Category Archives: Semester Intensive

Connection, Intention, Manifestation

I have an internet addiction. So, the first step is admitting it right?

Problem is, I’ve admitted it many times before, but that alone hasn’t done much. Because changing habits takes conscious effort after the step of awareness. Like my running plan, I need to come up with a concrete program to follow, complete with a declaration and rewards. The internet definitely is not bad, and in fact it has been incredibly useful for tons of things, like reading about barefooting before buying my Vibram shoes… oh no, wait, that was probably time wasted. Because although now I feel like I know more about the benefits of barefooting, when my dad questioned me about the lack of arch support, I mumbled something about a New York Times article I had read about how shoes are ruining our feet, without actually knowing anything concrete about the matter. (And now, I spent ten minutes searching for the article and getting side tracked…. while writing about the evils of internet distractions… yes, it’s really time to set up a plan.)

On first thought, I had resistance to embarking upon a new challenge now since I’m leaving for my Europe backpacking trip in just a week. However, I think it’s actually worked out perfectly, because I have a much easier time following guidelines if it’s for a specific, predetermined amount of time. In this case it’s even better than that because I really can’t afford to waste time online in the next week as I tie up lose ends and prepare to leave.

So, what’s the challenge? I actually had an easy enough time doing a “digital detox” a month or two ago, but like most people, I can’t afford to completely cut the cord so close to my trip. I just felt my fingers itch to open up a tab and type “overcoming internet addiction” to find an idea. I’m so hard-wired to search online for everything now that I’m probably losing my creativity and capacity to think and read… so good, all the more reason to not to anything else, especially not online, until I come up with a challenge by myself, for myself.

I, Elizabeth Cooper, will practice mindfulness online during the next seven days by using a notebook to write down every task I am doing online, and only do that task. If I feel distracted (like I need to follow that link to that cool site to download that awesome podcast, for example) I will simply note, on paper, the desire, and come back to it in the future during a predetermined online “play time.” I will allow myself only a half hour of “play time” online each day for the next week – less if possible. This will include superfluous email, Facebook, blog reading, and surfing. Superfluous will be defined as anything not related to a specific task/question. I will use this method both at work and at home.

my altar

my altar, which I've set up to remind me of connection in various ways: painting on left - I made at SI - love and growth. candles - received from various important women in my life - sense of creating a sacred space. Mala beads - received during Kripalu yoga teacher training - yoga/meditation. Japanese postcard - received from a good friend - reminder of tranquility and my home. My best friend and I laughing - laughter and joy. A photo from my healing heart hands project, where I took photographs of SI students while leading them in a metta, or loving kindness meditation, for a good friend of mine - beauty and love.

Connection has kept coming up as something I’d like to create more of in my life – connection to life, spirit, others, self – and I have found that for me, that feeling of connection does not come from being online. In fact, being online drains me. Except right now, as I’m mindfully being online, completing this one task, using my brain to connect with my own thoughts, and hopefully others once this is posted.

To support myself in my intention of staying connected and calm this next week, I will renew my seven day meditation vow for the Hardcore Dharma Course:

I, Elizabeth Cooper, with confidence in the benefits of a regular practice of sitting meditation, do hereby commit, for myself and no one else, to practicing at least one session of sitting meditation, for as short or as long a period of time as I am willing and able, for each of the next seven days.

The homework and discussion about not multitasking, training our minds post-meditation, has been part of the inspiration for this post, as a reminder of what I already know. The folks taking the course over at the Interdpendence Project in New York just finished up about an hour and a half ago and some of them are probably hanging out right now. If you’re a Hardcore Dharma student, hi there! Can’t wait to listen to this week’s class. Which reminds me, I should go do the reading… (writing it down as my next task)…


Nuggets of wisdom at graduation

We are bombarded by nuggets of wisdom daily. Or unwanted advice, depending on your relationship to the context, speaker and message.  Regardless of whether you soak up information or reject it, most likely this process is subconscious, unbeknown to you.  Thankfully, with a bit of mindfulness, you can start to become aware of the axioms you chose to guide your life.

Yesterday, my sister’s high school graduation ceremony reminded me about my recent shift in what underlying beliefs I chose to let guide my life. In my high school career, I dedicated myself wholeheartedly to values instilled in me from my American education. Without ever taking a step back to examine what drove me, I unconsciously led my life by the “sheer will and determination” that the keynote speaker espoused last night. The principal, among other speakers, also nailed the point home by telling graduates that “you gotta make it happen, you can’t wait for things to come to you.” (paraphrased)

Hilton Head Island High School Graduation 2009

Hilton Head Island High School Graduation 2009

I felt uncomfortable and a bit angry that these were the main values advocated for graduates, without mention of the flip side of will and determination – surrender and grace. Of course that reaction comes from my personal experience, when I acted from a place of feeling of “not enough,” applying my will and determination in an extreme and unhealthy way. I learned at SI (Semester Intensive) that for most people, the muscles of will and determination can be developed more, so perhaps they’re good values to be emphasized at a graduation.

At SI, many teachers introduced me to the idea that anger at something outside yourself is a sign that you haven’t quite accepted that part of yourself. My anger at the graduation was slight, but nonetheless, it was a sign that I still haven’t fully accepted my animal will and all its cronies. Don’t get me wrong, will can also be a very good value and tool. After all, we need it to get stuff done. For me, the problem is when getting stuff done becomes my entire life, my entire focus, my entire identity – goal goal goal – without allowing myself to just be and life to just unfold.

Since I know my own tendencies and therefore what messages drive me and what messages I want to drive me, I could let go of my desire to control the graduation speeches.

(and go back to my role as proud sister, letting a few tears well up...)

(and go back to my role as proud sister, letting a few tears well up...)

People (and companies) tell us what we “should” think, feel, say and do all the time – it’s up to you to chose what you want to think, feel, say and do.

P.S. On the back of the program it said “Balloons are eco-friendly.” What??

eco-friendly balloons?

eco-friendly balloons?


“Feel Electric Blue Light”

Yoga instruction can definitely sound strange.

“Feel an electric blue light go through your body,” the yoga teacher coached us this morning. Even I thought that was pretty odd. Who knows, maybe there’s some Indian mythology behind the “electric blue light,” but somehow in the context of my mom’s local gym with bright lights, mirrors lining the walls and rows of colorful exercise contraptions it just seemed out of place with the traditional kind of yoga which I love.

When I tell people that I’m taking a year off to explore, and specifically about the Semester Intensive for Integrated Leadership (SI), which I usually simplify as “a yogic based leadership program,” people generally think it’s pretty cool (as I do myself). But most people don’t know much about yoga, a lot think it’s kind of odd (and as evidenced by the little story above, I understand why), and my program isn’t even just about yoga, so people often have questions.

So I thought I’d do a short FAQ post about my next year.

Why are you leaving Princeton? I mean, didn’t you like it there?

Yes, I quite enjoyed my first year, and Princeton is an amazing school, but I think I’ll appreciate it even more if I take some time off. I wanted to do a gap year before going to Princeton but I wasn’t organized enough, and plus, I was too excited about Princeton.

Also, I just really wanted to do SI, which I discovered when I spent a couple weeks at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, where it’s located, last summer. Princeton won’t let people just take semesters off so I’m forced to take a year off to do this semester program, but that’s fine for me because it gives me some more free time to do as I please.

So what are you going to do for the rest of your time off?

Probably some combination of working and traveling. I’m going to work out the details over the next few months and will post about any plans. Maybe I’ll even come visit you! (In that case you, whoever you are, would get a call or an email from me, don’t worry.)

I really don’t understand. The yoga/leadership program sounds kinda cool, but I don’t get it. What is it for?

“The Semester Intensive is a four-month experiential education program for 18- to 22-year-olds that prepares you and other young adults to better navigate major life changes, make a positive impact, and lead fulfilled lives.” (read more)

We also have five college “classes,” in the loosest sense of the term in that it’s very experimental, all of which I’ve posted descriptions of here and here. I just can’t get credit because Princeton is rather academic and won’t accept them.

Ummm…. okay, but how?

We have about eight hours of instruction every day, including some weekends, and the close-knit community of about 35 of us is supposed to help challenge and support us in self-study, the main goal of the program. More details later when I actually get there!

Also I just want to note that most people don’t understand what most other people do. For example, what exactly is a communications major? What do CEOs do all day? It’s just that with this program it’s way out of the typical range of superficial knowledge about different lifestyles.

Will you take worldly possessions with you, or how does that work? I am thinking of some kind of ascetic lifestyle where you… I don’t know… wear a coarse woolen garment and meditate at the top of the Himalayas. (This was an actual question, word for word, from one of my friends, which I found rather amusing.)

The main yoga center, Kripalu, isn’t an ashram (although it used to be) and is relatively Westernized and modern. My program follows suit. I think it will be pretty intense, but you don’t need to give up all of your possessions or wear strange clothes to have an intense experience. In fact, a main part of my program is trying to make changes within ourselves that will be sustainable in everyday life. It’s (relatively) easy to have no worries when you’re meditating on top of a mountain in the Himalayas. It’s something completely different to change your mindset and behaviors in a way that will last even in the “real world.” That’s what I’m hoping to do.

How will we communicate? Will you have internet?

As I just said, I’m not going to an ashram, and I’ll still be in the States, so I’ll still have signal for my cell and internet access. However, I don’t know how much I’ll be on because I’ll be very busy and wanting to enjoy every minute, I’m sure. You’re still welcome to call my cell anytime though.

Here’s what a participant from last year said:

“in fact, i turned off my phone, deleted my facebook account and stopped checking my e-mail a week after the program started because i was so frustrated by my inability to effectively communicate my experience with the people I knew and loved but weren’t here.”

So we’ll see. That’s actually my answer to most questions. But if you have any other ones just let me know!

Perfect much? (the fifth course description)

LINTD 3705 Meaningful Work and Right LivelihoodIn this course students investigate the concept of Meaningful Work and Right Livelihood-work that is fulfilling as well as respectful of self, others and the environment. By identifying personal dreams and deeply held beliefs and fears about work and money, students examine how issues of self-worth, class, and social and professional status influence one’s life vision.  Grounding their professional and financial dreams, students learn alternative job search strategies and create a life action plan that is used as a backdrop as they explore practical financial planning tools for managing income, expenses, debt, and career. The course also looks at how service and community influence definitions of Meaningful Work and Right Livelihood and how authentic leadership emerges when there is a commitment to one’s own development and to the well being of others. Through the experiential elements of this course students learn how to traverse the often seemingly paralyzing chasm between one’s dreams and fears about work and money in order to make unique contributions to society.

Through this course students will:

  • Understand work and money within the social and cultural context;
  • Clarify their skills, passions, core values, cultural identity and life goals and understand how each influences an individual’s definition of Meaningful Work and Right Livelihood;
  • Create an alternative job search strategy useful in helping them identify their dream job(s);
  • Build a life action plan consistent with their personal definitions of Meaningful Work and Right Livelihood;
  • Participate in a number of service projects and community building experiences;
  • Be prepared to begin to manage their finances and career in the context of their life vision.

SO excited about life

Earlier this week I got the accepted students handbook and forms for the Semester Intensive for Integrated Leadership (hereafter “SI”) that I’m doing at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health next semester (read more). I am SO excited. The program seems absolutely amazing and perfect for me, and just to get all the nitty gritty details was fun. It’s probably an overshare, but in case anybody is interested, here are all of the course descriptions:

LINTD 3702 Yoga Philosophy and Practice -This program is an introduction to yoga philosophy and practice. Yoga is examined both as cosmology as well as a method and set of techniques for self inquiry. The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali will provide the central text in partnership with contemporary writing from diverse perspectives. Students will develop an individual yoga practice–on and off the mat–informed by their own comprehension of text, shared critical discussion, and discovery of personal meaning. Self-inquiry and self-awakening will be taken to the level of the body as students are guided through yoga, movement inquiries, and meditation practices that deepen their self-awareness and accelerate their personal growth.

Through this course students will be familiar with the classical yoga philosophy and practice as outlined by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras including basic techniques, method and cosmology; be exposed to leading contemporary scholars and artists – both men and women -who provide their own unique vision of yoga; and be able to demonstrate a familiarity with yoga techniques used to directly context, explore and articulate a conscious relationship with their own mind and body.

LINTD 3710 Effective Communication and Building Community -This course is an experiential inquiry into interpersonal communication, group dynamics, and personal expression. Students work to find their own authentic voice while cultivating meaningful personal and work relationships. Coursework will explore communication, personality styles and the belief systems that create the foundation for one’s individualized patterns of communication, emotional intimacy, and the role of effective communication in leadership development. Students will learn a variety of communication tools as they work to improve their own fluency in conscious communication, active listening, conflict resolution, negotiation, and collaboration.

Through this course students will assess their own strengths, weaknesses, and core needs when communicating and relating to others; learn to use tools such as journaling, the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, VIA Signature Strengths Questionnaire, and others to help them communicate more effectively with others; comprehend the psychological and social principles that make intimate and non-intimate relationships successful; and Strengthen skills to deepen empathy, connection and respect between people, repair conflict, negotiate decisions, and thrive in all relationships.

LINTD 3708 Transformation and the Self -This course integrates Eastern and Western perspectives on human development, exploring the journey to adulthood in the context of psychology and the contemplative traditions. Along with psychological theory, students will explore practices that provide opportunities for intrapersonal and interpersonal learning as part of a systematic investigation of what it means to live an optimal life.

Through this course students will be exposed to the theories and basic issues in human development, with an emphasis on the transition from adolescence to young adulthood; learn psychological models of the personality and the yogic model of the Self; be exposed to a range of experiential exercises to raise self-awareness and facilitate movement along the spectrum of development; and learn to view life as a continual process of development; gain inspiration to sustain ongoing growth.

LINTD 3709 Healthy Living -This course engages students in an exploration of the body/mind connection in order to understand how to design an everyday plan for vitality and health. Together with expert practitioners, students examine the ways we as humans can create health in our bodies through everyday choices in thought, nutrition, sleep, and activity. Through studying texts, critically examining health from a holistic perspective, and engaging in practices for health living, students gain deeper knowledge of ancient and modern perspectives on holistic health including Ayurveda (the sister science of yoga), integrative medicine, and the body’s anatomy. With this knowledge students learn to engage with their bodies as allies in wellness and transformation.

Through this course students will experiment with a variety of approaches and techniques that promote healthy living; gain fluency about the body to increase sophistication and curiosity about the lived experience of wellness; explore different theories of nutrition and investigate their individual nutritional requirements; develop keen self-observation skills and the vocabulary to describe physiological and emotional occurrences and experience the body as its own entity of intelligence; plan and engage in an individual exploration to support and advance their own physical/emotional/ intellectual/spiritual development and design a sustainable daily practice for healthy living.

So I’m excited for all of those classes and the people and community and place and food and yoga and, well, just about everything. And I’m also excited about the semester after that, the summer after that, and then going back to Princeton in fall of 2009. So basically I’m excited about life.

I’m also excited about my home stay, where I’ve been for almost a week now. I miss life in the hostel and seeing everybody all the time, but my family is really nice and it’s definitely helping my Swahili.

And now I’m off to the primary school where I teach math, science, and recently, photography. I’m getting quite attached to my kids. I like them. But I went to the orphanage yesterday since I want to teach photography there too, and that was amazing. The people were so welcoming and fun. So I can see myself getting even more attached to the people there over the next few weeks.