By Heather Hendrie, MA Transpersonal Wilderness Therapy student
Now this is Naropa.
I don’t think there is anywhere else in the world where I could have the joint exposure to spirituality and social activism that I experienced here today. Read: compassion meets radical change-making. And I could not feel more grateful to be alive at this time and in this place.
Today, I had the opportunity to sit in a sold-out house with Lama Rod Owens. I feel like I have just been in the presence of embodied wisdom. Of compassion. Of presence. Beyond that, there was just something so big about the wisdom that Lama Rod Owens spoke today that I don’t quite know how to feel.
With a quick smile, wearing glasses and dressed in black with an unbuttoned denim shirt layered on top, there is something extremely approachable about Owens. I was raptly attentive to his every word and felt much more like I was having tea one on one than sitting as one of many in a crowd of engaged alumni, students, and faculty. Perhaps it was this quality that led my friend Carole to conclude, “There is something so real about him—his way of being, his training, his radical social justice activism. It makes me feel like I can really do this too.”
The topic of his talk was happiness, but not really. It was billed as, When Happiness Hurts: Questioning the Pursuit of Happiness. Owens is at Naropa University this week as The Frederick P. Lenz Foundation Distinguished Guest Lecturer in Buddhist Studies and American Culture and Values, following in the footsteps of other distinguished lecturers like Sharon Salzberg, Joanna Macy and Rev. angel Kyodo williams. And I get to be here too. That’s what I’m really feeling. It’s gratitude. To be in this place, at this time, with the great opportunity to be inspired over a Wednesday lunch hour by the likes of Lama Rod Owens. I mean, who else gets to talk oppression, radical social justice and compassion over lunch? Scratch that, it’s a rhetorical question, but a chorus of Naropa faculty and students could likely answer right now in chorus,
What Lama Rod Owens really spoke about was everything. About how with Buddhist practice, “We start with suffering. But we don’t have to stay there.” About how it’s essential that we do our own work, or that otherwise, we become work for somebody else. About how “Love enters us into a decolonized future.” About his own journey: “I’m always struggling. I’m always trying to make sense of the world.” And overarchingly, about how happiness does not exist independently, but that it is complexly interwoven with our suffering, our hopelessness, our joy, and our humanity.
After one particularly enthusiastic response from his audience, Owen issued,
“I shoulda came here! [as a Naropa student]”
I, for one, am just overwhelmingly glad that he’s here now.