Naropa’s Mindful U podcast explores mindfulness from a variety of perspectives—both in higher education and the world at large. Hosted by Naropa alumnus and Multimedia Manager David DeVine (BA Interdisciplinary Studies, ‘12), episodes feature Naropa faculty, alumni, and special guests on a wide variety of topics including compassion, permaculture, social justice, herbal healing, and green architecture—to name a few. Subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, or Spotify to explore the transformative possibilities of mindfulness, both in the classroom and beyond! Here are some excerpts from popular podcast episodes:
DAVID: What was your experience like when you got to Naropa? How has the contemplative model shaped your ability to use psychotherapy in your life now?
LAUREN: Naropa taught me to question everything. There were so many ideas and theories and
models that I came into Naropa with. When we sat in that circle in those classrooms,
we deconstructed it. We started from base experience.
Here we were in a psychopathology class, and I am thinking, “Oh, we’re going to get into all the diagnosis and all the disorders.” But day one, the question was, “What is mental health?” If we’re going to define pathology, we first have to say what we are moving people towards. I remember my professor brought in a plant that was wilting and looked like it was dying. He said, “Now looking at this plant, what can you tell me about it?” And everybody started answering things like, “Maybe it’s not getting enough water,” or, “It’s not getting enough sunlight.”
DAVID: Yeah. Things like nutrients in the soil; the pot is too small.
LAUREN: Yeah. After we all gave these types of answers, our professor reflected to us one of the things he noticed was that nobody said, “It’s a bad plant.”
Nobody said it was broken. Everybody believed on some level that if this plant were provided the right environment or nutrients, the right caregivers, that it would be fine. Nobody doubted its basic ‘plantness.’ And, that lesson right there—if we want to talk about the quintessential Naropa experience, it was that moment.
What I was offered in the contemplative program was basic goodness and brilliant sanity. And when I say brilliant sanity—what’s so cool about Buddhist psychology is we orient from a perspective of nothing is wrong with you. The Suzuki Roshi quote, “Each of you is perfect the way you are ... and you can use a little improvement,” that’s my entire therapeutic approach, and that’s what I gained through the program. I learned that I don’t have to doubt your inherent dignity, wisdom, and autonomy. It’s there. So, when I sit with somebody, I am not doing any healing. All I’m reflecting is what’s already there, so that they can see it. The healing is already in them. There is a natural healing intelligence that moves through each one of us, and you can access it at any time if you choose.
DAVID: How has your idea of love changed since you started the dharma?
LAMA ROD OWENS: Before dharma, I had no idea what love was. I couldn’t even define it. So when I came into dharma and got this definition of love being the wish for others to be happy, that was actually quite radical for me. It gave me a starting point, and I began to understand that I don’t have to like you to love you. I don’t have to like you to want you to be free and happy. And love takes us into really depressing places. It’s not the thing that we do to feel good. It’s this thing that we do to get free and to free others. And we do this by decentering ego and wanting people to be their best selves and to be directly in tune with their basic goodness.
DAVID: Yeah, it sounds like unconditional stuff right there. Very cool. I am seeing a narrative kind of come out around honoring the things you are feeling in the moment. Are there mechanisms or tools that you use to help you regulate that?
LAMA ROD OWENS: It was basic practices of mindfulness and awareness and putting those into conversation in order to have a sense of what is happening. In the moment, it is about how to move through experiencing things that are coming up. That is basic dharma—just being aware. And my personal liberatory practice is actually stating and acknowledging, “This is where I am at in my body.” When you are able to do that as a teacher—as a facilitator or a meditation instructor—you’re actually giving people a really profound strategy to be free and open where they are.
DAVID: I feel like that is what people want when they come to dharma—strategies to be free. And you’re like, “Here you go. Here are some tools.”
LAMA ROD OWENS: And it’s not what you think it is. It is actually way less sexy, way less glamorous. Dharma isn’t sexy or glamorous for me. It’s just work. It’s discipline and work, and I do it because the fruit is this spaciousness. This openness. Where I can just be with my life. I am not interested in trying to avoid everything and am instead interested in moving into direct relationship with everything that comes up for me because it’s mine. And that’s where the liberation actually happens. Over the years of practice, you realize you’ve become a different person. You begin to trust yourself more because you’re always in tune with your experiences coming up, and that is what I love. It just becomes very ordinary.
DAVID: Thank you so much for joining us. I’m really excited to hear about your topic—you’re going to be speaking on the science and practice of compassion. So without any further ado—go for it.
JUDITH: In my course, we study the science of compassion. We look at both the social science and neuroscience of violence and also of compassion and kindness. We also are looking at compassion training and what it takes to cultivate this fundamental kindness that human beings possess. We work with identifying the fundamental tenderness at the heart of who we are and then work on cultivating that toward ourselves and others.
Along with this, we really look at our own experience and see what’s challenging or difficult. Some of the contemporary sources on Buddhism say that we are born with a certain capacity for kindness. Then, we have rough things happen in our life, and we develop reactions and defenses based on the things that happen to us—but the Buddhist training is all about the cultivation of character. Character is not what you’re born with, and it’s not what happens to you. It’s about what you do with that. And so, Buddhist meditation has at the core of it a sense of empowerment that we can actually shape who we are. We cannot change our genes. We cannot change our previous life experiences, but we can change our reaction to life experiences. We can change our reaction to our genetic heritage, and what we do with that makes us very deep human beings. The spiritual journey is all about what you make of what you’ve got. And so, beginning to distinguish between genetic heritage—what has happened to us in the past—and what we can do about it is the core of contemplative training.
This is really the core of what we do in this class. We do a lot of experiential stuff. Just two days ago, I asked my students to take a moment to think over the last twenty-four hours and identify a moment when someone was kind to them. Maybe they didn’t notice it at the time. Maybe it seemed inconsequential, like somebody in the grocery store smiling at them.
Then I asked them, “How did it feel to receive that act of kindness? Did you even notice at the time?” So, we spend some time talking about that because our habit is mostly to ignore all of the kind moments that make our days possible. My students were very struck by noticing the kind things that happened to them. And that’s very interesting. This is really a kind of orientation about how as we retrain our brain, we recognize that our human life is woven with interconnection and kindness. We could not be breathing this moment if it weren’t for all of the interconnected kindness we have received.
“The conflation of mindfulness with a deep practice that includes an ethic view is a problem. When mindfulness becomes yet another thing that we can modify, and we think [mindfulness] is something that we can consume, then it’s actually serving our ego.”
“It’s our mission to grow more awareness of women’s issues, women’s voices, women’s
history, and women’s studies worldwide. All of the best practices of contemplative
education are what make gender studies unique, and they also
make gender studies possible.”
“T.I.P.I., the French acronym for ‘Technique d’Identification des Peurs Inconscientes,’ or ‘Technique for the Sensory Identification of Subconscious Fears’ in English, resets our emotional response to trauma naturally, using the body’s sensory memory to harmonize with the trauma’s origin.”
“How can we support people both at the peak of tragedy, getting over the most difficult
parts, as well as the lasting repercussions? We meet people where they are, with an
open heart, acknowledging them moment by
moment by moment.”
Host David DeVine with guests from the Mindful U podcast. From top left, clockwise: (1) Nataraja Kallio, Ben Williams, David DeVine; (2) Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni, David DeVine; (3) David DeVine, Ali Smith; (4) Atman Smith, David DeVine, Andres Gonzalez, Krista Tippett.