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Danny Sprague-Chaffin, a peace studies major at Naropa, formed a nonprofit organization, raised funds, and led the effort to build a school in a remote region of Nepal. Until he found a meaningful purpose and application of his passion, Danny didn’t feel comfortable with his place in school or in the community. His need to improve the world drew him to the children of Nepal; Danny combined his own insight with the learning he received in the classroom, allowing him to perform effective actions that served the world community. Through hard work, dedication, and insight, he has made lasting changes in the lives of many children, all from a place of contemplative inquiry and informed and compassionate action.

Naropa alumna Amber Gray is another wonderful example of the results of a contemplative education. Amber trained in somatic counseling psychology, and today she offers psychotherapy, training, and program development throughout the world, particularly to survivors of extreme trauma. Amber spent much of 2010 in Haiti after its devastating earthquake, offering informed, compassionate service to Haitians. She collaborated with their community and mental health organizations, providing training and support for caregivers and citizens. Amber assisted these caregivers in fully integrating their own personal losses, so they could better serve the larger community from a truly healthy, holistic, and aware space. Amber’s contemplative practice allowed her to manage this work effectively and with compassion. It is her contemplative practice that informs, fuels, and nourishes her deep passion to serve.

Graduates of Naropa’s degree programs run businesses, teach, create nonprofits, and serve in myriad ways. One of Naropa’s graduates, Arron Mansika, studied environmental leadership and then founded a successful business, Boulder’s Best Organics, in 1996. The Boulder County Business Report ranked it the second-fastest-growing company in the Boulder Valley in its revenue class (sales under $2 million) in 1999. Arron says reporters are often surprised that he is so successful in the business world despite having graduated from a school that doesn’t offer a business degree. “I think there is a misperception as to what a mindfulness education can prepare you for,” he said. “I jumped right into the Western business world, but with, in my opinion, an advantage: I am showing up fully.” Among the characteristics of showing up fully, he says, are having a strong sense of who you are, listening to your intuition, being vulnerable yet brave enough to speak your truth, being awake, and dropping fear and hesitation so you shine through as yourself.

Albert Einstein said, “Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.” Many of the world’s problems require new and innovative approaches to find lasting solutions. The focus on immediate results and a bottom-line mentality have come at the expense of future generations, creating calamitous effects in nearly every sector of human society around the globe. More of that kind of thinking won’t solve the complex, multifaceted issues that plague our global community. The greatest disservice we can do to students is to imprint them with how we assume the world to be, without giving them the necessary tools to investigate and explore the world as it is, with an open heart and a discerning mind. Students need both skills and opportunities to explore the vast range of possibilities the world has to offer so they can find creative solutions to the world’s problems.

“By virtue of increasing connection, the personal transformation cultivated by mind training has great potential for enabling humanity to live on this planet sustainably and in peace,” P.G. Grossenbacher and Steven Parker wrote in “Joining Hearts and Minds: A Contemplative Approach to Holistic Education in Psychology” (Journal of College and Character). Those whose higher education includes a contemplative education component are imbued with the much-needed capacity for authentic insight and revolutionary thinking; they are poised to meet the world as it is, and have the passion and capacity to improve it. When these students graduate, they have spent years turning problems upside down, looking at them from the inside out, holding them quietly within, and working collaboratively with others to find novel approaches to solving them—providing not just a quick fix, but a true change that benefits everyone. Gandhi said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Service, when used in a contemplative education framework, is a form of meditation leading to profound insight and positive transformation, both personally and globally. This form of compassionate service allows insight and heart wisdom to flow through all of one’s deeds and actions, imbuing everyone and everything he or she touches with the benefits of such awareness.

All of those qualities are nourished by a special kind of education, a contemplative education. Naropa University graduates are able to work with the raw tensions of the world and the complexities of the human dilemma, ultimately cultivating a fuller human experience. Although we all have our own particular intentions, hopes, and dreams, when we allow our hearts to be open we can best utilize the many gifts and opportunities that come our way. When I look back on the seeds of my life, they were planted during times when I was able to reflect on the deeper questions of life. These many encounters created space in my life, allowing me to gain awareness of myself, the world, and my personal path of informed and compassionate service.

With such insight one is able to cultivate community and nourish positive change and personal growth. In such a community, there is always the opportunity for real human interaction and heartfelt connections. Commonalities, rather than differences, take precedence. In the contemplative educational environment at Naropa, students, faculty, and staff can allow the walls around them to dissipate so that they develop authenticity. I have seen it time and time again. It’s such a powerful opening of the heart that once awakened, the human connection cannot be severed. When this realization has been achieved, there can never again be anything that stands in the way of the heart and its ability to connect with others. That is contemplative education, and that is how we, as a community, are changing the world.

The real question, though, is how can you apply these principles to your life?

We all must cultivate our heart’s willingness to closely inquire into ourselves, our relationships, and our communities. For the success of our society we must demand a rigorous approach to practice and an open investigation into ourselves. Only when grounded in authentic self-awareness do we have the capacity to answer the call to serve.

Naropa University president Stuart C. Lord is an expert in service learning, multicultural and spiritual education, and leadership and ethics. He has a Doctor of Ministry degree with a specialization in multicultural education from United Theological Seminary, has been a leader in humanitarian work in America and abroad, and received a distinguished alumni award from Texas Christian University.

From the July 2011 issue of the Shambhala Sun. Click here to browse the entire issue online.

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