This time last year, myself and Sandy King – fellow Jivamukti Yoga teacher from Sydney – were on our way to Govardhan Eco Village in rural Maharashtra for the India Asana Jivamukti Yoga Retreat led by Padma-ji (Sharon Gannon) and Jules Febre-ji and managed expertly by HaChi Yu.
It was the inaugural Jivamukti Yoga event at this fine ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) establishment.
Govardhan – named after Govardhan Hill in Vraj, the birthplace of Lord Krishna – is a multi-function eco paradise a few hours outside of Mumbai. Within its vast grounds are organic farms, an eco farming education centre, an animal refuge, an ayurvedic healing centre, several indoor and outdoor yoga shalas, lecture halls, a Krishna Conscious school for the sons of the local farmers, accommodation for the staff and simple and comfortable dorms for guests. Oh yeah and a swimming pool and a completely VEGAN kitchen.
The dream of Sri Radanath Swami was to secure and develop land that would resemble the community ideals of Vraj in the time of Lord Krishna. In other words: simple living, high thinking. Within the first few hours of our stay at Govardhan, the Jivas from all over the world learned just how self-sufficient and sustainable Govardhan really is. There is absolutely NO WASTE. And what once was waste is recycled. And I mean everything. The volunteers showed us how even WATER was recycled…
Seva – selfless service – gave us all an opportunity to get involved with community life. Some days our designated seva group would make the cups for chai (sadly, mine resembled ceramic versions of Salvador Dali’s melting clocks); on other days we made bed mats (which I really enjoyed). We also had the opportunity to work a loom (yes an actual hand-and-foot-operated loom) to make dohtis (the Indian kilt), create mud bricks for the houses and massage the cows at the sanctuary. All of it was fun but my most favourite activity was learning to manually thresh rice. So Asian.
Days were spent with morning asana class and breakfast. Then free time to explore the extensive grounds or participate in seva. Lunch, then similar ‘open time’ then class again followed by dinner and evening satsang. I loved hearing Padma-ji’s stories from childhood and how her sincere devotion to God developed during her Catholic school days. I also loved hearing Jules talk about his insights about life in India and growing up Jiva. And I felt truly blessed to hear my teacher’s stories about Shyam Das-ji, who left his body exactly a year before. Never has anyone been more devoted. It was fitting that we would celebrate his life in a place so brimming with bhakti.
On several occasions, we were gifted an audience with Sri Radanath Swami himself. I had been reading his autobiography, The Journey Home whilst staying at Govardhan. It tells the extraordinary story of the spiritual wanderlust that led him to all corners of the globe, WAY BEFORE Lonely Planet guides and WIFI. In fact all this happened when the sixties turned into the seventies; a time I often daydream of having lived through.
My goodness, could Sri Radanath Swami tell good stories! Like the Swamis at the ISKCON temples of my youth in Sydney, Sri Radanath Swami told stories of Krishna that made them unfold like IMAX specials. Naturally, I was transfixed…
I spent some of my free time at the primary school because, to be honest, I missed my students at X. It astounded me how quickly the boys picked up melodies they had never heard before. But I guess that’s what happens when you spend such a large part of your day learning things aurally (‘Through repetition the magic is forced to arise’ – Sharon Gannon).
Apart from the food – which is always offered to God first – the thing I remember most vividly about Govardhan was the way time seemed to slow down. With no motorised vehicles on the property whatsoever, and walking being the main form of transportation; each moment seemed to stretch on forever. And yet, in the evening when I mentally reviewed my day, I realised how much could actually be achieved in a day when you’re truly present and savouring it. I have the strongest feeling this is what it’s going to be like for staff and students alike at the Jivamukti Yoga Teacher Training in Maharashtra. And I cannot wait for that unique moment to begin.


My first trip to India ended with me saying an earnest prayer: if it be Your will, bring me back here again and again.
Little did I know how soon that prayer would be answered. Eleven months later I was back with my Indian family, Anushree Agarwal and her mother, Seema Johari Agarwal, daughter of legendary spiritual teacher and renaissance man, Harish Johari.
It was the second day of 2014. We were on a train from Delhi to the Johari compound in Haridwar, the gateway to Rishikesh. And this time I brought my very dear friend and fellow jiva, Sandy. I just knew Sandy and Anushree would get along great due to their very close proximity in age. The moment Anushree introduced Sandy to the Indian version of marzipan (which by the way is 100% vegan!), it was clear that I read my cards right.
The Johari compound is 20 metres away from a private ghat on the Ganges. The energy there envelopes you in a subtle but sublime way. The first time I did my rounds of the maha mantra on the ghat I felt closer to God at that moment than I had since… the last time I was in India. Vibration pure and simple. Sound is God. Water is God.
The compound itself is made up of two very large 3 level houses (if you have seen the Bollywood classic, Devdas, you would get an instant feel for the place) and Sandy and myself revelled in practicing on the roof overlooking Mother Ganga most mornings. We could hear the morning aarti and see the sun ascend like a giant mango at exactly the moment we practiced our Jivamukti sun salutes.
One day, Anushree opened up the largest room in the house. We were instantly taken in by both its beauty and palpable spiritual energy. There was a shrine with many ancient holy relics as well as photos of Anushree’s very handsome grandfather. And like the rest of the compound, this room was filled with yantra paintings by the maestro himself, and works by his most dedicated students from all over the world. The mark he made on them was clearly profound.
In the coming ten days of exploring the compound, I felt like I got to know Harish Johari a little better, even though he left his body many years before. I could see why he chose this spot in which to be inspired in his work from fields as diverse as numerology, painting, ayurvedic medicine and cooking, the chakras and gemstones. And I could see why he amassed such a dedicated international following: seemingly without ego, Harish Johari was instead able to focus on refining and developing his work which evolved to become a form of deep spiritual and creative expression. Like my teachers, Sharon Gannon and David Life, Harish Johari was one of those rare souls who lived a truly holistic life. Of course, he was also vegetarian…
Seema, Anushree and countless students all over the world have dedicated their lives to continuing the spiritual and creative Iineage of Harish Johari by holding retreats at the family compound, at the important spiritual sites of India and throughout the world. I myself have gained incredible inspiration from his chakra book which is as comprehensive in its explanation of the form and function of the chakras as it is stunningly illustrated (by Johari himself, naturally). I also love his Ayurvedic Cookbook but that goes without saying.
In between day trips to Rishikesh and the ashram of Neem Karoli Baba, Sandy and I enjoyed exchanging recipes with Seema and Anushree. The kitchen was where these thoroughly modern Indian ladies weaved their magic. It was their canvas and the herbs, spices, fruits, vegetables and grains were their palette. My God could they cook! Every meal was an event where one course was simply a flirtatious prelude to the next. Sandy and Anu often had bake-offs and I often enjoyed eating what they made. And yes once or twice I cooked too. After all I am the son of a chef.
I felt sad to leave Anushree and Seema as it was time for Sandy and myself to make our way to Mumbai. But the Johari compound will always remain in my heart; a gallery where art lives and breathes in very many manifestations.


Thirteen years ago, I stumbled across Jivamukti yoga whilst travelling around Thailand. I was on something of a working holiday, playing the piano and singing in various hotels in order to also live in them and wear tailored suits in the evening. In between hotel gigs, I would trek for days at a time outside the main cities so I could discover a Thailand that was not subject to Western pop music and pre-choreographed muay thai.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was actually in Thailand searching for something for more than distraction or entertainment. Since my teen years, I had practiced yoga in various forms. My first forays into the ashtanga primary series left me in a fumbling, sweaty mess but with incredible clarity of mind. The first time I heard the term ‘ahimsa’ was through my association with ISKCON, as was my introduction to the concept that music can actually be yoga too. And the Ananda Marga yogis showed me that sustainably and activism were actually part and parcel of a yogi’s life.

It wasn’t until I met Casey Gramaglia – my first ever Jivamukti yoga teacher – that I realised that all these precious teachings could come together seamlessly in one method, even one yoga class. Casey had put a sign up at the front of an ‘exotic bar’ called Stairway to Heaven (or something like that) in Chiang Mai. It said ‘Real Yoga, upstairs’. And so I walked upstairs. And there was Casey preparing to teach class. He was friendly and approachable. However, what impressed me most was Casey’s ability to thread teachings from the yoga sutra relating to ‘ahimsa’ into the actual asana class. And yet in the end, he modestly deferred this gift to his teachers, who I would later come to know as Padma-ji (Sharon Gannon) and David Life. I became enamoured by this unique and yet authentic method and realised that I had been waiting to climb those stairs a very long time.

It took another four years to find a Jivamukti Yoga teacher back home in Australia, Katie Manitsas (now my dear friend) and another two to get myself to Jivamukti Yoga Teacher Training at Omega (on the first DAY I remember thinking, my God, these are my PEOPLE). Two-and-a-half years after that I was ready to take on the apprenticeship program, under the expert guidance of Jessica Stickler at the New York centre.

Seven years after the absolutely transformative month-long experience at Omega, I am preparing to be a mentor at the first ever Jivamukti Yoga Teacher Training in India. To say that I am honoured to do this is an understatement. I have learned so much about my place in the world in the last thirteen years because of my gurus, Padma-ji and David. And I cannot wait to serve them once again, in this unique capacity.

The 2015 Jivamukti Yoga Teacher Training, India, is taking place at Govardhan Eco Village, run by ISKCON under the guidance of Sri Radanath Swami. It is a place where bhakti, ahimsa, meditation, self-study and nadam are not just experienced but lived to the highest ideals. I look forward to hearing your story and sharing this incredible experience with you.

Jai Sri Krishna

Do what you can and do a bloody good job

This time last year I was getting ready to farewell my dear friend Anna Om Shanti. Anna is a gifted Jivamukti yoga teacher and writer. She had just received a posting from The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to volunteer as a cook for the Brigit Bardot in the society’s most ambitious campaign ever, Operation Zero Tolerance. Anna was running a workshop with fellow Jiva sister, Sandy, in order to raise the necessary funds to get her plane ticket to the ship.
I felt myself deeply moved by Anna’s courage. I mean we all love animals but how far would we really go for our convictions?
It occurred to me how ‘safe’ I had been lately in terms of my animal activism. I simply love my vocation as a schoolteacher (for those who didn’t know). However, in the last decade it was this very vocation that I felt had limited my activism for the animals to not much more than online donations and Facebook reports of PETA and Sea Shepherd campaigns. Gone are the days when I would risk arrest for dangerous and let’s just say not-so-well-advertised animal activism. I mean I am a grown up now and I have a job. I wear a suit and tie! There was absolutely NO WAY I could even think about participating in an ‘I’d rather go naked’ photoshoot…
These thoughts lay heavy in my heart as I said goodbye to Anna. However, during the next month, things changed.
I saw my friends at rubyfruit cafe and hung out with Maz at Sadhana kitchen and I would hear these beautiful women say ‘this cafe is my form of activism’. I’d see vegan athletes and dancers online and without them even mentioning the ‘a’ word it became clear that they were positive role models for the young and dangerous. And I did a (fully clothed) online campaign for the gems at Yogeeks, a 100% cruelty free clothing label that utilises innovative design to promote the vegan message.
I saw activism happening all around me in many different ways. It’s great to be inspired by risk takers. However, all activists are risk takers, they just take different kinds of risks. There’s the risk of being rammed by a whaling ship, the risk of not making a profit running a vegan business, the risk of making a kid cry because you played ‘Behind the Mask’ to your religion students. But when a kid says to you ‘Sir, I have given up eating animals and its ALL YOUR FAULT,’ you know it’s worth it.

‘Practice and all is coming’ 40 days to liberation

Many assumptions are made about yoga teachers. One is that daily practice is something that we just love to do. In my case this is true for about 9 months out of 12 but check me out in the heart of winter and let’s just say that my Magic 10 is more like Mundane 6 and that my asana is more like half asana. I always get up before 6, yet somehow manage to put the coffee on sometime between the warm up and sun salutes. Once I even attempted to practice in a snuggie. Go figure.
Turns out Carmen my cousin and director of Lila yoga had the same shocking yoga teacher confession: during winter, morning practice can be challenging. So we came up with this idea: Monday to Friday in July and August we would rock up to the studio 545am and bust the Jivamukti Spiritual Warrior class to a recording gifted by our friend Sandy King. A week before the 1st of July I was gung ho and ready to go. But the Sunday before, after having taught 3 classes, I was feeling a little less inspired.
‘Carmen, how bout we start a little later?’ And I meant a later month not a later time.
‘We can’t! It’s on the website, about 8 other people will be joining us!’
My heart seized up. Shit just got real. We had to show up!
The first week went like this: We were at the studio before dawn. Three days in I arrived in a bad mood which was miraculously lifted by the sun arriving after savasana. But by the end of the week I was like a blank canvas; showing up with no feeling at all but thinking ‘this is just how it is’.
Several weeks later I could feel the subtle shift in my morning mood. I looked forward to hearing Sandy’s sweet voice – including the same jokes! – and I felt myself smiling whilst rocking the sequence. At one point I created my own recording but the punters preferred Sandy’s as did I. Somedays it was so cold that it was just me and Carmen and on these days we’d do the class with no instruction. But we did it. It wasn’t always easy, particularly when Carmen was detoxing. On those days I felt like she was trying to eat her own breath and wanting to eat my iPod. But we still showed up for each other and for the students. And it always set my day up right. I felt like I achieved something before the day even began to reveal itself.
I worked a few other things out during the forty days:
1) With practice we can remove all obstacles and excuses including sickness and injury. I’ve had this knee thing for almost two decades and it reminds me it’s there in cold weather. At one point it was so cold that my nose could have run the City to Surf. But still rolled my mat out, hanky to the side, knee in a brace.
2) Practicing the same class daily is far from boring: you get to subtlety refine things and address where tightness has been occurring. ‘Through repetition, magic arises’ – Sharon Gannon
3) Whether you are opening the studio for dawn practice or are practicing in a led class or are at home by yourself you are always showing up for someone else. Maybe it’s for someone who is too sick or cold to come, maybe it’s for the beautiful animals who inspire the shapes we make. Whatever the case; it’s bigger than all of us put together and therefore worth rolling out that tired old mat just one more time…

NB Many of us Jiva teachers think of the Spiritual Warrior class (created by Sharon Gannon) as our version of the Primary Series. Along with Sharon and David Life’s ‘Backbending Class’ and ‘Balance Class’, we derive a lot of inspiration from this set sequence which can be practiced ‘live’ at any Jivamukti centre in the world.


As a young man, due to a series of seemingly random events, I became entranced by Krishna. Through the magic of the maha mantra (and cruelty-free food) I became spellbound by this ocean blue man/God who possessed the limitless compassion of Jesus and the Buddha, as well as the pulling power of Prince in the early 1980’s. I spent many Sunday nights listening to stories from the Bhagavad Gita. The way the swamis spoke, well it was like watching a blockbuster unfold at IMAX. I also loved hearing about ISKCON founder, Srila Prabhupadha and how he was a teacher to many in New York, London and San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury district in the 1960s and 70s. His students included Allen Ginsberg and George Harrison, two of my all-time heroes. I mean, really?
Shanti and Atmaram would also talk lovingly about Krishna’s birthplace, Vrindavan in India and how the vibration was heightened due to people chanting Hare Krishna non-stop. I was truly fascinated.
Fast forward 20 years…I guess my karma was finally ripe.
Vrindavan is a very small walled city of thousand-year-old temples as well as modern buildings. Everyone but EVERYONE chants Hare Krishna. His name is graffiti’d everywhere. In fact Hare Krishna, Radhe Radhe and Ram Ram are used in the same way one would say hello, goodbye and thank you in most other cities. Love is therefore always on everyone’s minds.
During our stay, the temple in which I spent most of my time was ISKCON. The architecture was awe-inspiring, with intricately carved marble a prominent feature (at times I felt as if I was in Dinotopia). However, the visual magnificence faded in comparison to the vibration created by the 24hr Kirtan. That’s right Hare Krishna 24 hours a day (I had NO IDEA that this was what my early teachers actually meant). I later found out that seva for many of the devotees is to chant Hare Krishna as part of a little band, for a few hours a day for up to THREE YEARS. The community all take turns and not once in the last 27 years has there been a break in these holy proceedings. It made me think deeply about how I choose to spend my time and that busy-ness is really a convenient construct designed to pull us back to mundane ‘reality’ and away from our daily practice, whatever that may be. The majority of the Kirtan wallahs I met had full time jobs and family commitments.
One day our guide took us to a secret garden in the very middle of Vrindavan. It was an outdoor temple of sorts and I have a feeling that the devotees within this temple gave birth to the term ‘cheeky monkeys’ . I imagined that they were Hanuman’s monkey soldiers. They gave you a strong feeling that you were on THEIR land. The divine vibration here was even stronger than at ISKCON and it didn’t take a genius to work out that this was one of Krishna’s primary playgrounds. I felt the hair on my arms and the back of my neck stand on end. You couldn’t hear the auto-rickshaws outside the walled garden and I thought if I strained enough I might just be able to hear Krishna’s seductive flute. Locals say that between the hours of dusk and dawn, the monkeys leave the garden because the vibration is even too strong for them. Lord Krishna was clearly the original rock star…
I couldn’t leave Vrindavan without buying a harmonium. I ended up buying two from a man called Gopal (naturally) who was brought up at ISKCON and spent years of seva singing Kirtan there at dawn. His wife lives and works in Melbourne and he asked if I lived close to her. Gopal and I sang and played together. He had the voice of someone whose divine practice is music…
Being in Vrindavan made me feel like a kid again. Innocent. And I had the child-like wish of wanting the harmoniums to be so heavy that they weighed me down, making it impossible to leave. Vrindavan as a holy city – and India as an utterly beguiling country – planted powerful seeds in my consciousness. Every day since my arrival home, I’ve thought of India and my heart has ached. These days when I chant the maha mantra I think of Krishna, Vrindavan, India, the Mystic Madness pilgrims and my Indian family.
I am filled with gratitude.
I long to be reunited.
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare

5 Reflections on India. 4th Reflection: Life Preserver

Vishnu is God of Life Preservation so is it any wonder that he is represented by water?
The second leg of our pilgrimage took us from death to life preservation and the City of Allahabad where the three principle rivers of India meet. The vibration is palpable multiplied 108 times by Maha Kumba Mela – the mother of all meetings! – which takes place every 12 years. This particular mela only happens every 144 years which means it’s a once in TWO lifetimes event. And it’s not just Hindus and yogis who come here; there were many Buddhists and also lots of curious new-agers.
We spent a good four days commuting to the mela grounds which are normally just open land outside the main city. For the 2-month event, thousands of tents – some elaborate temporary temples, others simple dwellings – collectively create a vast tent city. It was hard to imagine what the area looked like during non-mela time without all these structures and the sea of people.
The first item on my personal ‘to be’ list was to find a Krishna temple. This happened day 1 when an older Indian gentleman was so moved hearing us chant Sita ram that he escorted us the full 3k to ISKCON where he then sang us the maha mantra in the most soul-seducing baritone. It was incredible how he took us in like that. We felt renewed after walking so long in the dust. I felt like I was drunk from sipping pure water from Narnia! At one point I remember smiling at Cali girls Valerie and Emily thinking, is this real?
It was the last day that my darkest spiritual desires were met: meeting the dreadlocked, chillom-toking, trident-carrying Shiva sadhus. These guys are hardcore coming down from their caves in the Himalayas only every twelve years just for mela. You are lucky if they sport simple robes as most of the time all they have on their skin is naturally-insulating ash left over from puja fires. Astrud was beside herself with excitement and Cristina, Howie my cool-as roommate and myself just had to go with her to the infamous sector 4; a place NOT recommended for westerners.
There was a silence in sector 4 that was distinct from the loud ecstatic chanting that happened everywhere else. Instead of being invited to sit and chat we got careful half-nods and an immediate offer of chillom when we finally dared to sit. We declined the chillom and sat in silence with a black-pupiled sadhu who seemed to size us up for the longest time. When he finally talked it seemed like he needed our spiritual credentials before blessing us with teachings. To be honest I don’t remember too much of what he said. I do remember that he was far more interested in dropping the knowledge to Cristina and Astrud. In a strange way this made sense as sadhus take a vow of celibacy and they rarely even speak to women.
I had lost all sense of time and felt strangely drained and very parched by the time our driver summoned us back to the bus. He said he had a bad feeling. I thought it was just me who felt that, but I personally felt drawn to stay. Astrud remarked ‘That sadhu was a dark-eyed rogue’.
It took me at least two liters of water and a few minutes silent time to feel okay again; to find that equilibrium between having died and having been born. It made me think about how potentially strong our vibrations can be and that our energy can pull others in and bring them up or pull them in and bring us all down. Every single one of us, like water itself, has the power to preserve life. We all have Vishnu consciousness. I guess it’s just a matter of how we use it that makes us who we are.


I met the mad pilgrims in Delhi, a day before flying to Varanasi. Amongst them was Astrud, the Laughing Lotus teacher assigned to the task of ‘being’ Jasmine whilst she stayed home and looked after herself and her (as yet unborn) baby. And Cristina, a dear old friend I hadn’t seen since university days. Meeting Astrud – who turned out to be as thoughtful as she was beautiful – I knew we’d get along. Cristina looked the same as she did a decade ago! She attributes this youthfulness to a very small bowl of chia porridge enjoyed every morning and a tiny appertif most evenings.
The pilgrims – apart from Cristina, who I’d describe as a ‘world citizen’ – were from New York, California and Australia. All very diverse backgrounds with our only common threads being yoga and a fascination for India. Turns out that’s all we needed.
Varanasi is considered the holiest of the seven sacred cities of Hinduism. It is said that if you die in Varanasi, you are guaranteed salvation. Despite being built at the point where sacred waters meet, it is considered Shiva’s City or the City of Death.
It is easy to see why: Shiva is everywhere; his imposing image – wide eyes, dreadlocks, trident and a cobra for a belt – in the ancient temples and on the walls of Varanasi. And even when the temples are too small for a full-size deity (tiny duck-your-head-and-have-a-peak-inside affairs), well there is Shiva lingum; Shiva in his, ahem, most masculine form… His eternal consort, Shakti, also makes innumerable appearances in her many incarnations including the downright terrifying, man-beheading Kali. Her temples are often blood red; a detail I love.
The ghats (ancient staircases that lead directly into the Ganges) at dawn are a straight up mystical sight: countless Varanasi locals taking their ritual bath and morning puja as their ancestors have done for perhaps hundreds of generations. Incredible. I felt downright honoured to be their guest.
Our boatmen were deeply philosophical young men who were used to seeing bodies being cremated here on a daily basis. They let us know- quite light-heartedly – that ‘Burning is the learning’ and ‘Cremation is the education’. And after spending a few days, I started to get a feel for what they meant: cremation in India does not hide anything. Nothing at all… Here it is impossible to hide from the reality of physical death.
Back on the banks, despite warnings from countless friends back home – I found myself dipping my legs in and washing my face. It was as if I was being led by Mother Ganga; no more just a physical body of water, but Ma herself. Jai Ma…
My most treasured memory of Varanasi was a private kathak performance organized for us by the lovely Seema . Cristina and I studied kathak at university and it was a treat to see it performed in the country of its birth. The dancers (considered two of the best in India) and the band were all family members but you probably could have guessed that witnessing them gel so much. They were more than ‘in sync’; they played and danced as one. Both Seema and I got goosebumps watching the two dancers perform the stories of Shiva and Parvati (an incarnation of Shakti) in a perfect balance of technique and expression. And when they performed the stories of Krishna and Radhe in Vrindavan, well let’s just say all of us pilgrims were swooning…
I’m not a deeply emotional person but I’m man enough to admit it was hard to hold back when the male of the duo – a very distinguished looking man in his fifties – thanked us for being his audience. ‘On behalf of my family, thank you for appreciating us. In the band is my nephew and he is also being my kathak apprentice. I will dance until I die. But when I die, I am knowing that the dance and the music will continue’. Lost it. Completely. In the west, you would scarcely see a dancer in his fifties perform at all; let alone with such power, grace and ultimately, humility. I thought about the nature of creativity and how it will never die. And that we in these temporary bodies – like the boat that carried us down the Ganges – are but vessels for this infinite source.


Pre-pilgrimage trip to Goa.
Coastal Goa is made up of beautiful beaches. There is not a lot of surf where I stayed, but the water is amazing. My home was a tiny hut in a very quiet cove between two noisy beaches. And just my karma, I managed to ‘pay off’ my stay by teaching a yoga class a few steps away from the hut.
Every morning I’d self-practice in the humble little shala and quite often I’d take a beautiful class taught by Lauren who at the time, part-owned all the little huts and the shala in the cove. The rest of the day I would read; chant; drink chai if I wanted to feel Indian, or coconut juice if I wanted to pretend to be Robinson Crusoe.
One day, a dark-skinned man came into the communal area of the cove. He was carrying what turned out to be a tiny, portable shrine with several lego man-sized deities on it. I recognized one to be Krishna. Immediately, the staff started fishing for coins, which they promptly placed on the tiny shrine. The dark-skinned man thumbed dark red tilak on their brows. Out of curiosity I asked the staff members what religion they were. Some said Buddhist, some said Hindu. But they all said it didn’t matter which I thought was very charming… I fished for coins.
In Old Goa, faith is even more fluid. It is distinct from the rest of India in that the main Heritage Road is lined with churches of many different sizes, many of which are hundreds of years old. A mixture of Portugese and Spanish architecture, these churches are also the burial grounds of the many who served here in the early missionary days. I came to pay my respects to Francis Xavier, the patron saint of my school.
Throughout Old Goa, the cab drivers have little shrines on their dashboards. And commonly these shrines have combinations of Hindu deities, different incarnations of the Buddha AS WELL as Christian saints. And of course when I asked the cabbies what religion they were, they said it really didn’t matter. I was falling more in love with India every day.
Deity shops in Old Goa are just awesome: you can buy little Krishnas and the Baby Jesus, mala beads and rosary beads. There was one shop I favoured because they had literally hundreds of types of stickers of different Gods and deities. I exclaimed, ‘So many Gods!’ and the shopkeeper smiled, held her hands up in that very Indian way and said ‘as long as we are praying, right?’ I left with my stickers, she said ‘God bless!’ and I said ‘Haribol!’
My last day in Old Goa and I went to mass at Bom Jesus Basilica, the burial place of St Francis Xavier. I felt so at peace in this ancient Church and so connected to Father Hernandez’s voice, even though I couldn’t understand Goan. Maybe it was my hair or the mala beads or the faint traces of tilak on my brow, but a number of the church patrons let me know that I had to be Catholic in order to receive Holy Communion. I assured them I was indeed baptized Catholic and that was the first and last time any one asked me what religion I was. Because you know why? In India in particular, it really doesn’t matter…


I was recently given the divine opportunity to teach yoga as part of the Laughing Lotus San Francisco/Jivamukti Sydney Mystic Madness India Pilgrimage. I had not been to India before, though I had dreamt of going to Vrindavan since I was a teenager learning how to chant Lord Krishna’s holy names. We would meet our fellow pilgrims in Delhi and then we would spend time in Varanassi (City of Death), Allahabad (Life) and then Vrindavan (Birth/Rebirth).
I had heard the term ‘Guest is God’ many times over the years and I really had no idea what it meant until I landed in Delhi. It was here that I first met our guide, Seema. Seema-ji is the kind of person who is impossible to dislike. Upon meeting her, I felt instantly at home. Later I came to realize that she really represented India.
The evening of our meeting, Seema took me to her family home and had me sit down and eat a blessed home-made dinner of dahl, vegetable curries and bread. All made with love, and incredible flavours that re-ignited my flame for Indian food (Seema’s father was the late Harish Johari, renowned teacher of Ayurveda. So not only was the food delicious; it was healing on many levels. Harish Johari was also a deeply gifted painter whose works have sold internationally; as well as an author of many books whose subjects ranged from the energetics of gemstones, an in-depth study of the chakras and of course, Ayurveda).
The following day, Seema asked me what my favourite vegetable was so she and her lovely daughter, Anushree could prepare curries based on that vegetable. I made it difficult by admitting that they are all my favourites…
Over the next few days in Delhi, we sat and shared our favourite stories about Krishna (the ones where Krishna played his flute and the ladies of Vrindavan dropped EVERYTHING to be with him) and also our favourite Bollywood movie stars (male: Sharukh Khan, female Aishwarya Ray), movies (Devdas and Ashoka) and scenes (Khabi Kushi Khabi Gham where Hrithik Roshan enters college and dances his way into the hearts of all the girls in the multi-racial campus. Incidentally, Anushree admitted that, although he was a sensational dancer, she thought Hrithik Roshan’s face was ‘too sharp’ for her liking). Within days, the separation of visitor/guide disappeared. We got along like crazy and we could see that the pilgrimage would be madness for sure, but a familial madness…
Throughout my trip I met many people who were just like Seema: people who would walk several kilometres out of their way to take you to the place you are searching for; people who would invite you as a guest to their daughter’s wedding simply because you looked like you were enjoying the wedding parade and people who would literally give you all their lunch because you happened to be walking through their farmland. I came to realize how important it is for us to ‘disappear’ out of our own preferences in order to make others feel at home. That is, to help everyone see God in the form of completely selfless hospitality. And since my trip, I’ve tried to remind myself – in my vocation as a teacher as well as my role as a human being – that sometimes I have to get out of my own way in order to give the very best I can.