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From NAROPA to NARO

My Journey from NAROPA to NARO
A short memoir and tribute to Allen Ginsberg
by Tench Phillips

In the winter of 1975 I moved to Boulder, Colorado and enrolled in Naropa University to study Buddhist philosophy. I had read one of the popular books of the time "Be Here Now" and had heard the charismatic author Baba Ram Dass speak at the New Age Yoga Center in Va Beach in the early seventies. Ram Dass spoke of a new school founded by the Tibetan monk Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche who was forced to abandon his homeland of Tibet by the Chinese invasion. Trungpa attended Oxford University in England before migrating first to Nova Scotia, Canada and then to the U.S. His books included "Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism" and they influenced academics, students, artists, hippies, and seekers who were looking for Eastern alternatives to orthodox western religion. The practice of Zen, yoga, and meditation were all gaining popularity for a sixties generation who had experimented with mind expanding plants and chemicals. The act of "dropping out and turning on" was a much easier option since the cost of living was not so oppressive as it is nowadays and the conforming forces of technology and social networking in that era were minimally invasive.

The summer of 1975 inaugurated The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poets at Naropa. Such renowned writers and poets as Gary Snyder, Gregory Corso, Anne Waldman, and Allen Ginsberg came to town and gave readings and taught workshops. Although I never officially registered, I sat in on a six-week poetry class taught by Ginsberg. His class covered primarily the work of his mentor William Carlos Williams but also included the work of other poets like Walt Whitman. He told stories about the beat poets and about his friends William Burroughs, Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Aldous Huxley, Bob Dylan and other troubadours and musicians. Ginsberg read from his own poems including Howl. He was always authentic, impassioned, and caring - and never put on any air of superiority over his younger students. His class teachings were at times like enigmatic prose and he broached wildly eclectic subjects in a running stream of consciousness. Politics, sexuality, art, popular culture, media, philosophy, civil disobedience against the military establishment - all were fair game for his class discussions. And I was an attentive student, much more than I had been as an undergrad studying systems engineering.

I returned to Ghent within the year and inspired by the free-wheeling energy of an expanded human potential movement, I pursued my own unique path within an ever more conforming mass culture. In 1977 I was able to obtain a lease on the shuttered Naro Cinema and along with business partner Thom Vourlas, we set our sights on bringing a creative art and intellectual movement to the area through film and cinema events. This movement has grown and it has changed - and there's still much to be done. But there's a lineage at work here and as we stand on the shoulders of those courageous, ground breaking souls who were identified as the beats and the hippies and also the writers and the artists of prior generations, perhaps we can gain some needed insights to help us get through our own dark night of American culture.

Only recently did I realize the joyful serendipity of the wordplay exemplified in my own life's arc - from Naropa to Naro.



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