I am a 26 year old non-traditional student, beginning my sophomore year at Naropa University pursuing a double major in Peace Studies and Religious Studies. From a very young age, I have felt a strong affinity for the spiritual, religious, and philosophical traditions of the world as they seemed to address the sense that I have long had that there is far more to life than what my senses alone perceive.
In my early teens, struggling with a volatile life at home and paralyzing depression in my internal life, I began meditating nightly and turning my gaze inward. Though, with no formal introduction to a meditation practice at that time, those brief periods spent in silent contemplation afforded me the opportunity to unravel, unpack, and most importantly feel the seemingly endless barrage of befuddling emotions I experienced—a not altogether uncommon experience for most adolescents, I would wager. In a way, the healing of my own anemic self-esteem as a young teen is what set me on the course for what has been a lifelong passion and drive to understand myself and my place in the world.
In the following years, I sought out and devoured writings from mystics and spiritual pundits. I read works from Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, Taoism, Sufism, and absorbed teachings from eastern gurus and western philosophers alike. I particularly drew inspiration from the works of the 13th century Sufi poet and mystic, Jalaluddin Rumi as well as the works of the contemporary visionary artist, Alex Grey.
Slowly, all my studying and seeking began to deeply inform how I chose to live my life. I began to witness life—my own and that of others—as something profoundly sacred. With this realization, I began taking notice of all the ways in which my lifestyle, choices, and attitudes were not in resonance or accord with the value I had come to place on life. I started paying close attention to how I walk on this earth, with the understanding that my every action impacts others. I began to see also, the many grievous ways in which the sanctity of life is trampled upon, disregarded and abused in the world—how much needless and unbearable suffering occurs each day.
After graduating from high school, I spent four years entrenched in a destructive social scene and the monotony of a wholly unrewarding nine-to-five job. Finally, the sense of emotional, spiritual and mental stagnation became so overwhelmingly prevalent that I simply couldn’t bare it any longer. I left my job, moved to a new city, and began my studies again. Over the course of that time I read Ram Dass’ Be Here Now, a book that ended up changing my life.
Be Here Now, the quintessential 60’s counterculture spiritual handbook, had been written and originally printed at an intentional community in the mountains of northern New Mexico, called the Lama Foundation. Though it was only mentioned in passing a few times throughout the book, I knew I had to see this place. Shortly thereafter, I was on a Greyhound bus bound for Taos, New Mexico to spend a month at the Lama Foundation—I ended up staying there for three years.
My time at the Lama Foundation blew my life wide open. Lama is what I have come to call “omni-demominational”—nearly every wisdom tradition is honored and represented there. I was exposed to a diverse range of practices and teachings offered by sincere and devoted practitioners of many faiths. My studies continued and deepened and my spiritual life took on a lived, experiential dynamic. I learned firsthand about sustainability (and the many challenges therein), community building, consensus, tools for effective facilitation, leadership, and conflict reconciliation. I worked closely with multiple youth groups, and even organized, promoted and facilitated two youth-based retreats with a focus on tapping into the unique gifts we each have to offer to the world. I also learned how to cook a damn fine yellow curry for upwards of seventy people.
For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by individuals who trusted me with important roles and responsibilities and encouraged me to rise to the occasion—and I did. I was elected by fellow community members as well as the Lama board of trustees to serve in numerous positions, including Secretary of the Foundation, as well as a member of a two-person committee charged with mediating interpersonal conflict as they arose in the community.
I came to Lama as a 22 year old lost in the thick of it all, struggling to find a direction and a means to live a life of spiritual integrity amidst a woefully materialistic sociocultural climate. I left with a deeply established emotional and spiritual fortitude, a previously unimagined faith in my own abilities, and an unshakable will to be of service to creating a more just, equitable, sustainable, and loving world.
This desire to be of service is what compelled me to leave Lama and ultimately what drew me to Naropa. I could have happily spent many more years on that mountain in northern New Mexico, but I have to ask myself, what good is all this insight, development, and growth if I spend my life isolated on a mountainside? I know I have to get in the world, put some feet under my prayers, and offer myself in service, lest my spiritual life be little more than a shallow, self-serving, preoccupation.
For this reason, the synthesis of spirituality and activism is of particular interest and inspiration to me. Perhaps then, it is easy to see why I have chosen to major in both Peace Studies and Religious Studies at Naropa. I hope to investigate and deepen my understanding of this synthesis during my time at Naropa, to envision ways in which our spiritual ideals, values and practices can infuse and permeate our desire for a more beautiful world and how we go about creating it. How can religion unite us, not divide us? How can activism unite us, not divide us? I think the answer lies in the marriage of the two.
Though what it will be specifically is still unclear to me, I feel strongly that what I have to offer to the world exists somewhere within this inquiry, for my inner compass points unmistakably in this direction. Through it has been brief, the introduction I have received to the field of peace studies has already been a source of tremendous inspiration and insight, and I have a nascent sense that it will help introduce me to, and clarify the ways in which I can best be of service in the coming chapters of my life.