Category Archives: Sutras & Ahimsa

LoveJoy-cake vegan-friendly treats in Austin Texas

Plentiful Vegan-friendly Indulgent Delectables in Austin, Texas

Suggestions for World Vegan Day Week

Soul food. Cake and cookies. Ice cream. Those are foods that seem to soothe kids and adults. Unless you need a vegan-friendly version. Then, you can be in a quandary, asking, “Is there butter in here? Eggs? Milk? Or, God-forbid, lard?”  

I grew up with zero options for plant-based treats. Nowadays, there are outstanding choices, especially for Austinites.

In the last few years, the Austin vegan-friendly scene has multiplied. Following is a rundown of just a few new-ish healthy alternatives to answer your cravings. 

Lovejoy: Vegan-friendly Edible Art 

LoveJoy-cake vegan-friendly treats in Austin Texas

Rhonda Baird is an artist. She earned an undergrad in painting and drawing, and a masters in sculpture and jewelry. As a result, Lovejoy treats are intricate works of art. 

“Art has always been a passion, and I think it’s just a natural progression to apply the techniques and philosophies I studied to the food I create. Frosting and decoration are my rewards for completing all the math and science involved in baking. Seriously though, baking is definitely a science and an art.”

In addition to being an artist, Rhonda is a chef who trained at The Natural Epicurean culinary school. Along the way, she learned about Ayurvedic cooking and other healthier modes of food prep as opposed to the more butter, sugar, and salt the better. 

LoveJoy-cake vegan-friendly treats in Austin Texas

“I’ve always been health-conscious. I became a vegetarian during my 20’s. About six and a half years ago, I decided to go vegan. I was ready for all aspects of my life to align: health, ethics, and morals. Living in Austin made it easy because it is a great city to be vegan. We have a huge vegan community, great food, and awesome events that make it accessible and accepted.”

Although her training and initial interest were in the savory heartier style of cooking, she morphed into indulgent goodies and it felt right.  

“Baking makes me happy, so I decided to keep baking. I found that people were much more open to vegan desserts and began my mission to convert people, one baked treat at a time,” she says. 

LoveJoy-cake vegan-friendly treats in Austin Texas

Rhonda operates LoveJoy, which is a family name, from her East Austin home. She’s a vendor for the Wandering Vegan Market but much of her business is via special order. 

“I offer a new approach to how cakes taste and look. My training as a health-conscious chef led me to use different herbs, spices, fruits, and vegetables in unique ways. I prefer to use flowers and herbs to decorate instead of frosting. My baked goods are small batch and artisanal. The great thing about Austin is there is room for everyone to create what they are best at doing.”

Her offerings are 100 percent vegan, and many of her delicacies are gluten-free. Rhonda makes her own gluten-free base for cookies and pie-crusts. Lovejoy muffins are spelt-based. Organic unbleached flour makes for fluffier cakes and cupcakes which are her bestsellers. She says they bring love and joy to the consumer. 

“Ultimately, I want them to feel special. I want to create a beautiful cake hug!”

Top it off with Nada Moo! Ice Cream

Nada Moo! vegan ice cream at the Scoop Shop in Austin

NadaMoo! vegan ice cream is available in most grocery stores in Austin, and thousands across North America. But the family-owned Austin-based business launched their first scoop shop in 2018 on South Lamar.

The ice cream parlor has more than a dozen mouth-watering flavors like peach cobbler, marshmallow stardust, or caramel cold brew and cookies, along with favorites like organic vanilla, organic chocolate, or organic chocolate mint. 

You can pick out a cone or cup, or purchase pints from the coolers. Additionally, the staff can whip you up all sorts of shakes and floats. Some are mixed with soda, coffee, or espresso. Others, add in cereal crunchies, sprinkles, chocolate chips, or cookies. All are vegan and gluten-free, even the cookie dough. 

“It is our aim to penetrate every household as a solid option for ice cream lovers of all generations who are simply looking to do better for themselves and their families and the planet when they decide to indulge in ice cream,” says NadaMoo! President and CEO, Daniel Nicholson.

Nada Moo! vegan ice cream at the Scoop Shop in Austin

NadaMoo! looks and tastes just like the dairy version. It’s rich and creamy because coconut milk has a saturated fat content similar to that of cow’s milk, but without the negative side effects to one’s health, or the environment.  Another plus, the sugar content is lower than most frozen desserts, because pure agave syrup is part of the winning recipe. 

Sassy Vegan-Friendly Soul Food

Sassy's Vegetarian Soul Food Truck in Austin, Texas

Vegans typically stay clear of Soul Food, as animal fats and flesh seem to make their way into most of the dishes. That’s where Sassy’s Vegetarian Soul Food hits the mark. You can order anything off the menu, without thinking twice.

Sassy’s serves Soul Food from a trailer at 1403 E 7th Street minus the high levels of cholesterol, sodium, or saturated fat, but chock full of flavor. 

Owner, Andrea Dawson stopped eating animal products for digestive health reasons. But, she didn’t want to give up her taste for Soul Food. She searched for vegan Soul dining in Austin and came up empty-handed. Not to be discouraged, she chose to stir up her own creations. She found a retiring food truck, bought it, and began serving up the food was craving.

Sassy's Vegetarian Soul Food Truck in Austin, Texas

She says most of the items on her menu mimic the taste of her family dishes, but without the meat or pork products.  

Although one guest said she wanted to eat everything on the menu, the best seller is Chicon and Waffles. Chicon (the street where her trailer first was parked) is a chicken-flavored seitan. It’s such a filling dish that people order it any time of day. The waffles are egg-less, which can be a treat for those who love their waffles, but who are nixing the eggs.

Sassy’s has standards like black-eyed-peas and cornbread. Collards, cabbage, and kale. The baked sweet potatoes are smothered in vegan butter. There’s even creamy Cajun Mac and cheese with sausage. But, the cheese is nut-based and the sausage is plant-based. 

“I have lots of regulars that have been here from the very beginning and have seen how the menu has evolved. Young people who want to eat a healthier alternative than their parents. Older adults who are now being told to modify their diets. And lifelong vegans looking to vary their choices,” she adds.

Due to Covid, Sassy’s is open Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 to 8 p.m. The food truck has a six-foot space at the order window separating the staff from the customer.  There are outdoor eating areas within the yard.

Read about my long-time favorite plant-based Austin options on my prior post.

Vegan and Vegetarian Souls Love Austin, Texas

Austin Paradise for Vegan and Vegetarian Community

Austin, Texas, less than an hour away from The Namaste Getaway, is a smorgasbord of vegan and vegetarian treats. Every time I head into the city, I satisfy my taste buds with a variety of eats, and buy plenty of plant-based gluten-free items to take back home. 

I moved to Texas in 1998. San Antonio to be precise. Back then, there were no vegetarian dining spots in the Alamo City. (Today, there are plenty.) So from my early days in Texas, I relished visiting Austin to get the kinds of foods that are too laborious for me to make for myself.

My long-time favorites are Mr. Natural and Juiceland and I pretty much swing by one or both on every drive in or out of Austin.

Mr. Natural: 100 Percent Vegetarian

Mr. Natural panaderia items, all vegan and vegetarian

Mr. Natural has two locations. One on South Lamar, and the other, on East Cesar Chavez. Both Mr. Naturals have an assortment of health food grocery items in the freezers and pantry shelves. But the East Austin spot expanded to include a huge store next door filled with herbal remedies, supplements, informative books, and more.

Before Covid, the lunch buffet was a big hit. For one low price, you got your choice of salad, two sides, and a main dish, most of which were veganized Mexican standards, like tamales made with tofu and sunflower seeds or seitan-based faux chicken with mole. 

When Mr. Natural first opened in 1988, the family-owned all-vegetarian business had many food items made with cheese or honey. Now, the bakery section is 100 percent vegan, and all food items can be modified for vegans. For example, at breakfast time, you can order traditional migas with cheese and eggs, or the tofu scramble and nut-cheese version.

Mr. Natural vegan and vegetarian tamales in Austin, Texas

But, perhaps what’s always been my magnet is the panaderia section. We’re talking traditional Mexican bakery items like wedding cake cookies, empanadas de camote (sweet potato turnovers), and marranitos (piggy-shaped gingerbread cookies) just like the kind I used to eat in Mexico City. Except that these have no trace of animal products. 

Plus, the bakery is increasingly making their delicacies like brownies, dark chocolate muffins, carrot cake, and coconut cake in gluten-free options.  And while I follow a low-glycemic diet, their items are not overly sweet, and they have been incorporating agave, a low-glycemic sweetener, into their family recipes. 

In case it wasn’t obvious, Mr. Natural makes everything in-house.

Juiceland: 100 Percent Vegan

Juiceland all vegan food and drink located throughout Austin, Texas

When I first started driving in to Austin, my favorite Juiceland was on Barton Springs, a few blocks west of Lamar. Now, there are 27 locations. Extra nice for me, there is an outlet inside Austin Bergstrom Airport. Even nicer, one of the newer builds is in Belterra, where I often teach yoga or have private clients. 

Maybe it’s because I’m a regular, but I say the Belterra staff is amazing. The owner/manager greets everyone like they’re his besties. Another loyal employee whips me up her own off-the-menu hot drink creation.  Delicious, and healthy. Like everything they make and serve.

Don’t let the name fool you. As someone who’s avoided high-glycemic foods (that means most fruit) for ten years, I avoid juices and smoothies. However, they have great shots that are spicy or tart and feel as if they are burning away any bacteria or viruses.

Juiceland all vegan food and drink located throughout Austin, Texas

My favorite is Hot Shot or Dr. Doctor, the latter of which is a one- or two-ounce booster made with lemon, beet, ginger, garlic, cilantro, jalapeño, turmeric, oreganol, and habanero. Hot Shot is similar but has turmeric, apple cider vinegar and other power additives.

One of the prior menu items, not on the menu board, they can still whip up is Cauliflower Power, a keto-friendly low glycemic smoothie thickened not with sugary bananas but, you guessed it. Cauliflower.

But I usually want to eat versus drink here. That’s why I’m a fan of the pre-prepared gluten-free Double Rainbow Quinoa Salad, the Beyond Burrito, and the agave-sweetened Mannawich. 

The quinoa bowl has 257 calories, 6 grams of protein, and 6 grams of sugar. The Beyond Burrito has 19 grams of protein, and 5 grams of sugar.  The sprouted Manna has 390 calories, and 12 grams of protein, and 10 grams of fiber.

For Texans in the other big cities, there are several Juicelands in Dallas and Houston. But home is Austin. 

Wheatsville: Wide Array of Vegan and Vegetarian Options

Wheatsville in Austin, Texas has a wide variety of vegan and vegetarian items

My other go-to in Austin is Wheatsville Food Co-op.

Similar to Mr. Natural, the health food grocery store had an excellent hot and cold food bar until Coronavirus health rules nixed that. Now, you order your plant-based favorites from the deli or find them pre-packaged. One of the most popular items is their popcorn tofu, and that can be eaten as is, with their cashew tamari dressing, or in sandwiches. Other favorites of mine are the African Peanut Soup and the Tofu Curry, both found in the coolers now. 

Of course, there are tons of vegan and vegetarian items in the grocery area that I stock up on while I’m there.  For example, This Dip Is Nuts is a plant-based cheesey dip that can be used in cooking, or as is.  There are several flavors available.

There are two Wheatsville locations. First, there’s one by the University of Texas on North Lamar. The second is on South Lamar, just north of Highway 290.

Whole Foods Market: It all Started in Austin

Finally, it would be amiss to ignore Whole Foods. This is an Austin-based giant. There are six locations from the newest megastore in East Austin to one southwest in Bee Cave.  The flagship store is just west of downtown. It’s on Lamar just north of the river. The more-than-just-a-grocery store is filled with kitchen islands and food court like areas where you can nibble and nosh and all types of food and drink, from special-order vegan pizza to vegan and vegetarian Asian- or Indian-inspired tasty dishes to smoothies. 

Plus, when I’m here, I enjoy strolling through the non-food aisles. Whole Foods has a great assortment of natural soaps, bath bombs, and even natural-fiber clothing. Some of my standard yoga wear was bought at Whole Foods. For an earlier article I wrote about Whole Foods, click here.

Since neither Whole Foods nor Wheatsville are strictly vegan and vegetarian retailers, as always, ask about what can be hidden ingredients. For example, Whole Foods offers two types of brussels sprouts in the deli area. One is made with fish sauce. 

Comment below on which is your favorite spot for dining in Austin, and read my next article that features newer plant-based eateries.

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.

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.

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.

Leviticus 19:34 Lovingkindness to strangers among us

Loving Kindness & Social Justice: Tenets of Yoga and Judaism

Yoga is not just about 60 minutes on a mat. For me, anyway.  It’s a lifestyle that follows ancient tenets. Among them, loving kindness. Act selflessly and be in harmony with the universe.  In his book, “Krishnamacharya: His Life and Teachings,” A.C. Mohan says, “if the yamas and the niyamas are practiced, one will have universal compassion toward all living beings.”

Refugees Welcome_HIAS_Jews for Refugees

I consider loving kindness to include opening our doors and hearts  to immigrants. All my grandparents fled persecution. What’s more, I recognize that with the exception of the Native Americans, all Americans were once immigrants. 

Melanie Nezer is senior vice president of public affairs at HIAS, a non-profit dedicated to selfless service and advocacy for immigrants.  Last week, HIAS hosted a Jews for Refugees Assembly in Austin. Established in 1881, HIAS is active in 16 countries from Kenya to the Ukraine. And, the U.S.  

“We used to help refugees because THEY were Jewish.  Now, we help refugees because WE are Jewish,” she said. The reason for HIAS underlies the meaning of the Hebrew word tzedakah. Charity. Social justice. Righteousness. In other words, tzedakah, like the yamas and the niyamas, promotes loving kindness and compassion. 

Loving Kindness: Love the Stranger as You Love Yourself

As a child, I memorized the words on the Statue of Liberty. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Basically, a compassionate mantra for those seeking a better life.

Today, that welcome mat is out of sight, said Rabbi Alan Freedman of Temple Beth Shalom at the Austin assembly. On the contrary, the current administration demonstrates a lack of compassion for immigrants. To clarify, Rabbi Freedman spoke about a disregarded passage in Leviticus.  

Leviticus 19:34

Leviticus 19:34 states that one shall love the stranger as one loves oneself. Recalling being foreigners living in the land of Egypt.

Rather than honoring what many religions prescribe, our government is harming the foreigner, said the Rabbi. Especially the millions whose lives are at stake in their homelands. 

“This story of fear to freedom is under threat. The policies of our government are violative of this commandment. It’s a policy of cruelty. A stain upon the national soul.”

Ahmed Abbas crossed the Atlantic hoping to close a chapter of fear, and live in freedom. Taking a turn on the teachings in Leviticus, he was not a foreigner in Egypt. Conversely, he fled Egypt and became a foreigner in North America. 

We Need Each Other

HIAS at Austin Jews for Refugees AssemblyAbbas was a political exile, having been a leader in the Arab Spring protests. Just a decade ago, tens of thousands rallied for peace, freedom and a change in the 30-year rule of Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarek. Abbas escaped to Mexico. There, he began a successful business. However, that attracted the cartel. And threats. Once again, feeling danger, he became a two-time refugee. He sought asylum in the U.S. in 2014. Today, his residency remains in limbo. 

In perfect English, he spoke about an element that tzedakah and the yamas and niyamas share. 

“Compassion is the only aspect of mankind that makes us human.” All throughout history, there have been ideological walls. Yet, every human invention is based on connecting with one another, to some extent. “We all have imperfections. We need each other.” 

Compassion Makes Us Human

Yet, compassion is not always part of government policies acknowledged Texas House Rep. Gina Hinojosa. Rather than compassion, she said current policies reflect cruelty. While no longer discussed on the nightly news, child separation continues. A point often overlooked, many children enter the U.S. with a family member. If it’s not the mother or the father, they are separated. Regardless of the fact that the parents entrusted their child with the relative.  Secondly, millions of Americans live in mixed status families. One child may be a U.S. citizen or legal resident. Another is not. To repeat, families are separated.  

HIAS Austin Jews for Refugees Assembly

Another example of cruelty is the number of refugees allowed in our country. 

HIAS’ Nezer said there are 71 million displaced people, globally. Of those, 26 million are refugees. The number the U.S. government will allow to be resettled? Less than 18,000. In Texas? Zero.  Therefore, the doors are basically closed for asylum seekers. 

“What our country has done is offshore asylum responsibilities.” The result: “the most horrible…defacto refugee camps” void of any security and basic necessities. Rather than offering a safe-house for those seeking asylum, 80 percent become victims of violent crime under the U.S. “Migration Protection Protocols” a.k.a. remain in Mexico.

“We are killing people. Very literally. We started a feeding frenzy for the cartel,” said Nezer. People are getting death threats on their cell phones. 

Nezer, whose organization provides legal counsel to refugees and asylum seekers, gave an example of one man from Cuba. He asked for asylum at the U.S./Mexico border. His case was waitlisted for three to four months. In just five days, he was held up at gunpoint five times. 

Social Justice as Loving Kindness

Selflessness and Social Justice

HIAS is spearheading more opportunities in Austin, and throughout the U.S.. The goal is to show compassion, and make a difference. Following, are a few easy steps. 

Finally, remember that advocacy is essential. Above all, understand small efforts count.  “You can make a difference in someone’s life,” Nezer urged.