Naropa Magazine Spring 2014
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Dee Coulter and Original Mind book cover
Photo of Dee Coulter: Crystal Schiedies. The book jacket: Sounds True.

Original Mind: Uncovering Your Natural Brilliance

A book review by Robert Spellman, associate professor in visual arts, religious studies, and contemporary performance

The publication of Dee Coulter's new book, Original Mind: Uncovering Your Natural Brilliance (Sounds True, 2014), is a welcome event in the burgeoning field of neuroscience. Drawn from numerous and diverse tributaries of human wisdom, the book is a masterly weave of cognitive science, indigenous wisdom, art, and practical ethics. Without directly intending to, it is also a deeply informed affirmation of Naropa University's mission, an approach to education that embraces each person with clarity and attention.

As many readers may know, Dee Coulter was on the Naropa University faculty for twenty years. I first encountered her in the mid-1990s when she gave a presentation to faculty about recognizing the traits of students struggling with what are commonly called "learning disabilities." She said, "These students have different ways of processing information, and this difference need not—should not—be regarded as a 'disability.'" Her compassionate and practical advice in this area remains among the most helpful to me as a teacher. Dee pointed out that one of the more common indicators of a student with "processing difficulties," as she preferred to call them, was that they would provoke irritation, in their teachers and in their classmates: they always seem out of step. Understanding the roots of this—especially for teachers—can open unexpected pathways of kindness and skill; this benefits all parties, and in the case of many students, can be life-changing. There is a parallel with this kind of engagement and a central feature of Naropa's founding lineage: direct embrace of the chaotic. This easily misunderstood idea is in fact at the heart of what Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche called warriorship: kindness that is both inquisitive and brave.

The twentieth century humanist psychologist Carl Rogers is credited with the eloquent term "unconditional positive regard" for others. Originally meant as advice for therapists and their clients, the attitude can easily be extended to human relations in all their variety. Some years ago Dee Coulter gave the faculty address at Naropa's graduation ceremony. She exhorted her listeners to go beyond conventional modes of ethical behavior and discover the ability to bless—an untapped power everyone possesses. The idea could have sounded grandiose, but delivered with the plainspoken simplicity that marks Dee's teaching, her comments were, and still are, a powerfully felt instruction: blessing, benediction, a psychically active result of positive regard. Original Mind is infused throughout with this quality of intelligent kindness. Dee Coulter describes the complexities of the cognitive sciences in clear language and her gatherings from a wide swath of wisdom traditions always ring with the same luminous humanity. This book is a highly readable compendium of Dee's richness; it reminds me of how fortunate we were to have her on our faculty so long.

Check out her Sounds True author page. Dee will present "Uncovering Your Natural Brilliance" at Naropa University on Tuesday, April 29, from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. in Sycamore 8150.