Commencement — What I Wish Someone Had Told Me at My Graduation

I was invited to give the Commencement Address at Herzing University‘s December graduation last night.  It was one of those opportunities that came to me through a  series of unpredictable events (aka divine providence), but it meant I had just a few days to put together my thoughts for these graduates. I might have said something different if I had been given more time, but instead I just shared with them exactly where I’m living now. Check it out:


Good evening and welcome! I want to thank Jason for inviting me tonight. It is a deep honor for me to be among you, with your family and your friends and your partners and maybe even your children. I share with them deep pride in and inspiration by the dedication that got you here tonight. Please know that your work blazes a trail for everyone you meet – everyone who wants to make themselves better, their work better, and their world better. I want to a share a quote with you from one of my favorite authors, and it’s a quote I try to live my life by. Marianne Williamson says:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?”

As you move forward after your time here at Herzing, you have two choices. You can move towards joy, or you can move away from fear.

We all have fears – even fears that we are powerful beyond measure. That power in us can be intimidating, and it encourages us to take risks – and sometimes those risks lead to failure. I don’t know about you, but I’m deeply afraid of failing. I might have been a little afraid to get up here tonight, afraid of what you think of me, afraid I’ll say the wrong thing, or that I’ll let you down.

But I made a choice – not to move away from that fear, but instead towards the deep joy of sharing with you something I believe so strongly. I know each of you were afraid to begin your studies here, I know each of you had moments when you thought, “I can’t do this.” And I know each one of you made a choice, with great courage in the face of that fear, to move forward.

I think you already know what so many people don’t know – you can live a life that you fall more deeply in love with every single day.

A very wise person once told me: if you want to be happy, do things that make you happy.

And you know what I mean by happy – I don’t mean pleasure; I don’t mean sit on the couch eating bon-bons and binge watching “Orange is the New Black.” When I say happy, I mean so excited to get up in the morning that you’re simply thrilled to be alive.

If you want to be happy, do things that make you happy.

Sometimes when I say this, people argue. They always say some variation of these two things: One, “I don’t know what makes me happy,” and two, “I’m not sure I can be happy.”

I think you graduates know – I think you already have an inkling of what makes you happy. And it’s what got you to this chair tonight. It’s what got you through all those tough assignments, group projects, and the moments when you thought you couldn’t do it.

And if you’re still not completely sure – keep trying. Keep trying things on in your life; take risks. Get curious about the things that make you happy. Don’t be afraid to find things that don’t make you happy – but for heaven’s sake stop doing those things!

If you want to be happy, do the things that make you happy.

If any of you, any of you, fall into that second group, with a deep doubt that it is possible to be that happy – to be in love with your own life – trust me when I say it’s possible.  It’s not just possible for some of us.  It’s possible for each of you.

I learned too late in life that I had a choice to believe this. I could change what I thought about myself and my life. I was not a prisoner of my past, and I could instead embrace my future. And that’s what got each of you here tonight. If you can’t quite believe now, let me believe it for you: You can have a life and work where you are rewarded for being your complete, authentic self, and you fall in love with your life a little more every day.

Just like any other lifelong relationship, you will have doubts. You will wake up some mornings and think: “I’m just not sure I can do this.” That’s normal. It’s actually a great sign – because it’s a sign you’re about to grow. And you already know that because of how many times you maybe thought it in the last few years.

My mom went to medical school when she was 40 years old and I was 6. She once said, “the amount you learn is directly proportional to how uncomfortable you are.” Get comfortable being uncomfortable.

And I know you already know something about this. You know what helps you. I want to share what helps me, and what helps the people I work with every day:

Breathe. They kick me out of yoga teaching if I don’t remind everybody to breathe. Your breath can’t lie – when you get nervous it gets short, quick, and hard. When you’re content or relaxed it’s slow, steady and expansive. So when you’re scared or nervous, slow your breath down. It will trick your brain into thinking you’re content and relaxed. Trust me, it works.

Pray. Americans have a lot of baggage around the word God, so I try not to say it very much. I encourage you to find a deep, abiding connection with a power greater than yourself. Connect to the mystery and the miracle that your heart continues to beat every minute of every day. Don’t be afraid to get quiet. That leads me to the next one:

Be Grateful. Give thanks for the good things in your life, focus on the things that you have, instead of focusing on what you don’t have yet. Your attention is one of the most valuable currencies you have: what you focus on grows. Remember and give thanks for the things that bring you joy. You might just find those things growing.

Be Kind. Be kind to people. Be kind to everyone. Even the people it’s hard to be kind to. I work with homeless drug addicts, corporate executives, and everyone in between. If I’ve learned anything it’s this: it doesn’t matter the circumstances of life, everyone is suffering. Be kind to the people you meet – everyone you meet. And please remember to be kind to yourself.

Laugh & Have Fun. Do things that make you laugh, just because they make you laugh. If you want to be happy, do things that make you happy. Laughter is like nature’s medicine – it’s also great ab work. Laugh as often as you can, and whenever possible, laugh with other people. Because the folks near you are struggling with all the same demons you are, and they need a laugh just as much as you do: maybe even more.

In closing, I want to say thank you. Thank you to your friends and your families for everything they did that got you here tonight. And thank each of you for not giving up when it got tough, but instead moving a little closer to your dreams every day.

The end of that Marianne Williamson quote I started with tonight is this:

“As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Congratulations. I can’t wait to see how each of you makes the world a little brighter.

Thank you, and good night.

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Receiving Gratitude

This November, it seems like all of my Facebook friends are writing gratitude lists: every single day, expressing appreciation for everything they have, from nice weather to tasty dinners. My reactions range from a light smiles to subtle groans: “Oprah wins again.”

My mind is so screwed up that I feel guilted into gratitude practice: “I should remember what I have more. I should appreciate the people in my life.” I wonder what I would be grateful for, but my list never seems like enough.  I am reminded again that my mind can use everything as a weapon — every medicine can be poison if taken in the wrong dose.

I am not, by any means, undermining the practice of gratitude.  When I’m humble enough to remember, I have found it a very useful practice.  Our minds tend to focus on what we lack, the things that are missing, the things that hurt, and gratitude gently focuses our attention on abundance and joy instead.  But I think there’s a more subtle practice that might be even more powerful: receiving gratitude.

Despite trumpeting the power of expressing gratitude, the “mindfulness community” spends little time on the practice of being receptive to it. We fill our lives with so much offering and service and generosity, that when someone says “thank you,” all we can think is, “That wasn’t enough. I could give more.” Perhaps we offer service not out of deep love for all beings, but instead because we feel we must serve in order prove that we have earned being here.

An underlying message of gratitude practice: If I don’t remember all the gifts I have been given, I couldn’t possibly deserve them.

What a dangerous, yet common, thought — and a thought that completely eliminates the possibility of grace. Grace is what we receive in exchange for nothing – grace is what we receive just by being. We don’t have to do anything, we don’t have to give anything, we don’t have to sacrifice anything — and thus you don’t have to know anything, understand anything in order to get it. They say: “God gives grace not because of who you are, but because of who God is.”

Perhaps this concept is seems odd: that’s normal. Intellectually, you can understand getting something for nothing (it’s nearly the American dream, right?) — but when it comes down to it, we can’t sit still and simply receive what is being offered to us. So… we practice.

Take a moment to sit quietly, and settle yourself into the present.  Let your breath become steady, and your list-making mind subside for a moment.

Once you’ve found this moment, think of a person who might be grateful for you. A parent, child, partner, friend, sibling, pet… maybe someone who sent you a text on Thanksgiving “I’m grateful for you!”  How many of those texts did you get that you can’t remember?

Give yourself a moment to remember what you’ve been for that person, what you’ve done for them in your time together.  Maybe it’s hard to a imagine a person like this — maybe you don’t have children, or your relationship with your parents is so strained that you can’t imagine that they might be grateful for you.  Maybe you have a dog or cat: imagine, for a moment, how your dog might see you.

If you can’t find anyone — think of me.  Because I guarantee I am grateful that you’re on the other end of the screen, reading what I’m writing.  I’m grateful that you’re spending your precious time with me, grateful that you bring all your experience to this moment, and are willing to process this receiving of gratitude with me.

Imagine the sense of gratitude that person or being feels for you — not just because of what you’re done, or presents you’ve given.  They’re not just grateful because of the checks-and-balances of life, they’re grateful for the space you hold, for how you make them feel about you and themselves.  Feel what that gratitude feels like.  Feel the fullness of your presence in their life.

Notice the effect on your breath.  Notice the effect on your thinking mind.  It might make you nervous.  It might make you really uncomfortable.  Maybe it calms you down.  You might think it’s a silly exercise: all of this is information for next time’s practice.

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.’
– Rumi

 

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What Ingress Taught Me About Yoga: A Confession

Ingress has been my dirty little secret for the last four months. Ingress is a mobile, geolocation capture-the-flag style game. Anyone with a cell phone anywhere in the world can play, capturing real-world locations on behalf of their team, and creating imaginary links between those locations (called portals.) When you link three portals together, you create a field for your team. There are only two teams – and you pick which one the day you sign up. No takebacks.

It’s a drastically simple game — as a player, you build a score based on how many places you go, capture on behalf of your team, how many you link together, and how many fields. The team is scored on how large all current fields are, based on population density and not geographical area. There are a number of things you can only do with a team of 8 players (or more) – which mandates teamwork, especially the further you progress.

The logistics of the game are the same over and over and over again: go to a place, claim it for your team (maybe after taking it from the other team), link, field. Capture, link, field. Repeat. Over and over and over. The game is always being played. Always. Everywhere. The official slogan of the game? Ingress: The World is Not What It Seems.

*   *   *   *   *

For the last four months, I have played an embarrassing number of hours of this game.  Sometimes it was just stopping in between appointments (‘let me just capture this portal on my way to work’), sometimes it was hours at a time (linking and fielding all 54 sculptures at City Park’s outdoor garden), sometimes driving long distances through the night with fellow players to reclaim key portals from the other team. I’ve been a little ashamed of it, to be honest — it didn’t seem like something a yoga teacher “should” be doing. I never crossed the line into secretive, but I could see how this could become a compulsive addictive hobby for even well-intentioned players. It got too close for comfort for me.

On November 15th, Ingress came to New Orleans for a special event called an “Anomaly.” These monthly events have special rules over a period of 4-5 hours, and players come from all over. All told, we probably had nearly 800 people on both sides playing in New Orleans.

As the host city, our local team pulled out all the stops — coordinating hotel blocks, events, tours, as well as the on-the-ground strategy for gameday. We had help from other teammates from across the country for weeks leading up and over 400 “agents” from out team played. And we won.

Perhaps the strangest irony is that this series of events is called Darsana. In yoga, darsan is what we receive from our teachers when we sit with them. It means “audience,” being able to sit in the presence of the guru. Nothing about Darasana felt like darsan to me.

This event was just like every event I’ve ever been involved in producing in many ways — the core team was stressed to our breaking point, regardless of how much we tried to prepare in advance. Teammates disagreed over strategy, tactics, coordination… and as everyone got more tired, tempers grew short and feelings got hurt. At the end of the event we all were happy to win, and yet… we were also just a little sad. Friendships and romantic relationships are permanent changed, and our team will never be the same.

As we came to the big day, I fell into my old patterns of caretaking while putting my own feelings and experience on the back burner. I ignored my own needs, because it was easier to pay attention to others’. I told myself I wouldn’t do it again, that I could set boundaries this time. But old habits die hard. We all learn the same precious lessons over and over and over again.

*   *   *   *   *

The morning of the Anomaly, I ran into a yoga teaching colleague and mentor and told her I was going to “the opposite of yoga.”

This had become my narrative about Ingress: it was the antithesis of everything I was doing in my life. It was decidedly un-yogic. In some ways, it became an outlet, an escape from the intensity of my day-to-day life. Everytime I played, I felt like I was cheating on yoga, breaking some unspoken rule for yoga teachers. Shouldn’t I be meditating somewhere? Or planning a class? Or practicing myself? Instead, I snuck around “hacking portals” and “blocking links” and “destroying fields.”

I spoke exactly that way about yoga – and still do, sometimes – for the first year of my teaching. Yoga was frivolous, “woo-woo,” a thing relegated to ditzy hippies. Three years ago, every time I told someone at my old suit-wearing job that I was training to be a yoga teacher, I apologized. To my surprise, everyone I told was curious, interested, and impressed. After three years, I’ve finally begun to accept that yoga is more than I imagined, and being a yoga teacher is a more significant job than could have I expected. I might still snicker to myself when my Reiki teacher says things like “auric field” — but I’ve begun to recognize that hint of doubt as the signal of somewhere I need to grow.

When I told my friend I was going to the “opposite of yoga,” she smiled knowingly. “It’s all yoga,” she said. What a pat, trite thing to say, I thought. Lightbulb: it’s where I need to grow.

My doubts, my self-doubts especially, are the shining light where there is work to be done.

Through this whole process, I thought “these poor people who spend all their lives on Ingress. Don’t they have anything truly meaningful in their lives? What are they running away from?” Such sneaky self-righteousness. Ingress taught me just what my yoga practice teaches me: humility and compassion. Because now I’m asking myself: “Don’t I have anything meaningful in my life? What am I running away from?”

Aren’t we all running from something? Don’t we all look for an escape sometimes?

We can use yoga as an escape from the real world, or an opportunity to see it more clearly. We can imagine the yoga studio is a retreat from our daily grind, or we can see it as a place to reveal our lives to us more clearly. Every medicine can be poison if taken in the wrong doses.

I thought Ingress was an escape. In fact, it gave me an opportunity to see myself more clearly.

Now I need a new hobby.

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The Veil is Thin

This time of year, we sometimes say “the veil is thin” — the division between the waking world and the sleeping world, the conscious and unconscious, the embodied and transcended.  Halloween (All Hallow’s Eve) gives us a chance to remind ourself that we’re all just dressed up in costumes and masks all the time.  My teacher Mitchel Bleier once suggested that we get all dressed up not to disguise who we are, but instead to discover who will recognize us despite our external trappings.

We all know that feeling of walking down Frenchmen Street in 7″ platform boots, giant wings, a mask, elaborate costume — only to have someone see us, recognize us instantly.  Maybe you don’t know the feeling of platform boots and the smell of Frenchmen Halloween — but that recognition, that being seen, is something we all deeply crave.

But what is it that we’re seeing when we see another person like that? And how do we cultivate that vision?  Is it their walk?  Their “aura”? (Aside: I hate words like aura — I think they separate us more into the in-the-esoteric-know and otherwise.)  Do we hear that specific lilt in their voice, glint in their eye?  Why is it that the year I dressed us as The Angel From Montgomery, my fake white eyelashes veiled me from the man I was sleeping with at the time, but not my yoga DJ?

How do we reveal our own true self – not the one we costume with careers and status, fancy clothes and perfect hair – but the one that those who know us recognize?  And how do we train our vision to look beyond these external veils, to the true nature of the people around us?

When you mask this Friday — I encourage you to explore if you are trying to hide or reveal your light.  Sometimes, when we entirely change our external layers, only most real parts of ourselves remain.

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Die in a Fire: Kali, Full Moons, and Transformations

“Go die in a fire.” It’s one of my favorite off-the-cuff, half-joking missives. I try not to use them so much anymore, especially in mixed company, but my Edward Gorey-loving self still holds on tight to those passive aggressive idioms.

Kali, by Raja Ravi Varma [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This morning was a “blood moon eclipse” – which even if you aren’t superstitious sounds pretty foreboding.  According to astrology experts on the internet, any eclipse is a sign of transformation — a changing from one thing to the next.  Add blood to that.  Woof.

Sometimes transformation happens gradually, like the unfolding of a beautiful flower. Usually, however, it’s uncomfortable, frustrating, and downright terrifying.  Fire is a central element in most pujas (Hindu religious ceremonies) — and not by accident.  We offer things to the fire to be devoured, destroyed, permanently transformed.  What do want to be transformed, to be burned up, to be completely dissolved in order to make way for something new?

That’s Kali. She is fierce, transformative. She is the darkness — that we can’t quite see, the fire in our belly we don’t quite understand. She is nearly uncontrollable, as we see in the end of her myth, which goes a little like this:

A long time ago, in a land far, far away, a band of demons had taken over the earth.  They were pillaging towns, taunting yogis, and tipping cows.  The humans on earth grew very frightened, and began to pray to the gods above to rescue them.

The gods looked down from their celestial mountain tops, and saw all the devastation happening on earth.  They gathered a group of their greatest warriors to go down to defeat the demons.  They were gods, after all – what could go wrong?

The gods descended to earth and began to fight the demons – chopping off heads with long sabers, skewering torsos with tridents – but something went wrong.  The enemy only seemed to get more plentiful as they fought.  Finally Shiva, one of the most powerful gods, realized every time a drop of the demon blood hit the earth a new demon sprang up.  They were Raktabijas — literally “blood seed” demons.

Once the gods realized their usual methods were useless against this opponent, they retreat back to their mountaintops. They gather in heaven, a little panicked and afraid themselves.  After much discussion, they finally turn to Durga – the chief goddess – and plea for her help.

After much urging, Durga transforms into Kali – the black one – and descends to earth. Kali is vicious, ferocious, with her near-black skin and long tongue. She begins not just to fight the raktabijas, but to devour them whole.  She continues fearlessly, fiercely, until she has consumed all of the enemy.  She’s like a whirlwind of destruction.

The gods and humans are grateful for her victory, but then something terrifying happens: just like a fire that spreads through a forest, uncontrollable, Kali has developed a blood lust. She begins searching the countryside for more demons, becoming almost as terrible as the demons.  She’s not

Shiva, Kali’s consort, descends to earth trying to snap her out of it — but she even doesn’t know him, she is so singly focused.  Unable to get her attention, Shiva literally stands in her way, and allows himself to be trampled by her fierce dance.  Once he is under her feet, she realizes what she’s done — and her rage settles.  Shiva and Kali return to heaven, and the villagers on earth begin to return to their lives.

Yoga is traditionally a practice of transformation.  We use tapas (heat) in our practice to burn up the things we don’t need anymore.  My favorite translation of yoga sutra 2.1: “Purification, Refinement, Surrender: these are the practical steps on the path of yoga.” Some days the purification is a slow burn: allowing our practice to work gradually but inevitably in our bodies and minds.  And some days we need to light a firecracker in the middle of the TNT in our spirits, and watch the sparks fly.

That’s Kali.  Kali is the beast unleashed.  She’s in each of us, waiting, ready to pounce.

Sometimes by lighting that match and putting it to the proverbial fuse, we break through the barriers that won’t be eroded by the gentle, gradual process.  Let me clear: this is not comfortable.  It’s usually not fun.  But sometimes, Kali is necessary.

Kali’s blackness is relevant. Even as children, what we fear the most is that which we can’t see. It’s the sound in the darkness that starts our overactive imaginations building giant monsters on their way to devour us — at least when we’re kids they give us night lights. In my own life, it’s the things that are just beyond my vision or grasp that are the most frightening. That amorphous foreboding feeling that I can’t quite wrangle. Like my finances. Or my future.  In fact, sometimes Kali is translated as “time.”

I encourage you to own the darkness in your life that is growing like a monster in your childhood bedroom.  Recognize the thing that you’ve been avoiding, that has morphed in the background into a giant demon before you knew it.  And then give it to the flames.  Tell it to go die in a fire.

And then just wait.  Let the fire do its work.  After the last ember burns out, see what’s left in the ashes — it might just surprise you.

An important post script:

“Purification, Refinement, Surrender: these are the practical steps on the path of yoga.”  Yoga doesn’t end with the purification — Kali cannot be left to run wild.  We can’t live in Kali energy all the time.  As Nietzsche says, “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.”

Shiva, Kali’s lover, descends to earth, to stand in her way.  He represents pure love in that moment, willing to sacrifice his self, his ego entirely to rescue Kali from herself.  I wouldn’t be a yoga teacher if I didn’t add: Love is the antidote for transforming permanently into the monster.

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Never Without Fear

Nataraja’s Abhaya Mudra

One of the more common mudras in the yoga tradition is the Abhaya mudra.  Bhaya is often translated as fear, and a- is the negative modifier, so the abhaya means literally “No Fear.”  The gesture means “be not afraid,” or “have no fear.” It’s a welcoming, inviting mudra, and we often see the murtis (statues of hindu gods) with one of their hands in this position.

One of my teachers, Douglas Brooks, has a fascinating translation that may appear counterintuitive for this word – but I truly love it.

“While the raised open palm may appear to us a signal of caution or even warning, it is also an invitation and an opportunity to approach, then come closer, open the heart, and accept the journey of self-inquiry. Fearlessness is the beginning of all such journeys, not just the end. Fearlessness is never without fear but rather that way in which we step into our courage and bring the heart, mind, and body into a deeper appreciation of each and every situation.”

Douglas also suggests that a hero does the thing we are afraid to do, so that we don’t have to watch him do it.  In the oldest sense of this, we don’t want to watch the warrior defeat the enemy — we know without thinking that witnessing slaughter of another human would be traumatic — but we understand this is a “necessary evil,” and we’ll even throw him a parade when he returns.  Once we have matured past a certain age, we know that heroes are human, and if fact we want human heroes, since those who find joy in the slaughter are monsters, not heroes.

So is it possible that what makes a hero is her fear?  One who knows the power of her action, who steps strongly the direction of the task at hand although they may be terrified of each step.  The hero must understand the gravity of her action, and be aware of the inherent conflict of taking such a step.  The true hero is never without fear.

So for us, today — who hopefully have no experience of armed combat — what are our fears?  And how can we walk both fearlessly and never without fear into the things that frighten us the most?

What’s it like to walk into a room of people you haven’t seen in over ten years?  Or to start a new job or business?  How does it feel to walk into a first date with someone you don’t know well?  Or to ask someone on that first date?  How does it feel to ask for a raise? To stand up to your parents (or your partner, or your best friend, or your children) when you make a decision that they don’t like? To tell your partner you’ve been fired?  To end a relationship when you know it will devastate the other?

Instead of repressing that feeling, that anxiety, that fear, can you lean into it?  Can you be never without fear, instead using your fear as a guidepost, accepting it for what it is, and allowing it to inform your actions without ruling you?  Fear can only paralyze us if we resist it.  Next time, can you instead raise your hand, abhaya — fearless and never without fear, breathe, and take steady steps forward into and through it?

This playlist invokes Kali – that fierce quality in all of us that defends the ones we love – and Nataraja, the dancing face of Shiva who’s abhaya mudra invites into the dance of life, both through and despite our fears.

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Into the Bhav: Bhakti Fest Day 1

The sun wakes me for Day 1 of Bhakti Fest. My bed is positioned perfectly for the sunrise glow to gently wake me — which I love.  One step out of bed says the pain in my knee from yesterday is not temporary.  As my teacher Heide says at home: if the pain lasts for an hour after your practice, it’s probably okay.  If it lasts for a day, you did too much.

Thanks, Heide. I did too much.

In some state of denial, I limp down to the Info tent to register for afternoon classes.  “I’ll just take it easy,” I think.  I meet some delightful yogis from the Denver area.  You can tell that it’s not someone’s first Bhakti Fest when they already greet you like family at 6:45am on Day 1.  By 6pm on Day 2, everyone is hugging and kissing hello, greeting apparent strangers with “I love you, brother,” – but on Day 1, the newbies look at you a little crazy when you jump right in.

I register for Saul David Raye’s 3pm class — I know better to return to Dharma Mitra’s class which I pre-registered for “Just in case.”  Just in case what, who knows? Just in case I wasn’t quite finished “getting enlightened” in six hours on Wednesday.

By 7:12 a.m., my day is fully planned.  I buy overpriced coffee just because.  Because sometime iced lattes are the only way to go.

I wander down by the main stage, which still isn’t totally set up, just to see what things look like before the bhav takes over.

It looks like this.

It looks like this.

* * * * *

At 8am, it’s time for the Hanuman Chalisa.  The first time I ever sang the Chalisa was exactly one year ago at Bhakti Fest.  It’s a 40 line prayer to a monkey god, but including the opening and closing it’s more like 50 lines of Hindi that takes about 11 minutes to sing.  I know that sounds nuts, but I’m okay with it.  I think it’s actually a crucial part of why Bhakti Fest last year was the beginning of the end of my old life.  I went home, and began to methodically learn the 50 lines — words in a language I don’t know, just sounds strung together.  It seemed impossible at first, but I was encouraged that so many other people had clearly learned it before.

This morning, I sit down near the front, and sing all 40 lines without a cheat sheet.  My mistakes are covered by the singing of the crowd, led by our dear friend Govin Das of the Bhakti Yoga Shala.  I think this is my favorite singing of his the whole weekend.

* * * * *

9:30 brings class with Mark Whitwell.  Back in carpeted Yoga Hall I, it’s very different and yet very similar to Dharma Mitra the day before.  I practiced with Mr. Whitwell last year — so I knew it would be a gentle enough practice to not cripple me any further.  He spends the first 45 minutes lecturing, cajoling, teasing us a little about the practice in so many western yoga studios.  “This is not the real yoga,” he says.  This rhetoric is so similar to DM, and I can’t help but chuckle.  It becomes a common refrain, almost predictable: “My guru taught me the ‘real yoga,’ and I’m teaching it to you.”  We hear it often over the weekend, although not from every teacher.

This may be my favorite thing about being a yoga teacher and practitioner at this moment in time: nobody agrees about what it is. It’s like trying to define philosophy. The old line teachers say their way is the “right way,” but the very nature of the practice makes it impossible to prove their way definitively right or wrong.

But I enjoy Whitwell’s way.  It’s very linked to breath, and he even integrates bandhas in the practice.  It’s simple, accessible, and transformational.  You can’t help but feel great afterwards.  It occurs to me that I’ve been brought here in preparation for my upcoming work at Odyssey House in New Orleans — offering yoga to newly recovering addicts.  I’m hopeful that simple and accessible will be a helpful tool in their recovery.

* * * * *

I grab snacks and water and head over to Patrick Shaw’s Chaiyurveda workshop.  It’s in the bright, hot, outdoor Workshop Hall II.  The sun is high overhead, beating down on us in this white modern yurt, and poor Patrick is standing in front of burners of boiling water and heating milk.  He’s using Chai to teach about doshas and the karmic action of food.  It’s a sneakily fascinating workshop.  I’m sad to have to leave before it’s over to head to my bodywork appointment.  Doubly sad to miss the chai, even if it is 97 degrees out.

And now my world is totally rocked by Karin Pine.  She’s a Cranio-Sacral therapist and myofascial bodyworker like none I’ve ever met.  She fixes my knee.  She starts working on a 20 year-old hip injury.  All outside, with Gina Sala play in the background on the main stage.  Nearly to the end of my appointment, based on the intensity of the work she’s done, I ask, “I should cancel my afternoon classes, huh?”

“Oh, yeah,” she says.

I leave feeling like I have had a truly spiritual experience.  I make a second appointment immediately.

* * * * *

I wander around in a daze, finding my way home.  I draw a bath.  I haven’t taken a bath in at least 4 years.  I pretend to read.  I hum kirtan.  I finally pull my way out of the tub, make a snack, and wander back out into the desert.  I am the bhav.

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