I’ve just returned from the dry dusty desert of Joshua Tree, back to sweetly green, crisp and hinting-of-autumn Charlottesville. Our week away filled me with inspiration and excitement. Our wedding is less than 4 weeks away. Yippee! Our move is just 6 weeks away. And I’m feeling so much more drive to dig deeper into my yoga practice and japa (chanting meditation) after being surrounded by so much devotion at Bhakti Fest! I’m also feeling a new found inspiration to blog. I’ve got a list of posts I want to write, now the challenge is simply finding the time to get them out there in the midst of all my personal transition and busy schedule!
California is truly its own world. I absolutely love visiting, though I doubt I w/could ever live there. Our first day in LA we visited New Dwarka, the ISKCON temple for darshan and a tasty vegetarian lunch. Then we shopped, strolled around and made our way down to Santa Monica to smell the ocean. We walked on the pier, took silly pics in a photo booth and rented bikes to cruise down the boardwalk. That evening with dined with Bobbie and Steve of the Confluence Countdown who so graciously hosted us for the night. It was great to actually meet these awesome Ashtanga bloggers in person. We stayed up way past our yogi bedtime talking about the practice, the teachers and everything in between.
The next day FY and I drove inland and up to the high desert for our 3rd Bhakti Fest. We stayed in one of the little “cottages” by the stage so we heard music at all hours of the day. Non-stop kirtan! When we first arrived, we took Kia Miller’s Kundalini class which was the perfect way to drop into the potent energy of the place.
Each day we started out with Scott Blossom’s Shadow Yoga. Although this practice is seemingly so different from my Ashtanga practice, I always come away with this deeper understanding of my body and how to be present with breath and prana in my own personal practice. Shadow Yoga is profound and subtle in the way that Qi Gong is for me. It’s challenging in its simplicity. I have a whole post coming your way inspired by the wisdom shared with us by Scott. Stay tuned!
We took Raghunath‘s two classes which provided some fun upside-down playtime. I do not practice a lot of handstands and arm balances regularly (given that I’m only halfway into 2nd series) so they don’t come super easily to me but I still really enjoy trying! Handstands push me up against my comfort zone. I get a little scared of fulling committing (like life, right?). During Joan Hyman’s class I did a handstand and my “spotter” conveniently forgot to spot so I ended up slowly flipping over into Urdhva Dhanurasana much to my surprise. So now I know I can do tic-tocs, which is nice.
I really enjoyed Janet Stone’s insights and reflections during her class, although physically I found the entire class to be like a warm-up and then it was just suddenly finished! I guess that’s the thing about Ashtanga…it kind of messes with your perception of what is “challenging” or even what is actual asana. I’ve gotten to this stage that if a class has less than 20 chaturangas/vinyasas I kind of wonder what’s the point.
I can’t think of one single kirtan moment that blew me away. Of course I loved Krishna Das’ set and his lecture the following day. And it was great to see Jai Uttal’s set (which we’ve missed in the past because it was too late at night). The Hanumen were sweet and The Mayapuris really put on a great show. Other than that, not much to report.
Honestly, there’s a fair amount of not so great music at Bhakti Fest. I guess I’m kind of a snob because I grew up singing in bands and then I originally learned kirtan in an ashram where the focus was obviously entirely on singing to the deities and not performing for an audience.
I tend to like my kirtan either quite traditional (tabla, harmonium etc.) or trancey, beat-driven “kirtranonica” chants (for my vinyasa classes especially). I’m not super down with the really pop or rock and roll kirtan that is so popular on the West Coast these days. A lot of it is pretty corny or it seems to come from a very low-chakra orientation and that turns me off.
The absolute highlight of the whole weekend came as a result of FY’s amazing persistence and selfless service as the Bhakti Ambassador for elephant journal. He engaged in some epic networking and recruiting of contributors for EJ with bhakti content this past weekend. We made lots of awesome connections with leaders in the bhakti community. We spent over an hour “interviewing” Shyam Das at his little festival compound. I put that in quotes because FY never really had the chance to ask any questions, but instead we just put the iphone on “record” and let Shyam Dasji do his thing! He loaded us with prasadam and then talked our ears off, showering us with wisdom, great stories and new ways to look at the world with devotion. He is such a trip!
The creme-de-creme of all this was our opportunity to sit down solo with His Holiness Radhanath Swami. Reading his book The Journey Home a few years ago was one of the biggest turning points in my spiritual evolution. HH Radhanath Swami is a true master of Love, Humility and Devotion. He teaches so humbly and so profoundly. I’ve had the great fortune to attend his programs and lectures numerous times. Each experience opens my heart expansively and takes my devotion to a new level. This trip in particular shifted something within me. For the first time really, I felt true, deep, unshakeable, real love for Krishna. Sitting next to Maharaj’s side as FY so gracefully conducted his interview was such a blessing and a privilege. Being in his amazing presence gives me Faith. It gives me reason to Trust and truly believe in the power of the practice of service, devotion, chanting and love.
Sitting at Maharaj’s feet was overwhelming. My eyes were full to the brim with tears instantaneously. He just kept smiling at me so lovingly and I would smile back. I couldn’t stop smiling with pure joy. My cheeks were sore after the hour! Being in his presence gave me the understanding of what people are talking about when they relate stories of meeting Neem Karoli Baba or Haidakhan Babaji or whoever their guru was. It’s really indescribable, that kind of deep pure unconditional, transcendental love – it has to be experienced to be believed.
I’m eternally grateful for the blessing of spending this beautiful hour with this elevated soul. He is a true teacher. I am already planning up our next trip to India (after our Kerala trip this January) to go to Mumbai to serve at his ashram and many charities.
To close the amazing weekend, Shyam Das led an epic Mahamantra kirtan. All the many kirtan-wallahs and yoga instructors joined him on stage as a wildly windy dust storm rose. The energy was high. We felt like the clouds could open with sheets of rain and lightning at any second so the whole place was frantic with ecstatic chanting. We had to get it in before the power was cut off and the lights blew down! It was a swirling whirling fantastically exciting close to the weekend!
We spent our last afternoon in LA yesterday by going to see Samasara, a beautiful new film by the makers of Baraka. Highly recommended! Then we went into Hollywood for a class at Golden Bridge by Tej who I totally adore. It was one of those classes where it felt like the teacher had planned it specifically for me, my needs and my spirit’s opening. So grateful for those teachings and the meditations through which she guided us. Red eye back to the East Coast, yuck, and here I am! So sleepy and so amped up simultaneously. Must take a hot shower and go to bed!
Love and Blessings to all.
PS – Just a few “Likes” away from the magic 108! Please visit my page on Facebook! I’m going to do my giveaway as soon as that number is reached. Yay!