As you are aware, the world in which we find ourselves seems to have changed. With the election of Donald Trump, many people feel as if the United States is a different place. For some, this country has become shockingly unfamiliar and for others, the forces of systemic oppression have just become more explicit and acceptable. And for still others, they finally feel as if they have a leader who has included them, who has seen and heard and felt their sense of loss and frustration. Regardless of which group you believe yourself to be a part of, perhaps we can all agree that we have been awakened from a Dream. For some folks this dream was the dream of an “America” that had made progress in being released from the grasp of various systems of oppression, for some the dream was of a country that served as a refuge for folks looking for freedom, and some folks are now feeling as if their dream of taking their rightful seat at the table of economic prosperity is about to be fulfilled. Regardless of which dream you were having, we have been awakened however gradually or suddenly to the sense of a palpable and deep divide between us and our neighbors, family members, and our fellow planetary inhabitants. With this, many of us are experiencing a profound sense of grief, confusion, fear, anger and unfathomable uncertainty.
These shifting dynamics are central to the work of the Office for Inclusive Community as they are not just happening “out there,” but they are a part of the landscape of Naropa University, and a part of the landscape within each of us.
To say that Naropa University can provide an antidote to the threat of the growing dividedness that we now face is only true if we can engage in collective self-inquiry, interpersonal engagement, and skillful social action.
I have been delightfully involved in discussions with our current Lenz Fellow, Jennifer Woodhull, who is visiting us from the University of Capetown. One of the quotations from Rev. angel Kyodo williams’ Radical Dharma that we have been returning to again and again is from Bruce Lee, that “Under Duress, we do not rise to our expectations but fall to our level of training” (xvi). Ostensibly, Naropa University is a training ground for cultural transformation. It is here, if anywhere, that we should be preparing warriors to transform the illusory divides that perpetuate systemic oppression into collective forces of change and liberation. This is necessarily rooted in what Rev. Kyodo Williams describes as “a visceral understand[ing] that we’re all in the same boat.” So how do we do that? This is the question our office takes up on a daily basis and that guides our efforts.
Firstly, and this is the work that I am collaborating with Jennifer on, we have to begin to examine the paradigms that perpetuate an “us vs them” mentality and to live in the question of how to create a truly beloved community that doesn’t demonize or exclude anyone. If the absolute truth is that we are interconnected, what systems are in place, not just “out there,” but at Naropa University, that seduce us into a perpetual forgetting of that truth? How do we continue to support our community members in embracing their authenticity while also dismantling the paradigm of individualistic materialism? How do we create systems and spaces that foster radical inclusion and connectedness without bypassing difference and conflict? How are we working with power and its distribution? Are we actually walking our talk in how we work with power here at home and how we want to see power worked with in our larger social and political systems?
Secondly, how are we training ourselves in fearlessness? What practices are in place that train us in surrendering the illusory safety embedded in silence? To risk making contact with those we label “other,” and to demand inclusive spaces even for those who are not yet present? How are we training in the fearlessness required to speak to powers that feel greater than we feel? For as Audre Lorde said, “the machine will try to grind you into dust anyway, whether or not we speak. We can sit in our corner mute forever while our sisters and our selves are wasted, while our children are distorted and destroyed, while our earth is poisoned; we can sit in our safe corners mute as bottles, and we will still be no less afraid.” So we must train in transforming our silence into language and action.
In conversations with Jennifer Woodhull, we often come back to the idea that the possibilities inherent in these questions can be met with contemplative practice which trains us in clear-seeing, in facing suffering, in fearlessness, in realizing our interconnectedness, in compassion, and many of the other skills we are needing in this time of global social-spiritual crisis. And so the work of Naropa University, as I see it, is to bridge the gap between what we train in and what is needed, between what we say we do and what we actually do. And that is partly the work of the Office for Inclusive Community.
Highlights of our Ongoing Efforts