Walking on Sacred Ground: Naropa Faculty at Howard University

Naropa University diversity
Photo by NCinDC

By Mark Miller, Professor of Music 

Standing in the public square beneath the stately edifice of Frederick Douglass Hall, humbled by the weight of history and inspired by a feeling of purposeful community, we gathered to take up the central question: What is the relationship between contemplative practice and social justice? How can we bring the wisdom of contemplative mind and compassion to bear in the international struggle for human dignity, equity and peace?

Eight members of the Naropa community including faculty, staff, and administrators traveled to Washington D.C. to attend the annual conference of the Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education. We met in discussion and workshops at Howard University, one of the country’s historically black colleges, on the theme of “Building Just Communities.”

Naropa’s staff and faculty presented on a variety of topics including, “The Bow: Teaching Inclusivity and Social Justice Through Contemplative Ritual,” “Reversing Spiritual/Somatic Bypassing of Racism,” and “Leaning into Difference Through Difficult Group Conversation: Exploring Power, Privilege and Oppression.” Although we have struggled with issues of inclusivity and belonging on our own campus, Naropa clearly had something important to say at this gathering of over three hundred academics representing colleges and universities from around the country.

Nationally and internationally, Naropa is recognized as a leader in contemplative education. Where faculty and staff at other institutions struggle to find support for a more contemplative perspective, Naropa celebrates its commitment to serious contemplative practice and an approach to critical inquiry that combines intellectual investigation with the cultivation of compassion. What we have at Naropa is precious, the envy of many of the educators at the conference.

While much good work is being done in the area of social justice in higher education, a clear difference between Naropa’s presentations and those of other teachers and scholars was evidenced by our long experience with mindfulness/awareness practice. We know that a sustained commitment to compassion in social action is dependent on the quality of our practice over time, while others are just beginning to investigate the meaning of a practice discipline.

Of course, Naropa still has a long way to go and much more work to do, but we are on our way. Walking on the sacred ground of the Howard University campus, we were moved by the historic sacrifices that others have made and are making today to foster social justice and positive change. We were moved to redouble our commitment to join together in the deep practice of compassion in action, to help heal a world fractured by violence, hatred, and environmental degradation. May our efforts be of benefit to all, near and far.

About the author:

Mark Miller NaropaMark Miller has been teaching at Naropa University for over twenty years. His classes have included Improvisation, Musicianship, Ear Training, Jazz History, Jazz Ensemble, Performance Practicum, Interdisciplinary Improvisation, Interdisciplinary Composition, Contemplative Pedagogy Seminar (for faculty) and Contemplative Practice Seminar (for first year students). He has toured and recorded with Art Lande, Paul McCandless, Peter Kater, R. Carlos Nakai, David Friesen, Tom Grant and Bill Douglas. Mark’s recordings with jazz pianist Art Lande include improvised duets The Story of Ba-Ku, Prayers, Germs and Obsessions and World Without Cars, and two award-winning children’s albums featuring Meg Ryan and Holly Hunter.  With pianist Peter Kater, he has recorded seven albums including Migration, Honorable Sky and Rooftops, as well as sound tracks for television and Off-Broadway.

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