“LOVE EVERYONE” author Parvati Markus!

The guru system conjures up a lot of different ideas, some good and some bad, for different people.¬†However, I encourage anyone reading this post to forget anything you think you know and dive into the love portal that is Neem Karoli Baba. Check out this podcast but also get the book “Love Everyone” and go beyond dogma and straight into a map of consciousness that may pry you wide open.

The podcast can be found here

Get the book here

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Saul David Raye on the podcast

This podcast episode was maybe my favorite one yet. As I learn how to do this podcasting thing a little better with each episode I can see how some episodes get in a better flow than others. This one was like that. Give it a listen.

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Yogi, mystic, healer and explorer of the sacred multi-verse, Saul David Raye stops by IAH to open our hearts and blow our minds. Quite literally. This episode will challenge everything you thought you knew about yoga and hopefully inspire you to dig even deeper within your own soul.

http://itsallhappeningshow.com/index.php/2015/10/29/episode-14-saul-david-raye/

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Recent Kirtan Videos

Here are four videos from a recent kirtan I led in Maui. They are the “closest thing to professional” videos that I own so I thought it would be good to share them with my friends.

All four chants are from the kirtan that was part of the Ram Dass public satsang on Maui.

Recorded live at the Makawao Union Church on August 25, 2013

Zach Leary – vocals and harmonium
Dana Huffman – guitar
Kit Thomas – bass
Vidu – percussion

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mYAvLpNy06E]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1U0Da_In5B8]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CHWKV1uvjjs]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vWKtKlB_W_c]

Day 18 – Completed. But only beginning.

Chapter 18 – Freedom and Renunciation
Yoga Teacher – Erich Schiffmann

I’m happy to say that I completed the task that I set out to complete. 18 days in a row of yoga (at a studio, not at home) with each day corresponding to a different chapter of The Bhagavad Gita.

It’s been a really amazing experience and one that I’d recommend to anyone. In fact, I’d go so far as to recommend this immersion for yoga teachers and their students. I’ve never done a teacher training but I suspect there’s a lot any fledgling yogi can get from this. There is an amazing amount of insight that you will get into an asana practice through the eyes of the Gita and I’m sure not too many people have done it before. The combination of that much yoga, reading and writing really awakened a lot of stuff going on inside of me and not all of it “good.” I initially thought the experience would bring me closer to bliss, it did that in a way but it also showed me so much of the work that I have to do. All of it “grist for the mill.” Someone once told me “you don’t deal with your problems by not dealing with your problems.” This couldn’t be more true. Most relevant to me was that so much the Gita, especially the early chapters, deal with Karma Yoga. The stuff we do and why we do it shapes our realities. I’ve become very aware of even the small actions and why they matter.

The most amazing part of my experience was without question the letters of support and admiration that I received from my friends. Some even joined me in solidarity and some expressed that because of my “no matter what” dedication that they too found a renewed dedication to their practice. I’m not quick to accept any sort of admission that I helped someone else but in this case, I feel great about it and really proud.

Los Angeles happens to be one of the most profound wells of yogic knowledge in America. There are expert asana teachers who will without question transform your practice if you dedicate yourself. There are teachers who are mystics and bhaktas who can open your heart and touch your soul. There are places you can go to sing kirtan practically any night of the week and above all there is a community that will support your path no matter what it is. Personally, I want to give my pranams to Govind Das, Saul David Raye, Mark Whitwell, Erich Schiffman, Micheline Berry, Annie Carpenter and all of the other teachers who I have ever taken a class with, not all of which I can name here. Thank you for keeping the light on.

In case you wondering the translation of the Gita that I used for this experiment was Eknath Easwaran’s. I found this translation to be the most direct and accessible for this purpose. It’s very easy to understand and uses language that is appropriate for any fledging urban yogi. There are other good translations as well and I know some people get very passionate about this to the point of even calling Easwaran’s “not authorized.” I was so happy that no one choose to use my blog as gateway to debate the splitting of sanskrit hairs by saying such and such version is the only right one. With that said “As it Is” by Srila Prabhupad is an excellent manual for a spiritual life and I highly recommend it. Additionally, Ram Dass’s 12 hours worth of lectures from Naropa University in 1974 called “Love. Service. Devotion” is an endless well of wisdom, humor and insight into the mysteries of the Bhagavad Gita. You can purchase it on iTunes or SoundsTrue as an audio book and trust me that your life will never be the same.

Do I feel like I am a better yogi now after 18 days? Sure. Whatever that means. I’m not even comfortable calling myself a “yogi.” I’m just one person who loves these teachings and am just eager to pursue it to the best of my ability. I do believe that I have some cognitive ability that allows me to share my insights with people in a fresh way so I will embrace that part of dharma as well. So maybe I’ll do another writing/yoga project next? The Yoga Sutras perhaps?

I do know that for me personally writing about these teachings and their experience in the real world is a way of opening doors that I wouldn’t have otherwise opened. So I’ll keep doing that.

Above all, I’ve become aware of my practice and the need to embrace everyone else’s practice too. All love. Thanks for reading!

Days 16 and 17 – All together

Chapter 16 – Two Paths
Chapter 17 – The Power of Faith

Yoga Teacher Day 16 – Amy Loftus
Yoga Teacher Day 17 – Tiffany Russo

The irony slash bullshit meter went off a little bit in todays yoga class. There’s a little bit of a disconnect in writing about the Bhagavad Gita after practicing yoga at Equinox. Equinox is an elitist over priced gym for affluent upwardly mobile mostly white people that basically is “maya”, no offense or anything but there’s a little bit of silliness in all of this. Look, I’m getting a lot out of this and based off the letters I’m getting other people are too. That’s great. But next time I think I have to take a project like this with a little more levity if I’m going to stay surrounded in these kind of environments. In the same breath, however, I don’t think that this blog would be more credible if I was doing yoga in Mysore or anything, I’m just stating the obvious irony and humor of this situation. Anyway, I digress.

My ol’ pal Rachel read my blog the other day and she called me and said “seems kinda cool but I didn’t understand any of it.” That amazed me. I actually know a thing or two about a niche topic that is completely foreign to people who don’t engage in these practices. How did that happen? A wise person once told me that “discipline is finding what you love to do and then doing it.” I’m content that my passion for the yogic way of life has made it’s way to people who are not of this ilk. This issue is why I’ve only recently started writing about my spirituality and my journey. Because I’ve led such a varied life I’ve always been a little concious about possibly turning people off who from other facets of my life (or previous lives) who will chalk me up as being “weird.” A certain self conscious and self deprecating demeanor is finally dissipating.

The 18 day thing is starting to wind down and while I feel physically amazing many of my challenges are still front and center. Studying the Gita with such an intense focus will really make you take a look at your life – the good, bad and the ugly. Yes, I feel very blessed that so much grace has been bestowed upon me but at the same time I see clearly the issues that I have to work on.

Chapter 16 is great because it deals with the humanity we’re all going to face at some point. It sheds light on even the dark side of the human condition that no one is immune from. It’s as if Krishna knows that Arjuna is going to have some darkness come up so he needs to remind Arjuna to stay steadfast and true on the path, for this is what might happen if you don’t.

Verse 4 “Other qualities, Arjuna, make a person more and more inhuman; hypocrisy, arrogance, conceit, anger, cruelty, ignorance. (5) The divine qualities leads to bondage. But no not grieve, Arjuna; you were born with divine attributes.”

The latter part of Verse 5 is one of the great subtle suggestions on a tangent topic that I like to think about. Is everyone born divine or are some born with so many samaskaras that they can not escape “evil” behavior? For instance, is even the most shocking serial killer born divine and full of bliss? Did they merely learn how to be evil through the influence of society? Fun to think about. I personally think that everyone has the ability to be divine in this lifetime and that for some it’s just tougher to access than for others. Krishna says “some have divine tendencies, others demonic.”

Simply put Krishna is reminding Arjuna to stay humble at every turn and to not let the vast temptations of wealth and desire cloud his judgement. This is explored more in Chapter 17’s topic of “The Power of Faith” but Arjuna twists it a little and asks about people who are faithful but not necessarily on this path. This is very helpful because it creates enough malleability for all of us to coexist. Krishna states that “Our faith conforms to our nature, Arjuna. Human nature is made of faith…those who are sattvic workshop the forms of God.”

Even in my cozy polished yoga studio surroundings I can still learn to see that other people have the ability to be loving, kind and sattvic despite the wrapper. We all have to be somewhere doing something and it just so happens that some people lead different incarnations than others. No one is better than the other. That’s the joy of the variety of the world. All love. Hari om.

Day 15 – Birth after birth

Chapter 15 – The Supreme Self
Yoga Teacher – Govind Das

Before today’s class someone asked me what am I going to do at Day 19. Since I’m on day Day 15, I can’t say that I am 100% sure what I’m going to do at Day 19. But I suspect that I’ll just keep going. The personal little trick this experiment played on me was to jump start my asana practice and to use the blog as a way to hold me accountable. Sure it’s fun to write and to share with others but this has helped me to see where the blockages are in my practice and how best to work through them.

I’ve said many times and I’ll say it again – the only way to get through your obstacles in your practice is to simply show up and do the practice anyway. Even if you really don’t feel like it just show up and practice with sincerity. That’s it. That’s all that’s required. Honestly, I don’t think God cares if you’re struggling or if your own stuff is getting in your way. That’s your own shit. Just show up anyway. It’s through the repetition that we notice the patterns actually start to change. If we are sporadic and not dedicated one way or another it shows. This is why finding what works for us is truly essential. Starting with a little dogma is good to get you going but then take that and find your own flavor.

In today’s class Govind Das reminded us of the meaning of savasana. I hadn’t heard a teacher talk about it in sometime and when you stop to really consider it’s origins it’s pretty far out. Savasana means “corpse pose.” In an exaggerated sense it gives us pause and reminds us of our impermanent nature that is line with all universal laws. Our bodies will die someday. Everyone we know, someday will die. So the application of this pose settles us into that peace by putting our bodies close to the earth. Now in a more day to day application the pose symbolizes death in the sense of dying after we perform our practice only to renew again even stronger. You perform a strong practice for 80 minutes, you sweat, breathe, maybe dance and then all of that tapas work is done and you just fall into the earth like a pile of ash. Then you are reborn having worked out your karmas. Over and over again – we do our practice or live our life, then we die and get to do it all over again and again and again.

It’s taking savasana to the extreme but it is important to note where savasana occurs in the sequence of hatha yoga.

Chapter 15 is an esoteric chapter in that there are many paradoxes. At one point it supports a merging with Brahaman and the notion that we are all one and in another breath it states that Krishna and the atman are indeed separate, even after death.

Krishna says in Verse 7 “An eternal part of me enters into the world, assuming the powers of action and perception and a mind made of prakriti. When the divine Self enters and leaves a body it takes these along as the wind carries a scent from place to place.”

Do we really have any idea where are going next? Why not operate under the notion that our souls are eternal, full of knowledge and full of bliss? What’s the downside exactly? Additionally, do you feel like you’ve incarnated at the very moment in these times for a reason? I say yes because it helps to shed light on your dharma. I feel like I’m here at this time for a reason and it’s my duty to strip away the things that are getting in the way of realizing that reason. That is the nature of the Supreme Self in life.

At any moment I can enter into savasana, literally or figuratively. That deep surrender after we’ve put forth effort helps us to hold the mirror to ourselves. Only we can decide if we’re making progress or not. That’s the bit of self actualization and self realization that the divine gives. We are granted grace but will we use it? I look back on all my misgivings and all my mistakes and wonder how I didn’t accept the grace I was given. These are the paradoxes of life, practice, yoga, God and the material world.

Now…who to practice with on Day 16…hmmmmm

Day 14 – When there’s a will!

Chapter 14 – The Forces of Evolution
Yoga Teacher – Saul David Raye

Once again, I’m behind with the blogging portion of this immersion by one day. Day 14 was yesterday, Sunday the 30th. And it couldn’t have been a better day.

It started off with quite a challenge. I was fiercely determined to make maha teacher Saul David Raye’s last official class at Exhale early so I could get a good spot. On my way, down my normal route along Washington Blvd, I tried to make my normal right turn on Abbot Kinney to get to Exhale. I was met with parking regulators blocking off the whole street northbound for the LA Triathlon. This was the case for all northbound traffic that was trying to cross Venice Blvd. You literally could not cross Venice Blvd anywhere except on Fairfax Ave or by going around and taking the freeway. I started to get a little upset that I was going to miss this special yoga class as there was no way for me to get to Exhale on time, at all. My choice, it seemed, was to simply give up and go home. Then it suddenly occurred to me to take on the role of an “Amazing Race” contestant and come up with a solution! I had a flash of wisdom; GET A BIKE AND RIDE!

So I did!

I parked my car at the end of Washington Blvd, paid way too much for parking, rented a bike on the Venice boardwalk and rode myself up to Exhale. And much to my delight I made in time to class with time to spare. I arrived a little freaked out and flustered and had to ask my friend Alyssa if I could lock my rented bike up with hers. It all worked out.

This isn’t a story of how clever I am (or is it?…lol) but it is a tale of how there are many solutions to a single problem. Missing Sauls class this particular day was not an option for me. Lots of my friends were meeting me there and it was very much needed so we could really show our gratitude for all the years of amazing teachings that Saul has given us.

This story is somewhat appropriate for Chapter 14 of the Gita because it deals with the many aspects of “the field” and the operation of actions as they take place inside of the three gunas.

Chapter 14 of the Gita dives a little deeper into “the field” (prakriti) that was explored in the previous chapter. It is explored here with it’s relationship to the three gunas – sattva, rajas and tamas. All of our actions and thoughts reside in one of these three modes of energy. Many of the ancient Indian traditions strive towards a satvic life which is the highest of the three and maintains it’s balance in purity and light. Rajas, to me, is the most complicated because when taken too far it comes out in the form of anger, greed and hatred however, it is also needed because passion maintains a healthy place when needed for the healthy ego to flourish. I had an old 12 step friend who used to categorize some defects as “assets running amok.” This is one of them. In it’s natural state it’s healthy and vital but taken too far things fall out of balance.

Krishna states in Verse 11 “When sattva predominates, the light of wisdom shines through every gate of the body. When rajas predominates, a person runs about pursuing selfish and greedy ends.”

To me this is the balance between the healthy and necessary ego and the ego that is attached to false identification or maya. I’ve mentioned this too many times in these posts but understanding this subtle balance is very important when engaging in yoga. What is the intention of the practice?

Some of my friends were complaining to me that my posts have nothing to do with me or the yoga I’m doing and is just me riffing on the Gita. I disagree but I thought that I’d balance this post a little with a personal story. Love love.

Day 13 – Bearing Witness

Chapter 13 – The Field & The Knower
Yoga Teacher – Derek Beres

I had to delay publishing this post for half a day because I needed to sleep on it. To me, this is the most interesting and thought provoking chapter found within the Gita. Many layers of deep connection between the real, the perceived, mind and body, God consciousness and witness consciousness are all explored here. They are explored and ultimately explained however, the mystery of how our lives do the dance with the unknown is still present.

This question still remains – what is consciousness? Is consciousness something that is found between our ears as a result of our extraordinary brains? Or is consciousness something that God has given us that allows us to experience (to a degree) what is happening around us in space and time? Science will conclude that the separation between matter and energy is very little, if not at all, so if the intangible makes up the tangible then how and why do we even need to separate them?

That answer comes when we explore the nature of our thoughts and their role in the material world. In the Gita – it’s called the field and the knower. Or the elements found within prakiriti and the purshua. However, in the Gita the mind itself is also defined as part of the field along with “the five areas of perception, the five elements, the five sense organs and the five organs of action…”(Verse 5). This is difficult because the mind to me is not a physical “thing” it is vague and mysterious therefore calling it part of the “field” takes a little getting used to. If you do look at the mind as just a plane of existence where stuff is happening and thoughts are occurring then it starts to make sense.

The knower of the field is defined as the Self or which may be very simply called the witness. Depending on where your relationship with spirituality lies all of this will bring up a very unique conflict that is at the heart of all the great philosophers who have tried to make sense of consciousness and it’s relationship to the personal experience.

Someone very dear to me proposed a different model on the same thing called “the eight-circuit model of consciousness” that is divided into four lower circuits (the larval) and four higher circuits (stellar). The higher circuits are what allows mythical and enlightened states to take place but are thought of as being new to human evolution and not accessible to all humans. The difference here with Leary vs. The Gita is that he proposed that the eight circuits are all functions of the human nervous system and thus found within the mind itself, not really allowing too much room for a cosmic infusion that exists outside of ourselves (aka God).

I do believe that we do have to take into account the soul yet somewhere between the two philosophies lies the truth.

Witness consciousness will imply that when we are detached from our egos, meaning we are only using the healthy ego as a vehicle for perception, we can see that things are just happening all around us and sometimes to us but are not us. Ram Dass talks about this endlessly. He says, for example, that when you are angry simply sit back and forget all of it and meditate. Look at the thought which is making you angry and detach yourself from the person or thing you are angry at. Soon the thought itself will become isolated as just a thought and then you can realize “hey. i’m angry. isn’t that far out?” The point is that the anger itself is not your souls natural state of being and is merely your ego creating thoughts to distance yourself from the universal truth. In the Gita it is said “…is called the witness, approver, supporter, enjoyer, the supreme Lord, the highest Self.” (Verse 22)

No matter your view of all of this it is a fun game to play when doing yoga. Try playing witness to your asana practice. Keep detaching over and over again until you’re just resting in the place of the self watching the body doing this movement. It just is. You’re moving and breathing. That’s it. It doesn’t feel good or bad, you’re just doing it.

It’s useful when pain arrises, when you are tired or when the teacher is annoying you as was my case during yesterdays practice. The thought did come up “ohhh. he’s annoying. i don’t like this class.” Certainly I don’t have to go back to his class but for that 90 minutes I can just move my body anyway and reap the benefits of the practice.

Day 12 – Loving everyone

Chapter 12 – The Way of Love
Yoga Teacher – Hemalayaa Behl

The most famous of all Neem Karoli Baba’s teachinsg was “Love Everyone. Serve Everyone. Remember God.” In a very simplistic way that is the essence of this chapter in the Gita. Because the construct of the world we live in (the material world) the Hindu philosophy talks often about whether God is impersonal or personal. It suggests that in the material world it’s helpful to have a personal God that takes on “form” to worship.

I will not take this opportunity to dive into the pros and cons of dualism vs. non dualism but it safe to say that the answer of the above question is both, God has personal and impersonal qualities.

Chapter 12 really brings Arjuna back down to a grounding level when Krishna guides him into the path of a devotee, Krishna says in Verse 16 “They are detached, pure, efficient, impartial, never anxious, selfless in their undertakings, they are my devotees, very dear to me.”

Krishna also says those who set their “hearts on me are more established in Yoga.” (Verse 3) It’s important that we learn from these teachings because it routes us back to the path of loving all things in all ways. We’ve already established in the previous two chapters that Krishna can take form in all things so now that we are prepared to love, why not see God in everything? It’s much easier that way, it’s better than “trying to figure it all out” as Maharaj-ji once said.

We come back to loving Krishna in the personal sense because it very easy, natural and intuitive for man to love another physical form rather than loving the vast formless nature of Bhagavan (impersonal God). I don’t believe one way is right and one way is wrong, but I do believe it’s a very useful tool to use the deities as doorways to get to The One. That’s why they are here and can serve us – they are portals into the vast ocean of loving awareness. Krishna took form here to remind us of that and when we study his pastimes we are reminded of transcendental bliss that is around us always.

Today, I found myself loving everyone but not being super kind to everyone. I was a little out of sorts with my temper and frustration that, admittedly, I wasn’t able to settle into my practice with as much grace as I’ve experienced the past 11 days. In fact, I even lashed out at someone for telling me about their same problems that they’ve been telling me about for years and years. I was not very helpful or compassionate. When these things happen the only thing that I can do is to return back to the love and know that tomorrow is a new day whence I shall I feel different than I did today and will be prepared for new opportunities.

Todays yoga practice was a lot of fun but did not route me back to my heart center. It was a very different sort of class, one in which I was not prepared to deal with. That’s fine and again, I’m so grateful that LA has so much to offer. Perhaps I just wasn’t ready for change today. Tomorrow? Let’s wait and see.

Day 11 – The Cosmic Vision

Chapter 11 – The Cosmic Vision
Yoga Teacher – Govind Das

What a life. What an incarnation. What a lila. At this very moment I am so blown away by all of the abundance and grace that is available to us should we choose to seek it. That’s really always the case, isn’t it? How we choose to see things is entirely up to us. Even the challenges, of which there are many, are just “grist for the mill.”

Chapter 11 is perhaps the most famous of all parts of the Gita. When Robert Oppenheimer the father of the atomic bomb first saw his creation explode he said “I am become Death, the shatterer of worlds” (Verse 32) which ironically portrays Krishna in the state we seem him in the least. That’s what I’ve always found so interesting about this chapter. Normally when we praise Krishna, or sing of Krishna or speak of his pastimes we’re cultivating the mood of the sweet blue boy playing out in the fields of Vrindavan who is wooing the cowherd girls (the gopis) with the sound of his transcendental flute. That part of his lila is so sweet, intoxicating and such a far cry away from the fierce nature that Krishna reveals to us here.

Also in Chapter 11 I’m not sure which is more extraordinary; Krishna revealing his cosmic grandeur in fierce form or the fact that Arjuna has attained samadhi to the point of being able to experience Krishna, the lord of lords, in this way. Both are very compelling transformations to meditate on. At the beginning of this story Krishna was only Arjuna’s charioteer and “spiritual advisor” and now he is the supreme personality of God. And Arjuna was of the mere warrior class and now he is able to attain complete visions within samadhi. For the sake of discussion, let’s focus on Arjuna.

Arjunas tale is more like ours because he is of the material world and is very much caught up in the role that he has to play. In this case it’s the role of a warrior prince. But the actual role itself is irrelevant. We all have our roles to play and some may be based on the illusionary forces of maya to be more important that others. But everyone, no matter their roles, all share similar qualities – no matter what happens in life you’re going to stand on that battlefield of life needing to make the difficult decisions just as Arjuna is doing in our story. Arjuna here has paid such close to attention to Krishna’s instruction that he’s now able to take into action and reap the benefits of this practice of yoga.

Now it goes without saying that not all of us in our lifetimes are going to have such grand displays of the Cosmic Vision that Arjuna is having at the feet of Lord Krishna.

Verse 7 “Behold the entire cosmos turning within my body, and the other things you desire to see. (8) But these things cannot be seen with your physical eyes; therefore I give you spiritual vision to perceive my majestic power.”

This is very interesting because Krishna granting him power here has been based off of his righteous intent of action that have been displayed in the previous chapters. Therefore, the work we do everyday is so important. Little by little through “the stuff we do” we might get little glimpses of the wonderful and terrifying nature that is God.

When I read this chapter I feel scared like Arjuna did after Krishna says “I have already slain all these warriors; you will only be my instrument.” The mere thought conjures up so many intense energies and karma’s that we need to work with. I choose to see it this way – God in the form of Krishna has already fought all our hardships for us and it is our action that makes them realized. Grace, action. Grace, action. Etc.

Tonights 830 pm Yin class with Govind Das was extraordinary. After 10 days of difficult strong asana it was so sweet to settle into a juicy slow yin class that opened me up to receive everything that was floating inside my body and through my mind. I feel like Arjuna on the battlefield when he discovers the power of the divine – sometimes it’s simply beautiful and sometimes it comes in the form of stuff we need to work on.