A Naropa Wrap-Up: Reflecting on My First TCP Semester

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Well folks, it’s Thursday of the very last week of the first semester of grad school.  As could be expected, I’ve been thinking a lot about how this past semester has gone, how it met or did not meet my expectations, and what I have gained during my time here thus far.

Might as well get it all down on “paper,” right?

So here goes.

The first thing that has become very apparent during my first semester is that Naropa is not a shining beacon of beauty, love, and unity for all beings.  Sure there’s more emotional connection and acceptance going around than I would expect to find in just about any other program, but it’s not an all-inclusive buffet of positive vibes.  Naropa has its shadow issues too.  These show up in many forms, but the biggest one that I have noticed is the way Naropa handles anger.  In Duey Freeman’s Human Growth and Development class, he says that when we are young, we learn spoken, unspoken, and secret rules from our parents that influence the way we live.  Well, Naropa is a young school, and it’s got its rules too.  In regards to the anger issue, Naropa’s spoken rule is that “anger is an important and useful emotion, as long as you don’t let it control you.”  The unspoken rule is that “anger is something you should work on yourself; don’t expect others to process it for you.”  The secret rule is that “it’s not okay to be angry as a student at Naropa university.”  That’s not to say that you’ll get in trouble for being angry, but people here don’t always know how to handle it, and they’d rather not see it unless you can keep yourself calm and collected.

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Needless to say, this has caused problems.  It will probably continue to do so.  But every school has something, so I hardly think it’s fair to judge it based on this issue alone.  Naropa has a lot of great qualities as well, and it would be a mistake to ignore them.

The second thing that’s become apparent to me is that the faculty here have a subtle, but strong undercurrent of interpersonal and institutional politics.  Some instructors don’t like it when you disagree with them.  Some don’t agree with other instructors.  Some think that some other instructors’ courses aren’t necessary.  Once in a while, something you say will really trigger one of the instructors, and you’ll be left wondering why the thing you said was really such a big deal.  Grad school isn’t a game, but you do have to play to the politics of the school from time to time.

Bear in mind, I don’t think this is unusual for any type of institution.  All schools have interpersonal politics, as do companies, families, social groups, etc.  It’s impossible to get away from them.  But it’s important to be aware of them too.  Sticking your head in the sand and ignoring this important aspect of the Naropa dynamic can lead to problems.  Of course, I may have encountered this more than most, as I have trouble keeping my mouth shut in class.  I’m sure people experience this to varying degrees.  But it is a real aspect of attending school here, and worth keeping in the back of your mind.  And, having said that, the positive sides of the Naropa faculty far exceed the negative.  The instructors here are truly amazing people, and considering that they work for almost no pay, you know they’re teaching you because they want to be.  I am unceasingly amazed at the incredible knowledge and competence of Naropa’s teachers, and feel extremely grateful for having the chance to learn from them.

The third thing that I’ve noticed is that Naropa’s TCP students are incredibly mature.  Really.  I feel like a little kid in some of these classes.  I am, admittedly, on the low end of the age spectrum here, but it’s worth noting the incredible intellect, savvy, and skill that people bring to this program.  And for me, this fact makes every class an absolute delight.

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Finally, my fourth observation is that Naropa has got something.  I know I’ve said this before, but this semester has really reaffirmed it for me.  There is an almost tangible X-factor here that changes you in some way.  Whatever it is, you can’t go through a semester of this without feeling its impact.  And the anger-related issues, politics, etc. are well worth it to have the privilege and the pleasure to attend this school.

So there it is–my first semester is over, and now all that’s left is to wait and see what the next one will bring.  However, I’m sure my experience is not universal.  How has your semester gone?  Feel free to comment on your own experiences during these last four months!

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Shops, Schnapps, and Snowboards: The Best Boulder Christmas Activities

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It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…or at least it ought to be (the snow has been eerily absent this year).  I for one will be spending this Christmas in Oregon with my family for the first time in the 4+ years that I’ve lived here.  Unfortunately, my past 3 holiday seasons have been spent in Boulder, and I’ll be the first to admit, they can get a little bit lonely.  Somehow seeing your family’s holiday photos on facebook is not nearly as great as helping them set up a tree.  But my own few years of Boulder winter experience  have helped ease the frustrating prices of plane tickets and unwavering work schedules.

So without further ado, here are my own personal recommendations for how to enjoy your holiday season.  I’ve added links to my recommendations, if you’d like to check them out for yourself.  Also, I do not get anything for recommending these places/activities; they really are my favorites!

The first thing I’d recommend is to embrace the cold.  It does get pretty chilly here, especially for those of you from warmer climates, and it’s bound to snow sooner or later.  Luckily, the snow is about as much fun as it is cold, so if you’re feeling a little adventurous, it’s almost worth the discomfort.  The first, and most expensive, way to enjoy the snow is by heading up to Eldora.  You won’t have to drive if you have a few dollars (or a Naropa bus pass), because the ‘N’ bus heads straight up the canyon to the ski area and back multiple times per day.  You will encounter delightful slopes up there for multiple skill levels.  If you’re hungry and looking to round out the day, stop by the funky little town of Nederland on your way back down the mountain.  Try out the Wild Mountain Smokehouse and Brewery, which has delicious BBQ and excellent craft beers…they’ve even got a vegetarian option or two.

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A second snowy-day activity is to strap on some skates.  Boulder has a seasonal ice-skating rink at the One Boulder Plaza which, while somewhat small, is a great use of a few dollars.  If you bring a canned food item to donate to the Boulder Community Food Share, they’ll discount the cost.  The rink rents out skates and will hold your bags/purses for you, plus you can skate as long as you’d like.

If you’re hoping for something fun that doesn’t cost money, consider the many walking trails that Boulder offers.  I can personally attest to the beauty of the Boulder Creek Path, which runs along the often-frozen Boulder Creek.  Make sure to bring a camera, as photos of this winter wonderland will be a perfect way to make your friends back home jealous.  The best part is that the major trails (Boulder Creek included) are plowed early in the morning (at the same time as the roads!) so the walking is easy.  Just slide into some cold-weather-wear, throw some holiday songs on your mp3 player, and head out to breathe in the chill.

If you don’t mind the cold, and have presents to buy, the Pearl St. Mall is a great place for shopping.  It is home to many small, locally owned businesses that rely on much of their annual revenue from Christmas shoppers.  They range from the Boulder Book Store, Boulder’s largest independently owned new/used bookstore, to the Boulder Army Store, a great stop for winter and outdoor gear.  Plus, there are all kinds of holiday-themed events going on there, such as St. Nick on the Bricks and The Christmas Revels celebration at the Boulder Theater.

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If you end up doing some Sunday shopping, head over to Conor O’Neill’s Traditional Irish Pub afterwards to enjoy their weekly Celtic music jam.  A variety of performers show up every week, producing the best possible music to pull you out of your winter blues.  I particularly recommend trying to snag one of the small booths, as these are quiet enough to have a conversation with a friend, but are still close enough to enjoy the music…just get there early, because they fill up fast.  Conor’s offers some delicious dinner options, and is one of the few Boulder locations that has hard cider on tap.  So set yourself up with a good stout, or one of their delicious Hot Apple Pie drinks, and you’ll soon be warm and cheery.

And of course, my final favorite: sleep.  Whether it’s after a long day of snow-related activities, or a warm drink with friends, the ability to catch up on some much-needed rest should not be underestimated.  Curl up in bed, on your couch, or by the fireplace (if you have one), and rest easy knowing that finals are over, next semester isn’t here yet, and you have nothing to do in the morning.

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Finally, if you’re bored and lonely, I personally will be here for a couple of weeks and would love to spend time with you all in a stress-free context.  So if you’re interested, shoot me an e-mail.  I would love to see you.

So what about you?  Do you have a favorite winter activity?  Feel free to share!