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Old 08-30-2004, 11:12 AM   #57
Anders Bjonback
Dojo: Boulder Aikikai
Location: Boulder, CO
Join Date: Jul 2003
Posts: 129
Re: How is aikido related to your spiritual path?

Naropa can be very good... and very bad. Some classes can be a complete waste of money and time, full of mindless new-agey pop pseudo-Buddhist culture, sometimes even with teachers that ask students to grade themselves. Luckily, I have succeeded in avoiding the really bad classes. Other classes are just awesome. The writing program is pretty good, I hear, and I know the Religious Studies department is (that's my major). Naropa tries to combine "the wisdoms of the east with the academia of the west," sometimes successfully, sometimes unsuccessfully. At least personally, at Naropa I'm always careful about which teachers I choose to take classes with--if I hear a certain teacher or class is full of crap, I avoid it like the plague. Because of the nature of the education, classes can sometimes push buttons that would otherwise never be pushed in other academic institutions (which is generally considered a good thing at Naropa, since its purpose it to make you grow as a person and expose you to those aspects of yourself you'd rather ignore so you can accept them). For instance, I took a class in Judaism with Reb Zalman, the founder (?) of the Jewish Renewal Movement. I HATED that class for the longest time because it really pushed my buttons in terms of belief in God, and stuff like that--I had to comment on, from my own experience, about this deep practice text that the teacher wrote, and there was all this reading from this insanely dry and thick book called Jewish History and Thought. Everyone in the class was so INTO REB ZALMAN, and I felt like the only person there who wasn't into him or wasn't devout towards him. One person I talked to later described him as "this huge vortex you get sucked into and when you get out all of a sudden you find yourself Jewish." That's true. He has such a love for his tradition, and he's such a wise person, that you feel yourself get sucked in. The problem is that my alienation, and being unsure of the grounds of my own spiritual beliefs, caused me to react extremely negatively. But I felt like I couldn't really talk to him about this because he was such a kind person and a respected elder. To tell the truth, I practically didn't do any of the work for the class until the last couple or few weeks, when I went to the required synagogue visits. Those synagogue visits completely flip-flopped my view of Judaism and the class. It was like, "Wow! People actually practice this!"
By the end, so few people had actually done the requirements for the class, the requirements were cut in half and I ended up getting a B or B- in the class. On one hand, I don't think that at a better academic institution, the teacher would have cut the requirements like that. On the other hand, despite my being able to be lazy and angry thought the semester and yet still get a good grade at the end, I grew to have a lot of respect towards this other religious tradition.
In the Religious Studies department, you have to practice the religions you study, or at least compare them with your own experience, so you get a much deeper understanding of the religion than you would if you studied it in a purely academic way.

The Aikido class is pretty cool. The teacher and T.A. are just great. I decided not to get a major in it, though, because I felt like I'd be able to graduate without really getting a university level education. It would have basically been devoid of intellectual rigor. I also didn't want to take the Anatomy: Learning through the Senses class that was required for the major, due to stories about it from my roommate. No thanks, I have no interest in what my spleen is trying to say to me. They have a different teacher for that class, now, probably due to student complaints, but still, despite my interest in traditional Japanese and Chinese arts, I'd rather study something that will challenge me more.

Please keep in mind the views I have presented here are pretty one-sided, and someone else is bound to say something different.

"For peace and happiness are presences, not objects we can grasp and hold onto."
--Lilian Smith
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