Naropa students, alumni, staff, and faculty bring their brilliance to our local community every day. Drawing on their leadership skills, contemplative training, and activist hearts, they also make incredible contributions around the country and across the globe. There are so many stories to tell about how the Naropa community is helping create a better world. Here are just a few of them.
Each Wednesday evening, Naropa opens its doors to the Front Range community for free meditation classes. Facilitated by Giovannina Jobson, Naropa’s Director of Contemplative Practices and Traditions, the sessions include basic guided meditation instruction, walking meditation, compassion practice, and instruction and discussion with guests, including Frank Berliner, Reed Bye, Judy Lief, Jane Carpenter, and Phil Stanley.
“It is great to see how talented, passionate, and inspired our faculty are,” Jobson reports. “Their own mindfulness practice clearly manifests in their teaching and their lives through their poetry, generosity, and commitment to service.”
The program has been running for two years, with plans to continue this spring. With attendance ranging from five to forty people, Jobson has personally met over three hundred community members through this outreach program. “We have the resources, experience, and dedication for this practice, and it is a natural extension of our mission to offer it to the community,” adds Jobson.
Professor emerita Lee Worley recently taught a series of master classes in Europe. Starting at the Dechen Chöling Retreat Center in France, experienced practitioners joined with new students for “Mudra: Activating Kindness Beyond Borders.”
Worley then traveled to the Netherlands, where she taught two workshops—“Shamatha: Stillness and the Senses” in Rotterdam and “Tasting the Moment With Body, Mind, and Spirit” in Epe. The tour concluded with a Contemplative Performance Workshop at the Isadora Duncan Dance Research Center in Athens, Greece.
This final leg of the tour was organized by alumna Anna Tzakou (MFA Theater: Contemporary Performance, ‘10). “Anna’s exciting site-specific work in Athens has brought her in touch with many performers and other artists,” reports Worley. “But sourcing from the body and contemplative approaches to art-making are still under-discovered in Athens.”
Tzakou was also excited to bring Worley’s teachings to her community. “The teachings
of Professor Worley enabled us to encounter contemplative practices within the context
of psychophysical performance. They demonstrated to us possibilities to practice the
art of nonaggression in a disillusioned environment such as the city of Athens in
financial and cultural crisis. I hope that the workshop will sow the seed for many
others to come, bringing Dharma Art to the West as well as to its troubled and confused
Many of the exercises featured in the workshops can be found in Worley’s new book, Teaching Presence: Field Notes for Players (Naropa University Press, 2018).
Over the last year, Naropa has partnered with ABC Carpet & Home and Deepak HomeBase
in New York City to offer quarterly presentations, performances, and workshops featuring
Naropa faculty, including Jeanine Canty, Anne Waldman, Judith Simmer-Brown, and Reed
Charlotte Rotterdam, Director of Naropa’s Center for the Advancement of Contemplative Education (CACE), explains, “At the heart of Naropa is a vision for supporting ‘enlightened society,’ in which all citizens can rise to their fullest potential as compassionate and aware human beings. Our NYC programs range from dharma arts to environmental social justice to the fierce, awakened feminine principle. … Our focus for each program has been on creating both inspiring content and an opportunity for experiential contemplative engagement, particularly through the arts, so that audience members can resonate with the topic at conceptual, emotional, and somatic levels.”
Téana David (MFA Theater: Contemporary Performance, ’09) co-curates and produces the programming at Deepak HomeBase. “This kind of learning connects the head with the heart and through to the hands, allowing us to take action and shape our world for the better. The four programs we scheduled for 2018 as part of our Naropa in New York Series encapsulate this full-body, integrative understanding, an ethos that is deeply aligned with ours at ABC Home.”
“I’ve always been passionate about helping the most vulnerable populations,” says Mindi Counts (BA Contemplative Psychology, ‘08). Within months of launching her acupuncture practice and the Inner Ocean Center for Healing in Lafayette in April 2013, Counts founded Inner Ocean Empowerment Project, a nonprofit bringing integrative healthcare and education to places most in need. “Service isn’t something you do—it’s a state of mind. And if you let it, it penetrates everything you do.”
In the last four years, the organization has spent thirty-two weeks in the field on eight international and U.S.-based projects. Among other projects, they have provided vital and timely assistance to survivors of sex-trafficking in India, victims of violence in the United States, persons displaced by natural disasters in Nepal and the United States, and Burmese refugees.
That would be enough to keep most people busy, but Counts is also working on a book about Chinese medicine, forthcoming from Shambhala Publications in 2020.
Jaime González (BFA Performance, ‘12) says he lives “in a crossroads of continuing to build a career in the arts or dropping everything to go stare at a wall.” In all likelihood, he’ll continue to navigate his way through both worlds as an actor, producer, and novice Zen monk. After moving to Mexico five years ago, González worked as an actor on Netflix’s first Latin American show, Club de Cuervos, as well as in a telenovela, an indie film, and a number of commercials. He also produced two short films.
Over the last eighteen months, he has devoted his time to producing, directing, and writing two web series. “My brother ran as a candidate for a local congress seat in Sinaloa. He was an independent candidate with no party and no political godfather and a few bucks to spend. So we used our creativity and decided to make a different kind of campaign,” he explains. “We made a comic miniseries with the intention of appealing to young crowds of people who are very uninterested in politics.… We didn’t win … however, we created a stronger social base for my brother and his group and were innovative.”
Watch González’s web series, ‘Culichis Al Poder - La Serie’ on YouTube.
As Co-Executive Producer of Never Settle Show and Head of Digital Strategy and Content at Mario Armstrong Media, Shy Mukerjee (BA Writing and Literature, ‘09) is committed to producing “positive television” that inspires guests and viewers to pursue their dreams. Mukerjee served as both a producer and the social media co-host for the show’s premiere season, earning a New York Emmy Award for Outstanding Interactivity. He is also a board member and the Interim Marketing Director at Baltimore’s Annex Theater, the city’s number one spot for experimental theater and interdisciplinary performance. “Between my role at the Annex and my role on Never Settle Show, I’ve discovered that some of my truest talents lie not in creating material directly, but in finding new, creative ways to facilitate the process and help others to produce the best art and entertainment they can.”
Through his many national and international moves since graduation, Mukerjee has kept several shelves of books and notes from his Naropa days. “I refer to them often, for answers about art and life, and find my Naropa education helps me every single day to be the best person I can be and to enact love and kindness in my interactions with others.”
Following a four-year partnership, Naropa has purchased LeapYear, a truly unique alternative first year of college. The two-semester curriculum includes nine weeks of group travel in Nepal, India, or Central America, a three-month individual internship, two months of retreats, an experiential college curriculum of life skills learning, and formal and informal rites of passage. In addition to a full-credit alternative first year, the program can be taken for noncredit or by students looking to complete high school in a nontraditional manner.
Former staff member Sam Bull and his wife Cassie Bull (MA Dance/Movement Therapy, ’88) founded LeapYear and credit Naropa with inspiring their transformative vision of holistic and innovative international education. “LeapYear weaves the academics directly into experience, letting the threads of travel, service work, creative expression, and working in community be at the heart of a student’s education,” explains Cassie. “Placing our program into the context of a forward-thinking institution of higher education seems a perfect next step for the evolution of the LeapYear program,” adds Sam.
LeapYear extends Naropa’s curriculum into over one hundred countries and expands funding options for students seeking experiential international gap year programming. “Naropa University has long been committed to offering experiential learning together with mindfulness and compassion training to a diverse student body,” says Naropa President Chuck Lief. “LeapYear shares our mission, and we are delighted that the founders have entrusted their wonderful program to us. We are also excited that LeapYear students will now start their program in Colorado and have access to Naropa’s exceptional faculty throughout their learning journey.”
The first production of Proyecto Migración, Santuario | Sanctuary, premiered to sold-out audiences at Boulder’s Dairy Arts Center in September. The documentary theater project explores the parallel and divergent migrations of monarch butterflies and youth across the U.S.–Mexico border.
Co-playwright Teresa Veramendi (MFA Theater: Contemporary Performance, ‘16) explains, “Society accepts and supports the migration patterns of animals and insects as natural, while rejecting the migration patterns of human beings that mark our ancestral lineage. We developed a short ten-minute piece in 2015 inspired by these issues, and as a group agreed to pursue creating a full production after we graduated.”
With the support of a Boedecker Foundation Path to Excellence Grant and Naropa University, members of The Great Perhaps Performance Collective, including Veramendi, Victoria Gonzalez (MFA Theater: Contemporary Performance, ‘15), and former staff members Amy Buckler Rusterholz and Stephanie San German, conducted more than thirty interviews with “(im)migrants, nuns, volunteers, conservationists, and law enforcement in the United States and Mexico.”
With a staged reading coming up at Chicagoland’s Piven Theatre in November, they are exploring future productions around the United States and in Mexico. “We see our play as a sanctuary where we can honor the loss and those who have died—human and animal—and hear their stories outside the sensationalized and fear-based narratives we see in the news.”
In collaboration with Ragamuffin Cambodia and Partners for Social Justice, Naropa recently sponsored the first arts therapy conference in Cambodia. Nourish: Arts Therapy and Wellbeing Conference was held in Phnom Penh in January 2018. The conference was attended by more than 150 art therapists, social workers, educators, and caring professionals from more than twenty-five countries. Scholarships were provided for therapists from the United States with discounted and free admission for eighty Cambodian attendees.
Jenna Noah (MA Contemplative Psychotherapy, ‘13), Conference Coordinator, recounts that the conference had its beginnings in a 2011 meeting between Naropa faculty Sue Wallingford and two former students, Katie Hanczaryk (MA Transpersonal Counseling Psychology, ‘12) and Meg Hamilton (MA Transpersonal Counseling Psychology, ‘12). Within a year, they, along with other interested students, made their first trip to Phnom Penh as Naropa Community Art Studio International, a student-led service-learning program bringing art therapy to women and children rescued from sex trafficking. “They had a dream, imagined the possibilities, and believed in the vision,” Noah adds.
Wallingford and Hanczaryk are co-founders of the conference, and Hanczaryk’s husband Nathan Torti (MA Transpersonal Counseling Psychology, ‘12) serves as Director of Finance. Plans are already underway for the next conference in 2020.
In collaboration with the Royal University of Bhutan (RUB), Naropa is continuing to expand its offerings to undergraduate and graduate students. Jane Carpenter-Cohn, Bhutan Partnerships Director and Associate Professor, explains that the Naropa Center for Bhutan Partnerships, established in 2013, stems from Naropa and RUB’s “common mission to educate students for the transformation and health of the world.”
Nestled in the Himalayas, Bhutan pioneered the philosophy of Gross National Happiness.
Steeped in Himalayan/Tibetan Buddhism, the kingdom holds a deep commitment to environmental
sustainability, international studies, and creativity.
The Naropa Center for Bhutan Partnerships has its roots in a collaborative low-residency Post-Graduate Diploma in Guidance and Counseling, launched at RUB’s Samtse College of Education in 2009. Designed to meet the challenges caused by rapid modernization of Bhutan’s society, Carpenter-Cohn explains that most students were “school teachers who wanted training in counseling to support their students and create counseling centers.”
“I see myself as a new person,” says RUB student Sonam Wangchuk (‘12), “with the desire
of helping others and [myself.]”
Having graduated over one hundred students, the success of this program led to the development and 2016 launch of the Master’s in Contemplative Psychotherapy, the first master’s program in counseling in Bhutan. The program will graduate its first cohort of sixteen students in 2019.
Professor Anne Parker serves as Study Abroad Director, lead teacher for Naropa’s three courses, and on-site health and wellbeing coordinator. Carpenter-Cohn and Parker were instrumental in establishing Naropa’s undergraduate study abroad program with RUB in Bhutan, which launched in 2015. “I think this is a really exceptional program,” Parker says. “We go as peers—not as tourists, experts, observers, or short-term visitors. We consciously avoid the American ‘fix it’ mentality and look closely at and apply a decolonizing approach to any research we do. It is a deep dive into another culture.”
In addition to their Naropa courses, students take courses at one of three RUB campuses—The College of Natural Resources, Paro College of Education, or The College of Language and Culture Studies. Students are fully immersed in RUB life—living in campus dorms, eating in the cafeteria, joining student clubs, and dressing in traditional Bhutanese clothing. They engage in service work both on campus and in the larger community. “These have been the richest five months of my life so far. ... I have gained more wisdom, love, happiness, and humility than I would ever have thought possible,” says Max Prah (Centre College, Bhutan Spring 2016).
Thirty Naropa students have already participated in the program (three of them twice!), as well as three students from other U.S. universities. The program is open to any qualified U.S.-based undergraduate.
At the invitation of Ruby Brown, an alumna of Naropa’s Authentic Leadership program
and Executive Director of the Management Institute for National Development in Jamaica,
the Authentic Leadership Center (ALC) is training managers in Jamaica’s Ministry of
Forty-five managers participated in a recent ‘Coaching for Change and Transformation’ program in June 2018, which included two three-day on-site sessions and twelve weeks of individual and group coaching. The training emphasized mindfulness, communication skills, coaching, and change management. Susan Skjei, Director of the ALC, and Curriculum Design and Distance Education Manager Mary McHenry, along with eight other coaches, were the faculty and facilitators for this change management process.
They explain, “Typically we offer our courses on-site at Naropa and have leaders from different industries and sectors in our programs. So the opportunity to work in a different culture and to bring authentic leadership principles and practices into a governmental agency was very exciting. It really stretched us to demonstrate the applicability of our contemplative curriculum to an organization undergoing profound change. The participants went through their own personal transformation in the five-month program as they practiced coaching skills in a changing and challenging workplace. These skills have mindfulness embedded in them—it is about presence and compassion—so it is a doorway into the values/mission of Naropa that also enhances their professional skills. This unique coaching program with authentic leadership principles at its core could become a new public offering for our center.”
Local readers and writers were thrilled when Shambhala Publications moved its offices to Boulder in 2015. Amongst the happiest was Kay Campbell (MFA Writing and Poetics, ‘00), who had just been appointed Director of Online Education and Media at Shambhala.
“Shambhala Publications launched its first online course in the fall of 2013 and in the time since, we’ve offered over two dozen courses to over twelve thousand participants in countries around the globe,” Campbell explains. Naropa and Shambhala Publications began discussing a collaborative Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) shortly after the move. “We wanted to find a way to highlight the work done by both organizations and feature some of our faculty and authors. The resulting course helps draw the connection between today’s secular mindfulness movement and its origins in the root traditions, and it provides a piece of the story of how these traditions came to the United States.”
‘Mindfulness: What It Is, Where It Comes From, and How to Practice It,’ a two-month certificate course, launched in January 2018 on Canvas Network, with Distinguished Professor Judith Simmer-Brown and Professor Amelia Hall serving as faculty. “It has been a pleasure to collaborate with Shambhala Publications on innovative ideas for online learning,” says Simmer-Brown. “Kay Campbell has been especially helpful for our mindfulness MOOC, shaping it from the beginning and seeing through the filming and editorial process.”
“The course was developed by an incredible team of women with the intention to be free, accessible, and beneficial to anyone interested in learning about mindfulness practice. It also highlights the combined wisdom of both Naropa University faculty and Shambhala Publications’ beautiful books,” explains Hall. With over five hundred students in the first semester, the course will continue to be offered several times a year.