Author Archives: thenamas

Return to the Sacred by Adam Bauer

Adam Bauer Honors His Gurus in Return to the Sacred

Adam Bauer released his third album, “Return to the Sacred,” last weekend. Bauer is a bhakti yoga practitioner, teacher, and healing artist. He routinely shares his voice and inspiration through both ancient and contemporary spiritual practices.

About Adam Bauer

Adam Bauer, Bhakti yogi and kirtan artist

He began this path when he was just 18 giving up sex, drugs, and rock and roll for a life of renunciation, poverty, and celibacy. After a few years, he left the monastic life, but remained true to his spiritual quest. 

“I feel incredibly grateful to be on this path, writing and singing and playing music in service of healing along the path of awakening. I’m very keenly aware of the depth of blessings and guidance that have run through my life since I began to awaken to divine reality as a teenager. I feel tremendously fortunate, to have felt so taken care of by the great spirit for my whole life.”

For 30 years, he has been a practitioner of the “I Ching,” or “Book of Changes.” Likewise, for almost as long, he’s immersed himself in the world of sacred music. He toured for many years with the Kirtan Wallah, Krishna Das. Another bhakti great he shared the stage with was the late Shyamdas, author of more than 20 books.

Bauer was also close to the legendary Ram Dass. Ram Dass was a Harvard psychology professor, who revolutionized American consciousness, with his blockbuster “Be Here Now.” Adam Bauer sang at his compound in Hawaii a number of times.

Krishna Das, Shyamdas, and Ram Dass each spent a significant amount of time in Kainchi, India. That’s where they soaked up the wisdom of their common guru, Neem Karoli Baba.

Neem Karoli Baba (1900-1973) was an inspiration to the younger American.  Maharaj-ji, as he was lovingly called by his devotees, was “a living example of the way boundless consciousness and love can abide within what appears to be a bounded bodily form. He’s an example of someone who shows how much bigger and brighter the world is than what most of us grew up believing. That in itself can be truly transformational,” Bauer says.

Tribute to Two Luminaries

Sadly, Ram Dass passed away December 21, 2019. That night, Bauer composed a mantra to Ram Dass and Neem Karoli Baba. The single is one of the highlights of “Return to the Sacred.” 

“This melody and mantra spontaneously arose in those predawn moments. I added some of the classic messages that Ram Dass brought us directly from Maharaj-ji. Love everyone. Serve everyone. Feed everyone. And, remember God,” Bauer says.

His tribute, “Baba (Neem Karoli Guru Bhai),” carries simple notes and repetitive lyrics. The tune is easily lodged in the listener’s head — and heart. Yet, it’s layered with the elixirs from India. Venerated musicians and vocalists joined in a recording studio in India. There, the engineers incorporated the pakhawaj, a traditional temple drum, a bass sitar, and the bansuri bamboo flute. Stateside, a cellist and percussionist added their special touches. “It’s great to have the ability to collaborate with such devotion-rich artists,” from East and West notes Bauer.

Definition of a Guru

Westerners, often have a hard time wrapping their heads around the concept of a guru. Adam Bauer clarifies it. 

“There’s a lot of different ways to think about the word guru. One definition is that which dispels darkness. There are many levels at which people can come into our life and help us move from darkness towards light.

“If we are looking for someone to be a big-G Guru—an infallible and perfect distillation of divinity with no faults or shadows in themselves–that is a very tall order which is not often fulfilled in this world. But, there are many ways that people can be small-g gurus, or teachers, for us in one domain or another. We can learn from so many people and situations, even though very few people are perfect and most everyone is fallible. In the end, I would say that one human definition of the word guru is someone who can truly help us evolve, practically speaking, into better and more complete expressions of ourselves. And there’s a lot of those people in the world, thank God.”

Finding Your Guru

Some say that your guru doesn’t appear until you’re ready for it. Therefore, it’s pointless to be searching with a fine-tooth comb. Bauer concurs.

“I believe the teacher appears when the student is ready. But, it’s good to remember that sometimes she appears in disguise. So, it’s on us to open wide our eyes and learn to see the divine everywhere.

“I never met Neem Karoli Baba in the body. I’ve only met him within myself and as shared in my relations with other devotees. Maharaj-ji has played a little hard to get with me over the years –as he has with many people– though he has shown up occasionally in the dream realm. I have often felt him in my own fashion while singing or playing kirtan, or involved in my own prayers or devotional practices. I have perhaps felt him most often in my relations with other devotees in his sphere—some say that the sangha (association) is the guru, which allows and invites us all to embody that sacred essence in how we treat each other.”

Some seekers fall for self-proclaimed gurus. Bauer says that’s not always a bad thing.

“In my experience, it looks like we’re all finding our own paths, even while divinity is guiding our footsteps in ways we cannot even comprehend. Plenty of people have learned a lot through their experiences with false gurus. One person’s guru is another’s shyster. We must believe in, and trust, our own Self, and do our best to love everyone and treat them all kindly. We are all one. As long as any of us suffer, we all suffer. We were born to love each other. So let’s do that.”

Finally, Bauer says Shyamdas, taught him that “detachment is useful to cultivate in many circumstances in the world, no question. But ultimately, when we find God, when we have our own living experience with the power of the divine, that’s when we should be holding on for dear life, so that we remain attached to what is sacred and true, and don’t lose our anchor.”

He concludes, “I’ve had a handful of very important teachers appear in my life at what seemed like just the right times. The blessings that arose from those relationships continue to unfold and ripen many years later. I feel like part of my life work is to redeem the faith that others have had in me, by continuing to focus my attention on some of the basics of living a good life, things like being kind to all creatures; stewarding nature and my relationships as best I can; looking for opportunities to serve others and recognize the divine in everything around me.”

To listen or buy Adam Bauer singles or album, visit his web site, iTunes, or Spotify.

For more about bhakti yoga, use the search function to read related archived articles.

Sandra Gomez de la Torre, Kundalini instructor

This is Kundalini Yoga: El Encuentro con el Yoga Kundalini

Guest blog by Sandra Gomez de la Torre, (pictured above) a Kundalini Yoga instructor in Barcelona, Spain

I rarely post guest blogs. However, this first-person story about the Kundalini Yoga community struck a chord. Sandra, aka Narayan Himat Kaur, wrote in Spanish. So please (try to) read her version. However, for the Spanish-challenged, scroll down to see my translation. But, please recognize that things are always lost in translation. To learn more about Kundalini Yoga, check out one of my earlier articles that references how its can settle the mind.

El Encuentro con el Kundalini Yoga, y el Yo

No te voy a pedir que lo entiendas…

No se puede encender la luz a alguien que no quiere ver.

Esta foto es del año pasado. Llegaba del Festival de Francia de Kundalini Yoga al que había ido por primera vez.

Era el 50 aniversario.

Había mucha gente (3,000 personas), familias con niñes, Yoguis y Sikhs por todos los lados. 

Nos levantábamos a las 4:00 para la Sadhana, (práctica espiritual diaria basada en el yoga y en el canto de mantras). El día transcurría practicando yoga y haciendo ayunos de 16 horas a partir de las 15h.

En el festival no había drogas, ni alcohol, ni sustancias estupefacientes. De hecho ni se podía fumar. La entrada para una semana, con pensión completa en habitación compartida me había costado poco más de 350€ ($US 415).

Kundalini Yoga me había ayudado y por qué no decirlo, me había cambiado.

Ya no era la misma persona que había construido con mis patrones y experiencias. Tenía cierto miedo y desconocimiento de la persona con la que me encontraba, que era YO, porque ya no estaba el personaje que me había creado o apenas aparecía.

Algo dentro de mi, se manifestó. Donde había estado todos estos años mi alma? La vez que había estado más cerca de ella, fue cuando mi madre marchó a otro plano.

Al segundo día de estar allí, salí corriendo sin rumbo porque mi confrontación fue tal, que pensé haberme metido en una secta.

Fui a un pueblo caminando durante 45 minutos, vi una iglesia y me metí. Necesitaba reconciliarme conmigo, con Dios, con la vida. 

Mi madre desde los éteres azules, me dijo:

— Hija, crees que no es una secta ir a un sitio donde trabajas 12 horas al día para que alguien muy rico, se haga más rico todavía sólo porque tienes un sueldo?

— Hija crees que no es una secta vivir de una forma en la que solo se es feliz por estímulos externos y por lo que te quieren los demás? 

— Hija, crees que no vives en una secta si vives como un robot, sin alma, sin sentir más que emociones o sentimientos bajos como rabia, odio, ira y miedo?

— Pequeña, he de decirte que estás viviendo en una secta dentro de ti.

Volví al festival tras estar cuatro horas fuera.

Me había reconciliado con la vida. Entendí que Dios no es más que la voz interior de cada uno. Entendí que yo y Dios, Dios y yo, somos uno. 

Mi familia hacía algunas preguntas raras 😂 yo les entiendo. Pero os aseguro que nunca en mi vida me había visto tan clara en mi propio espejo.

Era como si hubiera vuelto a nacer, como si hubiera vuelto a ser una niña. Inocente, sin culpas. Porque en el fondo todos los somos por muchas atrocidades que hayamos hecho.

Podía ver mi mente, vacía.

Podía ver mi cara sonriente sin motivos aparentes.

Podía notar en cada poro de mi piel que me había enamorado de la vida. 

Vestir de blanco era un ejercicio de conciencia sobre mi cuerpo.

Ponerme un turbante significaba que iba a estar enfocada en mi interior y que no iba a dolerme la cabeza. (Porque aunque no lo creáis, 3000 personas con nuestra neurosis y nuestra basura mental, afectan a nuestro sistema).

Hacer yoga cada día varías horas, me hacía estar en un estado de éxtasis que pareciera que la vida se había pintado de un color totalmente neutro. No había bueno ni malo, mejor ni peor.

Observaba a los niños, a las familias y pensaba que si algún día tenía hijos, me gustaría que vivieran la experiencia. (Libres y si ellos lo eligen). 

Hacer ayunos (no por estética y para adelgazar), me parecía una fantasía ya que me daba más energía que si comiera cinco veces al día. 

Mirar a la gente a los ojos para saludarles sin conocernos de nada con un Sat Nam mientras sonreíamos, era similar a oler rosas a cada instante.

Éramos una comunidad, porque nos servíamos los unos a los otros. No lo podía creer, de repente había una familia de 3,000 personas.

Llegó el tantra. Mirar a los ojos a alguien durante más de 8 horas tres días, fue como ver toda mi vida en una película de cine siendo yo la espectadora.

Lloré, reí, me confronté, me enfadé… no se. Todas las Sandras que hay en mi salieron en escena y a todas las abracé. 

Entendí la devoción, el amor, la compasión.

Estoy tan agradecida a la vida y a las enseñanzas que lo mejor que le puedo desear a alguien es que viva esta experiencia al menos una vez en la vida. 

Ahora no pasamos por un buen momento, pero cada unx de nosotrxs debe encontrar su verdad, abrazando la de los demás.

Para mi esto es Kundalini Yoga y ojalá siempre siga siendo así

Finding Kundalini Yoga, and Oneself

I won’t ask you to understand…

You can’t turn on a light for someone who doesn’t want to see.  

This photo is from last year. It was my first time at the Kundalini Yoga Festival in France.

It was the 50th anniversary.

There were loads of people (3,000), families with kids, yogis, and Sikhs everywhere.

We woke up at 4:00 a.m. for Sadhana, (the Kundalini daily spiritual practice comprised primarily of mantra meditation). Each day we practiced yoga, and at 3 p.m. began our 16-hour fasts.

This was a drug-free, alcohol-free, substance-free festival. In fact, not even cigarettes were allowed.  The cost for the week, including meals and shared rooms, was just a little more than 350€ (US$ 414).

Kundalini Yoga had helped me, and why not admit it, it had changed me.

No longer was I the the person made up of my own imprints and experiences. I was a bit afraid, and unsure of who I would find myself to be. I was ME, because I no longer was the character I had created or barely came into view.

Something within was revealed. Where had my soul been all these years? The only time that it was close to me was when my mother left her body.

My second day there, I was afraid I’d gotten myself involved with some sect. I left running.  To who knows where?

After 45 minutes, I was in a small town. I saw a church, and went inside. I needed to reconcile with myself, with God, and with my life. 

My mother, from the blue ether, said to me: 

— My daughter, you don’t think it’s a sect where you work for 12 hours a day for some rich person that’s only getting richer because you’re a salaried employee?

— My daughter, you don’t think it’s a sect living in a world where you’re only happy with the help of external stimuli and thinking about why others love you? 

— My daughter, you don’t think it’s a sect living like a soul-less robot, feeling no emotions except anger, wrath, hatred and fear?

— My little one, I have to tell you that you’re living with a sect inside yourself.

I returned to the festival after being gone for four hours.

I had reconciled with my life. I understood that God is nothing more than one’s inner voice. I understood that God and I, I and God, we are one.

My family had asked some strange questions 😂 I understand them. But I assure you that never in my life had I seen myself so clearly in my own mirror. 

It was as if I had been reborn, as if I was a young girl again, Innocent, guiltless. Because at heart, we are all guilty for so many atrocities that we have done.

I could see my mind, empty.

I could see my face, smiling for no apparent reason.  

I could see in every one of my pores, that I was in love with life.

To dress in white was an exercise in bodily consciousness.

To put a turban on my head meant that I’d be focused inward and that I would have no headaches. (Because believe it or not, 3,000 people with neurosis and mental garbage, affects our body).

To do yoga for several hours every day, put me in a state of ecstasy as if life had been painted in a completely neutral color. There was no good or bad, no better or worse.

I watched children and families, and I thought if I some day have kids I’d like them to live this experience. (Free, and as they choose). 

To fast (not for vanity or to lose weight), was like a fantasy as it gave me more energy that if I had eaten five times a day. 

To greet people we didn’t know anything about, looking at them in their eyes and saying hello with a Sat Nam and a smile, was like smelling a rose at every moment.

We were a community because we served each other. I couldn’t believe it, all of a sudden, there was a family of 3,000 members.

Then there was the tantra. Looking in someone’s eyes for more than eight hours, three days, was like seeing my life in a filmstrip, and I was the viewer.

I cried. I laughed. I faced myself. I got angry with myself.  I don’t know, I guess all the Sandras within me came out to the stage and I embraced them all.

I understood the devotion, love and compassion. 

I’m so thankful for life and its lessons that the most I can wish anyone is to live this experience at least once in their lives.

Now, we’re not experiencing good times, but for every one of us (he/she/it/we/they) should find their truth and embracing everyone else’s essence.

This, to me, is what is Kundalini Yoga and I hope it’s always this way.

Jai Uttal sings behind the walls

Jai Uttal Supports the Guys Behind The Walls

Everyone is Important–Jai Uttal

Month five of quarantine. Too many have lost a loved one. It’s no longer six degrees of separation. 

And yet, we retreat in our homes, and in our communities. We get in the car, or order pick-up or delivery, and tune in to Zoom sessions. Few of us are surrounded, daily, by the raging virus. 

For those cramped and caged in correctional and detention facilities, there’s no place to hide, retreat, or get away. Even worse, there’s no escape from coronavirus. Today, ICE reports 4,131 covid-19 positive cases throughout its facilities., 72 at Karnes County Residential Center, where I aided women seeking asylum.

Even worse, coronavirus took over the San Quentin high-security prison. As of August 3, there were about 2,200 infected San Quentin inmates (two-thirds of the population). While 22 died. Those who are “locked up,” for whatever reason, are mostly nameless and faceless neighbors thanks to the NIMBY mentality. 

Jai Uttal recognizes the guys at the state prison’s names and faces, as well as their melodious voices and tender souls. That’s why the Grammy-nominated kirtan artist released “Behind the Walls.”

We are All Brothers–Behind the Walls

Jai Uttal has been singing in San Quentin State Prison for many years
Jai Uttal leading kirtan at San Quentin (photo by Wari Om)

 

“For the last 11 years, I’ve been going semi-regularly to San Quentin, singing with the guys. I saw that these men, who at first seemed so hard, were melting and smiling and singing and expressing so much emotion.”

“Standing outside of San Quentin can be quite intimidating. It took me a while to find my way to be authentic and real with the men; to not see them as ‘other’. But once that happened, I found a community of brothers there who were so incredibly committed to their spiritual practices and to finding inner freedom within the confines of their incarceration. Their dedication and deep spiritual longing were completely inspiring to me.”

For example, one of the inmates told Jai, “We are all brothers here (at San Quentin): The House of Healing.”

What’s more, scientific studies confirm that music is healing. Many times, I’ve written about that, and it’s in my upcoming book.  Psychotherapist Viana Vallejo* says, “Music and movement regulate the central nervous system, and when done with others builds connection, and helps counteract trauma.”

Every Human Being Deserves Medical Attention–Jai Uttal

But Jai’s spiritual music can’t heal everything. In May, a facility in Chino, California transferred 120 prisoners to San Quentin. All were over age 65, or with underlying medical conditions. However, they weren’t tested before the transfer. Consequently, it spread like wildfire. 

Not surprisingly, the debacle at the oldest prison in California sickened Jai. “What kind of unconscious person decided to send 120 infected persons to San Quentin?” His new track tells the world about covid-19 spreading among the men he knows inside the high-security fences, gates, and doors.

“Everyone is important. Every human being deserves medical attention and care in times of deep crisis. When I heard about the intense covid-19 surge inside the prison, and how little the authorities were doing about it, I was affected very deeply, and personally concerned with the plight of some of my friends there. There’s very minimal medical care. And, the local hospitals are not overjoyed taking in prisoners.”

Hard Men Shed Tears…Behind the Walls — Jai Uttal

Back in the ’70s, when he sang in prisons while touring with Ram Dass, Jai saw the incarcerated as normal folks that made mistakes. Or, people of color who couldn’t afford the best legal defenses.  

Jai hopes his  “Behind the Walls,” viewable on YouTube will bring donations to a non-profit co-founded by a former San Quentin inmate.  Re:Store Justice aims to heal traumas, find lasting solutions to crime, and build safer, healthier, and more equitable communities.

“We have our local health food store, and our local penitentiary. It’s amazing to me that what’s happening behind those walls is going unnoticed by most of the residents of Northern California,” and beyond.

* In full disclosure, my daughter

 

special moments in India: rooftop in India

Special Moments in India: Rooftop Chats

Of course there are so many unforgettable and special moments in India. (Read my series on Men in Orange, for a few.) However, when I was traveling in India last year, I was feeling under the weather. There was a constant sense of chill, except for when tucked in bed. Plus, the dry air and dense smog wasn’t good for my respiratory system. I dressed in lots of layers, took tons of Ayurvedic herbs, and stayed in my hostels once the sun went down.

mountain in Jaipur, India

After traveling thousands of miles within India, via plane, train, motorcycle and tuk tuk, there were two occasions where I felt blissful. Both were quiet times on rooftops. Neither site would have been listed in a travel guide. Although both were in towns that attract many tourists. Following is a recount of one. For privacy reasons, none of the images included are from that experience.

Unfortunately, I ended up being harassed by my guest house host for months after I returned to the U.S. To his credit, he was a perfect gentleman the entire time we shared space. And it was a lot of sharing. For a modest fee, on his tiny motorcycle, he led me on custom made full-day itineraries.

Special Moments in India, Left Alone on the Rooftop

One afternoon was perfect. Definitely one of those special moments in India. Especially for the cultural anthropologist in me. It was a Friday. The Muslim day of worship. He took me to his multi-generational family’s small home. While he and his brother spoke excellent English, no one else uttered a word of it. That didn’t matter. His mother made me a plant-based lunch. The men showered, and changed into stark white clothes. As the men headed to the masjid for prayer, my guide suggested I relax on their rooftop.

special moments in India--from a rooftop

I walked up narrow steps. Sat on the flat surface that had no railings, ledges or walls. In Spanish, I call this an azotea, which is an Arabic word for flat or spread out. Typically, an azotea is used just to wash and dry clothes.

In contrast to the chilly air, I was surrounded by warmth. The sun on my skin and clothes felt like soothing hot chicken soup. The heat of the dark surface under my bottom and legs reminded me of me sitting on the radiator as a friolenta (sensitive to cold) kid in Chicago.

Surrounded by the warm calm, I did some breath work and yin yoga poses.

Then, one of his sisters came up to the roof and sat beside me. Via gestures, I understood she was recently married. I felt her soothing peaceful energy. There was something beautiful about her, despite her awkward features and missing teeth. I felt her gentle honesty and innocence. After a bit, she motioned that she’d return. When she did, she was carrying what seemed to be a bag of jewels. She unpeeled several coverings to show me her prize.

Special Moments in India, Viewing a Bridal Album

special moments in India: weddings

A wedding album*. Hers.

She was dressed exquisitely. It was as if she’d rented the finest apparel, jewelry, hairdresser and makeup artist and venue in another city.

She pointed, without touching, to each picture. Proudly saying the few English words she knew. Fa-ter. Bro-ter.

This was a very humble woman. In a very simple home. The animals in the courtyard were not household pets. They didn’t have a flush toilet. Her neighbors lugged empty pails to a nearby watering pump.

special moments in india: weddings

Her wedding was her Cinderella moment. She and her family were at the ball until midnight. It was her storybook tale.

Most likely, this was her most awaited of special moments in India.

Special Moments Include Just Keeping Space for Someone

special moments in India: weddingsI felt a deep sense of comfort within –and connection with her — sitting on the rooftop. It may have been an hour. Maybe two. I had no desire to even move. Nor for her to leave. Despite her rejoicing in the wedding, I felt her sadness. I read emptiness and sorrow in her eyes. They contrasted with what I saw in the album: positive anticipation, elation, hope, dignity.

Later, I asked her brother if she was visiting, or living here. He said she was temporarily staying in their family home. Her husband was in a city far away. To explain that, he voiced that the marriage wasn’t what the family had expected. In India, traditionally, the bride’s family pays a large dowry. Sadly, this family must have saved for years, wanting the best for their daughter. Apparently, the groom was a successful businessman. Perfect husband material for multiple reasons. But just like in the Cinderella story, nothing is exactly as it appears. Maya. The illusion. In her case, disillusion.  

*Note: All wedding photos displayed are royalty-free images from Pixabay. Therefore, they are NOT actual images from the family wedding album described.

Jai Uttal to offer online Kirtan Camp

Kirtan Camp with Jai Uttal Goes Online in 2020

Jai Uttal's Kirtan Camp Goes Virtual

This is the 18th year that Grammy-nominated recording artist, Jai Uttal, and his classical Indian dancer yogi wife, Nubia Teixeira, run a Kirtan Camp. This camp is all about play.  Playing and singing devotional chants, that is. Kirtan is an ancient practice. As part of bhakti (devotion), it is a branch of yoga that helps connect with one’s inner soul, and the divine. 

This year, Kirtan Camp is virtual. It’s more affordable. And, accessible. People can tune in to Kirtan Camp from anywhere, any time. No long flights or drives. Live Zoom sessions run June 30 until July 28. What’s more, participants can catch the recordings at their leisure, or even replay them repeatedly, for three months.  

The 2020 participants will learn all the basics about kirtan music, which Jai says is “a timeless gift that has been given to us by the saints and sages of ancient India.” Given the confusion, frustration and anger that’s sweeping our nation and the planet, the 2020 camp will be even more meaningful. Content will empower people to go inward to find greater meaning to what’s going on around them.

Kirtan is food for the spirit, a life raft of song. –Jai Uttal

Jai Uttal's Kirtan Camp in 2020

“The current global crisis brings a different context to the practices, demanding us to look much deeper into our spiritual selves. The rising awareness of the inequalities in our society demand us to reach out to others and express our bhakti in service. I hope to inspire the students to share this work far and wide.”

Furthermore, a bhakti practice can be very healing for oneself. Arguably, it can permeate the world. 

“With the many distractions and attractions of human interaction being cut off, we are left with our selves, our loved ones, and our practice. The harsh reality of police brutality asks us to keep our eyes open, and our vision clear, regarding who we are and what we stand for. All of this is very challenging, and requires a calm mind and an open heart. Singing kirtan, and chanting mantras, is a soothing balm for the soul and helps clear away the fears and anxieties of this transformational time. I hope that the practices shared in this online camp will become like a soft blanket of blessings over your life, like they have for me.”

Raised in the music industry, Jai learned classical piano at age of seven. However, it wasn’t until he attended a concert by Ustad Ali Akbar Khan that he discovered the music that moved his soul: the classic sounds and instruments of India. Ragas. Bhajans. Sarod. Harmonium. 

He felt the sounds, “entered my heart like the source of all life.”  As a result, kirtan and bhakti are pillars in his life. For 50 years now.

The idea for Kirtan Camp was actually Nubia’s. Also a bhakta, for 30 years she has dedicated herself to the “art-science-philosophy-practice” of yoga. Participants can enjoy a 40-minute bonus segment she’ll lead on the Gods and Goddesses of India. 

Kirtan is for all people. There are no advanced students, no beginners. –Jai Uttal

Jai Uttal's Kirtan Camp

Kirtan Camp is appropriate for anyone that wants to delve deeper into the sacred sounds. It’s not restricted to musical virtuosos or those who sing like a nightingale. Jai says his camp is ideal for anyone who:

  1. wants to explore the journey of bhakti yoga in a deep, joyful, and meaningful way; 
  2. has been touched by a kirtan experience, or who wants to bring more devotion into their lives;
  3.  is seeking a more heart-centered and soul fulfilling life;
  4. or is ready to find their voice, and learn musical skills that support a chanting practice. 

chanting devotional musicDivided into six extended all-level lessons, each is appropriate for a beginner or an experienced kirtan leader alike. While no instruments are necessary, Jai offers harmonium and guitar tutorials. Recordings facilitate participants to go at their own pace. At the same time, live Zoom sessions and a dedicate Facebook page will boost sangha (community, or association). 

Kirtan is a train carrying us home. — Jai Uttal

Virtual-KIrtan-Camp

The virtual sanghas are not new to Jai. He was onboard with livestream concerts and kirtans when quarantine began. Nor surprisingly, those gatherings built bonds among people all over the world. 

Jai notes that they “chat with each other and send me many letters of appreciation. I feel like my Friday concerts have created a real online community of bhaktas that want to give support and receive support. This has been very healing to all of us.”

Kirtan Camp to offer guitar tutorials

Additionally, he wants the interactive Zoom sessions to be a source for cohorts not just to learn the basics about kirtan, but to connect. Share their own music. Find homework buddies. Listen to one another’s thoughts and dreams. In essence, create a new community of like-hearted friends. 

Finally, as everyone reconsiders what to chuck from pre-Covid days, Jai encourages people to think about the planet.

“Air travel is one of the biggest causes of climate change. As we’ve been forced to share our work online, we’ve also felt the relief of not traveling. So we’ll continue to work this way as long as it’s sustainable. I do miss playing with other musicians and interacting with a ‘live’ audience, so I’ll still do concerts and kirtans, but I’ll stay much more local. And I’ll continue to compose and record new music till the day I leave this planet.”

Listen to Jai talk about his upcoming Kirtan Camp. Or, read one of my prior posts on the benefits of kirtan.

We are all one. Unity in Diversity

We Are All One. Ek Ong Kar. #BLM

Basta Ya! We Are All One  

Amidst the unending racial injustices, and divisiveness, there’s an outpouring of emotions and concerns. People are outraged. Yet unsure about how to make a real difference.  

We see protests. Acts of solidarity. And, Mea Culpas. Reading lists and movie recommendations are popping up. Most want to do the right thing, and make sense of the senseless. But, how? 

A White female likely won’t really get what it’s like to be a Black man. There may be compassion. But not complete comprehension without walking in his shoes. 

Solid In Solidarity

Statue of liberty-welcomes immigrants

As a kid, I was taught we are all one. At the dinner table, we discussed prejudices and racial injustices. Emma Lazarus’ words. My mom took me to demonstrations. She was an avid letter-to-the-editor and guest commentary contributor to the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun Times, and many other publications. Outspoken. Bold. Adamant about equality and justice. 

My mother often recounted the prejudices she faced as a child. And, as an adult. Forget that her skin was very pale. She was a minority in an all White small town. Daughter of immigrants, both her parents had thick accents. My mom who had a mellifluous voice and perfect elocution, didn’t know her parents had accents — until kids pointed it out. Rudely. I admit, I’d giggle inside whenever my grandfather said, “make out with the lights.”

Early on, I’d ask, “Aren’t we Russian?”  No. My ancestors just took a long detour through Eastern Europe. The Ellis Island documents say they’re “Hebrew.” But they didn’t speak Hebrew. They had their own language, religion, foods and customs that set them apart from the others. They lived in shtetls. Like a barrio or ghetto. Attended different schools, and were buried in separate cemeteries from the Russians or Poles. The police and the military didn’t protect us. They threatened, raped and killed us. 

So I identified with minorities.  I didn’t want to check the White box. 

My bachelor’s was in cultural anthropology with a minor in Latin American Studies. I lived, studied, and traveled extensively in non-White, or non-Christian, worlds. That’s where I feel comfortable. Even if we are all one.

Making Sense of it All

I may be in the communications field, but it’s hard for me to write about racism in the United States. I’ve seen racism and prejudice my entire life. And yet, so much I haven’t seen or felt. But I feel it bubbling up and out, and needs to be addressed. So I look to a Malaysian-raised retired Canadian Mounty to make some heads or tails about it.

Baltej Singh Dhillon leads spiritual gatherings that combine discussion with chanting of symbolic mantras. Yesterday, in his virtual satsang, he talked about the crux of the problems with our society.  Not pointing a finger at the U.S., he acknowledged the issue is widespread.

“We have to take responsibility. That’s our job. Daily. Every moment. Every time.”

We Are All One. Ek Ong Kar.

We are one. god's childrenThen, referring to the latest in the wave of police brutality and killings, he said, “We see what’s going on in the States. We see the rioting. We see the violence.  But what is the basis, the foundation of all of that? What is the underlying issue?”

“The root issue is not understanding Ek Ong Kar. One Universal Creator. We are all one. We are immersed in the one. Come from the one. You are I. I am you. Through you, and through me, is all that occurs.”

Furthermore, there’s a major schism between Sikh teachings and the cases of police bias and brutality. 

Singh Dhillon referred to a legendary story about a humble water carrier. During a fierce battle, he fed, helped and supported the enemy. That provoked wrath among his allies. So they turned him over to the holiest wise man, Guru Gobind Singh.  The Sikh guru, poet and philosopher heard the water carrier’s intentions.  Rather than punish him, the guru embraced him. Called him bhai (brother). Guru Gobind Singh congratulated the water carrier for understanding the true meaning of Sikhism. Selfless service to others.

Clearly, a disconnect said Singh Dhillon, when “someone who is supposed to keep the peace, is with his knee on George Floyd (as he’s) begging for his life. So, you see the distance between the two? And, how much disparity there is? We can put all kinds of intellect to it. But it comes down to that root issue of not connecting with our own selves and who we are and being true to that.  And may I say, that we all have work to do.  We need to come back to what was shared with us 550 years ago. And if we forget that, we will have the same violence continue.  Until we begin to connect with those teachings.” 

Loving Kindness and Social Justice

loving kindnessIn closing, Singh Dhillon made the solution to social injustices seem pretty simple. If only we’d all try a bit harder.  

  1. Kindness.
  2. Compassion. 
  3. Respect for one another.

I’ll add another. Pray or chant. Ek Ong Kar or whatever feels right.

Can’t we all just get along? Ahimsa (Non-Violence).

Pratyahara going within

Pratyahara: Quarantine Yoga Practice

Daily, I try to practice as many branches of yoga as possible. Many of us need to push ourselves to go beyond the most common yoga practices of breath and body work. Now, in my second month of quarantine, I strive to incorporate pratyahara, the fifth branch of yoga. But, it’s not as easy as the other forms of yoga. That’s why I’ve designed  my own three-day silent retreat. It begins tonight, at sundown. 

Pratyahara: The hardest yoga practice

Sitting in a pose, or focusing on the breath, is pretty simple and straightforward. But pratyahara is harder to understand, much less practice.  First, there’s no simple translation.  Swami Sivananda explained, “Pratyahara itself is termed as Yoga, as it is the most important Anga (branch) in Yoga Sadhana (practice).”

Yoga International article translated pratyahara as “gaining mastery over external influences.”  The article further explains pratyahara “involves withdrawal from wrong food, wrong impressions, and wrong associations, while simultaneously opening up to right food, right impressions, and right associations. Just as a healthy body resists toxins and pathogens, a healthy mind resists the negative sensory influences around it. If you are easily disturbed by the noise and turmoil of the environment around you, you need to practice pratyahara.”

Definitely not that easy to comprehend. Or, practice. Michelle Fondin on chopra.com spelled out that pratyahara “teaches us to mindfully filter what we experience in our outer world so as not to live in constant fear or become overwhelmed.”

Everyday “norms” overwhelm the senses

Our worlds, pre-quarantine, were so often overrun by an excess of unhealthy stimuli.  Dodging vehicles, foot constantly on and off the break pedal.  A constant flow of billboards and enormous, sometimes flashing neon, signage can’t escape even our peripheral vision. Plus, responding to work/life demands 24/7.

traffic creates internal chaos.

Opening bills, which may include long lists of charges for non-essentials. Yet, items or services we have been led to believe we can’t live without. (Note: I have worked in marketing for more than 40 years.)

To intensify it all, we open our refrigerator or pantry. More often than not, piles of food items are crammed inside. Still, we grumble, “I have nothing to eat.” The same with our closets. Most are tasked daily with rifling through too many options of footwear, clothing and accessories. Then again, we complain, “I have nothing to wear.”  Overwhelmed by stuff. Choices. We may react by inaction. Or frustration. Purchase something new online.

Even worse, the unhealthy noise, messages and images that blare from TV sets. Both programming as well as advertising. 

Oftentimes, if there are four people living in one household, there are four smart phones, four cd players and four televisions/monitors. Our society has created elaborate mechanisms to tune in to non-essential noise and visuals. Worse yet, we have no one to talk to. Communication is relegated to texts.  As a result, we tune out others, along with our selves.

Tune in to your inner voice

Pratyahara. Introspection. Essential during Covid

As many of us are still trying to be safe at home, we should cherish — or seek — the doorway to our inner voice. Be safe with our minds and spirits. Listen to the inner knowledge. The inner self. Your inner voice. Not to say we shouldn’t be thankful to technology for connecting you with loved ones. But know when to disconnect.

Relish turning off external, unhealthy stimuli. Embrace isolation. Appreciate the sanctity of your home. For example, shut out whatever external annoying stimuli and noises still surround you. Conversely, appreciate the sound of silence. The chirping of the birds. What have you been shutting out from your own thoughts for far too long. Examine what is often ignored. Your true nature. 

Pratyahara. Introspection. Important part of yoga

Humans were not intended to be packed in automobiles, tied to a computer, or working at an assembly line. We were created to be symbiotic with the planet. Rather than overtakers and eliminators of nature. Humans are just a speck in this universe. Not the focal point. 

Quarantine as time for positive change

self-isolation can be positive.

Embrace all that Mother Nature provides right now. The colors of the sky. The beauty of day, and night. The perfectness in every stone, every blade of grass, every flower. The simplicity of growing your own fruit, vegetables and herbs. 

The word quarantine, comes from the Latin word quadraginta, or forty.  In Latin America, the cuarantena is a 40-day healing period. Lent, in Spanish, called cuaresma, comes from the same root. Dietary and lifestyle changes are best made over a 40-day period. It is said that Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. Honor this period, even if it’s beyond 40 days. 

Tune in to what’s been positive, and try not to tune back in to the negative. Search for whatever healing is right for you during this societal game changer. You don’t have to sit silently for three-days. But, take the time to go within and listen to your heart. Determine what is your true north, and try to heed that, moving forward.   Knowing that you’ve got those 40 days already under your belt. 

Gifts of the Creator

So Much Magnificence. Jai.

It’s now more than 40 days of quarantine for many. I’ve been trying to follow the words from a song on one of my yoga playlists: So Much Magnificence. And herein, I’m expounding on that refrain. I am offering this advice to you.

So Many Treasures in Our World

Open your eyes to appreciate the beauty and bountifulness of this planet. Do not focus on limitations, challenges or roadblocks.  Gaze beyond your immediate backdrop, and see the treasures outside waiting for you.  The world is endless. The possibilities, labyrinthine. Joy, unending.

But only if you open your eyes, and appreciate God’s gifts.  

The heavenliness of a blue sky.  Corn fields.  Wheat fields.  Giant oak trees.  Olive branches. Mango groves.

So much magnificence in nature: olive trees

You are just one minute particle in this immense world. Yet, you can make a remarkable difference. If only you open your eyes to the beauty and grace of those things that man can not make. 

So Much Magnificence Surrounding Us

So much magnificence in nature:bumble bee

Turn the kaleidoscope of millions of magnificent colors and shapes that share this space with we humble humans. Open your eyes as wide as an elf owl to appreciate your neighbors. Diminutive lady bugs. Undescribably-colored chameleons.  Heroic bumble bees and stronger than Atlas leaf-cutter ants. 

See the vast power in the ocean. Or even the narrow snaking stream. Even if it’s murky.  

So much magnificence in nature: rain on rose

Honor the power of the sun and the moon, as many of our ancestors did.  Respect the rain, and the earth.  They are gifts from the Creator. Do not disregard them and trash them. 

I am offering this advice to you. Open your eyes.  Soak up the beauty in 360 panoramic vision. But think, and thank, with your heart. Every breath you take. Every step you take.  Respect God’s gifts. Indeed, we all must live in harmony.  

Read my Covid Prayer for the Planet for more (hopefully) inspiration.

Free will: Freedom to choose your dance

Life is a Dance aka Free Will

Life is a dance. Free-style.  Non-choreographed. Going with the flow. Modern vs. ballet. 

Freedom in movement.  Expansive or binding. Freedom to paint your world. Your community. Friends and family. Your lifestyle — and your life view. A black box theatre, an orchestral pit or a open-air amphitheater.

free style dance

Silence vs. symphony. Whereas even white noise is a backdrop to your dance. Steering you away, or closer to, whatever it is that you choose.  Free Will. Freedom to Create and Mold.  

free style dance

Freedom of choice to listen to the sounds that spur you to happiness—or discontent.

It’s your life. Freedom to choose. Your dance can take you soaring over the highest peaks. From the vista of a helicopter. Or, your dance can keep you at pedestrian-level, or the view from the subway.

The music can be slow, steady beats that one by one, propel you farther on your path. Or, they can surprise you like a bag of microwave popcorn. Bursting every which way in a hip hop pattern. Or, keep you stuck in your seat like a wallflower. 

free style dance

Freedom to Grow, and Hibernate.  

It’s your life. Freedom to choose. Your dance…Your libretto…Your backdrop…Your bag of popcorn. Buttered or no-butter.

My prayer for the planet

A Covid Prayer for the Planet

My Prayer for the Planet

Prayer for the planet

I speak for the planet. Mother Earth. Nature. All sentient beings. Everything that grows, and yes, dies.  That is what I visualize with my prayer for the planet.

I speak for the planet when I extol the silver lining in what may seem like infringement on our freedom. As people complain about missing the hair or nail salon, I shout to the heavens that this glorious world is in a stage of rebirth. Mankind is not kind, when focused on personal gains and comfort. Humans need to be humane.    

Zebras: prayer for the planet

I speak for the planet as I urge everyone to open their eyes. Look at the destruction we have created through “modernity” and human “intellect.” Recall the days of your ancestors who living in sync with the environment, cherished family and the bounty of Mother Earth.  

I speak for the planet when I urge people to respect those “primitive” tribes or cultures that still today pray to the sun, moon, or rainclouds. Those that are connected to Mother Earth rather than setting a planetary distance between themselves and our universe. 

I speak for the planet when I encourage you to consider that you are as minute as a snail in this world. Unbury your heads from underneath your shell of societal norms that destroy, rather than nurture, life.

I speak for the planet when I suggest that life is a current of interrelated energy. When man destroys anything, there is an echo effect that destroys, and destroys, and destroys. Now is the time to plant seeds to grow, and grow, and grow.   

I speak for the planet when I pray that these days of self-isolation have created a greater sense of wisdom. An appreciation for love. For life. One world. Humanity for all, not just for humans. 

I speak for the planet when I hope that these last 30-some-odd days have made burned an unending candle to flicker images of better human beings and members of this universe.  My 2020 prayer for the planet.