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.