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