Heading off to Boulder in a week for my second Summer Writing Program at Naropa. The school has been through numerous changes since I applied and was accepted in December 2009. The new president, Stuart Lord, is a poor fit for the mission, history and current population of Naropa. I won’t go into why, lest I be charged with disrespect and/or slander. Let it be enough to say his religious ideology and lack of personal warmth and integrity seem to be hampering his ability to lead what is admittedly a somewhat unruly student body. Wait, what was that? Unruly student body? Wow. Do those exist? Anywhere outside of Naropa I mean? One would think not.
Naropa students have long paid the price for the exploits of their illustrious forebears. Sex, drugs and alcohol reigned supreme, right up there with Buddhist spirituality. Founder Chogyam Trungpa, along with being an enlightened educator, was a hard drinking, womanizing cad. Early professors, led by the inimitable Allen Ginsberg, were brilliant artists with enormous heart and a wide-open sense of justice. Ginsberg would appear to class—sometimes high, it’s true, but also ready to impart his considerable knowledge to students eager to learn any lesson he cared to share. They were young, disillusioned, passionate—hungry to find and forge a more peaceful, tolerant path than that of their parents, their government, and, often, their peers.
Things aren’t so different today. Students come from all sectors of society seeking a better society. They’re idealistic, creative, largely uninterested in the status quo. They drink, they do drugs, they chant and meditate. They sing, dance, write, create art, perform plays. They are bright, idealistic, interested in the earth and her inhabitants. Some like patchouli, some don’t. Some wash their clothes (and body) with a bit less frequency than their parents and professors might prefer. Some are squeaky clean in mind and body. Some like men, some like women, few people ask or care which. Oh, and yeah, they pretty much all have sex as frequently as possible, often after all-night parties. For this, they are vilified by members of the community—Boulder, Colorado, the US. As I write, powers that be are deciding the fate of Naropa. Its location, its ideology, its existence and relevance in 2011 and beyond. Check out a few of the links I’ve posted below: too many see Naropa not as the asset it is, but as a blight on the community. Forget that most of their fears are based on ancient history, innuendo and false information—they want the school, with its amazing and much needed diversity, to go away.
But to return to my initial statement—how many schools exist in this country that aren’t populated by the same exact demographics I’ve listed above? Unruly, one and all. And that’s a marvelous, spectacular, inspiring thing. Because what each of these students share is a desire to find their place in the world. And where better to do that in environments they’ve chosen specifically because they suit their desires and ideologies. Their goals and aspirations. Are all Naropa students hippie wannabes who do drugs and forget to bathe? No. Would it matter to me if they were? No. Should it matter to you? No. Perception is not reality. We seem to forget that daily, and so we also forget to get outside our comfort zone, check out the places and people that scare us. We forget to question the media and hearsay. Most importantly, we forget the absolute need of all environments to have inhabitants that co-exist despite their differences.
What concerns me, however, isn’t the Boulder community’s occasional lack of curiosity and tolerance. Nor is it the supposed assumption by academia that Naropa is a hotbed of subversion and rebellion with little intellectual or artistic merit. What concerns me most is that Naropa’s largest threats come from within.