7 Things You Will Learn in Your First Month as a Naropa Grad Student

Today is the first day of my fourth week of classes, which can only mean one thing: life is getting complicated!  The amount of reading and writing is intense enough, but when that is combined with the emotional upheaval that this program produces, the result is quite a bit of frantic rushing around attempting not to go crazy.

So, in light of this madness, I thought I’d write a list of 7 important things I have learned as a Naropa grad student in the last few weeks:

  1. You will never be able to finish all of the reading and still have a life.
    I’m serious about this one.   I’ve already had two of my instructors (that’s half of them) tell me that they simply don’t expect their students to complete all of the reading.  At this point, I am at least skimming all of the online material, and I am thoroughly reading through the physical texts.  This puts me at somewhere between 15 and 20 hours of reading per week.  To give you some perspective on this, if I were working a job at $12.00 per hour, I could earn up to $240.00 in the time it takes me to do each week’s reading.  Simply put, if you have a commute, a family, a job, or anything else that takes a major percentage of your time, completing all of this reading will likely be impossible.  But that’s okay, because your instructors understand that.  Just make sure you get the basic idea for what’s being learned that week, and come prepared with notes and questions on anything you come across that doesn’t make sense.
  2. Everything you could usually do easily will now be difficult.
    Naropa is designed to make you flip out.  The psychology program here is based on the idea that if you haven’t dealt with your own psychological issues, you will be in no position to help anyone else with theirs.  This means that Naropa will bring up all of those dark, uncomfortable, lurking things in the corners of your mind that you really don’t like paying attention to, and it will make them your new best buddies.  You will be thinking about these things as you go shopping, as you do homework, as you exercise…basically there’s no escaping from them.  Which means that you may start sobbing halfway through dinner and have no idea why.  You will feel emotionally drained, you will be irritable for no apparent reason, and you may even find yourself hysterically laughing at the most inappropriate times.  Basically, it’ll be like going through puberty again (without the uncomfortable physical issues), so don’t rush yourself.  Give yourself time to get things done, and leave room for interruptions.  Which brings me to my next point:
  3. The time will go faster than you think; don’t procrastinate!
    Reading takes longer for some of us than for others, but when there’s this much homework, it will take a long time no matter what.  And since classes only meet once a week, there’s a lot of information packed into each class session.  Furthermore, instructors will not be as lenient with deadlines as they may have been during your undergraduate studies.  Many papers can significantly impact your grade (think up to 25% on average, if not more), and anything below a ‘B-‘ grade counts as failing.  Complaints of printer malfunctions, hard drive crashes, and sudden food poisoning will probably not garner you any leniency.  So do not procrastinate! Your success as a grad student depends on this.
  4. Your relationship will probably get rocky.
    I think people often discount this point, which is a big mistake.  When stress runs high, and emotions run wild, relationships suffer.  Combine this with the major time constriction brought on by mounds of homework, and it suddenly becomes incredibly difficult to show your partner that you care.  To counteract this, you’ll need some pretty good time management skills.  Schedule date nights for the two of you (and don’t bring your books, or you might be tempted to study).  Get out of the house and take a relaxing walk, drive up to into the mountains, splurge on a full service meal at the lovely Dushanbe Tea House–anything that will allow you two to spend quality time together.  You may also want to start practicing nonviolent communication, for when those inevitable arguments pop up.  I’ve even heard of people scheduling fights for later, so that the tension has a chance to decrease before you discuss volatile material.  Sound crazy?  Wait until you’re in it.
  5. You will start to see the things you’re learning everywhere.
    You will learn about projection, and suddenly you’ll understand that your mom is taking out her frustration about your dad on your brother.  You’ll learn about Piaget’s stages of development, and you’ll start to notice that there really are significant differences between 3 year olds and 4 year olds.  Everything you learn in these classes will start to make sense in your daily life.  Some of it is nice, like the positive effects of meditation on awareness and attention-span.  But some of it will be more difficult, like noticing the subtle racial slurs spoken by the people behind you at the checkout counter.  Whatever happens, just know that you will start to see the world differently than you used to.  This is a good sign.  It means you’re growing.
  6. If you don’t take extra good care of yourself, you will get sick.
    Since the start of this program, I have been devouring veggies and flushing my system with ginger tea and plenty of water.  I’ve been exercising regularly, and trying to get enough sleep.  The good news?  I haven’t gotten sick.  But a lot of people have.  I learned in my Human Growth & Development Throughout the Lifespan class last week that the stress hormone cortisol suppresses your immune system.  This means that when you’re stressed out from all of the work, your body can’t protect itself as easily.  When you combine that with a poor diet, insufficient sleep, or inactivity, the results are disastrous.  And once one person gets sick, it’s that much more likely that everyone else in their class will.  So take care of yourself.  Don’t sabotage your efforts by being lax about your health!
  7. You will probably be very emotional, in class, in front of lots of people.  This is actually encouraged.
    Although this is 7th on the list, it is perhaps one of the most important things to know.  Not only does Naropa stress you out, make you sick, and take up all of your free time, it makes you wildly emotional.  As mentioned in point #2, the program is designed to bring up all of your “shadow” issues, and it’s generally pretty successful.  And the more trauma you have experienced, the more intense this will likely be.  But that’s okay.  Naropa actually encourages you to feel what you’re feeling, and express it.  If you’re discussing a difficult issue in class, and it brings up traumatic memories, you may start crying right then and there.  But nobody will think badly of you for it.  In fact, I haven’t had a single class yet where someone hasn’t cried.  You don’t have to throw caution to the winds and disclose your entire past, but don’t worry too much about opening up either.  Naropa puts a lot of work into making sure you’ll be supported.
  8. Bonus: It will be worth it.
    I’m sure that this all sounds pretty intimidating, but the reality is that it’s worth it.  This program melts you down, and forges you into something stronger than you were.  Not only does it teach you how to be a great therapist, it teaches you how to be great at being you–how to appreciate and trust yourself, and how to know what you need.  If you can get past the reading, writing, crying, stressful aspects of the program, you’ll come to appreciate the incredible change in yourself, and you’ll know that you were responsible for making it happen.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Nick Kaplan
    Sep 17, 2012 @ 21:02:48

    As always, love your blog posts, Mari. For me #7, check. I didn’t see that coming! -Nick


  2. Martha
    Sep 18, 2012 @ 21:33:31

    LOL, Mari! Really! And, uh, you mean I’m supposed to cry? All the time? It’s ok that I can’t help it?


  3. Mari
    Sep 18, 2012 @ 22:09:22

    Absolutely, Martha! It’s such an odd experience, being in a university that encourages emotional displays like that, isn’t it? I think the idea is that you need to process the emotions that come up. And some of us process by crying…it’s just how we’re made. So that’s what we do, and it’s okay that we do it.


  4. newheavenonearth
    Sep 19, 2012 @ 14:57:59

    Thank you for sharing! If the whole world decided that it was okay for everyone to feel what they feel, cry when the shadow material comes up and be who we authentically are created to be, the whole world would heal and be made whole!


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