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.

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.

NO RETREAT NO SURRENDER

This is not about the Jean-Claude Van Damme movie of the same name…
Our yoga centre recently held a competition to give away two places to our upcoming Wild Love Jivamukti Yoga Retreat, which is on this weekend. I’m so pumped to teach the nature-themed retreat once again with fellow Jivamukti teacher, Justine Goss and hang out with our animal friends by the billabong and sing by the fire like what you might have done at scouts, except without crap food.
Going on retreat is like organic, not-tested-on-animals medicine for the soul. And judging by many of the competition entries, where we asked people to tell us in thirty words or less why they should win two spots, it’s medicine we all could use more of.
It’s like a badge of honour these days to answer the question, ‘How are you?’ with ‘So busy!’ or ‘Totally stressed out!’ If this is how we are supposed to live, then it’s really not for me…
Going on retreat is not escapism, it’s investment. Escapism is having way too many beers. Investment is savouring preciousness in the minutest of details and refilling your cup with something far more sustaining than beer (though, truth be told, I do love a good beer).
In his book ‘The Diamond Cutter'(co-written with Lama Christie McNally) my hero Geshe Michael Roach refers to retreat time as ‘the business of gardening for the future’. He talks of planting karmic seeds in this precious time away so that when we do return to work, we can be more present, more alive, more considerate, more creative and ultimately more happy.
When we retreat away from what sometimes can be seen as mundane ‘every day life’, we give ourselves the opportunity to see things, hear things and even taste things differently. The spiritual palette is cleansed.
We don’t slow down for the sake of tuning out. Rather, we relearn the lost skill of mono-tasking; focusing so intently on one task that our concentration levels actually increase and our minds are given the opportunity to see something previously thought of as ‘mundane’ as breathing or sipping clean water as the very precious gifts they are.
We ‘turn on’ rather than ‘tune out’ our buried creative thinking. Re-energised, uncluttered and unbound, we find creative solutions to problems that now seem significantly smaller.
We become re-nourished, re-focused, grateful for what we all ready have, and ultimately a lot more useful to those who have to live with our busy-ness on a day to day basis.
Busyness is a state of mind. But so is living gloriously and gracefully in whatever moment within which we find ourselves. It just takes practice and a fresh perspective.
When we retreat, we surrender to what it is we knew all along: we have everything we need within us to appropriate lasting, uncompromising happiness. Happiness about the smallest things like pure, fresh air and warm clothing. And happiness about the biggest things: incredible people, wonderful relationships and abundance.
Bite the bullet. At least once a year. Retreat.

http://jivamuktiyoga.com.au/Wild_Love_Weekend_Retreat.html

http://jivamuktiyoga.com.au/Thailand.html

SADHANA (Kitchen)

The sanskrit word sadhana means ‘conscious spiritual practice’. Sad, the root word, means truth, so practice every day to find what out what you’re made of.
There are many ways to practice truth. For some it is chanting a sacred mantra 108 times a day or more. For others, it’s waking up just that little bit earlier than everyone else EVERY DAY to make their kids a healthy and delicious lunch. For others still, it’s ‘giving up’ your social life for a while to practice practice practice your piano so that others receive the gift of your music.
Because sadhana is based on devotion, it is the ULTIMATE detox. With sustained practice at whatever it is to which you are devoted, you find out what you’re made of and, perhaps even more importantly, what you don’t need.
Ethical vegetarianism is a practice. It might not be easy at first. But with just a little determination, and with support from your sangha (your ‘people’), you will shed unnecessary doubts about your ability to sustain what will eventually become a joyful, easy and downright delectable practice.
There is a cafe called ‘Sadhana Kitchen’ in the same building that I teach yoga every Sunday. (I know, my karma, right?) The owners, Maz and Sam, as well as Mandy, their trusty young waitrine are nothing short of posterbois for the ‘ethically delicious’ movement.
I first met Maz, whose vision this was, a few years back in Penrith at Lila Yoga. She was a student of my class and I was struck by the lightness of her practice, and also how friendly she was. I was ecstatic when I heard she was opening up a cafe in the Jivamukti Yoga Sydney building, though I tried my best to act cool…
The first thing I ever sampled at Sadhana kitchen were the pancakes: dehydrated (yet not dry) pancakes with slices of banana… I tried so hard to practice equanimity of mind, but honestly, it was like Prince just walked into the room, sang ‘Kiss’, transformed himself into raw pancakes and laid himself down on a plate to tempt me beyond all self control.
So I had to keep practicing. Next course: Tacos made with walnut mince, tomatoes, guacamole, cashew sour kream on a crisp lettuce cup. 3 of them just to be sure. The mix of sweet, savoury, slightly sour, tangy and crisp in the one bite put the OHHHHH in taco; just saying.
In the same day, I may or may not have also sampled – for the sake of practice – strawberry pie, chocolate cake and cheezecake. All raw and made with no refined sugars. This challenged my defiantly hedonist outlook on vegan cuisine and made me feel downright health-righteous.
Note to selves: you HAVE to try the lasagne…
My favourite savoury dish so far would have to be the quiche. Served warm right out of the dehydrator, with a sprinkling of ‘fried’ onions and with a side superfood salad (hello mustard dressing), it was just what was needed to warm the heart before the long drive home west-side.
But not without a green smoothie with a shot of ginger and a dash of cayenne pepper, as a ‘traveller’.
I love the way Maz, Sam and Mandy practice yoga. The way they selflessly, joyfully serve teachers, students and gourmands alike. They are kind, knowledgable and inspiring. They can give you the vegan talk if you want it but the proof is in the raw pudding…

My very first raw food cafe experience was five years ago in a now defunct cafe in New York City. The food was okay, nothing inspiring, but I did notice the wait-staff were simply glowing. So I said to the waitress who served me my cool coconut chai ‘You guys really are great ads for raw food. You all look amazing!’
She looked at her colleagues; they all looked a little amused.
‘Ah thanks. But we don’t eat here a lot. None of us are even vegetarians.’
‘What??’ I reacted.
‘We’re all models; we work here part time…’
All of a sudden, her stock plummeted (I know, judgement much?). I scoffed down the rest of my chai and walked away.

Maz, Sam and Mandy are the truth. They are vegans for ethical reasons and the health is a major plus and inspiration for them. Every Sunday, between classes, when I see them giving everybody their absolute best, I can’t help but think to myself ‘There is nothing more attractive than compassion’.

DISCLAIMER – The first day, when I ate all that food, I was not alone. Sandy King may or may not have been present… with a fork and enormous eyes.

Have a little SHRADHA, more reflections on FAITH

HAVE A LITTLE SHRADHA
When I was a young boy, I summered in the Philippines and found myself in the charge of an elderly, devoutly Catholic relative. My great aunt went to mass every single day, was forever thumbing her rosary beads and always smelt of sampagita (the biblical jasmine from which they fashion wreaths for shrine offerings). I loved my Aunt and admired her religious fervour, even though I didn’t quite understand it.
One day, she said it was time to get out of the city and have a road trip; just the three of us (my great aunt, her husband and me). I couldn’t wait. But it was a different kind of road trip: it was a tour of famous religious sites where images of the virgin mary or Jesus Christ materialised and remained on things like large stones, cement and tree trunks. I was fascinated as I had recently read in the National Enquirer that the image of Jesus had appeared on a dorito. I couldn’t quite make the image out because the image provided was so, ahem, grainy.
The first site we went to was at the end of a bitumen road, from which another dirt road continued, all the way to the foot a small mountain. I couldn’t wait to see the chapel built around an image of Jesus that materialised on a piece of cement. The story goes that the cement was laid as the landing of the outer foyer of the chapel. When the miraculous image appeared, it was decided that the chapel be built around the image, so it would forever be protected from the elements. I felt the most incredible sense of anticipation and was beside myself when my aunt and uncle genuflected at the framed image on the ground.
I squeezed myself in between them and my uncle gently held the nape of my neck presumably as support in case I fainted. But I saw nothing. Absolutely nothing but a random set of indents framed by wood and glass. I looked closer. I tried different angles.
‘Uncle. Where is his nose?’
He eyed me incredulously: ‘Right THERE!’ He pointed to a larger indent close to the centre of the frame.
Still nothing.
I looked to my Aunt.
‘You cannot see, anak [child]?’
‘No Aunty.’
My aunt and uncle asked me to try a yet more angles, said that maybe because it was so dark that was why I couldn’t see God.
‘Never mind’ said my Aunt, encouragingly. ‘So many more sites to see. Halika [come]’ and I followed them both out of the chapel with the strangest feeling that I had somehow disappointed them.
We drove on for a few hours, with me in the back of the car trying hard to listen in to the hushed tones my aunt and uncle had adopted for the first time ever (they were normally quite loud).
The next place we went to was behind another chapel. On a tree was the image of the Virgin Mary with her hands at prayer. Or so they said. Because once again I couldn’t see it. This time, maybe, the sun was in my eyes. Maybe I wasn’t tall enough. My uncle held me up. Yet again I saw nothing. And my aunt and uncle said nothing all the way to the next site.
Which, of course, was also deeply disappointing for all of us: for my relatives because they could see the Virgin, and me because I couldn’t. I tried so hard but I saw nothing on the rock formation, around which a grotto was built. Everybody was deeply concerned. But I was told not to worry, they were praying for me.
Upon being returned to my mother, I spontaneously burst into tears.
‘What happened?’ she asked my crest-fallen relatives.
‘I can’t see God!’ I interrupted, before anyone else had a chance to say anything.
My poor aunt and uncle left my mother to try to console me.
‘I can’t see God, Mum. I can’t see God!’ I repeated and told her the tragic events of the day.
Mum was a great listener; she took everything in before saying, ‘Son, it’s not important that you couldn’t see those images. And it’s not important why.’
‘But if I can’t see, does that mean I have no faith?’
She thought for a moment. ‘No, son. Either way, it’s not important to have faith in images. But it is important to have faith in people. Don’t worry I have faith in you.’

It took me a very long time, years in fact, to really understand what all this meant. And as I reflect upon my beautiful, growing community of brave, articulate, well-inked, energetic anarchists, I see what it means to have faith in people. Back in the day, when we were a very small number of teachers in a small converted warehouse, dropping knowledge about how enlightenment can only be achieved through practical compassion, I would never have guessed where we would be today. Now we are a much larger gang of upstarts, in a much larger converted warehouse with heart, courage, and yes, faith in spades. And all because our teachers had faith in us. When we speak with our students about some pretty big ideas, it’s about seeing their highest potential, not assuming lack of vision. And I thank God, whenever I teach a Jivamukti Yoga class, that, our students too, have so much faith.