Mindful U Podcast Episode 85. Regina Smith: Visions of a Thriving Mission, Culture, and Inclusive Community

The newest episode of our podcast, Mindful U, is out on Apple, Spotify, and Stitcher now! We are happy to announce this week’s episode features Regina Smith, a Master in Contemplative Psychotherapy & Buddhist Psychology from Naropa who serves as the Vice President of the Mission, Culture & Inclusive Community division of our Naropa campus.

Regina Smith: Visions of a Thriving Mission, Culture, and Inclusive Community

 

Regina Smith has contemplated what a thriving mission, culture, and inclusivity-driven community could look like. Now, she and her team at Naropa are mirroring this in order to make it less of a dream and more reality. Tune into this episode to get a glimpse of her vision and find out how you can help, too. 

 

Within the Discussion:

Nikki Giovanni

Cotton Candy On A Rainy Day

Ubuntu

I Am Because We Are

 

Regina on what evidence of a thriving Mission, Culture & Inclusive Community could look like:

“I see a community that would be able to, you know, communicate needs and feelings and give each other feedback. And there would just be really healthy multi directional communication, which leads to strong relationships. I see a community where folks know how to work with conflict. And when they feel they’re in a place where the conflict is too sticky, that they know how to ask for help in working with conflict and conflict leads to a deepening of relationship and a clarifying values. I see a community where folks who are historically marginalized, and who aren’t typically centered, are centered. And so, a lot of our policies and practices and protocols, uplift and address the needs of those who have been historically oppressed, first and foremost. Because when we uplift those who are on the farthest margins of our community, I think we serve everyone.”

 

Novel Mentioned: Feminist Accountability

Buy it at the Boulder Bookstore

 

Big Quotes:

“One of the things I know is that I’m not the one who knows, I’ve decided to demote myself from being the one who knows. So, I can just tell you about my experience, I can’t tell you whether it’s the ultimate truth.”

 

“How do we become okay with not being special or important or central, but rather becoming what’s needed for the collective to thrive?”

Full Transcript Below

Full Transcript

Regina Smith

TRT 59:18

 

 

[MUSIC]

Hello, and welcome to Mindful U at Naropa. A podcast presented by Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. I’m your host, David Devine. And it’s a pleasure to welcome you. Joining the best of Eastern and Western educational traditions — Naropa is the birthplace of the modern mindfulness movement.

 

[MUSIC]

 

David:

Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of the Mindful U podcast. Today we have a very special guest with us, Regina Smith. Regina has her MFA, MA and also is a teacher in the Graduate Psychology program. She currently serves as a Vice President of Mission, Culture and Inclusive Community. Regina brings her collaborative leadership and knowledge to the students and faculty to Naropa. And it’s really nice to have you on the podcast. How are you doing today?

 

Regina Smith:

I’m doing pretty well.

 

David:

Great. It’s really nice to have you in the studio. I feel like I’ve been trying to podcast with you for maybe like a year or two now. Probably, here we are.

 

Regina Smith:

I’m glad we made the dream come true.

 

David:

The dream is so true right now. So, over the years, we’ve had many moments of like briefly chatting during events, organizational things at Naropa. And while talking with you, I’ve kind of heard you talk about what you studied and what you learned. And you have an MFA, you have an MA. And I’m curious, could you tell our listeners what you did study and the topics that you did study and how did you find yourself at Naropa?

 

Regina Smith:

So, I have an undergraduate degree in English where I studied poetry. And then I went on to get an MFA at Sarah Lawrence College, also in creative writing poetry. And then came to Naropa, many years later to get a master’s in contemplative psychotherapy and Buddhist psychology. And I’m also currently enrolled in a doctoral program at the California Institute for Integral Studies. I’m studying women’s spirituality. And how I came to Naropa, I think I said this when I was interviewed for Naropa magazine, like 10 years ago, or seven years ago, and the truth hasn’t changed, which is – I came to Naropa because I was suffering. And I was trying to find a way out of suffering. I was in New York, and just had gotten sick and tired of my habitual patterns, and was looking for a program that would give me time to reflect on them. And that’s what Naropa is all about.

 

David:

Wow, that might be the first time I’ve heard someone say suffering is what led them to — but the habitual pattern thing, I think I can get along with that. So, you said something about like, women’s spirituality, I’ve never heard anything like that. What does that actually mean? Is there like a men’s spirituality because when you think of spirituality, sometimes it does feel a little misogynistic, like men base, but women birth, they have like a very spiritual aspect to their anatomy, to their mindset, to their like caring, nature and loving. And I don’t know, like, how could you speak that out? Like, what does that look like?

 

Regina Smith:

Yeah, I mean, I would say I’m deep in an exploration of gender right now. And definitely don’t want to say anything that reinforces the idea that there’s only two genders or two ways of expressing gender or identifying. But this particular program, I think, you know, came out of a historical need to address and confront and dismantle the patriarchal way of spirituality. And so, it is a very feminist program, very much looking at how patriarchy has shaped religion and spiritual practices and historically erased the contribution of non male identified folks. And, yeah, so far, I can say the most powerful thing that I am learning and living into is the impact that imagining God as a white male, sis person, or entity, like the impact that has had on me and what I believe is possible as a black woman. And so undoing kind of the imprint on my consciousness, which I’m sure will be a lifelong project is part of what the program is about, but just a small slice. I’m only in my second semester so —

 

David:

Yeah, that’s crazy. And, you know, being a white male myself, sometimes it’s hard for me to get out of the lens looking of oh, that looks like me, so I’m okay with that. Yeah, and maybe — maybe that’s not.

 

Regina Smith:

And I’ve — you know, a micro practice I would call it that I’ve been doing since starting the doctoral program is when I see images, pictures, murals of strong, beautiful, feminine icons, like imagining, like, what if that were God? And how would that shape everything differently? And definitely trying to interrupt the automaticness of picturing a white male when I pray or do spiritual practices. So yeah, working on it.

 

David:

Yeah. And one thing to note, is during the story of Adam and Eve, it was Eve, that ate the fruit of knowledge. It wasn’t — Adam was like, don’t do it.

 

Regina Smith:

Yeah.

 

David:

So, it was a woman that birth consciousness, essentially. So —

 

Regina Smith:

I just did a presentation from one of my classes on black feminism, and was quoting Sojourner Truth. And in one of the versions of her Akron, Ohio speech, she says, if a woman can turn the world upside down, then she ought to be able to turn it right side up, and you should let her, that’s a version of it.

 

David:

I’m letting her, you know, let’s get everyone else on board. So, with the education that you receive, because it seems like it was very like, poetically, writing based, how has this educational path been integral into teaching you and your relationships when it comes to like the content that you teach at Naropa? And also, like the — the roles that you take?

 

Regina Smith:

So how has my education impacted my path?

 

David:

Yeah, has like the poetry and the learning of the writing, and the Women’s Studies in spirituality, how has that informed the positions that you have at Naropa, and or just like in your life in general?

 

Regina Smith:

Well, I think — I think I sought out writing and poetry as just a way of expressing the human condition as I was experiencing it. And I think it was also very social justice oriented, the idea that a black woman could or had the right to express her worldviews and her own voice, and that that’s significant and important enough to invest a lot of money in creating a craft around, I think, is already leaning towards social justice. But also, my motivation for studying poetry was to do for others what poetry had done for me, which was help me to feel less alone. And like I belonged, and like my experiences mattered. And I know that through finding poetry that way, it brought a lot of comfort to me as a young — as an adolescent and a young adult. And so, part of my inspiration for writing was to transmit that feeling to other people coming up, who might feel isolated or excluded from mainstream society. And so, I think that’s very similar to psychology. Coming to study, being a therapist or to become a therapist, the same impulse to comfort others, console others, help to normalize their experience, understand how to alleviate human suffering or be it contribute to the alleviation of human suffering, led me to want to study counseling, and specifically Buddhist psychology, which brings this impulse I’ve always had to connect with the divine and be an expression of divine love. So that I think linked my poetry to counseling. And then in my experience, just growing more and more clear, how historically, whole populations of people have been placed outside of belonging, you know, systematically, systemically placed beyond the boundaries of what we consider normal or precious, and definitely placed beyond like our culture’s ability to love in certain ways. So, I think that initial impulse that I’ve had, since I was a child of wanting to express divine love, you know, went into poetry initially then into wanting to support people through counseling and individual relationships, and now has gone beyond kind of like the one on one impulse to wanting to work with groups and hopefully contribute to cultural transformation.

 

David:

I’m now starting to realize I never really put this together, but you’re kind of making me hear this a bit more of how poetry is therapeutic.

 

Regina Smith:

Definitely.

 

David:

And I had a conversation with someone else about poetry and he was pretty much saying the same thing, you know, and you’re making me like, trigger something in my brain where I’m just like, whoa, okay, like poetry is really helping people with some stuff. And it’s not just beautiful words on the paper anymore. It’s — it’s therapeutic thoughts.

 

Regina Smith:

Yeah. And when I first read poetry in school, I was only exposed mostly to kind of, you know, white male voices from the kind of canon of English language and literature. So then when I found Nikki Giovanni, and the first book I picked up was titled, Cotton Candy On A Rainy Day, and I was obsessed with cotton candy, and I loved the image. And then I read poetry written in this kind of plain talk. Like I remember, she has a poem where she says, loving you is like a second cigarette in the morning, you know, I could really relate to what that meant. Or she says something like, you keep my feet warm, that you make my life a mess. And then she has other poems about, you know, being a black woman, and she has a poem called Nikki Rosa. And at the very end of the poem, she’s like, you know, they won’t understand that after all of this, I actually had a happy childhood, you know, just like counter cultural messages in a language that was really accessible to me. It validated my experience, my right to speak about my experience, my ability to see the world through my own cultural perspective. Yeah. And I feel like, as I was saying, like reading that book, I felt loved. And I felt also spiritual. I think poetry is also very spiritual, because our experiences of love and my philosophy are experiences of the Divine, like were loved by humans, but it’s really all this interconnectedness that’s emerging. And so yeah, poetry counseling, social justice, all of its pretty much just different languages of trying to say the same thing, that we belong.

 

David:

Yeah, it’s almost like poetry is the language for all languages to arise. You know, it’s kind of like math. Like we all — like everyone knows numbers. But we all know what love is, and we know how to feel it. I would hope so. I don’t want to assume anything. But —

 

Regina Smith:

Yeah, I think we all have experiences of love.

 

David:

So, it turns out, you do actually teach classes at Naropa, you teach in the Graduate Psychology program? And I’m curious what is the name of the class you teach? And what is something a student can experience in your class? Like, what kind of content do you get?

 

Regina Smith:

Well, right now, I teach a class in the contemplative psychotherapy and Buddhist psychology program called small group process. And it’s a class that all of the students who enroll in that degree program, take every semester, all three years, ideally with the same students. And it’s basically teaching them how to be in group and group dynamics. But it’s also teaching them kind of who they are through the reflection and feedback of others. And I think it teaches them how to care for themselves and care for others, and interpersonal relationships. So, if a student were to enroll in my class, I think they could expect a lot of discomfort for a long time.

 

David:

Yay.

 

Regina Smith:

That eventually leads to greater self awareness, mindfulness of speech, learning how to contact the suffering of others, and try to be helpful and compassionate in real time. So, courage is another thing I think folks learn in the class.

 

David:

Interesting, because when I think of like psychology, I think of like one on one sessions, you know, you’re helping yourself, or you’re helping someone else. But it sounds like what you’re doing is a collective group environment of being able to, like, hear other people’s perspectives of how you may show up in a group or how other people show up in a group and how to the group may deal with something that comes up that is really good, really bad, really controversial.

 

Regina Smith:

Yeah.

 

David:

So, there’s these dynamics that we don’t necessarily pay attention to. And the fact that it’s a cohort, and everyone grows together, it’s like constantly being humbled. But some of my biggest growth has been some of the hardest stuff I had to swallow.

 

Regina Smith:

Absolutely. And I think, you know, I’ve been really reflecting on this idea of psychology. I mean, there — there are programs clearly in community psychology, and I’ve definitely been thinking of how Naropa specifically, but really, all of us need to be taught more about how to be a community or a collective, especially given the kind of social issues that we’re facing. I think a lot of them emerge from this individualistic perspective that were taught in the U.S. from the time were very young. And so, I think we don’t really learn how to collaborate, we don’t really learn how to take care of each other. We don’t really learn how to be a collective, in our planet, in our relationships and our — we’re suffering, you know, because of that. And I think we’re at this kind of cultural moment of crisis if we don’t start educating ourselves each other differently, where we’re not going to make it.

 

David:

Yeah, it’s interesting too, because someone might say something and then that triggers someone, but they think they’re so righteous, that them triggering that person is their fault. But like, what that person is saying is actually triggering someone else. So, it’s like, your idea is being confronted with another idea that doesn’t agree with that. And I just don’t know if we’re like, used to that. And it feels uncomfortable. But what it sounds like is when it’s done in a loving correct, you know, showing up way, you can actually like nip it in the butt and take care of it.

 

Regina Smith:

I don’t think there’s a right way or wrong way to necessarily show up. But I do think we have to practice being in conflict, we have to practice being wrong. I think that’s probably the hardest practice.

 

David:

Like, kay, hold on. How do you do that? Like, how do you practice being wrong?

 

Regina Smith:

Well, I don’t know for sure. One of the things I know is that I’m not the one who knows, I’ve decided to demote myself from being the one who knows. So, I can just tell you about my experience, I can’t tell you whether it’s the ultimate truth. But I did just get back from a week long retreat — Naropa retreat for third year students in the contemplative psychotherapy and Buddhist psychology program who are about to graduate. But what I learned about myself that week, is that I was a meditation instructor. So, I was a worker among workers. And I spent the whole week feeling kind of wrong, because I didn’t really know, I hadn’t done this particular role before, and I hadn’t done it on the land, I’d only done it virtually. And I didn’t know where I fit in, or what tasks I was supposed to do. And I was with other staff members who were really, really extraordinary people. And I just felt a little like wrong the whole week. And I worked with that, because what I realized is that sense of wrongness was actually kind of my ego or my individualism wanting to be important or wanting to know, a definitive role or a definitive way to be, rather than relaxing into the collective or at least that was the process of continuing to notice when I felt confused, just oriented, uptight. And teaching or practicing, relaxing into the collective. relaxing into the group. relaxing into being able to serve the students that were there. And I think that’s — that’s one of the many ways we could practice being wrong is like, how do we work with our egos? How do we become okay with not being special or important or central, but rather becoming what’s needed for the collective to thrive? Which is not what we’re taught?

 

David:

Yeah, true. And what’s interesting is that feeling that you were having it seemed self generated.

 

Regina Smith:

Well, it was ego generated, right? So, like, my typical reference point of being able to understand who I am, wasn’t there. You know, I — my kid wasn’t there so I wasn’t momming. You know, I wasn’t in my formal role at Naropa. So, I wasn’t like, bossing. I wasn’t with my girlfriend, so I wasn’t girlfriend-ing. So, all of my reference points for who I am and what makes me of value weren’t necessarily there. And I wasn’t jumping into any particular role that would have given me automatic reference points.

 

David:

So, like, if you’re on that retreat, bossing, you know mumming and girlfriend-ing, you would have been not wrong-ing.

 

Regina Smith:

Well, then I would have had like the comfort of like, my — this is who you are ness, right, as an individual, rather than being — being able to relax into I can be whatever is needed for the greatest good.

 

David:

Okay, I see. Things that come up and retreat, I guess.

 

Regina Smith:

Yes.

 

David:

I guess one thing to know is things come up for the — not just the practitioner, but also the teacher as well.

 

Regina Smith:

Right. We’re all practicing.

 

David:

Yeah.

 

Regina Smith:

In the community.

 

David:

Great. So, over the years that I’ve known you, you’ve had multiple roles at Naropa. And some things I found out, you were undergrad advisor, which I didn’t know. So that was probably like before my time. And then you’ve also served in many communities, role settings, you’ve introduced multiple missions. And I’m wondering if you could let us know some of these roles and how — what they were like and some of the responsibilities you had, and how it led you up to your position today as the vice president of the mission culture inclusive community.

 

Regina Smith:

Sure. Well, even when I was a student, still a graduate student, I TA’d some undergraduate classes, and I was a resident assistant and lived in the residence halls. So those gave me my taste of like working for Naropa, while still being a student. And I thought it was a great opportunity to take the teachings I was learning in the program, especially the ones about being a bodhisattva, which is kind of what I was just talking about, being able to be what is needed, regardless of how that aligns with your ego. I’m not saying I’ve ever achieved it, but I’m just saying it was a good aspiration —

 

David:

You’re not a bodhisattva.

 

Regina Smith:

I don’t know if I’ve taken any lifelong vows to come back again and again, until all sentient beings are liberated.

 

David:

We’re not going to cremate you and find the pearls to go find your next birth.

 

Regina Smith:

I don’t know. But then after that, I became a CSP, which is a clinical support professional, which is a TA for a class that I’d really enjoyed that was in my program. And yeah, I became a part time academic advisor, which is what I had been doing before I came to Naropa. So supported our undergraduate psych students and understanding their academic journey. And while I was doing that, I started being a member of our diversity and inclusivity committee. And eventually, that’s what led to my current role because I was very involved in all of our D and E efforts as a university, and got to understand where we are developmentally, like what our needs are. And I did apply to become the Director of Diversity and Inclusion, but at the time, I did not get an interview. So, they hired someone else, Tommy Lee Woon, who came in and was serving Naropa in that way. And then he needed to take a medical leave. And we had a student protest while he was gone.

 

David:

I remember that.

 

Regina Smith:

So —

 

David:

On the lawn, right.

 

Regina Smith:

Yeah. So, in 2015, we had student protests, the colonized commons, was kind of happening, you know, in the wake of the protests that were happening in Ferguson and the other universities around the country. So, we had community members who camped out on our lawn for five or six weeks. And in there, there was a desire for us to have a community conversation with the student protesters. And I’d also been serving as the faculty advisor for this — Students of Color and Allies student group. So, I knew some of the protesters who were involved and had some rapport and trust built. So eventually, at some point, I got asked if I would facilitate a conversation between, you know, the movement and the rest of the community? And I said, yes. And I had been doing a lot of practice with some of my other colleagues around, how do you hold contemplative dialogues about charged topics, specifically around privilege and oppression and identity and power? So, I had some experience to bring to bear. And so, I ended up serving as the Interim Director of Diversity and Inclusion, and then eventually that was made permanent. And that was seven years ago. And most recently, you know, took on the title that I have now.

 

David:

Great. How did that go, those conversations you were just talking about? Because I’m — I’m starting to see how like you’re coming up in poetry and writing in like women’s spirituality and inclusive community, justice work in all this and how it’s just like really creating this unique ability to have conversations like that. How do those conversations go? Because it does sound charged? It does sound school verse students’ ideologies kind of getting mixed in there.

 

Regina Smith:

Well, what comes up, as you asked, the question is my identity, you know, as a black woman, and also being like a very, what they would call light skinned black woman with curly hair. And growing up, I wasn’t easily accepted by the black community. And I wasn’t accepted, easily accepted by the white community. So, I kind of was on you know, the border. So, I think that there are lots of folks in our culture who have experiences that are similar that have different identities, but I think anyone who grows up not quite this not quite that develops a kind of capacity for not belonging, and for discomfort and for needing to speak from the margins. Bell Hooks has a wonderful article on choosing to stay in the margins as a position of political resistance. But I think that that experience, in addition to the training I received that we just talked about, that comes from group dynamics, here at Naropa, prepared me to be in a situation where, you know, no one — I wasn’t really on anyone’s side, or no one at least saw me as on their side. So, the students were like, you’re with the administration, you’re a sellout and the administration was like, you’re a pro student, you’re — you know, you don’t really understand the interests of the university.

 

David:

Like I’m trying to help you out, hello.

 

Regina Smith:

So, I had that experience of tolerating, not belonging. And I think I wouldn’t have necessarily called it love when I was in the practice back then. Or I wasn’t as deeply rooted in what Bell Hooks calls a love ethic as I am now. But I think I very much was able to — to be in a place of love and feel connected to love as the field that was holding everything.

 

David:

Seems like you would have to have a pretty big foundation in love to work in — as you say, like working in the margins, as you’re trying to help these two entities of school students, staff or whatever. And they’re conflicting each other and you’re in the middle. but then they’re like, wait, you’re on that side, and you’re on the — you’re like, no, I’m on love side. So —

 

Regina Smith:

Yeah, if I had had that more consciously, in my mind, and in my mouth as language, I think it would have been very, very helpful. But I didn’t. I was also pregnant at the time that the protests happened. And I think that also had a lot to do with it. Because again, it took me maybe another month before I trained with Joanna Macy. But she has a concept in her work of deep time. And I think that like when you’re pregnant, or with someone who’s bringing life into the world, there’s this concrete ability to tap into deep time, because you’re literally you have a generation — a future generation that you’re with, you’re holding. And so —

 

David:

And your well being kind of depends on their well being.

 

Regina Smith:

And your — well, I was thinking more like you’re creating a world that you’re going to bring them into. So, your sense of responsibility to the generations to come is very much there. And then you’re also carrying on a lineage, so your sense of your ancestry is very much present. And so, you’re kind of a time portal. So, showing up to create a better world, you know, so that in that way, I was allied with the students who wanted to transform the university, into what its highest calling, which is cultural transformation. And I was also aligned with the university because it needs to be here in order to transform the culture. So yeah, there was just a lot of deep depth that I felt like was holding me.

 

David:

All right. So as your role as the vice president of the mission, culture and inclusive community position, can you tell us some of your main values for this mission? And also, what are your ideas and directions that you’d like to implement while in the position?

 

Regina Smith:

Yeah, so we do have a new list of values, which I cannot — I have not yet memorized, but I can tell you, yeah, how they’re alive and present with me in this moment. So, one is definitely compassion, which is, you know, it’s really important to think of compassion as separate from pity or something you have for others, but rather, it’s something you have with others, and it’s an aspiration for the alleviation of suffering — of our own suffering and the suffering of others. I think another value is what Amanda Aguilera, who works as the Senior Director for MCIC would call active responsibility, so that we are able to respond, and we have to cultivate the capacity to respond to actively engage with the world and not take a bystander or a passive role in cultural transformation. I would say another value is collective liberation. So, the idea that none of us is free unless we are all free. You know, there’s the spiritual aspect of that and how we are working toward spiritual liberation, but there’s also you know, the actual transformation of systems of oppression, which allows some people access and others are denied or, you know, systemic barriers are placed in front of people’s access to all — to all the good things. Let’s just see, I’ve talked a lot about my value of love. But I really liked the way Bell Hooks talks about how M. Scott Peck defines love as the desire for another’s spiritual growth. So, you can do a lot with that collective care. So, taking care of each other is a value of mine, kindness, and a value that I think is not just a mine, but is one of MCIC. And of course, of like mindfulness and contemplative education, so that we need to cultivate self awareness in order for any of these things to be realized. And also, that we need to cultivate collective awareness. So, there are many places where we can’t see our impact on others. So, we need a community to show us when we are acting, both in alignment with our values and out of alignment with our values. So just the value of community. I think Thich Nhat Hahn says that the next Buddha will be the Sangha. So, our next opportunity for enlightenment is community.

 

David:

Yeah, man, I just thought of a word that was — it’s like a community collaboration of accountability.

 

Regina Smith:

Yes. And there’s this book that I’ve been really into called, “Feminist Accountability.” And there’s a lot in there about collective accountability, and that we need to get out of a culture where we are shaming and blaming people, when they make mistakes, and thinking that, you know, there are oppressive people, rather than people are in, you know, acting out their socialization, and that they will — they aspire to step into accountability, but they need the opportunity to do so.

 

David:

You’re such a Buddhist.

 

Regina Smith:

I am not a Buddhist.

 

David:

Well, like I say that in a good way. Because — because everyone has innate goodness.

 

Regina Smith:

Yes.

 

David:

And it’s not that you are a bad person, but you are doing bad things. So therefore, the accountability step is kind of saying like, it’s an invitation to go back to your innate goodness. And that’s what I’m about. I’m about, you know, like, people want to be good. And sometimes they think they’re doing good, but they’re not, and community in which that will hold you accountable. But like, have an unconditional love, because it’s easy to love someone who agrees with you. But it’s not easy to love someone who doesn’t agree with you. So therefore, if you can put the unconditional in front of it and realize like they want to be loved and they want to be accepted, but maybe what they’re doing is not right. It’s like an invitation to show up.

 

Regina Smith:

Yeah, I definitely believe in basic goodness. And I do think that when people are engaging in harm, that they are operating out of some confusion and disconnection in some way from their basic goodness. And I do think that, you know, there’s a lot of phenomena or people behaviors, conditions that I don’t understand, and that can’t be explained away with basic goodness. And I’m still learning how to relate to folks.

 

David:

You can’t explain everything, why not?

 

Regina Smith:

Do a lot of harm. But I do think that the ways we have been trained to respond to harm, don’t work and aren’t working. So, one of my friends Deb Bopsie tells me about ubuntu and this idea of, you know, like, wouldn’t it be great if we had practices where when people commit harm, we surround them with reminders of how good they have been ad acts of good they have done, and tried some of those practices, instead of punishment, and reinforcing these ideas about basic badness. And if we started young enough with that, what would happen? So, I like to use the imagination as a — as a tool.

 

David:

And ubuntu is the practice of what’s good for me is good for you.

 

Regina Smith:

Yes, and I shouldn’t — you know, without doing more — I’m like, I could mess this all up. So maybe I should not even talk about it, because I’m not deeply rooted in it as a cultural practice. But it’s just something that someone I love talks about a lot. And I liked the idea that if we lived — lived into the truth of our interconnectedness, maybe we would approach harm differently.

 

David:

Yeah, and the idea of if someone says, does something that’s not cool, and the community kind of takes you out and circles around you and says, like, hey, you know what, that one time where you really took care of me, I love you for that. It’s a reinforcement of what’s good. And I think what you’re pointing at is we don’t do that very often we don’t know how to do it. And what would it look like if we did? And I think I agree with you, where we would have more love, we’d be more adults, we could like address things that are really difficult to address with right action. So —

 

Regina Smith:

And I think that people really want to belong. And a lot of people’s misguided actions are, you know, misguided attempts at finding belonging, often through excluding others, like if you don’t belong, then that means I do. So, I really need to make sure that you’re on the outs so I can be on the in. But really, we just want to be in, you know?

 

David:

Yeah. It could be a song, are you in? So, I’m actually kind of curious with this new role of the VP, what types of relationships would this mission create between the students, faculty and community? And also, what type of commitment would you have with the collaboration of these relationships? So, would you be there in a group facilitating it? Or would you be kind of the person writing like a paper in which you know, maybe regulations to follow to make sure it’s all working properly? How do you implement this?

 

Regina Smith:

Well, if I go back to using the imagination as a tool, and kind of visualize, I think you’re asking me if mission, culture and inclusive community were a thriving entity, what would we be seeing or what would be evidence of that potentially. So, we do have the restorative community initiative that’s going on, led by Dr. Amanda Aguilera. So, there’s a lot of education around how to be in relationship, and how to work with conflict, and how to give feedback to people you’re in relationship with and how to understand power dynamics. And so, I see a community that would be able to, you know, communicate needs and feelings and give each other feedback. And there would just be really healthy multi directional communication, which leads to strong relationships. I see a community where folks know how to work with conflict. And when they feel they’re in a place where the conflict is too sticky, that they know how to ask for help in working with conflict and conflict leads to a deepening of relationship and a clarifying values. I see a community where folks who are historically marginalized, and who aren’t typically centered, are centered. And so, a lot of our policies and practices and protocols, uplift and address the needs of those who have been historically oppressed, first and foremost. Because when we uplift those who are on the farthest margins of our community, I think we serve everyone. There’s an example of that, but I won’t go down that road. —- I see a community where we’ve learned regenerative practices about what to eat, and how to deal with our waste and how to minimize our footprint and what to grow and how to get the soil we need for a regenerative world. When we’re talking about climate injustice, and climate crisis, and actively doing something, Naropa is of service to the wider community, where we are known throughout the country, throughout the world in my dream for being a university that actually rolls up its sleeves and gets in the dirt and does the hard work of service.

 

David:

Yeah. And as you were saying that I was thinking to myself, we have to actively teach ourselves not to be — maybe not to be triggered, but how to deal with the trigger because triggers just — it’s like how are you going to know when they come up until they come up? But our energy is going to be put somewhere whether it’s developing more things that separate us or developing more things that bring us together. So, it’s like an active decision of where you want to use your lifeforce. And so, we’re not taught how to treat people — kind of — I mean, maybe we are in some aspects, but I think of the same thing is like, imagine if we learned compassion, love and acceptance and diverse thoughts in elementary school. You know, and I think it’s something we do need to learn and not — it’s not innately just like, oh, you’re born — you’re born with loving everyone, it’s like, nah, that ain’t true.

 

Regina Smith:

No, we’re taught how to keep capitalism functioning.

 

David:

Yeah.

 

Regina Smith:

So, we’re taught individualism, you know, we’re taught hard work, we’re taught —

 

David:

Me, me, me.

 

Regina Smith:

Yeah. Or, you know, eventually it can be me and mine, you know, my family, my house, my dog, and —

 

David:

But I do love — I love my family.

 

Regina Smith:

Yeah, totally. And that’s a great place to start.

 

David:

Yeah.

 

Regina Smith:

You know. Yeah, absolutely. So, I agree that we have to actively practice new ways of being together. And in terms of what I would be doing, I think I heard that, like, what’s my role, and that’s something that I’m literally discerning day by day. And I’ve learned that a big part of my role is holding the vision and holding the dream that I was just sharing, like, because we can’t create something that we can’t imagine. And I think a lot of what our culture also suffers from, is a lack of imagination. We don’t try to dream up a world where prisons don’t exist. You know, we don’t dream of a world where everyone can grow their own food or food is readily accessible. So, if we’re not dreaming these things, then we can’t build them. We can’t create them.

 

David:

And it doesn’t just live in how we live and what we eat, it’s also about what we think, how we act. It’s personal. It’s unique. It’s feeling, it’s psychological. It’s not just brick and mortar type.

 

Regina Smith:

And it’s learning to be uncomfortable as we were talking about, I mean, on a very personal level, like I’ve took a class last semester on transformative justice. And I’ve been learning a lot about restorative justice from Dr. Amanda Aguilera, and I, you know, really believe that I want to unlearn punishment as a response. And then my son started kindergarten this year and first week of school, some kid is punching him in the back.

 

David:

What? No.

 

Regina Smith:

And you know, my first response was, you know, you gotta get that kid, you know, he needs to be taught a lesson, or he should not be in this school, and then catching myself and being like, okay, so how do you practice not having a punishment mind frame, in this very intimate moment of wanting to keep your child safe? You know, like, what’s a different way of responding? And that, you know, later in the year, he had another little interaction with a student — another kid, and I immediately jumped to my son’s defense, and was like, I saw you with the stick to the other kid. And, you know, after that immediate reaction, I thought, oh, I wish I had responded to the other child, as if he were mine. Like, as if it had been my kid with the stick, like, how would I have responded differently? And how can I — yeah, how can I start to treat these children as if they’re all related?

 

David:

Yeah, I was thinking about that, making the issue relatable to the other kid, because it’s like, hey, what if somebody was doing that to you? It’s, it’s very, not a fun situation to be in. And, you know, this kid just wants to have fun. And so do you. But this is not how we do that.

 

Regina Smith:

Exactly. So, there are again, people who are trained as early childhood educators might have more regulation in the situation. But at least I caught myself very quickly and was able to talk to the other mother. And hopefully, with repeated practice, at some point, I will respond that way. But that’s not my brain’s go to.

 

David:

I’m going to take that from you. I’m going to take this and try to imply it in my life for now on, noticing if my mind is rushing to like a punishment, sort of mindset. So, thank you for sharing that. Because I want to grow in that way. I don’t want to be like, yeah, they messed up and they —

 

Regina Smith:

And how — how could we practice not just punishment, but like, can we start to notice all the micro ways we separate ourselves, you know, like, you’re over there, like us versus them? You know? Because there are tiny moments of that all the time. You know, like, even when we get annoyed with people cutting us off in traffic, which of course I do. I also have a practice of because it impacts my nervous system of like, can I imagine that person is in a rush? Can I imagine they have something really — that they really need to do? Or can I feel into how much they must be suffering to be acting this way on the road? Like how unhappy they already are? You know, how do I not add to it by like speeding up and riding their tail or whatever. So micro practices.

 

David:

I mean, I grew up in LA, that used to be me, and then coming to Boulder, I just kind of lost my road rage a bit, which is great. But I feel that —

 

Regina Smith:

Sounds liberating.

 

David:

So okay, I just thought of a off script question, but relevant. So, what I’m hearing sometimes is there are some practices that are proactive. And then there are some practices that are reactive. And I’m wondering, like, how do we balance the proactive against the reactive? Because I guess if you’re more proactive, you might have less reactive, but then when the reactive comes up, you can handle them better because you’ve been practicing with the proactive types of engaging?

 

Regina Smith:

Yes, I agree with you.

 

David:

Yeah, I don’t know if that’s a question. But like, what type of proactive involvements do we have in the community and or in your own practice that prepare you for the reactive?

 

Regina Smith:

Right, I would say definitely somatic awareness practices. So, part of the reason we react — when we react strongly especially is because we haven’t noticed the subtle indications that our body gives us that we’re starting to have a reaction so that we can slow down. So, getting really familiar with, oh, like, my palms are getting sweaty, or starting to feel a little twitchy, or all the feelings, sensations that happen before we have a major reaction, which is why we do sitting meditation. But there’s other somatic awareness practices as well. But getting really familiar with our body as much as we can so we can feel when something is rising. Then getting really familiar with our feelings, like actually knowing what we’re feeling when we’re feeling it, and naming it even if it’s just for ourselves, like, oh, this is anger, and bringing some curiosity to it, or this is discomfort or this is embarrassment. Because, again, we might be more habituated to acting without any curiosity or investigation, like it was happening.

 

David:

It’s like a response.

 

Regina Smith:

Yeah, we just —

 

David:

Something takes over you.

 

Regina Smith:

Yeah, exactly. So, if we can slow all that down, and start to notice all the building blocks, and if we can bring love to those experiences, as early as possible. So, one of my favorite teachers is Tara Brach. She’s kind of how I ended up at Naropa. Just listening to her meditations and talks. And she, you know, says you can put your hand on your heart, and you can say to yourself, like, I love you, or you can say, this matters. You know, like, whatever you’re experiencing right now matters to yourself, I’m sorry, you’re hurting. And when we can start to — to treat ourselves and our own experience with that kind of loving attention, then it becomes easier or can become easier to expand that to others. And I think the opposite can be true. Like if we find ourselves very loving towards others, but hard to do it for ourselves than we can imagine someone else is present who really loves us or we can slowly try to bring some of the care that we give to others to ourselves, but I think only by meeting our most difficult experiences with love and loving attention, can we slow down the reactivity.

 

David:

Okay, so just for our like our audience listeners, when you say somatic, what does that actually mean? So, like —

 

Regina Smith:

So just body awareness.

 

David:

Is it body based things?

 

Regina Smith:

Yes.

 

David:

So, when you’re saying you’re like the building blocks are stepping up, what do you think is happening in your body when — when you — or how is it that you notice because it’s almost like you’re emotionally hijacked sometimes — it’s just like, ah, and then you think about it, and you’re like, that’s not who I am. But it is how you acted. So how do we notice the rising?

 

Regina Smith:

Developing a language of sensation, so just spending a few moments every day, sitting still and doing a body scan and there’s plenty that you can just Google body scan, you’ll find plenty but just like bringing your attention kind of like a spotlight from your toes to the crown of your head — shaky, hot, warm, you know, tight, relaxed that — you know, just learning the language of the body, because our feelings are made up of sensations for the most part. Then we have sensations that have history and so we tell a story about them. Shaky means scared. You know, scared means danger, or your — your brain kind of does this on its own. Danger means attacked, protect means yell. And so, we link all these things together and the behavior happens. But if we can get too shaky, staying with shaky, being was shaky, it’s okay to be shaky, maybe scared? Am I scared? I am a little scared. What do I need to do? Protect, maybe protection is just getting a blanket. Maybe protection is just leaving the room, maybe protection, you know, slowing down so it doesn’t go so quickly from sensation to action. And if you can lovingly interrupt.

 

David:

Hmm. Okay. As you’re saying that, I was noticing how, if you have the ability and the practice of somatic noticing of what’s arising within your body, when you feel triggered, or like something controversial comes up, is you’re allowing your brain to use itself in a way to figure something out and not corner yourself into fight or flight. And what I’m hearing from you is like you are slowing down the ability to get to somewhere where you’re going to act in a fight or flight manner. So, you have more brain cognitive ability going on, you’re able to think about more options other than fight or I gotta run, you know, you don’t corner yourself so much.

 

Regina Smith:

And I don’t even know — I mean, I think probably there are a lot of roads leading to Rome, maybe. So, there’s cognitive resourcing for sure. I have heard that there’s research that shows that Buddhist monks who meditate a lot don’t have a startle response. So, I think that’s what kind of we’re talking about here is like it doesn’t — there’s this slowness of the body’s reactivity.

 

David:

Yeah.

 

Regina Smith:

And I’m not a neuroscientist so — so I can only say, what has helped me. And definitely we are talking about somehow regulating ourselves so that we’re not, you know, yes, stuck in fight or flight or freeze or fawn.

 

David:

Amazing. So, I just got one more question for you. And I wanted, you know, I just wanted to take it a little bit lighter. So, it seems like you — you do a lot of work with Naropa and you’re like a student, you’re a teacher, you’re a practitioner. There’s like so many things going on — your mother, you’re a partner to someone. And I’m wondering, like, what do you do for fun when you’re not teaching? Do you write poetry for fun? Do you get your thoughts out? Is meditating fun for you? Do you just take your kid out and you just go have a blast? What is it Regina does to regulate your fun in your life?

 

Regina Smith:

You know, I’ve always hated this question.

 

David:

Wonderful.

 

Regina Smith:

I’ve always —

 

David:

Should I — should I not ask it?

 

Regina Smith:

When people ask me what I do for fun because there’s this idea that like fun is something else.

 

David:

Yeah. So, it’s like the work you do is not fun.

 

Regina Smith:

Right. Like we’re supposed to not enjoy —

 

David:

Are you assuming something that I’m saying?

 

Regina Smith:

No. But it’s the — people always ask you, what do you do for fun? And there’s this assumption that fun is something you do, like, in a particular way on the weekend during the set amount of time and it is not your work, and it’s not your spiritual practice, and it’s not your mothering. And it always made me feel like I wasn’t fun. Because I was like, oh I kind of just like enjoy —

 

David:

I don’t know if I’m saying that.

 

Regina Smith:

No, I’m telling you how it made me feel.

 

David:

No, I hear that.

 

Regina Smith:

Well, you know, it didn’t make me feel, but what it brought up for me was —

 

David:

But I — I hear what you’re saying. Like I get it.

 

Regina Smith:

Like I don’t —

 

David:

I’d be like what do you mean I’m not fun?

 

Regina Smith:

Yeah, I think like exactly like, I just like to be fun. And it may not be what’s fun for other people because I’m pretty sure there’s a very — a select group of people who find talking about their feelings — I love and God fun, I am a very silly person. And I make fun out of like — I like have a lot of sarcasm and like witty banter. So, there’s a way in which kind of fun is a part of what I do. But it’s not like this separate activity. I like hot tubs.

 

David:

Ok.

 

Regina Smith:

I like food.

 

David:

There you go. See, this is what we’re going with.

 

Regina Smith:

Right. But that’s like, do you see this dichotomy it puts us in which I think goes back to so much of what we’re saying. It’s like, we’re not supposed to just enjoy our lives. You know, we’re supposed to be working for the six weeks vacation where you’re sitting on a beach and only that can be fun or get really drunk or really intoxicated, and then we can have fun or that’s like let’s just like stop doing miserable shit and have fun, like —

 

David:

And then you’re just —

 

Regina Smith:

Just take out the anti fun and then you’ll be having fun.

 

David:

The fun is just waiting there for you, but you just got to —

 

Regina Smith:

Stop doing the miserable stuff.

 

David:

You got to act appropriately. No, I feel that. And you know, I got a childlike mind. It’s — it’s pretty universal, but like I have a childlike nature, I like to have fun. So, I feel like I’m easygoing. So, you know?

 

Regina Smith:

Just do stuff you enjoy.

 

David:

Like this — like right now I’m working, but this is what I want to do. This is — this is a passion of mine. So, I really enjoy speaking to people and really intellectually vibing with them and see perspectives that they have. And so —

 

Regina Smith:

Yeah, and so I guess, like, I do see the fact that I can — that my life is oriented around things that I find meaningful. And that’s a privilege. And so, my responsibility as a human among humans, is to try to work in a way that other people have the ability to make their lives fun, too. Because it is a privilege to be able to do this right now with you. And a lot of people probably are like, yeah, I want to have fun with my life, too. But I got bills to pay. And I don’t know how to get from this job to that place where I get to do what I love. And I think that’s our work, right, is to make it more accessible for more people to not have to only have fun, for whatever, 36 hours if that.

 

David:

And, you know, like, from some of the questions that we asked previously, you’ve been through a lot of roles. And so, you’ve developed the fun. You know, it doesn’t just happen unless your characteristics are kind of built that way to negotiate situations like that. But we have to learn how to have fun.

 

Regina Smith:

And I also wish someone had told me when I was young, that if I wanted to sit in my room and read all day, and if I was like thinking deep thoughts about, I don’t know the nature of life that that was — that could also be called fun, that I didn’t have to like run around and act like a whatever to be having fun.

 

David:

Weirdo.

 

Regina Smith:

Yeah, I wish people had told me that, like, fun was really whatever I enjoyed was fun versus you have to like, yeah, like bungee jumping or something.

 

David:

Go have fun with your friends.

 

Regina Smith:

Exactly. Totally. That’s exactly.

 

David:

No, this book is lit right now.

 

Regina Smith:

This is fun.

 

David:

I’m loving this.

 

Regina Smith:

Totally. I just wish people had told me my natural way of being in the world was fine, was good, was basically good.

 

David:

Well, it sounds like you’re telling yourself. So, this is good.

 

Regina Smith:

I’m working on it. But I’m like 45 and I’m still like, oh, yeah, I don’t have to define fun by other people’s standards.

 

David:

We’re so — we are so young. We have so much life in front of us.

 

Regina Smith:

Theoretically.

 

David:

Numerically as well. No, seriously.

 

Regina Smith:

I know. I like the look on your face.

 

David:

There’s — there’s so much good stuff in front of us. And like we’re crushing it. So —

 

Regina Smith:

We’re crushing it. I’m gonna call you every day. And you can just be like, Regina, you’re crushing it.

 

David:

You can call me, just don’t call me every day.

 

REGINA LAUGHS

 

David:

Well, hang out, just don’t call me every day.

 

Regina Smith:

All right.

 

David:

I mean, unless you want to.

 

Regina Smith:

Maybe I could just tape record you saying you’re — we’re crushing it.

 

David:

I mean —

 

Regina Smith:

It’s really all I need.

 

David:

I’m really — this whole thing — we got — we got proof on the podcast.

 

Regina Smith:

Great.

 

David:

So ultimately, thank you so much for coming in. I felt like I’ve been wanting to talk to you since the start of this podcast. And here we are, we finally get to do it. And it’s just, I — you’re just a wealth of knowledge and your calmness, your — your just beauty, your perspectives and just the roles you’ve hold at Naropa and then just in life — they’re really inspirational and I just — I just feel like — like a warmth, you know, and I just appreciate you speaking with us today.

 

Regina Smith:

Thanks for having me. It’s been a hoot.

 

David:

It’s been a hoot. All right. Peace out. Bye.

 

[MUSIC]

 

On behalf of the Naropa community, thank you for listening to Mindful U. The official podcast of Naropa University. Check us out at http://www.naropa.edu or follow us on social media for more updates.

 

 

Get To Know Your Host:

Apple: David DeVine: An Intimate Interview and Mindful U Year In Review

Spotify: David DeVine: An Intimate Interview and Mindful U Year In Review

 

Your Next Noteworthy Listen:

02. Judith Zimmer-Brown: The Science and Practice of Compassion

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.