Photo by Carly Carpenter
How can we find joy in a moment like this? I see good people right now nurturing anxiety and distress because it seems the only reasonable way to be in a moment like this. That joy would be a luxury—perhaps a privilege, even an insult—to those on the losing side of this moment‘s equations. But surely, amidst all of this, our greatest hope for the world, for our neighbors, and even those people who most dismay and frighten us, is for the world ultimately to recover its capacity for lightness and joy.
Joy is not a luxury. It is not a privilege. It is a resilience-giving, life-giving birthright. And we can’t call forth in the world something we don’t believe in and embody….
If I have learned anything in all my conversations across all these years, it is this strange, deep truth of our species: that wisdom emerges precisely through moments when we have to hold opposing realities in a creative tension and interplay. Dismay and joy. Power and tenderness. Pain and hope. Brokenness and beauty. Mystery and conviction. Calm and fierceness. Mine and yours.
My final word to you is to not let yourself lose the friendships or the teachers you found here. We are not meant to carry it alone. We surround ourselves with others who can hold mighty choices like love and joy and compassion with us and for us on the days and weeks, months when it might be simply too much to ask of us. I am so grateful to be standing here looking out at you and knowing that you are my spiritual companions for this daunting and wondrous time ahead. I offer you my blessings and deep congratulations.
In graduating, we are about to lose a layer of safety that we’ve become used to. However, Naropa University is not a place to rest, a place to float, a place to bask in a seeming ease of a hippie environment. At Naropa, we are meant to stoke our individual lights, so that we leave this place able to enact change, rather than to watch the world burn.
Naropa and contemplative education are inherently subversive and create disruptions between logical, orderly, complacent, labeled, normative, and Western structures. Challenges to structure from students, faculty, and staff alike have been the lifeblood of my time at Naropa. This useful chaos is the thread that binds us together and should be welcomed as the opening of space, as Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche might have put it.
Out in the world, you are not to hide, but to literally become that which will transform
what’s out there.This work is what makes Naropa unique.
I set forth the task to keep the fire burning, to energize, as a catalyst within the crucible, the strength that Naropa possesses, that the world needs. I urge you. Move.
Part of my Naropa education, particularly being in the Peace Studies program, has introduced me to this notion of social justice warrior. I was listening to Krista Tippett’s podcast, On Being, where she interviews Reverend angel Kyodo williams, wherein Reverend angel says that in order to do our work, we have to come into deep knowing of who we are. This work is the stuff that brings down systems of oppression, capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy, and the ecological crisis—these things can’t survive if enough of us do the work of reclaiming the human spirit. This reclamation also includes the humanity of those people who are the current vehicles for these swarms of oppression.
That’s us. That’s all of us in this room right now who need to continue doing the work and who deserve to take a deep breath and to reflect on the work we’ve done.
My time at Naropa has been both greatly comforting and filled with immense discomfort. The relationship I’ve developed with myself and with my community is the sweetest gift. I’ve thought, “Why would I want to leave the loved ones, the professors, and the ground that have nourished and held us in this intimacy of becoming?” What is helping me understand is that it’s our responsibility to carry what we’ve built here out to the rest of the world and to reclaim our humanity, because the world needs it.
Our classes at Naropa begin with a pause and end with a pause. This pause is often embodied in the Naropa bow that aims to establish a brief moment of not doing and not knowing, which is a rarity in our contemporary Western world. It gives us an opportunity to stop in the midst of our rush to achieve, get ahead, and move on to the next thing. Yet, the beginning and end do not predicate what flows in between the classroom content. This content emerges from the joining of academic expertise with the pause of not knowing. We bring to our learning a commitment to academic discipline as well as openness and curiosity informed by our personal contemplative practices.
I feel our commitment to contemplative practices has the possibility to support an understanding of diversity and culture. Our emphasis on the immediacy of the first person experience allows the space for many difficult conversations.
I personally feel this is the most important work we can do, both within Naropa and in the world. In order to shift our conversations from ones of self-blame and guilt to those that include connection as well as difference, a capacity for self-forgiveness and friendship needs to be expanded. You graduates are stepping out into the world, a larger world rife with possibility, confusion, hope, disappointment. My wish for you is that this contemplative impulse, the gap—we might call space—will haunt you, as my teacher said, like a ghost.