Location, Location, Location: Finding Your Boulder Home

1418651_45118022So you’re new to Boulder.  Or maybe you’re just needing a cheaper place, somewhere that allows pets, or new roommates.  Let’s say you’re on a budget.   Congratulations, you’re in the wrong town!  In all seriousness though, Boulder (and the whole Boulder area) is pretty expensive .  As you may likely have discovered already, It can be difficult to find anything bigger than a shoe-box for a reasonable price, especially if you’re relying on part-time work or student loans.  How do you go about finding somewhere new to live?  The answer to this is somewhat complex, and there are actually more options than you may think.  I’ll try to do them justice, but feel free to ask me for clarification on any of these points.

Ultimately, where you can live depends on what you really need.  Everyone wants a lot of space, reasonably low rent, and to be close to school.  Unfortunately, that will probably not happen.  However, you can have any two of these things; you just have to decide which two of the three are most important.

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So let’s start with the first two.  Let’s say that you want somewhere that has lots of space and low rent.  You’re most likely looking at living outside of Boulder proper, and you have a few different options.

  1. Living in Longmont/Niwot/Gunbarrel: This will be one of your cheapest options, but that comes at a price.  Many people who work in Boulder live in Longmont, and therefore must make the commute every day.  The town is northeast of Boulder, and since Naropa’s Paramita campus is in northeast Boulder, the actual distance isn’t that far.  However, the Diagonal Highway (which is the main road into Boulder from Longmont) is always clogged during rush hour, and during the winter it gets very slippery.  The road itself is actually inclined, but doesn’t seem like it.  Consequently, people tend to drive down it at unreasonably high speeds and get into car accidents when it snows.  Be prepared to make the 30-60 minute commute if you choose this option.   There are regular buses, but that will tip your commute time over the 1-hour mark.  You can find a one bedroom apartment with reasonable square-footage for anywhere from $600 to $900 pretty easily, particularly if you have the time to shop around.  If you don’t mind living a little way outside of the town center, you may even find a duplex or a house with a yard.  The town itself has less character than some of its neighbors, but is not a bad place to live by national standards, and the town center is actually quite lively.  Alternatively, you may be able to find a place in Gunbarrel (which is technically part of Boulder) or Niwot.  They’re closer to Boulder along the Diagonal Highway, and cheaper than Boulder, but will likely be more expensive than Longmont.
  2. Living in Lafayette/Louisville/Superior/Broomfield:  These four towns are pretty typical towns, all located southeast of Boulder.  They’re a good option for anyone who has a regular need to go to Denver, and They’re all reasonably close to US-36, which goes straight into Boulder.  Lafayette and Louisville can both be reached easily by taking one of several main Boulder roads east out of town, and the commute is usually between 25 and 45 minutes.  These towns also have regular buses, which also usually take an hour or more to get into Boulder.  Louisville will be a bit more expensive than Lafayette, which is often more expensive than Superior and Broomfield.  Louisville is sort of like a mini-Boulder; it’s a cute, friendly little town.  Lafayette has a bit less character, but it’s  quickly developing its own personality (Lafayette is also the town that I live in right now).  Broomfield and superior are a bit more cookie-cutter, with many chain-stores and less personality, but are good options for families as there seems to be larger housing available there for less money.  You can usually find 1 bedroom apartments in Louisville and Lafayette for $700-$1100 per month if you look around.  For whatever reason, it seems to be harder to find cheap 1 bedroom apartments in Superior and Broomfield, but the 2 bedroom apartments are often only about $800-$1100 if you look around.
  3. Living in Nederland/Lyons:  These two cities are up in the mountains (Nederland is at about 8200 ft., and while Lyons is actually a bit lower than Boulder, the road to Boulder from Lyons is a bit more winding).  Lyons is about 25 minutes from Boulder on a clear, dry day without traffic, but can be significantly more if it’s snowing.  Nederland is about a 40 minute drive up the canyon from Boulder, which can be impassible on particularly snowy days.  There are regular buses to and from Nederland, and having lived in Nederland without a car, I can vouch for this method of transportation.  However, there will be days when it’s simply not possible to get to Boulder because of the snow.  That being said, both towns are very fun places to be–they’re known for their love of good beer and local music, and both host at least one festival per year.  They’re also very beautiful places to live.  Nederland particularly is surrounded by national forest, and the drive up is breathtaking.  Since the towns are smaller, they have less housing available, but they’re great places to live if you like small towns.  They can be great options if you want to rent a house instead of an apartment or a duplex, and both cities have cabins that come up for rent frequently.   Lyons also has fairly inexpensive 1 bedroom apartments, with $550-$750 fairly common.

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If you’re hoping to stay in Boulder proper, then you’ll have to forego either that spacious home you had hoped for, or some extra cash.  Here are your options if you want to live close to school for cheap.

  1. Live in South Boulder: South Boulder is the one place in Boulder that reliably has (comparatively) inexpensive apartments available.  They will not be big (or even medium-sized usually), but you can find clean, fairly well-maintained 1 bedroom apartments for about $700-$900, or 2-bedroom apartments for about $850-$1100.  The problem with Boulder housing is that much of it is concentrated around the University of Colorado, including the south Boulder ones, so this housing will have very little character. The area around Table Mesa Drive between Foothills Parkway and Broadway seems to be the best place to look.  Expect to see the same drab light brown carpet, white walls, and tiny kitchens everywhere, and don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re likely to find a place with a yard.  However, the drive time is only about 15-30 minutes usually, and there are buses that run every 10 minutes during rush hour, and every 15-20 minutes during most of the day, which will take longer but are very reliable.  Chances are that if the buses stop running because of the snow, the school (and most businesses) won’t be open anyway.  If these prices are still a bit high, consider option 2.
  2. Find roommate(s): Most people in Boulder seem to have roommates, and I consider this to be the only truly “budget” option for Boulder housing.  It’s the only way around the ridiculous rental rates.  Boulder has an annoying law that allows only 3 or fewer unrelated people to live together in one residence, so you can’t hope for a 5 bedroom house with 8 inhabitants.  The cheapest way to do it is to find a reasonable 2 bedroom apartment and find a couple to share the other bedroom (or if you’re part of a couple, find a single person to fill the other bedroom).  It’s seems pretty standard here to split rent based on the number of people, rather than the number of bedrooms.  If a couple is sharing a room, they may pay a bit less per person than you are, but it should be split fairly evenly.  (For example, I lived in an $800 per month, two bedroom apartment for two years with a couple.  I paid $300 per month, and each of them paid $250).  If you can afford a bit more, finding only one roommate is an option.   If you have roommates, the locations in Boulder that you can live open up significantly.  You can find a 3 bedroom house in South Boulder (with a yard) for about $2200 with a little hunting, which brings the per-person total down to just under $700.  There are also apartments and condos west of Broadway in Central Boulder that have 3 bedrooms for about $1500-$2000, as well as some apartments and condos right next to Naropa’s Paramita campus in North Boulder for about the same price.  Most of these places will want at least 6 month leases, and many want 12 month leases, so make sure you can live with your roommates for a year before signing on the dotted line.
  3. Wait a *really* long time: good deals do come up from time to time.  I knew someone living in a two bedroom condo right next to school that cost a mere $600 per month, and it allowed pets.  I’ve also seen a small cabin in West Boulder, right against the mountains, come up for rent for about $500 per month.  If you’ve been living in Boulder already, you’ll know that a lot of rentals get passed on by word-of-mouth.  Keep your ears open, and ask everyone you know if they know of anyone who is moving out.  The best times to look are usually around February (which is when people start signing advanced leases for fall) and May (which is when the University of Colorado students leave).  Strangely enough, there also tend to be places opening up in December, as students come to the ends of their 6 month leases and decide they don’t like where they are living, or have decided to leave school.  Take these apartments with a bit of healthy skepticism though.  Nobody moves in December in Boulder (snow!) unless they have to for some reason, or they are really unhappy with the place.

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Finally, if you’re in the fortunate position of not having to worry about the cost, you’re in luck, because Boulder was designed with you in mind.  Here’s how to find somewhere spacious and close to school:

  1. Rent a House: The sky really is the limit in terms of housing here.  Boulder caters to people with sufficient income, and the properties here range from simple to palatial.  You can easily find a house for about $2500-$3500, and almost all of the houses in Boulder have at least a little unique charm.  If you look into the West Pearl, Mapleton, or Chautauqua areas, you’re sure to find more expensive but beautiful houses with charm and old-world details, many of which are old Victorians.  Houses just outside of Boulder are likely to have decent lot sizes, and it’s not uncommon to find houses with ten or more acres of land from time to time.  In North Boulder, the housing is actually less expensive than many parts of Boulder, and all you really have to worry about is finding one that you like that is also available.  If you’re into mountain living, there are many gorgeous new homes with ample amenities nestled into the rocky cliff faces that overlook the beautiful Boulder valley.
  2. Rent a Condo: Boulder has a lot of condos, many of which are very upscale homes in desirable locations.  The Pearl Street area has new condos that are close to everything, including some of Boulder’s best dining and recreation.  Some of them have shared gardens or other outdoor common areas, and most of the nicer ones have balconies.  If you are willing to pay for the view, some condos face the flatirons, which are a striking and incredible sight to wake up to.  Perhaps best of all, these condos cost enough to keep most obnoxious undergraduate party-goers away, so you will likely enjoy relative quiet.
  3. Buy a Home: Boulder’s real estate market has always been high.  Even in the 2008 housing market crash, most Boulder properties seem to have retained good value, and the property value just keeps going up.  This is because Boulder’s city limits are intentionally kept from expanding so as to preserve the natural beauty of the area.  Without the option to expand, and with the money that tends to accumulate in this city, residents pay a high premium for the privilege of living here.  There are many real-estate agents in the area who can provide more detailed information about buying a home here, and this may be a good option if you see yourself living in Boulder long-term.

Finding a home in the Boulder area can be a bit of a challenge.  But with a little patience and prioritizing, you can find somewhere comfortable that meets your needs.  If you have any specific questions about anything I’ve mentioned (or left out), feel free to leave a comment below, or send me a message!

The Financial Side of Naropa: Tuition, Loans, and Work Options

Today I received a letter from Naropa regarding my financial aid award, and what my estimated cost of attendance will be.  I thought this would be a good time to talk about the financial side of Naropa’s TCP program because, well, grad school is really expensive.

Now, before you panic, I will point out that the program is actually not that expensive compared to other grad programs.  While it varies by program (For instance, the Art Therapy program is about $3000 more per year than the Transpersonal Counseling Psychology, most of the numbers will be in the same ballpark.

So first things first.  How much does the Naropa TCP Program cost?  While it probably changes from year to year, here’s the “expected cost of attendance” for a TCP student for the 2012-2013 academic year:

Tuition and Fees…………………..$20,460
Room and Board…………………….$8,902
Transportation……………………….$1,300
Books and Materials………………..$1,200
Personal and Miscellaneous……..$3,550
Estimated Cost of Attendance….$35,412

Of course, looking at that number, it’s easy to get a little freaked out.  If the estimated cost of attendance per year is over $35,000, that means that a student can expect to spend over $100,000 on this program before it’s over.  But you have to remember that this includes all living expenses, and that the living expense estimates are not always accurate.

For instance, I currently live with two other people.  I live in south Boulder, which is fairly inexpensive, and my share of rent is $300 per month.  Over the course of 12 months, that only comes to $3,600, which is over $5000 less than Naropa’s estimate.  Similarly, enrollment costs at Naropa include a bus pass, which is good on all public transportation in Boulder and surrounding areas (including to/from Denver).  So if you live in town, or in a nearby town, and you don’t mind buses, you might not spend a penny of that estimated $1,300.

Another really important point is that graduate programs are used to dealing with people who are living on their own, buying their own groceries, and making their own car payments (not to mention payments on previous student loans).  There aren’t as many hours of class time expected, and even though there is a lot of homework, it’s very possible to work a part-time job while in school.  According to Naropa’s financial aid office, there are even some students who work a full 40 hours per week.  And while I wouldn’t recommend working that much unless you have no other choice, it’s very possible to work 20-25 hours per week during the school year.

Finding a job in this economy when in a new town might be a bit daunting, but luckily Naropa has this covered as well.  The university offers “graduate assistantships,” which are basically like work study for grad students.  However, unlike work study, these positions pay more than the $8.00-$9.00 per hour that work study jobs offer.  Instead, they pay $7000 over the course of the academic year, coming to about $17.00 or $18.00 per hour instead.  Much better!  These jobs are usually at one of the Naropa campuses, so transportation isn’t as much of an issue as it might be with a regular job.  And, since most of them are only for the academic year (aka, not summer), if you need to go visit family over the summer it won’t conflict with work.  You can find a full list of the 2012-2013 graduate assistantship positions here.  Applications for Fall of 2012 are due on April 2nd.

Finally, if you don’t have a lot of money or any way of getting it easily, there  are always loans.  Many students end up taking out loans from the Federal government.  While most people going to grad school have probably had some experience with FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), you don’t need to be intimidated if it’s new.  You can visit the FAFSA website to get started.  The whole process only takes about 15 minutes, and there really isn’t that much information to enter.  Part of the reason for this is that FAFSA can now electronically pull your tax information directly from the IRS.  Unfortunately, this does mean that you need to file taxes before filling out the FAFSA.  The priority deadline for the FAFSA is March 1st, so be sure to file your taxes as early as possible.  Also, if you have the option, filing your taxes electronically will allow your information to be accessed by FAFSA much more quickly (1-2 weeks) than taxes filed on paper (6-8 weeks).

Depending on your income from the previous year and your liquid assets (savings/checking account balances, for instance), you can borrow up to $20,500 in Federal student loans per year.  That alone would cover the cost of tuition, while allowing a little extra for books and such.  However, if $20,500 isn’t enough, you can borrow up to the estimated cost of attendance (remember that $35,412?) in Graduate Plus Loans.  These loans have a higher interest rate than the regular Federal loans, but they are an option if you don’t want to work while in school, or can’t find a job.

Finally, there are scholarships.  While there aren’t nearly as many scholarships for grad students as there are for undergrad students, it’s good go know that they’re there.  As of 2012, the Naropa Presidential Scholarship and the Naropa Honor Scholarship do not need to be applied for.  Naropa will decide whether you qualify for these scholarships based on your academic achievements and financial need when they’re processing your financial aid package.  All other scholarships need to be applied for, and have an application deadline.  The scholarships available can be viewed here,  and applications for Fall of 2012 must be turned in by April 1st (that’s less than a week from today).

One thing to keep in mind with financial aid is that anything that isn’t a loan will possibly decrease the total amount in loans that you can borrow.  This means that if you get a $7000 graduate assistantship, you might have $7000 less in loans that you can borrow.  But since that $7000 won’t need to be paid back, it’s really not a bad deal if you can make it work.

As always, let me know if you have more questions about Naropa’s financial aid, tuition, etc., and I’ll reply asap!

The Naropa TCP Interview Scoop – Part 2

The last few days have been quite the array of frenzied activity, involving a costume wedding, an important phone call, and a birthday, among other things. Nevertheless, I am back! I’ll be explaining the second part of the Naropa interview process today, and also telling you the results of my own interview process.

Oddly enough, I think that today’s post must start with lunch. Naropa’s cafe provided lunch for all of the applicants, and I felt like the food they served really summed up the Naropa atmosphere. Lunch was veggie wraps, salad, two kinds of cookies, and a sort of hibiscus fruit drink. The food was vegan friendly, and there were gluten-free options. There was a large amount of fresh produce included, and everything was neatly laid out on trays, waiting for us when we arrived at the cafe. The thoughtfulness that went into this meal is a great illustration of the school.  Naropa attracts many kinds of people, and the school tries its best to accommodate them all.  At many schools, a catered lunch wouldn’t have been given this much thought. Naropa is so small, and so focused on the wellbeing of its students, that lunch became a small statement about these qualities, while also giving a glimpse about the types of people it attracts.

During our lunch, we were given the opportunity to discuss life in the graduate programs with some of its current students. One of the students happened to be a friend of mine, whom I’d met during my handful of years in Boulder, and he was very personable in answering my questions. I found it very thoughtful of the school to provide current students with whom we could discuss the program, especially since we hadn’t had our interviews yet.

Perhaps one of the best parts of the day, however, was getting to talk to one of the school’s financial aid counselors. Naropa is an expensive school, as it is a private school, and it doesn’t have many majors that produce incredibly lucrative jobs. We had the opportunity to hear an honest, straightforward explanation of graduate tuition rates, financial aid options, and post-graduate loan repayment options. It was very clear that this school is more concerned with serving its students than with making money.

After lunch and the financial aid discussion, it was finally time for my interview. I was one of the last people interviewed, and therefore had some time to relax and go over the things I wanted to remember during the interview process. I had spent time reading the descriptions of each program on the website, and I’d met with my admissions counselor in order to ask for further clarification. From what I’d gathered, there were a handful of things that Naropa was most interested in. Naropa wants students who:

  • Have some kind of daily contemplative practice, which could include meditation, or some other mindfulness building activity such as Tai Chi.
  •  Have a good academic background. Naropa wants students who will be able to handle its coursework, especially when coupled with the unique stresses of a mindfulness-based program.
  • Have some kind of real-world experience in the mental health field. This doesn’t mean you have to be working in a psychology-related field, it means you need to show that you have worked with people in a way that has caused you to grow–for example, volunteering with a homeless shelter, or working in a school.
  • Have the ability to overcome difficulties on an emotional and interpersonal level.

When I went into my interview, this seemed to be pretty spot on. I was asked a handful of questions, and given the opportunity to answer them to whatever degree I needed. My interviewer took notes, and prompted me if she needed further elaboration on any of my answers.

Basically, I was asked to:

  • Demonstrate that I understood contemplative practice, and that I was involved in some sort of contemplative practice regularly in my personal life.
  • Show that I had faced situations that were personally difficult, and explain how I had handled those situations.
  • Explain how I tended to interact in a group setting, and what difficulties I had in a group setting.
  • Display my strengths and weaknesses, academically and in my own life.
  • Illustrate how my experience outside of an academic setting had contributed to my foundation for graduate school.

I found that the best way to answer these questions was with honesty. While many graduate programs seem to encourage you to sell yourself to your interviewers as much as possible, Naropa really is looking for that genuineness that it professes to teach its students. Naropa wants to know that you understand what it’s like to suffer, and to be with others who are suffering. It also wants to know that you are able to function academically and emotionally during difficult times, and to grow from these situations. Finally, Naropa wants to know that you are dedicated to a mindfulness-based lifestyle, because without an appreciation of mindfulness, the degree program will not satisfy you, and you will likely do poorly.

There has been a lot of jargon in this post, which can make understanding exactly what Naropa is looking for a bit confusing. Much of this is explained during the actual program, so it’s not expected that you will understand it all. However, familiarizing yourself with the concepts of mindfulness and genuineness can make a world of difference.

For a better understanding of mindfulness, check out this link: http://www.wildmind.org/applied/daily-life/what-is-mindfulness

For a better understanding of genuineness, especially as it relates to empathy: http://www.ahpweb.org/rowan_bibliography/chapter6.html

And finally, that important phone call I mentioned at the beginning of this? That was Naropa, calling me to let me know that I’d been accepted into the Transpersonal Counseling Psychology MA program. So it looks like this blogging endeavor will be able to continue.

What do you think? Are you applying to Naropa, or have you applied? And if you have, was your interview experience similar or different? Feel free to comment!

The Naropa TCP Interview Scoop – Part 1

After a long weekend filled with friends’ wedding preparations, costume creation, and other neat things that I won’t have time for once I’m back in school, I’m ready to update you all on how my Naropa interview went.  I have to say that it was about what I expected, but at the same time made me even more eager to go back to school.

I arrived at the school at about 10:10 am, 20 minutes early.  This was partially due to a desire to give myself extra time in case anything went wrong, but also because my partner Casey needed the car later.  I entered the building, and was met by what could only be described as a labyrinth.  There are hallways everywhere, and the only common areas are the cafe (at the far end of the building), and a sort of center area where many of the hallways intersect.  To make things even more confusing, there are mirrors at the ends of many of the hallways, making them seem to go further than they actually do.  I had to ask a few people for directions before I found the bathrooms, and even then I had to walk through an area marked “meditation hall” that was a designated quiet area.

I ran into a few other prospective students during my time walking the halls, who seemed as lost as I was.  Eventually we were all brought to a room near the cafe, which had a lovely indoor water feature, as well as a table full of nametags and snacks.  I didn’t get to spend very much time in this room, however, as we were soon led to another room where we would all start the interview process.

The room we were brought to was fairly small, with wood floors and large windows.  There was a circle of cushions arranged on the floor for us to sit on.  While there were a few chairs, most of us sat on the cushions, which were quite comfortable.  A couple of people introduced themselves as the interview coordinators, and we were given a brief description of the philosophy behind Naropa’s education style.  Then, for a few minutes, the group leader described the “Naropa Bow.”

At some schools, the instructor will verbally call attention to the class in order to begin, and in others a bell signals the beginning of class time.  At Naropa, the class starts with a short bow.  It isn’t a complex movement; it involves sitting up straight, appreciating silence for a few moments, and then bending from the waist and inclining the head.  The bow is a symbolic movement, to focus your attention on the people present, and to acknowledge your willingness to bring everything you’ve got to the table for the time that everyone is together.

After the bow, we went around the circle introducing ourselves, and I got a taste for what to expect if I get accepted.  The brief descriptions that each person gave were quite varied, from the woman who had used art to work through a long recovery from illness, to the man studying the effects of auditory stimulation on the brains of trauma survivors.  I could tell that these individuals were at the forefronts of their fields of interest, which was an encouraging sign of what was to come in the program.

After we’d all introduced ourselves, we were taken to the meditation hall of the school.  It was pointed out that many schools have chapels, but few have meditation halls, and I must say I prefer Naropa’s choice.  The room was quiet and comfortable, and not very large.  It was full of cushions, this time facing an altar at the front.  Hanging above the altar was a banner with a sun on it, signifying the continual dawning of new opportunity with each moment.  On the altar were five objects in bowls: a mirror, a guitar, a cookie, scented water, and a ribbon.  These signified what we were offering to ourselves and to the world by meditating: our five senses, and the awareness we gain by using them.  We practiced shamatha meditation, focusing on the breath with our eyes open, for about ten minutes.  It was very relaxing this time, and allowed me to calm the nervousness I’d been feeling about my interview.

After this, we were dismissed for lunch. I am out of time to write this post, so I will describe the second half of the day during my next post.  In the meantime, feel free to ask about anything in this post that is unclear, or if you have any thoughts about Naropa’s interview process thus far!

How Sitting Still Can Make You a Better Student

As I mentioned in my last post, the idea behind contemplative education is that you can’t expect to use information effectively if your only means of understanding it is intellectual, such as reading a book.  Contemplative education uses a well rounded approach, which includes experiential learning as well as a sort of deeper “digestion” of the information, and then integration of that knowledge into daily life. While there are probably various ways to do this, which are likely utilized by other models of education, the way that contemplative education works is through meditation.

Now, before you go back to that mental image of the flower children chanting in a circle, allow me to explain what meditation really is. Naropa’s style of contemplative meditation involves Vipassana Meditation.  Put simply, this form of meditation involves sitting still with your eyes open, paying attention to your breath, and noticing any thoughts that come into your head.  Sounds easy, right?  Not quite.  There are so many things going through our heads all the time, that eventually we stop paying much attention to how important they might be, and we just get carried away.  You sit down, start focusing on your breath for about 3 seconds, and then start noticing the floor.  You remember your own bathroom floor, and how dirty it is, and how that friend of yours commented on the pattern of the tile.  Then you start thinking about that friend, which leads you to thinking about that city where you met in that bar.  By the time you remember to focus on your breath again, 30 seconds has gone by.

Most people think that meditation is relaxing, and pleasant.  But the fact is, it’s often frustrating, and tiring, and once you start noticing your thoughts, you can be quite disturbed by what’s actually in them.  You start noticing feelings that you’ve shoved deep inside yourself, and when they come up, you can’t yell or go zone out into a movie.  All you can do is sit with them.

So how does this help you learn?  As you spend time noticing your thoughts, you start being more deliberate about paying attention to the world.  It’s harder to fool yourself into thinking the world is out to get you, for example, because you notice all of those thoughts like “how dare he say that to me” or “why doesn’t the bus ever come sooner?”  Usually, you’d just accept those thoughts as truthful, and feel rotten about it.  But when you start noticing your thoughts, you question their usefulness.  For example, when the thought “how dare he say that to me” shows up, you might then thing “that really hurt my feelings, but maybe he’s having a bad day, I shouldn’t take it personally.”  You are spending less time focusing on unpleasant things, and more time paying attention to what’s actually going on around you.

The first step in contemplative education is the traditional sort of learning, from books and lectures and such.  Meditation is the second step.  It helps you start to understand what you’re learning, because you start to notice your reactions to the information.  You notice how the information is exemplified in your own life, and you start to discover the real value in the knowledge.  When you learn about it this way, it’s much harder to just forget about it once you’ve passed your exams.

I’ll cover the third part of contemplative practice in my next post.  In the meantime, give it a shot!  Sit down, loosely focus your eyes a couple of feet in front of you, pay attention to your breathing, and notice what thoughts come up. Try this for about 5 or 10 minutes.  Then, let me know how it went!  Maybe you’ll have a different experience than I did.  Maybe it’ll be great, or maybe it won’t work at all.  Either way, it’s worth a shot, and I’d love to hear about your experiment with meditation!

So Why Did I Choose This School Anyway?

This is an important week for me.  It’s the first time I’ll be interacting with the Naropa University Transpersonal Counseling Psychology graduate program in physical terms: I have my interview scheduled for this Friday!  That means two things.  First, it means that I haven’t actually been accepted yet, which means that this whole blog could be a lost cause.  But second, it means you’ll get to follow me through the interview process, and see what it’s like from the inside.  If you, or someone you know, is thinking of applying to Naropa, this is your chance to learn a little more about the process than you’ll find on the Naropa website.

Incidentally, the Naropa website is what led me to my topic for today.  After going through the site with the fervor of a cat after a laser pointer, I’ve turned up surprisingly little about what Naropa actually does.  There are a lot of buzz words, like “basic goodness” and “compassion,” but the meat and potatoes of the school’s educational system seem to be missing.  So I took my search to the greater internet in hopes of figuring more out about this odd little university.

The funny thing about Naropa is that very few people have heard of it.  This isn’t surprising, as it is quite small, but it also means that there’s not much information to go on.  There aren’t many reviews, forum threads, or blogs about the school.  What is available seems like a foreign language.  The school claims a unique teaching style, called “contemplative education.”  The label is unfortunately vague, but a quick google search brings up a wikipedia page for the subject. It turns out that contemplative education is a philosophy as well as a teaching style.  The wiki starts out by explaining that contemplative education “infuses learning with the experience of awareness, insight and compassion for oneself and others through the erudite academic practices of meditation and contemplative disciplines, such as ikebana, t’ai chi ch’uan and Chinese brushstroke.”  I’m sure that I’m not the first person for whom this description has instantly conjured up images of flower children sitting in a circle, holding hands, and chanting.  On the other hand, I’ve also never heard of a bunch of hippies going to grad school, learning to manage their own neuroses, and becoming successful therapists.  And since the latter is closer to the reports I’ve heard from the school’s alumna, I think it warrants closer inspection.

The second line of the page states that “contemplative education seeks to integrate the best of Eastern and Western educational traditions, helping students know themselves more deeply and engage constructively with others.”  Well, I suppose I can’t argue with that.  It’s a philosophy that encourages diversity, introspection, and cooperative interactions with other people–all good qualities for a therapist. But, as the page goes on to explain, there’s more to it than nice interpersonal qualities.

The real driving force behind contemplative education is the belief that you can’t learn about a subject by memorizing a book, and then expect to be able to use that knowledge effectively.  Imagine trying to teach yourself a language.  You could study a book, memorize vocabulary and sentence structure, and probably even find audio cds or computer programs that allow you to hear the language spoken.  But if you never bounce your language skills off of someone else who speaks it, you’ll probably develop all kinds of bad habits in your pronunciation or grammar.  Furthermore, you won’t know what it’s like to really speak with another person until you absolutely have to, and you may very well find that there are different accents, or colloquialisms, or dialects of that same language that you never learned about.  In short, until you’ve used that language, you won’t know if you can effectively communicate with the people who speak it.

As a therapist, there is a certain “language” that each of your clients speaks.  A therapist needs to work effectively with people who have gone through trauma, or addiction, or who suffer from mental illness.  If you can’t relate to your clients, you won’t be able to communicate with them.  Of course, that doesn’t mean that potential therapists should undergo traumatic experiences, or take up addictive substances.  Contemplative education teaches therapists how to empathize with clients’ emotional experiences, even if they can’t directly relate to their clients’ life experiences.  It offers the tools necessary to speak the “language” of your clients, even though you are often very different people from very different backgrounds.

So how does contemplative education go about teaching someone to do this?  I’ll explain what I’ve discovered, in my next post.  In the meantime, feel free to share your own thoughts or questions relating to contemplative education.  Have you encountered this form of education yourself, or do you know someone who has?  How has it panned out?  Do you think it’s possible, or does it sound like an idealistic but unrealistic philosophy?

A Program like No Other…?

The best career advice I’ve ever been given is “any psychology program can teach you how to diagnose a patient or handle insurance paperwork, but you need one that can teach you how to come home after work and not want to hang yourself.” While this view may be a bit morbid, it’s effectively trure. In a field that’s rife with college dropouts, unused degrees, and career changes, there’s obviously some need that isn’t being met. But the process of finding the magic ingredient that makes a successful psychology career work must be incredibly complex…right?

 

That’s what I’m here to find out. I’ve chosen to skip the big name schools, the acclaimed programs, and the traditional methods of western schooling in favor a tiny university in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. This is a school with radical views on education, where students are routinely required to sit perfectly still for hours at a time when no lecture is being given. I have been told that highly academic graduate students routinely break down sobbing in class, that instructors of incredibly varied backgrounds are drawn to work there, and that the program’s intensity is incomparable to anything the average college student has ever experienced.

And the results? Graduates claim that their experiences in this school have offered them that x-factor needed to work in this field, to shrug off the stress at the end of the day, and to maintain a positively happy career. They describe the program as lifechanging. After speaking with dozens of current students and alumna, not one has had anything bad to say.
What other program can claim this?