Posts from: October 24, 2012

GUNS, ROSES AND CHOPIN

Every Australian summer I take the long journey back to New York City, spiritual motherland to Jivamukti Yoga teachers worldwide. I go back to be with my holy teachers, Sharon Gannon and David Life, and to catch up with my extended family of activists, artists and upstarts during the annual Tribe Gathering.
In the summer of 2010/11, I stayed for almost three months to complete the apprenticeship program under the tutelage of Jessica Sage Stickler, ballerina/punk/lover of Tchaikovsky and Chopin. My very concentrated time was spent in a heady combination of teaching with Jessica (sometimes during her weekly live music class), taking as many classes as I could, sneaking off to Smalls Jazz Club a few times a week around midnight, and absorbing the Jivamukti method in the most direct ways possible.
One of these ways is through music; sacred vibration. The jivan muktah (liberated soul) uses music as a means to enlightenment. When we reach this state of cosmic connection, we hear an inner orchestra of divine sound. We can compare these sounds to music we hear in the material world, but the sounds we hear with our inner ear are far more sublime.
It is said that if a person is born with the dharma to be a musician, then their karma is incredible. Because they spend their whole lives refining their ear and therefore are ripe for enlightenment in this lifetime.
I met the classical pianist, Melody Fader (yes that IS her name), in one of Jessica’s classes. She was bright, smiling and had a very graceful practice. Somehow it didn’t surprise me that Melody was creating an album of Chopin pieces; some of them popular, some of them hidden gems.
I’m listening to the album now, in 2012, the year of the maestro’s 200th birthday and am not ashamed to say I’m transported…
Melody came from a music-loving family with her mother playing Bach and Chopin on the piano and her father a gifted pianist-by-ear. The radio was always on the classical station. It was inevitable that Melody would, at five years old, begin piano lessons and at 9, after learning her very first Chopin waltz, decided that music was most definitely her calling.
‘It was Chopin who inspired me to become a pianist’, the Juilliard graduate explains. ‘Chopin to me is the most beautiful expression of the human soul…I feel it is my duty, since I have the skills and training, to keep the music of the masters alive.’
I’ve personally always thought it takes great courage to play Chopin. There is so much bravado in his music, and the technique required to pull it off is significant. All that AND expression? As Robert Schumman once famously remarked, Chopin’s music is like ‘guns buried in flowers’. Quite often, young pianists with something to prove forsake the flowers for the guns. But not Melody.
Her take on the Raindrop Prelude is an aching study of tension release. Her version of the Fantasie Impromptu gives this well-known piece the feeling of spontaneity it craves, fully supported by the technical prowess it requires.
None of the pieces on Melody’s album sound like recreations of past concert greats. They are given new life and yet very much honor the maestro who wrote them. No mean feat.
My favorite little surprise on the album is Prelude op. 28 no. 3 in G. It is a one minute exercise into just how much music is hidden in the left hand. Bravado yes. But sweetness also.
I’m fascinated with the many variations of duplicity Melody manages to balance in each piece. So I had to ask her about how her yoga practice serves her musical life.
‘Yoga has helped me be more calm, less nervous about performing and more confident,’ Melody answers.
‘The more I connect with my inner truth, the more I can connect with all beings’ inner truth… hopefully this enables me to have a direct line from the composer to myself,’ Melody says, completely free of ego. She echoes what many artists feel is their job, that is to be a vessel for the divine.
When this direct connection occurs, Melody says ‘I am able to release it for others to hear’.
I ask Melody who has served as her inspiration and she tells me the great pianist, Artur Rubenstein, whose records her parents played for her from a very early age, and her teacher at Juilliard, Margo Garrett.
‘She inspired me by helping me to trust myself and let the music out’.
I hear this with a little softness in my heart… A vessel, alright.
Although, most definitely a classical pianist, Melody does not restrict her playing to the great classical masters. Recently, upon playing transcriptions of Charles Mingus’s improvisations, Melody heard Chopin’s Ballade in G minor (featured on the album) with fresh ears.
‘That experience helped me to hear how some classical music is also improvisational.  After working on the Mingus, I saw Chopin’s G minor Ballade like an improvisation.’

The last time I heard Melody play live was at a private concert – just for me – in an apartment on the Upper West Side. I couldn’t make the main gig so Melody created one for me. She is currently enjoying playing late Beethoven, who she describes as being able to ‘tap into heavenly and earthly elements’ and doing a promotional tour of less private concerts to support the release of her Chopin album.

Here is a short film featuring Melody

Melody can be contacted via her website www.melodyfader.com

and her album can be purchased on iTunes https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/music-of-frederic-chopin/id495296269

DESERT JEWEL

In the last month, the Jivamukti Focus has been on Sacred Geometry. In this focus, my holy teacher, David Life, talks about the sometimes invisible connection between two points, dimensions and the consciousness of different shapes.
So it came to me as no surprise when two of my regular Sunday open class students presented me with a pendant necklace from their recent trip to Morocco. It is a beautiful piece of handcrafted silver featuring geometric shapes of triangles, squares and circles. The necklace itself is made of tiny black beads.
I felt so honoured to have been given such a thoughtful gift. And was even more impressed to find out exactly what it was…
You see this beautiful piece of jewellery is far more than aesthetically engaging. It is actually an ancient form of compass. When you are a desert nomad, like the Tuaregs who originally created this ingenious design, it is difficult to distinguish one sand dune from another. There are no recognisable landmarks. Instead you must look up to the desert sky and find the North Star, shining brightest amongst the rest. When you find this star, you hold up the silver compass and place the star inside the top circle. Then you lay the compass flat in your hand and you are able to discern north, south, east and west. And then you are able to move forward.
Sometimes our yoga practice is like the desert. We invest our very best efforts and yet we seem to be travelling without actually moving. We feel like we may have plateaued and all the shapes we make appear the same. Someone says something hurtful to us and we cannot move ahead. Someone else expresses their disdain for the way we live our lives and we are thrown completely off course.
It would be easy to stop practicing all together. To lose faith; lose our way. So we need a tool to keep us moving and keep us heading in the right direction.
The good news is we all ready have it. It’s called intention and it is just as beautiful as any piece of hand-crafted silver. Our intention brings us back to the very reason we started practicing in the first place; that is, to feel connected.
We can feel connected when, for example, we are in downward facing dog. Because we are not just copying the shape of dogs, we are experiencing a very practical empathy for all dogs. We are connected to them in this very intimate way. We have perhaps a very subtle understanding of what it was like to have once been wild…
When we practice tree pose, we feel our roots in mother earth, and yet we are reaching up toward our infinite potential. Connected and aspiring.
We eventually arrive at our fullest potential when our intention is pure. That is, when we practice for the benefit of all living beings. We become so much bigger, more interesting and more resilient than our human forms would have us believe. We move forward, far beyond our limited physical form because we start to see the sacred connection between ourselves and others. And when we have this in mind, we can never really lose our way.

dedicated to Roland De La Cruz; currently a global nomad in support of cancer research

REBEL ALLIANCE

If you live in Newtown/Enmore, you may have seen a gang of good-looking, inked up, black-clad pirate girls and boys cycling around Enmore Road and King Street on Sundays. Look a little closer and you notice they are all sporting skull and cross-bones. Except instead of cross-bones, it’s a trident and a cane. And on the skull itself, a dolphin and a whale.
They are not violent pirates out to steal your loot, they are what I would call direct action pacifist aggressors from all walks of life whose only commonalities are their shared love of the planet and the billions of holy sea beings who inhabit its waters, as well as courage in spades. For years I have admired the Sea Shepherds and their fearless leader, Captain Paul Watson, from afar but recently they have become firm friends of Jivamukti Yoga Sydney.
Looking from the outside in, you might not think that Jivamukti Yoga teachers and the Sea Shepherds have all that much in common except for the abundance of ink and aversion to pastel clothing. But both groups are inspired by enigmatic anarchists who were many years ahead of their time. In fact, on our main shrine at Jivamukti Yoga Sydney, Captain Paul Watson’s image sits side by side with Sharon Gannon and David Life’s photos and whenever I catch a glimpse of these brave trouble-makers, I am reminded why I practice yoga.
When we practice yoga what we are doing is practicing being as kind and therefore as connected as possible. To practice such radical inclusion that we we have no choice but to feel infinitely expansive (drawing strength from those previously considered ‘others’) instead of powerless.
It is good to join, to yoke with others. This is the path of yoga. And there is no greater feeling than practicing with and teaching people who inspire you. To me, the Sea Shepherds are such people. It’s taken me the whole year to act at least mildly cool when I see these guys come into the centre because I hold them in such high regard. I was so glad when Katie, our director, made the decision to offer the Sea Shepherds complimentary classes because it meant I would get to see them in my ‘home’ on a regular basis.
One of the crew of the Bob Barker, chef Karo Tak, has recently (momentarily) left her very important post cooking meals for her crew to save money for the flights to get to Jivamukti Teacher Training. You can support her by buying her wonderful vegan cookbook at the centre. And get this, Anna, one of our sisters at Jivamukti Sydney, is leaving her teaching gig for a few months to become a chef on the Brigit Bardot as the Sea Shepherds begin Operation Zero Tolerance. If there were any lines drawn between Jivamukti’s rebel alliance with the Sea Shepherds, they have forever been blurred. There’s a donation box for Anna’s flight expenses at our front desk if you care to donate. And if you want to come to water-themed class to farewell Anna, it’s this Sunday 4pm.
There’s something to be said for strength in numbers. When you have people around to support a cause that’s important to you, you are reminded that the cause is bigger than you and therefore bigger than any past insecurities you may have harboured about possibly achieving your goals. The goal of yoga is enlightenment and this can definitely be achieved, perhaps even in this lifetime, with direct and well-supported action.

this blog post was inspired by Jessica Sage Stickler’s Spiritual Activation workshop and written at Rubyfruit Cafe, Leura.

Short Story About an Enlightened Anarchist (Not Me)

There was once a radical, free-thinking mystic who lived hundreds of years ago in Italy. He was born from wealth, was good-looking, popular and athletic. But one day, for the sake of adventure, he joined the army. He was soon caught by enemy forces and held captive for over a year. It is said that in this time, the young soldier gradually came to the conclusion that, if he could survive without money, he could also live a life without violence and hatred.
When finally freed, he became famous for being incredibly forgiving of his captors; saying that they were only doing their job (even if that job meant that they tortured him on a regular basis and brought him to near-starvation). His views on kindness spread to every aspect of his life. He gave away everything he had to the poor and turned his back on his inheritance. It was a considerable sum.
People started to follow this strange wanderer as he travelled through the villages and towns, spreading his message of courageous kindness and non-judgement; wearing only a tattered robe. What they found most astounding was that this young man was completely wild and almost entirely fearless. You see, he spent weeks at a time in the forest; in the company of wild boars, wolves and snakes who – instead of following their natural instincts to attack and eat him – actually grew placid in his presence.
One day, the quietly powerful anarchist entered a village. He saw immediately that the villagers lived in a state of fear and panic. When he asked one of the villagers why this was so, she wept and explained that a giant wolf had been terrorizing the village-folk for years; attacking children in their sleep and farmers as they plowed the fields. With great courage, the young activist made his way deep into the forest to find the wolf. When they finally faced each other, the wolf was startled by the young man’s lack of fear; growing silent in his presence.
By spending just a few quiet moments with the wolf, the young man could see him as he had seen his captors all those years ago: just doing what he thought he needed to do to survive. And in that moment, he felt deep compassion for the wolf. The kindness emanating from the man was so powerful that the wolf had no choice but to lay down at his feet.
‘Brother Wolf’ said the man, ‘You are not evil. You have done what you needed to do to survive. Now it is time to make peace between you and the people’.
The wolf dutifully followed this strange and utterly beguiling man into the village, for the first time, in daylight. The villagers were duly stunned and it took a while for them to be calmed.
‘This wolf only did what he thought was necessary’, said the charismatic wild man. He explained that from now on, the villagers would feed the wolf and that the town dogs should no longer set themselves onto him. Instead, they would be his friends as, for many years, the wolf had no-one.
St Francis of Assisi was way head of his time. His kindness was so magnetic that, in his short life, he attracted hundreds of people to his cause of compassion. It is said that in his final moments; as he lay dying, he thanked his donkey for being such a selfless part of his mission on the planet. The donkey lay down beside him and wept.

‘You start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible’

‘Not to hurt our animal brethren is our first duty to them, but this is not enough. We have a higher mission – to be of service to them whenever they require it’
St Francis of Assisi

3B (Blow Bigger Bubbles)

Because the September Focus of the Month was based on the very first yoga sutra: atha yoganushasanam (atha NOW, yoga UNION, anu ATOM or very small being or detail, shas TO INSTRUCT, asanam CONNECTION TO MOTHER EARTH: NOW this is YOGA as I have witnessed it in EVERY TINY DETAIL in NATURE), I have spent the last month thinking about living in a bubble. But not in a bad way.
Sometimes, as yogis, we get frustratingly insular, prefacing conversation with statements like ‘MY journey’ or ‘MY path’ or ‘MY truth’. So our small selves get smaller as our egos and neurosis increase. Yoga cannot be experienced in this way, because, whether or not we care to admit it, we are all a part of everyone’s existence and therefore part of everyone’s ‘journey’. The SECRET therefore to making our Selves bigger is to see that even our smallest actions right NOW can have a lasting effect on the happiness of many.
Years ago, my holy teachers Sharon Gannon and David Life would bring soy milk to their local coffee shop in East Village, NYC. This small action was previously unheard of. But as other people began to enquire and then advocate for animals themselves, the coffee shop began to factor soy milk into their weekly budget. And so did their competition.
Of course now you can get soy lattes everywhere. And if you’re even mildly interested in vegan cuisine you may be interested to know that New York now has over 100 vegan/vegetarian restaurants. If you wanted to investigate a little deeper, you would be able to track this incredible growth from several key places including NYC Chinatown and Life Cafe in the East Village, the humble little veg establishment David Life started long ago in order to hang out with his friends all day.
I’ve noticed this kind of growth happening in key places right here at home: Newtown/Enmore, Cabramatta and the Blue Mountains. Within just days of picking up my fearless mentor Jessica from the airport, we’ve managed to squeeze in several amazing meals from 3 completely vegan establishments. Rubyfruit, Leura of course (where the beautiful ladies that run it know me by name and dessert preference), Sadhana Kitchen, Newtown (which kind of feels like it’s my own kitchen as it’s attached to the Jivamukti Centre, my friends ‘not cook’ there and I eat there THAT much) and now Spoons Vegetarian Butchery, just around the corner from Sadhana. We were Spoon’s FIRST customers! And I could hardly contain my excitement when hoeing into a sausage sandwich with all the trimmings, as well as Texan nuggets and deep fried mushrooms. I’m sure Jessica ate something as well but by that stage I couldn’t actually see her…
Today happens to be World Vegetarian Day AND the Feast Day of my all time hero, St Francis of Assisi. If right NOW (atha) you decided to commit to Meat Free Mondays, your seemingly tiny action of forgoing meat for one day per week would do much more for Mother Nature and ALL her little creatures than investing in a prius. And if you’re local – ie from Sydney – and you need a bit of inspiration, you can find me and many other upstarts at Cruelty Free Fair, 28th October. I’ll be wearing a Yogeeks ‘Herbivore’ shirt and possibly lying in a self-induced coma somewhere.

Years ago, I often felt like being an animal activist was like living inside a bubble. I still do… except that bubble is considerably larger, more delicious and houses countless new friends.