Posts from: January 20, 2013

TRIBE GATHERING: BEING USEFUL RIGHT NOW (atha yoganusasanam)

Tribe Gathering: Being Useful Right Now
One of the many things I’m grateful for about yoga – and Jivamukti Yoga in particular – is just how practical it is. There is nothing particularly esoteric about the method. It’s about being an active participant in the evolution of all sentient beings.
Quite often in the ‘new age’ vernacular the term ‘personal journey’ is thrown about, as are the very priviledged and dare I say very Western questions of ‘Am I REALLY happy?’ and ‘Just what am I supposed to be doing with my life?’ Sure these questions can be valid, but perhaps if we are asking them too much we’re doing a bit too much crystal gazing and not seeing the very obvious needs of those directly in our field of vision. Like right NOW what can we do to serve?
My holy teacher David Life once said that at any given moment, if you are learning or if you are serving, you are doing exactly what you are supposed to be doing. I’ve since kept those words in my heart like Hanuman keeps an image of Rama and Sita.
A few years ago, the first time David-ji and Sharon-ji came to Sydney to teach together, I was helping to set up a large hall for their workshops. Myself and my other Jiva brothers and sisters had to pack away large and cumbersome tables, chairs and various ephemera which are normally of use in a town hall; then cleaning the hall and setting up the altar. It was exhausting work. And yet here was Jiva gem, Kireleigh smiling from ear to ear with a genuine satisfied glow on her face. ‘Don’t you just love this?’ she said. ‘Here I am spending my spare time stacking tables and chairs and I could NOT be happier!’
With that, the rest of the evening seemed to transpire without any effort at all.
Fast forward three years later at 2013 Jivamukti Tribe Gathering, New York City. Mimi Chen, fellow power Asian SLASH Advanced Certified Jivamukti Teacher got me a gig dishing out Jivamuktea Cafe’s famous vegan comfort food to all the hungry punters (serving). Because of the timing, I was not able to attend the workshops hosted by Julia Butterfly Hill and Lady Ruth (learning) but if you saw the look on my face you would have seen that I was pretty damn happy. And whether or not I was teaching, sitting in on the Advanced Board Exams, stacking chairs, serving food or singing kirtan, at that exact moment in my life (atta) I was of service to my tribe (yoga) and even in the smallest way (anu) I did what naturally needed to be done (anusasanam) with perhaps just a little bit of discipline.

Tribe Gathering: Kirtan

Tribe Gathering: Kirtan
At least once a year I have the incredible karma of being in the presence of my holy teachers Sharon Gannon and David Life; the co-founders of the Jivamukti Yoga Method. The annual Tribe Gathering is when Sharon-ji and David-ji, along with senior Jivamukti Yoga teachers from across the globe lead a series of challenging masterclasses, workshops and open classes. I do my best to try and act cool but honestly,  I hang out for it every year like many teenage boys hang out for the latest edition of Call of Duty.
If I were to write a list of all the exceptional moments of this year’s gathering it would take a whole blog post. And it would be impossible to list them in order of coolness anyway. But if I were to pick one, just ONE, it would be back-up singing for kirtanologist, Arjun Baba.
My beloved mentor, Jessica Sage Stickler, a dedicated student of Arjun, set it all up: we were to sing the response parts to Arjun’s exquisite calls for two separate gigs as part of Tribe: NYE at the New York Centre and a later gathering at Prince George Ballroom. Now let me just set it up good and proper: Arjun is no ordinary Kirtan wallah. He is quite exceptional. Being a jazz musician, I get swept away with how Arjun improvises simultaneously on harmonium and voice; using ancient ragas and chants in an effortlessly  modern context. I find myself smiling from the inside out and then with every fibre of my being. It is another experience entirely to be singing on stage with this young master. One way to describe it is samadhi. And to top it all off he looks something like a middle-eastern Bob Marley with smiling eyes that tell you he is deeply happy.
Kir in Kirtan means to cut. When we sing the ancient names of God – each with their own defining qualities – we cut through the ignorance of separation.  For example, when we sing Ganesha Sharanam we sing to the god-given quality in all of us that has the power to remove all obstacles if we only just surrender. It is not esoteric, it is transforming thoughts into word and deed using the powerful vehicle of music.
Singing with Arjun, Jessica and Radhe (Arjun’s drummer who resembles a hipster Allen Ginsberg) was a transcendent experience if ever I had one. The way Arjun coaxed the punters into first of all testing the waters of each chant to eventually having people  lose themselves in ecstasy was better than any performance. Kirtan goes beyond performance because the drama that unfolds is one where there is no separation between performer and audience. In music, we melt into one. And together we lose any sense of strict meter, going from slow to fast and back again, literally cheating time. It is like nothing else.
At several points throughout both gigs, I literally lost all sense of where I was in both time and space. I mean I could have been right there in freezing cold New York sitting next to my mentor who was also quite clearly in ecstasy. But I could have just as easily been back in downtown sunny Sydney twenty years ago getting high as a kite by simply chanting Hare Krishna with other young devotees. Kirtan does that to you. You lose yourself to remember yourself.
Kirtan is not escapism. You get to the depth of the experience by becoming the experience; by becoming the sound itself. But please don’t take my word for it. Kirtan is growing in the west and you only have to do a quick search online to find a Kirtan gig near you. You might even see me there.