Where The Wild Seans Are

While the breweries, dispensaries, and museums made for amazing time-consumers, the real reason I was in Boulder was to check out Naropa University, as their Master’s Program in Counseling Psychology with a focus on Wilderness Therapy is the coolest fucking program I’ve ever heard about. To give you a brief rundown, you spend two and a half years checking the boxes to become a licensed counselor, much of which is spent outdoors doing backpacking, mountaineering, rock climbing, kayaking, and horseback riding all over the US. I mean… come the fuck on. How cool is that shit?

Anyway, the day of my visit started with sitting in on a Human Growth and Development class required for all first year students in the program. The teacher had been at it for 32 years. She was frank as all getout, full of fiery calmness, wonder, and humility, and she reminded me a lot of my aunt. She felt compelled to tell you things right as they cropped up in her head, and they were always relevant, informative, and entertaining, while still being kind of an interruption. I loved her.

The class started with a few minutes of silence and meditation, then a “bow in.” I read about the bowing before I got there, and it sounded a little on the hippie side for my tastes, but after actually being a part of it I think they converted me. After letting me introduce myself, the badass teacher picked up where the class left off last time – on the fourth of five developmental stages as defined by Robert Keegan. After about an hour and a half of lecture, we broke off into small groups of 4 or 5 and created arts-and-crafts renditions of the five stages. Glitter and paint and Elmer’s Glue were thrown onto large pieces of construction paper, then we went around describing our chosen visualizations. Then we went on break.

The second half of the class was taught by the graduate assistant. She started off with a one-word check-in on our emotional states, then we got up out of our seats to stomp our feet, grounding us in our bodies. The lesson was on post-traumatic growth, which can be an exhausting topic for everyone involved. Feelings get brought up, emotions run high as we silently launch into remembrances of our own traumas, and then we’re supposed to learn how to counsel someone on them on top of that. It was invigorating and a real reality check as to what this career involved. We ended the class with five pushups, ten jumping jacks, a final check-in, and a bow-out. Fuckin’ loved it.

I had some time in between the class and my meeting with the admissions counselor so I got some (of course the ingredients were organic and locally sourced) empanadas and a beer. I made it to the main campus (there are three, soon to be two) early, and read out on the lawn in between the buildings. The sun was shining, there were attractive people doing yoga and acroyoga in the grass, birds were chirping in the trees, and you could see the mountains in the distance.

I was wearing my Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) shirt, which just had the logo on the front. A gorgeous young lady in pigtails walked by while I was standing in the office waiting for the counselor, pointed at my shirt and said, “I love your shirt! MAPS, right?” I’m sure I blushed and said something meaningless like, “That’s right.” Honestly I was too drunk on awesome to solidify any of it into memory. 

The counselor was kind and knowing and wrote down the book I was reading so she could look into it later. While we talked I found myself thinking, “Oh that’s some hippie nonsense” with a fair amount of regularity, but when asked, I had to admit that I did indeed practice multiple forms of meditation (including mindfulness and loving-kindness) and yoga, I had a daily alarm on my phone to remind me to practice gratitude, and I journalled regularly about my thoughts and emotions. Fuck, I’m totally a hippie, sort of. Fit right in here, though!

Next I met with the career counselor, who just graduated from the program last May. She described her reaction to first reading about the program like, “Holy shit! This exists?!”

“Fuckin’ right?! That was VERBATIM my reaction!” I shot back at her. She, like pretty much everyone else I met, was beautiful and fit and authentic and captivating. 

I hit up a couple restaurants before making my way back to the hostel for an early bedtime, then I got up before the sun again, hit my weed vape pen, and made my way to the lobby for coffee and waffles. There was a second floor that was entirely unoccupied, so I read until the sun came up, and did some breathing and stretching exercises (the hostel beds were not the kindest to my back). Quick shout out to the Wim Hof Breathing Method – I definitely think it helped me adapt quickly to the lower oxygen up there even in the face of my extreme lack of cardio lately. 

Serendipitously, the trails were closed to bikes on Wednesdays, and the road leading to the trail was closed in the middle of the day, so I was completely alone for the duration of my four mile hike. It was serene and it allowed me a lot of time to integrate my experience in Boulder. The main takeaway being, “I’m gonna fucking love it here.”

Boulder, You Beautiful Bastard

I was surprised by the long TSA line at 3:30 in the morning on a Monday at Midway. I was also (much more pleasantly) surprised that the very-airporty Irish pub was open that early and serving alcohol, meaning my airplane nap would be substance-assisted. 

The three of us sitting at the bar were all in our early 30’s, clearly single, and with varying degrees of facial hair (none were cleanly shaven). I caught the guy sitting next to me staring at me through the mirror behind the liquor bottles as he open-mouth chewed the greasy breakfast served to him on a paper plate. I grimaced at the $27 tab for a Guinness and a shot, and thought, “This scene would be an awesome painting to have on my wall.”

Not thirty minutes after landing in Colorado, I was in love with the place. My bus driver to Boulder was a spitting image of Zach Galifianakis from the movie Masterminds, complete with well-groomed facial hair and mullet. I went straight from the airport to a weed dispensary open at 9am. The lady behind the counter was bubbly, well-informed, extremely helpful, and cute to boot. “Where would you go for breakfast?” I asked her.

Her spot was only two blocks away. There was a wait when I got there, but by the time I got out of the bathroom, a seat opened up at the bar. I saddled up next to a lovely old woman who chatted with me for the better part of 15 minutes. She gave me recommendations on places to check out before I left, then I scooted her chair out when she was done because she was too tiny to get out on her own.

The bartender brought me a cinnamon role pancake appetizer for my chivalry, then I followed that up with the Benny Duo – one half steak-and-eggs and one half latka-lox. There was hip, contemporary alt rock playing over the speakers, a vibrant-but-not-overwhelming buzz to place, and it was filled with beautiful young women in combinations of hippie and hiking attire. I thought maybe the flight crashed and this was my heaven. Or maybe I was still asleep on the plane, and would eventually wake up to a sore back and the more standard gruffness I’ve become accustomed to living in larger cities. But it just kept being awesome.

One odd thing: people seemed to keep almost running into me on the sidewalk. They either walked on the left side of the walkway or haphazardly veered in my direction while making eye contact that would normally indicate their recognition of a human presence. Maybe they were all just magnetically drawn to my love of the town. Or maybe there was a glitch in the coding for these NPC’s, and we’re all in the Matrix. But whatever, I guess. Small price to pay for an otherwise-perfect experience.

I felt inspired to write there. It’d been such a long lull of forcing myself to sit down and type. I don’t know if it was Boulder, in particular, or just the experience of newness, but I grabbed emphatically at my little notepad with a fair amount of regularity. (Author’s note: I’m presently back in Chicago and forcing myself to sit and type this). 

The hostel I ended up in straddled a creek and was nestled between tree-lined, snow-covered mountains. I had my first real hit of mountain air while I was standing outside smoking a cigarette of all things. I caught the edges of it on an inhale, then purposefully sucked as much air through my nostrils as I could muster. I let the smell of dirt and snow and pine fill my awareness and my eyes rolled back into my head like I was hitting heroin. 

The combination of sleep deprivation, weed and alcohol consumption, and early sunset meant I was in bed and asleep by 6pm. True to hostel form, I was woken up intermittently by the comings and goings (and snorings and fartings) of the roommates I hadn’t met. No matter – still a solid first day.