of the program and nested into becoming a single mother within a remarkable environment of support and loving hands. I didn't have much time for romance nor much of a desire for it though there would be times when my eye would be caught by a beautiful and energetic man running up and down the stairs outside of my office or bounding about campus with a surplus of energy. Sam Bull, International Student Advisor. We met maybe once or twice and I appreciated his intelligence and positive energy but I was too busy and too pregnant to flirt. I noticed him just out of the corner of my eyes as I prepared classes to teach and my home to receive my newborn and me.
March 16, 1992 Maia Grace Beard was born and she and I took some time to revel in each other and learn the language of this new life. With the birth of Maia came a burst of support for me from the universe in the form of my mom, my best friends and family visits from far away. During one of these visits my aunts asked if I would take them on a tour of Naropa . I bundled up Maia and, with my two aunts, walked the few blocks to Naropa. As we were standing in the parking lot Sam Bull bounded up to my side and asked, "How is it?" I said something along the lines of, "It's hard." And he bounded away. I couldn't even remember his name to introduce him to my aunts but as he left one of my aunts, Mary Alice, turned to me and asked, "Who was that?" I responded, "That's my man." She replied, "Now remember what your mother always said…friends first." I laughed, feeling that a frog had just jumped out of my mouth surprising us all as I had no inclination, energy or even imagination at that juncture to think of anyone as 'my man'.
June arrived along with my responsibilities as program coordinator for the Summer Somatic Intensives. Phil called and requested my presence at the opening ceremony. I tried to gracefully decline, pleading exhaustion, milk brain, new baby etc. but he insisted and so on June 27, 1992 Maia, snuggled up close to me, and I walked to Naropa. I don't remember much of the festivities as Maia screamed for most of it but I do remember a moment that felt lifted out of a fairy tale. I was standing in the middle of the Performing Arts Center with people milling about me. My eyes were closed and I was rocking Maia when I felt this presence near me, rocking with me, keeping me company. I opened my eyes and there was Sam Bull simply keeping me company, casting a pool of light peace around me as I rocked Maia. I fell in love in the space of a heartbeat. When next I opened my eyes he was gone. As I left the festivities to go home I saw him in a massage line laughing and joking with those around him and I mentally kicked myself for letting my heart fall so quickly for someone I didn't even know.
Home again. I put Maia to bed and was just crawling into bed myself when the phone rang. Sam Bull asking if it was too late him to be calling a new mom… and could he come for a visit? I remember looking down at myself in my underwear and saying. "I just need to throw on a pair of pants and I will meet you on my front porch."
And so began a lifelong conversation that continues to this day. Sam and I were married on August 14, 1996 with the sun rising on the continental divide, surrounded by a circle of witnesses that continue to hold us through the many layers and challenges of living together, parenting together, working together, growing together, dreaming together, creating together…and the love abides with astonishing richness and passion, creativity and discovery. The gratitude I feel is boundless and only deepens with time. Hallelujah!
Sam and I co-direct LEAPNOW: Transforming Education. Full-year and semester-long learning adventures bringing together international travel, academic credit and mentored exploration of the whole human being for students between the ages of 17 and 25. Our campus sits on ten acres in Northern California, 2 hours north of San Francisco. Naropa ignited quite a fire in both of us and we continue to fan the embers, furthering our vision of embodied, experiential education.
Charlene Kane, MDiv '04
Reb Zalman always wore a hat, and fiddled with little pouches containing his hearing aid, and who knows what else. At times it appeared he was dozing off. But if a student stopped talking, he'd quickly look up, gaze out with the eyes of a hawk, and ask, "So, is that all you have? More, please. Off the page. Just tell us what you've learned in your research." During one break we were standing in line at the cafe. He looked at me a long time, then said, "Nice hat." I looked at him and replied, "Yours, too." Then we smiled. All of the universe advanced through his eyes which twinkled and softened in a full body smile. I had the strangest urge to say, "I love you, Reb," But I kept quiet. In that silence, Reb Zalman taught me everything he knew about living a spiritual life. (Much like the Zen master Dogen, who taught: Empty yourself of self, and all dharmas will advance.) Love and best wishes to Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi.
Diane Metzger, MA '80
The education I received at Naropa University was beyond any expectation of excellence in every way. I am forever grateful to Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche, for his amazing foresight and courage in introducing Naropa to the students of that time and for future generations of students; and also to the excellent teachers and students there. Because of Naropa's unique approach, I feel my training all those years ago continues to be a source of learning and inspiration.
Rosa Fernandez-Fraser, MA '05
I love Naropa for waking me up to the joy of each moment and to who I am with honesty, gentleness and humor.
The contemplative practices I have learned and experienced at Naropa have encouraged deep inner work that has brought about a self-transformation that allows me to discover ways of better understanding myself and how I relate to others. As an educator, these practices help me to understand my students better so I can help them understand who they are and discover what they can be, to unfold their full individual potential.
Naropa has inspired me to find ways to practice compassionate teaching. One of such ways is through a daily mindfulness practice I have been doing in my high school foreign language classroom for the past 7 years. At the beginning of each class I stand with a gong (Tibetan singing bowl) in my hands, facing the class and gathering my presence while I wait for students to notice that it is our quiet time. When everyone is ready I sound the gong. Students are encouraged to notice their breathing as they enjoy the sound. It is an opportunity to center ourselves and quiet our minds. It is a transformative practice which fosters deep listening, encourages honest communication and creates an atmosphere of trust, respect and joy in the classroom.
Naropa's contemplative approach has increased my awareness and capacity to slow down and be present with whatever situation I encounter. It has helped me to see life's challenges as opportunities for learning and growth. I have learned to listen more deeply and openly, to make friends with myself, and to respect who and where I am. I am grateful for the opportunities Naropa has given me to look at my fears and pain, and to get in touch with my confidence and joy.
I appreciate how Naropa combines academic rigor with compassionate teaching, providing the unique opportunity to transform knowledge into wisdom through service oriented action.
Angela and Mike Madura, MA '10
I met my wife at Naropa University. We did not know it at the time, but we both knew something was "right" about each other. It was a year and a half ago; I had migrated from Mystic, Connecticut, to Boulder to take a job at Naropa University. I had gone back to school at 32 years old to explore something I was very passionate about, and Naropa was the only place that fit exactly what I was looking for. I was finishing a master's degree in Ecopsychology when, coincidentally, Naropa was hiring for a position that I had a lot of experience with; I applied, interviewed, got the job, and moved!
Angela had also decided she needed a life change—she was living in Eugene, Oregon, she was working at a theater company and wanted to expand her horizons into a new career and to a new geographic location. Angela landed in Colorado just a couple months before I did, and we both started working at Naropa in the same week.
It was several months before we truly turned our heads and noticed each other. We started dating and learned that we were only two months apart in age and had both done a lot of personal work in our lives before making the decision to change everything and move to CO. In a sense, we had both been preparing to meet the one person who could truly understand us, the one person who would love us unconditionally. Over time, we understood that we wanted the same things out of life—we wanted a family, we wanted to build our own house, work with our hands, and above all have fun! Here is an excerpt from our wedding vows. This is what we both told one another right before we put the rings on each other's hand:
"I cannot take the chance that you don't know how much it means to me, you carrying my hopes like precious cargo and traveling with me to dreams come true, so I will tell you again and again, as if it were the first time, it is an honor, it is a privilege, it is a joy, to share with you the path."