express yourself... lose yourself in devotion!

One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times.
— clarissa pinkola estes, from 'women who run with the wolves'
kavita, kirtan, eugene, oregon

kavita, kirtan, eugene, oregon

How often do we let ourselves express without allowing the voice of the inner critic to get in the way?  This can be especially true when it comes to singing our own song.  While in Mexico working on a theater project I had the opportunity to interface with some local artists and enter into their world of improvisation.

They were visual artists by trade, but musicians by passion and playing music and expressing their wildest most exuberant versions of themselves was their favorite past time.  When playing, they went for it full on, the way some do at Karaoke, but instead of singing along to a track they allowed themselves to express their own inner rock star and just go for it.

When I first saw my friends play music this way I almost thought they were kidding.  I mean, in the social circles I was raised around that sort of enthusiasm was either reserved for a Saturday Night Live style skit or some other comedic commentary.  Rarely if ever have I seen someone go fully into an exploration just for the fun of it, without a guide or workshop structure to hold that space around them.  These musicians / performers were doing just that.  

I caught myself in my initial judgement and checked it.  The inhibition that comes with the fear that you might be seen as too engaged, or excited about something is some of the most insidious and useless crap to come out of American culture ever.  Why not be as energetically engaged as possible if it feels authentic and good?

Somehow we cross over from being gorgeously real and interested as children to become self-conscious-halfway-engaged teens and adults AND if we’re not careful in doing so train ourselves to suppress creative energy so as not to stand out.  Once we are older we then wonder how some people “do it” and desperately want to find our way back to that raw state of being where our impulses were flowing freely and we could simply follow them.

Watching my new friends play music, I took a step back and simply took in the total commitment and passion that possessed them.  It was raw and real and beautiful.  And the best part, they were having a great time!  Softening I was able to participate as a listener and enjoy what was being communicated.  What was that critical voice I had heard at first about?  I was surprised by it’s strength and questioned how much that kept me from really having a good time and expressing freely.  I wanted to challenge it and step in.  

We took to meeting up to improvise together.  They would play music and I would dance and then we all somehow would end of up singing.  A video camera would be set up or used and we would have an instant audience.  The afternoons would stretch long into the evenings with the improvisations being open ended and taking many twists and turns before they ended.  I would dance till I was sweaty and then break into improvised soundings and song.  My friends would introduce all kinds of sounds and instruments and we, through listening would tell a story together.

kavita,   rene parra sr.  &  david leonardo  @ b'nai or gallery , san miguelle de allende, mexico.

kavita,  rene parra sr. & david leonardo @b'nai or gallery, san miguelle de allende, mexico.

The practice was exhilarating and fantastically freeing.  It rested on our shared committment to expression and listening to one another.  There were no other rules and all ideas were welcome. 

Divine play.  And why not?  Why not move and sing and play and explore? When did it become the custom that only those trained in dance and or music get to play?  Singing and dancing increases our vibration and thereby lifts our spirits.  It is straight up good feeling and good medicine.  Not to say there isn’t a place for training or doing things a certain way because you have decided to.  But also we need to allow for an open place to explore and try and succeed and fail even to flush out what we are feeling or want to express.

Singing circles or ecstatic dance can be places to start to exercise these muscles... rooms full of accepting welcoming people who also are open to moving and making sounds together.  The witness can be an encouraging catalyst to letting go. 

When we gather for Kirtan we normally have a bit of a map for the chant, however once it begins, the unfolding is up to the souls gathered and the circumstances in that instant.  I always encourage everyone at Kirtan, once they know the call, to sing and help build the chant with their voice, with harmonies and also to move or dance if they want to.  As long as we are listening while we engage we are weaving a magic spell with each other and with the energies of the mantra. 

Devotional music invites us to jump into the ecstatic and allow our emotions to flow freely.  The repetition of the mantra, the rhythmic cyclical nature of the bhajan, or devotional song, entrains the heart and mind and encourages us to let go and enter into a state of feeling not often experienced in our daily lives.  Coming together to praise and sing and cry out with love and devotion we create a safe space and are able to drop our guards and experience our shared humanity.  

There is a special silence that comes after we've all been singing our hearts out for 2 hours or more straight...  Not unlike the feeling at the end of a connected, improvised jam.  A charged brilliance that pervades the room and feels bright and alive.  That is the power of our open hearts.  The vibration of our light as it grows in resonance with one another, like candles that have joined to become a bonfire.  We give one another permission to shine more brightly and that is a good and necessary thing.  Let's keep doing it.  Thanks for the inspiration...

The goal of life is rapture.  Art is the way we experience it.
— joseph campbell
 

October Kirtan tour ~ the silence within the sound

Anything you do has a still point. When you are in that still point you can perform maximally.
— Joseph Campbell
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And so it goes.  Within the still point lies all.  The advice of the Buddha, of the Sages of time and space…

This busy-ness we are concerned with, the many things we do and say and make and plan, the Samsara we are surrounded with, though seemingly important, really has nothing to do with the goal of presence and self-actualization.

And yet this is the stuff of life.  How we fill our days and live and die.  And still, somehow, within all of this even,  in the still point exists the "not doing."   Right there.  The calm in the center of the storm.  How can it be so?  These two apparently opposite things existing at once?  Productivity and “success” whether that be worldly or simply a personal satisfaction with the things one has accomplished AND nothingness.  The “doing” of action with creative energy and its fruits and the absence of any doing whatsoever, the bliss beyond all “doing.”  Samsara and Nirvana.

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a 15th century Sanskrit manual on Yoga, defines Samsara as : the unending cycle of birth and death.  The actions we involve oursevles in that create our ‘lives.’  

Nirvana / Samadhi is defined in the same text as : the highest state of Samadhi in which only supra-consciousness or universal consciousness remains.

The two states seem completely at odds with one another.  One completely defined by living and one transcending even consciousness itself.  How can they both exist simultaneously and how can they be the same thing?  According to Joseph Campbell :

“It’s a perspective problem.  Running through the field of time is this energy which is the one energy that is putting itself into all these forms.  By identifying with that one energy, you are at the same time identified with the forms of coming and going.  If you see the two modes- involvement and the still point within you, samsara & nirvana - as separate from each other, you are in a dualistic position.  But when you realize that the two are one, you can hold to your still point while engaging.  It’s the same world experienced in two different ways.  You can experience both ways at once.”

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I pondered this all last week as I moved through my days in preparation for a trip to Eugene Oregon to participate in a Kirtan with fellow bhakti musicians and friends.  There was something in what Campbell asserts that had unlocked the essence of why I play devotional music and study Indian Classical music.  The still point and the action at the same time.  The disappearing into that space entirely and also becoming it.  Even if only for a moment.  The complexities that dissolve once the form has been mastered and transcended… and once tasted this becomes the meditation experience of a lifetime and one can never forget it.  

 

And then, just as I imagine a surfer who has felt the feeling of catching a wave is always looking for the next, (seeking and adjusting their balance as each comes with it’s own set of unique attributes and characteristics) so too we feel the cycle of samsara.   the wheel of life with it’s myriad details and experiences winding it's way through all we do and pulling us both away from and towards that still point as we seek internal balance.  

 

When teaching asana class and also talking about mantra practice with students I often quote Alan Goode, a senior Iyengar Yoga teacher whose paper “Yoga: A Study of Conciousness”  had a great impact on me when my yoga teacher Alison West gave me a copy about 20 years ago.

 

Goode writes about yoga being about 3 things. Repetition, Observation and Patience.  I have found through my asana practice, these tenets to be invaluable stepping stones on the path towards physical calm and stillness of body.  Applied to bhakti yoga they become even more noticeable.  I mean, here we are repeating the names of the divine over and over and over and over.  Actually creating a new groove in the mind where the resonance of the Sanskrit sounds can work their magic.  Being an energetically based language, the Sanskrit sounds carry within them their meaning and intention and affect us vibrationally... whether we are consciously deciding we believe they represent the energy they describe or not!

 

So here I am, busy minded-me, a yogini of many years and a sound practioner… still seeking the still point and finding it for moments now, in this part of my life, in the midst of a lot of sound and action.  Sure, sometimes sitting quietly in my morning meditation but more often now surrounded by many people, equipment, instruments, lights, candles, wires, students, teacher trainees, festival goers… my family… you name it!  And in the middle of all this I am finding a way to touch the sweetest, most real experience.  A disappearing entirely into the bliss.  A little teeny tiny moment of nirvana here and there!

kavita & tabla player daniel paul.

kavita & tabla player daniel paul.

As turmoil rages all around us, (climate change, non-stop natural disasters and fires, an inept child-king leader, and I can’t even believe I’m saying this but yes, another mass shooting) I’m reminded that this one-ness, this search for the still point amidst the action applies to our collective situation as well.  In order to find that collective center, we are all included in the process.  We are all called to feel more, to do more, to get more involved on all levels...and to reach out and somehow find a space to invite those in society who are feeling especially lost and alienated.  Those who are affected by these disasters and horrible crimes, and yes, somehow also those who are driven to commit them.  Not to embrace their actions, but to heal the collective wound that lies at the root of those actions.  To provide through community action and practice and through difficult conversations a way to touch in on the stillness, the sameness within us all.

 

In kirtan practice we chant to come into connection with that beauty, that bliss, that eternal one-ness that is within us all.  We all define this source energy differently and build our own cosmology around what it means to us.  But we are all seeking the same thing.   Wholeness.  Bliss.  Connection with the love that we are.  A place to let go of some of the fear and grief we carry from these times and from all time.  The unresolved grief of those that walked the land we occupy and were forcibly removed.  The many family stories of war, abuse and dislocation and the continued rape of earth mother herself.  All of this is present and felt and asking to be allowed to move through us so we all may heal.

 

The Kirtan in Eugene was a blast.  We shared music in the temple room of a beautiful home outside the city, surrounded by devotional altars and luminous spiritual artwork.  So many virtuosos in one space, there was a lot of sound!!  At one point the full-to-capacity room was resounding with music and voices chanting “Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna Hare Hare, Hare Ram, Hare Ram, Ram Ram Hare Hare!"  It was so big and full and Iooking around it happened... I felt it!   In the middle of it all, a little taste of the silence within!

 

A letting go, an allowing, a disappearing into the one-ness and flow of us all.  In the morning I commented to the owner of the house how beautiful the experience was and thanked him for having us there.   He listened and then admitted he had spent many years away from almost all people simply tending the home and making artwork but that now this feels like what we all need.  I looked up.  "To get together and sing together?" 

"Yes," he smiled and agreed.  After many years of not many people coming to the house, he is now opening it for spiritual music gatherings.  Jai !  

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bhaktifest 2017... come back home where the love is strong

...and vulnerability is the precondition to contact. You can form no intimacy without vulnerability.
— junot diaz
bhaktifest 2017

bhaktifest 2017

it's a friday morning in the desert of southern california and i find myself on a small stage sitting alongside himalayan yoga master Yogrishi Vishvketu (Vishva-ji) facing his class of students under the stretched canopies of an outdoor yoga space. Vishva-ji leads the class through a classical kundalini yoga practice.  first he introduces the seed sound (bija mantra) for each chakra and then leads us all through a set of movements specific to that energy center.  when we all pause to meditate, he nods to me and i, along with my friend brian festa on tabla and tressa yonekawa bundren accompanying me vocally, improvise around the sound of the chakra at hand… allowing my voice to open to the vibration of the class and Vishava-ji’s teaching, the air of the morning and the energetic qualities of said chakra...  until the next.  

as Vishva-ji progresses through the chakras we all go deeper.  i find myself looking out at the beautiful open faces of the yogis in class and becoming mesmerized.  we are here to heal, we are here to change, we are here to open.  i am moved especially by the many men in the class.  so present and emotional.  all are affected by this practice.  we are softening.  we are allowing.

by the 4th or so chakra i am a bit spacey.  tressa needs to nudge me to remind me when to sing and draw my attention back to the microphone.  i sing and am in such bliss,  i am affected and opened by this practice.  we have all come to bhaktifest this weekend with an intention to move into these spaces and open ourselves to our vulnerability.  in order to connect, in order to grow.

a truly incredible premise and concept,  especially in these times, when the celebrated pervasive ideal is one of impervious stoic masculinity without feeling or remorse or any emotion whatsoever.  as junot diaz put it in a recent interview with krista tippett for her podcast ‘ on being ‘ entitled 'radical hope is our best weapon.'  

“when you look at the rules of traditional masculinity, it’s all about creating an inhuman: someone who is all surfaces and has no innards, has no interiority and doesn’t require community, doesn’t require intimacy, doesn’t require family.”  

it is through this twisted logic that we (as a collective society) now bear witness as resources and precious time to act are being hijacked by those ignoring the vulnerabilities of this planet.  meanwhile, the earth mother rages at the tipping point of climate cataclysm all around us right here and right now.  comparing this inhumane masculine ideal to the way climate change deniers would like us to see gaia, diaz goes on to say “The whole debate around climate change is a bunch of lying fools sitting around, almost all male, but whatever — a bunch of lying fools saying, “The earth is not vulnerable. There is no injury.” And there’s just a repetition here; there’s this mantra that comes out of these hegemonies, which is: “We are invulnerable. We’re not vulnerable. There is no loss. We don’t need to change anything”

joshua tree national park at dawn

joshua tree national park at dawn

the obvious reality, that we are all vulnerable sentient beings in need of love and community and capable of emotions and feelings is undermined by even allowing any conversation to the contrary.  in the midst of not only the tremendous scientific evidence but also the physical evidence all around us… even a nod towards denial that our survival and actions are not deeply connected with our planet is an abnegation of life itself.  when i left Oregon to head south to attend bhaktifest much of the wild lands of the state were entirely ablaze with wildfires.  hurricanes continue to ravage the south of the united states and the carribbean.  and this is just the local news.  this planet is not impervious or invulnerable.  she is showing us the way to balance and this is real.  

and amisdt this all… i had the tremendously fortunate opportunity of being surrounded by practitioners and seekers in the desert for the weekend of bhaktifest 2017.  oh the beauty.  to practice a mantra of healing and togetherness.  to practice a different way of moving in this world.

over the course of four days (with some folks there for a pre-festival and post-festival day as well) we all came together to do exactly the opposite of the mainstream push to be invincible and invulnerable.  delving into our respective practices we moved and chanted together, conversing and listening to one another and to teachers who have been on this path for some time.  the opening was palpable.  as usual.  by saturday early morning the skies also had opened and we were blessed with the beauty of desert thundershowers.  

and like our human bodies and like mother nature, bhaktifest moved with the changes… 

lighting equiptment was covered and the early morning main stage music was held ‘backstage’ in the green room.  couches were rearranged to fit everyone and all of us gathered around the featured musician masood ali khan and his hang drum.  musicians next to volunteers next to festival goers next to stage crew we huddled together and masood led us singing the morning into day.  through change and acceptance, what could have been catastrophe instead was one of the sweetest and most intimate experiences of the entire festival.  

over the course of four days, the effect not only of coming together to practice and pray and sing but also meeting the gaze of those passing with a smile or a greeting, and being met in this way as well,  is strong and real.  we drop our defenses, we open our hearts.  we soften.  we cry.  we talk things out and we heal.  i had the pleasure and good fortune to play at the festival, with my own band of beautiful bhaktis including joshua levin (tabla) greg allen (viola) dave cipriani (guitar) rick franz (bass) tressa yonekawa bundren, matura seva, prema love & abigail spinner mcbride (response vocals) and also to support some of the other presenting yogis and musicians in their offerings (masood ali khan, michael cohen, saul david raye, sharanam anandamayima -whose song i quote in the title of this blog “come back home where the love is strong”  to name a few)

through the process of being there and offering myself and my music i encountered my own limits, my own obstacles that showed their familiar or not-so-familiar faces as the case may be.  one morning we drove out to the national park to watch the sunrise and witnessed a prolonged moment of silence.  the cars driving by stopped and the desert came up around us to share.  birds swooped down to the giant boulders we were perched upon and sang to us.  little desert blossoms bloomed with the still damp sand and moisture in the air of this normally arid landscape.  we were given a glimpse of the way things are when there isn’t so much human noise all around.  the balance of it all.  the natural baseline.  

 

matura seva, tressa yonekawa bundren and me.  

matura seva, tressa yonekawa bundren and me.  

later that day at the festival the sun came back and the sky opened into a brilliant desert rainbow.  everyone from where they were practicing, stopped to admire the colors and the magic all around.  the connection to the earth mother and to one another was so so clear.

we all are in this together.  we all can continue to open to our vulnerability and our softness.  to move more freely through these changing times.  to allow for young men and women to have a different paradigm and a new model of what it means to be strong and whole and centered.  i offer my practice to this ideal.  may i continue to heal and grow.  thank you bhaktifest for bringing us all together again and reminding us we are not alone.

“And for many of us, to be able to trust somebody else, to be able to have faith that someone else or that the future or that the community can take care of us, that we will not be destroyed when we lower our defenses, for many of us, that’s a challenge. And yet, you can’t have any kind of love, whether we’re talking about civic love or we’re talking about interpersonal love, without first dropping those defenses, without first making yourself vulnerable.” junot diaz

 

 

out in the desert for a wind bath

beginning of august… not exactly the time to visit my parents outside of las vegas nevada, but what with the climate change that is upon us, and portland temps heading that week past 100 degrees, not to mention wild fires burning from BC south… it all seemed the same somehow.  not that flying there with my son doesn’t add to the collective problem.  we all wonder how close we can hover to the tipping point and for how long. (not very!)

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and time with family has it’s own weight and limit.  i find though, as i grow, i am learning.  i’m learning to let go and breathe and allow the irreconcilable conversations to be left alone before they can start… the discussions about politics, the patterns and habits of dysfunction, the food choices, the lifestyle differences… just let it all be.  my son begs for time with his grandparents and this is important.

last summer post election, in strained phone conversations with my mother, i nearly threw in the towel.  when i heard those words parroted back to me “that was just locker room talk” i couldn’t do it anymore.  how as a woman, as a mother could i reconcile with that?  with the disgusting pig of a man that had now been glorified to the highest office of the land being justified in fox news speak by my own personal first lady, my mom?

i was close to deciding to have nothing to do with my parents.  and as a mother, that is difficult to consider.  to think that at some point, my son (who is 11) and i could see things so differently that he would not talk to me anymore.  painful.  but how?

so this would be our first visit post election.  at some point, (and NO, not because i think any of the current situation is NORMAL) but at some point, i softened and my son’s questions about when he was going to see he grandparents echoing in my mind, i made plans for a visit.

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on one of the first nights, sitting there with everyone in front of a movie on the big screen TV, i looked up to see the wind whipping through the trees outside against a brilliant blue-black sky.  i got up and took a walk out in the back yard.  

the temperature was perfectly delicious.  the wind, possessed of the spirit of the desert herself smacking and caressing me from all directions at once, the trees wildly rustling and bending.  i was taken by the shear force and strength of the elelment in it’s essence.  

it was mid-movie and i was expected to go back inside but i couldn’t pull myself away from the beauty and awe i was experiencing.  this was the desert.  this raw crazy un-tamed energy.  this, the reality of the night, here and now in this place.  and as i was beaten about, sitting on the diving board of the pool, my hair whipping this way and that.  i recieved the winds message to me,  let go… let go… let go…

when things feel stuck there is a practice of considering not this or that, but the third unknown way.  not a mid-point but instead an entirely new paradigm (or two or three!) just outside our view that we don’t even realize is waiting to be uncovered.  openings to a new way.  possiblities.  choices.  once found, we realize they were there all along.

any attempt to decide anything - opinions about ourselves or the world around us are simply crystallizations waiting to be blown apart by the winds of change and by the reality of impermanence.  so how to find the shared humanity in the midst of all of this.  the way to continue to grow and continue to let go?  how to find that third or other path, where we all come together as beings in need of the same things, love, shelter, food, drink, companionship?

yoga practice reminds us that the present moment is all that we have.  and as we try to grasp it, so too it slips away.  coming into close relationship with the breath, we can attempt to release from our busy lives and busy minds and sometimes when we are moving or chanting we can simply be in that breath, in that mantra, in that moment.  

this is the opportunity the wind allowed me on this night in the desert.  it snatched me out of my judgements and by being so much more powerful than my doubting mind, by overpowering me with it’s beauty and vitality, it brought me strongly into that moment.  softening any edges i might have been trying to cover up.  rocking me to my core.

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breathe of gaia.  take this pain and these presuppositions.  set me free.  i sat and sang the hanuman chalisa though my voice was barely audible over the roar of the wind.  musing to myself at one point ‘anjali mudra pavanasuta nama…’ the son of the wind god is moving through me!  oh my.  and i could feel my heart opening.  

we all have to find our own way through challenging relationships and situations.  it is never easy.  i was reminded that night that the earth mother is here to feed and guide us all.  somehow, by taking that hand, by being taken by her power i was able to not feel so alone.  i was able to allow.  if we let go and allow our feelings to move through us, we can express…and in expressing we can remember it is okay to FEEL.  times are crazy right now.  let us all breathe deep and feel the earth beneath our feet!

the week with family passed uneventfully.  no dramas, no overly uncomfortable conversations or arguments.  i was able to feel into the humanity of these souls who took it upon themselves to raise me.  and though i disagree vehemently with what i see as continued brain-washing going on (fox news playing day and night…) i let go.  

it is my hope that we each find our way.  we need one another.

"In every moment of sadness, another layer of outdated cellular memories leaves your energy field. As each layer is released through spontaneous expressions of doubt, despair, and disappointment, the world is equally cleansed and released from the spell of unconsciousness.” matt kahn

 

tribe... the need to gather.

just back from a short and magical stay out in the woods of oregon with friends in an isolated cabin.  precious time away from the buzz to allow the quiet to sink in with the constant rushing sound of the creek to clear away the mental noise.  as i entered into those days of beauty and silence i became aware of how unsettled i was.  the busy-ness of city life, plans for the weeks to come and the lingering presence of so much cyber-communication created enough mental noise that it was difficult initially for me to sink in.

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strangely, i noticed what was lingering in my mind the most were thoughts revolving around a text message i read just as i was about to drive out of range… a conversation that didn’t even happen in full and didn’t happen at all in person.  why was this something that my mind was holding on to?

while in the forest, i shared long talks with my good friend and walked and cooked and read.  we ate together and all slept in the same small cabin.  we played games with our boys.  we swam and hiked and prepared food.  we individually practiced and contemplated.  we lived communally as one is able while on vacation and tasted the air as it sounds and feels when not filled with so many frequencies and signals.  

the real presence of people living communally around me and moving through the days had a strong effect on me as did the nature surrounding us, the clear air and water.  while i at first struggled, i soon felt myself coming into the clarity of my center and all the while i was accompanied and held in presence with these friends.  what a blessing and a gift.

kat by creek

in best-selling author & journalist sebastian junger’s book ‘tribe : on homecoming and belonging,” he writes about how captives of the indigenous tribal peoples in the days of the english conquest of north america would run back to the first nation people once they were ‘freed’ and returned to their supposedly more civilized community.  this never happened in reverse but there are many recorded instances of this phenomena happening in that direction.  

junger continues writing about how first nation peoples spent at that time perhaps a third of the normal american work week laboring due to shared tasks and resources and were almost always in the company of others whether that was to celebrate, to grieve, to go to war, to work or to die.  the rates of depression and suicide in those cultures were nowhere near the rates we see in ‘civilized’ nations. (interestingly enough, he adds that the rates of depression and suicide go DOWN in so-called ‘civilized’ societies during times of great emergency or war because everyone bands together and becomes a necessary part of the whole in order to help with survival of the community.)

so although we are seemingly more and more “connected,” through our devices and the internet, these connections do not actually have the same effect as real interaction and personal sharing.  this we know.  interaction and personal sharing are necessary parts of our human exisitence.  belonging and being a part of a community.  face to face communication.  these are essentials.  

as i unwound from city life and cyber communications in the woods in the company of friends i experienced this and felt better.  coming together to sing kirtan shortly after the election last november (which felt like a time of emergency to many) we all felt better.  we needed to be in that room together.  we needed to sing and express and be heard.  we needed each other as present, breathing, co-creating, feeling human beings… to communicate with and commune with.  we needed that then and today still do.

in the wake of the election sales surged of author and political theorist hannah arendt’s classic work “the origins of totalitarianism” as people attempted to make sense of the ghastly rhetoric that we began to be exposed to on a near constant basis from the executive branch of government.  arendt describes totalitarianism as “organized lonliness”  a growing phenomenom not only in modern society but also in the wave of refugees we see rising all over the globe.  she goes on to describe loniliness as “a malise of up-rootedness and a superfluous feeling that you don’t matter.”  

it is all too common to experience this illusion of separate-ness in modern living.  even with so many online “friends” and “connections.”  this is part of why i am commited to gathering people together to sing.  because we do matter.  and because sitting with others feels good and necessary.  and without people there to fill the room, it doesn’t happen.  

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so i say yes, use our devices to make plans and keep in touch and then let’s gather!  if you’re not already doing so, challenge yourself to get into a room full of other people to commune with somehow once a week.  a room where you all do something together!  not a gym where each individual is doing their thing alone, but instead a class, a kirtan, a discussion, a town hall meeting, a spiritual service, a meet-up, a song circle, a poetry jam… use your imagination!  

let’s keep re-weaving the threads of community in real time.  this way clearing isn’t just something we maybe get a taste of when we find that rare moment of camping in the woods in summer, or while on a retreat, but instead is a regular & constant practice.  a renewing of our feeling of belonging and a holding space for one another as we move through these difficult times.

Community practice is crucial at this time. It’s crucial not to be alone in front of the computer, reading media. That makes the world dark for you. Find flesh. There are still wonderful things happening.
— Phap Dung - senior disciple of Thich Nhat Hanh

Fierce Love : Toni Childs at the Hanuman Festival

Just back from beautiful Boulder Colorado when I attended the Hanuman Festival... amazing days of singing and practicing and meeting yogis and teachers from the area and all over who came together to celebrate the beautiful monkey with it's heart wide open...

What a blessing!  Engaging with the depth of breath more and more each day, practicing with these amazing souls whose teachings have guided and influenced yoga in this country over the past 20 years, yes, I expected this.  What i wasn't expecting was the heart opening brought to us all by Toni Childs, Emmy award-winning singer & songwriter who was there to share her voice, music and wisdom to empower and uplift us all.

An old friend of international yoga teacher, spiritual activist and musician Saul David Raye, Toni joined his band for the opening night kirtan and immediately captivated me with the sparkle in her eyes and her wide open smile.  A sister in the house for sure.  What a blessing to share the stage with her and Saul and the amazing instrumentalists who brought the house down.  Hanuman festival was officially underway.

After leading a deep, heart-opening yoga class mid-day on Saturday, Saul invited Toni to take the reins following savasana.  Another wonderful & highly acclaimed international teacher,  Sianna Sherman bought her class over too.  Then, all together, nearly surpassing the capacity for the space we were in, we circled up at Toni's suggestion.  A giant cuddle puddle filling the tent, toes and shoulders touching... a buzz in the air as Toni then stepped into the center and began to tell us about the song she was about to share.  

Tony award-winning playwright, performer and activist Eve Ensler, the creator of 'The Vagina Monologues' had asked her to write a song of healing for the millions of woman and girls who have had to deal with abuse.  A tall order indeed.  Toni took it on.  Looking around at all of us huddled together, her kind eyes taking in each face, Toni told us a little about her own story of personal healing.  She then commented that, in her experience, we all carry the weight of our ancestors wounds.   For so many of us, she continued,  our parents were not able to see us or relieve us of that weight.

The vulnerability in the air was palpable.  Most of the people in the circle at that point were in the middle of their third day of deep practice and contemplation.  In this safe space, faces were changing and some tears were starting to flow.  Toni then suggested to everyone straight up that if they chose they could let go of that weight right then and there.  There was a moment as that sunk in. What would that be like if we all just let go of our pain and struggle right then? All together?  If we surrendered our wounding and stepped forward into that opening in that moment?

The song was about to begin.  The microphone wasn't working.  A new one was passed through the hands in the circle to Toni and it was changed.  The song was about to begin again.  The playback wasn't working.  A moment passed.  Then two.  Toni gently let us know she needed to go and fix the sound and she made her way carefully out of the center of the circle.

Silence fell.  Some light chatter.  A little discomfort in the air.  We all sat so closely, hands on strangers shoulders and backs, breathing, waiting.  Wide open.    Someone started with an "omm" and everyone joined in. This continued growing stronger and more connected until Toni made her way back into the center of the circle requesting one more for her.  The biggest "ommm" yet vibrated the fabric of the tent and there was a palpable sigh of relief all around.

The music began finally and as Toni started to sing, there was another stop, another break in the flow.  She had another song in her mind.  What were the words to this one? Did anyone know?  Shining beautifully in her strength and transparency Toni asked if anyone knew the first phrase.  'Google it!' A few suggested.  Giggling with her, all of us now included and intertwined in this process unfolding, all of us able to make mistakes or forget things or have things not work perfectly... we waited.  The first lines were spoken out loud from someone in the tent.  "Oh yes! So...How does it go?" Toni asked to warm laughter. "Oh yes, thank you."

What happened next was truly extraordinary.  Witnessing each of us, offering her love and her acknowledgment and the strength of her song, Toni Childs sang "Because You're Beautiful" to each and every person in the circle.  We were invited to receive and, as the refrain, belted out in her other worldly cosmic voice literally blasted  and bathed us we were reminded.  "YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL... YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL... YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL...." 

Gesturing to each person Toni continued, a priestess, a warrior goddess commanding us to rise up into the light of our own beauty and greatness.  

 

"don't you see you're beautiful
yes you're beautiful
we are beautiful
yes you're beautiful...

Its the time to choose, what you want now
Its the time to declare, who you are now
Its the time to, reach for the stars now
Its the time to believe in yourself now..."

 

Soon we were all singing, to one another, to those across the room, to ourselves, to our families, our friends, to our ancestors, to God within.  

Coming to the close of the song Toni sat again in the center of the circle and we all leaned back, opening the the mandala of bodies we had made like a lotus flower blooming and, with laughter, relaxed into one another.  Class had ended, but practice continues on, and the journey of self love and awakening is never ending.  What a gift to be reminded.   "YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL...you are you are you are you are you are... we are we are we are we are we are...". With gratitude.  Jai Hanuman.

Stepping Into Fear to Allow Life to Live Through You

sinking into deep practice and musical offerings this summer… as the flowers bloom all around in this lush green that is portland early june.  and realizing each day as i let go into love that this is what is reflected all around and back to me. 

Kat & Michael rehearsing....

Kat & Michael rehearsing....

an incredible opportunity to accompany my friend michael steen singing for ammachi in seattle.  with the incredible dave hoover playing harp and boaz drum on tabla to accompany we practiced and arrived and practiced some more.  and then at the last minute the schedule changed.  there was room for another offering and i was offered the chance to sing something for her.  and at this point i know the answer is ‘yes’ - whenever the universe asks you to do what you love, to share what you do and are … we say yes!  

by saying yes we step into our becoming.  we unfold and flower and falter and grow and shine.  all of it is possible when we step in.  and there is no guide book that says it will be easy, there are no guarantees that the path is without rough patches.  and we know that for the sunny shiny places to exist, so too these shadows we will walk through.  

the point is, we walk through them by stepping in.  we welcome the fear itself to be transformed into experience, and what is behind the fear to dissolve.  we learn who we are and how to love ourselves in the process of becoming and this love reflects all around us.  

after an early morning drive and an entire day surrounded by the sangha at the hyatt in seattle, listening to the bhajans, sharing sattvic simple food in the dining hall with so many others, receiving darshan from beloved ammachi herself and listening to her stories while sitting with these beautiful friends and musicians, our time to present music finally was upon us.  it was nearly 2:30 in the morning and ammachi was still going strong embracing those who approached her on the stage from the darshan line.

Beloved Amma

Beloved Amma

we settled ourselves in front of her on the floor by the microphones and began.  i witnessed my friend michael, sitting beside me begin his offering straight and clear and strong.  i could see him stepping into his dream and his fear at once.  as the long spiraling melodic lines unfurled, over and over, his beautifully performed 'tantroktam devisuktam' began to entrance us all.  

sitting and singing next to him, i watched him transform.  from quietly nervous at first as he sang, he began to shine brighter and brighter.  lifting his face and smiling, he sat up taller and lifted his chin, reaching out energetically and owning this offering to the guru before him.  i watched as love surrounded and enveloped him and he allowed the embrace.

i followed with a short chant to the lotus feet of the guru… 'charana kamala meje jyoti!'  my voice finding it’s way through the microphone’s reverb to it’s true essence and filling the grand ballroom.  allowing my own nerves and voice to find their landing in the music and in the practice i let go and sang. 

our intention and attention is everything.  only love.  become that love for yourself and watch it flower around you!  gina sala closed our little set with an incredibly beatuiful ‘jai ma saraswati devi’ grounding us all with her experience and gorgeous command of voice.

the darshan for the day was over and the closing goodbyes to ammachi for the evening were said.  we parted and going back to our hotel room with my friend i commented on how beautiful the day was, though somehow not overpowering.  without realizing the true effect of being bathed in ammachi’s unconditional love all day, i set up to go to sleep and instead ended up with my friend… unpacking our hearts and lives in conversations until dawn. thank you dear ammachi for your glorious example and your tireless service.

step into fear.  allow the feelings & experience. love yourself and one another.  step again.  repeat.

the sanga within and without

how important are our environment and relationships to our practice? spending this past weekend in santa monica at the grand opening of mandala yoga center i was surrounded by practitioners and yogis… and as always the practice ran deep.  how do we cultivate this community in our daily life and slowly shift away from toxic patterns and situations?  does one need to live in an ashram or yoga center to find this rhythm and support?

Kavita performs with Josse Jaffe & Johanna Beekman at Bhakti Yoga Shala.

Kavita performs with Josse Jaffe & Johanna Beekman at Bhakti Yoga Shala.

having personally spent time in deep practice on retreat or at an ashram but also more often in the daily grind of trying to make ends meet as an artist and yoga teacher while being a single mom, i find that a simple regular commitment to practice is all it takes to start to clear the field.  perhaps it is a gradual peeling away… perhaps we choose and change and then settle in but whichever is your temperament, the more time spent in practice and contemplation, the less tolerance & attention we have for extreme or unbalanced behaviors and actions around us.

we start to notice our relationships are more often ones where our practice can be present or included as part of the conversation.  where choices are between two balanced things to do or places to go, and less about managing situations where we feel tempted to move away from center or be pulled away from practice.  through all of this we begin to be able to find breath before reacting and respond in a balanced way.

vedic astrologer and tantric relationship coach jeffrey armstrong put it in terms of cellular regeneration saying a certain number of new cells are created every day and are awaiting instructions for how to operate.  what do we expose them too? how are they integrated into our system either to support our practice or pull away from it?

how does this parallel the people and places we choose to commune with?

by supporting and being part of our sanga, the community of practitioners we surround ourselves with, we in turn nurture and bathe those new cells with the tools of practice.  by spending a tenth of our waking day involved with our practice, we reinforce this path and find balance in the soup of chaos we live in (kaliyuga!)

breathe, sit, chant, move.  start over.  carry water.  chop wood.  this is a good time.