Temple Tour with Amma Sri Karunamayi, January 2017

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Amma Sri Karunamayi with students at her school in rural India, Andhra Pradesh. Her Education for Life initiative is a tremendous way to break the cycle of poverty and provide opportunities for children they would not have access to otherwise.

The world we live in can be such a mystery and seem so rife with conflict.  How do we see God?  And live in this force of Love?  I believe that one way is to follow in the footsteps of great masters like Amma Sri Karunamayi.

I get asked a lot about how to find a Guru.  And I seem to only be able to answer with the old adage:  “When the student is ready, the teacher will come.”  Guruji, Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati, has been a great teacher of mine for many lifetimes and has made it very clear to follow Amma.  And I have heard Amma call me, deep in my heart.  I hear Amma’s call most profoundly in meditation, in silence, in her glance, in deep energetic embraces, in absorption, in love, in the Shakti she pours into this being and in so many small and even large gestures that I sometimes feel unworthy of containing.  But I work on this self-worth and sit, receive and relax in her boundless love.

A lot of you ask me if Amma talks to me.  Yes, she speaks to me in words, but the calling is deep in the soul.  I sit with Amma and beautiful awakenings happen, things so indelible, all words seem blunt and sharp to explain them.  What does the call sound like or look like?  Indescribable.  And any attempt to even explain it seems foolish.  The truth is, I actually believe She is calling everyone.  I just happen to be listening.  As Guruji says, “God sits in a corner waiting for you.”   When we are ready, the Teacher comes.

tumblr_nk0dcxGtqd1ru322to1_1280I believe that the dormant forces of kundalini within us can be so intimidating and daunting that we need Gurus and avatars like Amma Sri Karunamayi to help us withstand the magnitude of awakening possible for each one of us on this planet.  Miracles, power and beauty are everywhere around us on earth, but in order to take the lens of the ego off, we need Amma’s help.  And then magic is revealed.

The temples of India are magical, yet hold more than magic.  Magic can conjure up something fleeting and temporary while temples hold infinite, non-ending and boundlessly empowering energy.

 Amma took us to three cities earlier this year – Amaravati, Vijayawada and Kottapakonda – where we visited temples and she hosted programs at multiple sites.  Amaravati is the capital of the state of Andhra Pradesh.  The first temple we visited was the Amaralingeshwara Temple on the banks of the Krishna River – which houses a very tall Shiva lingam at its center.  In order to get to the temple from Amma’s ashram in Penusila Kshetram, we drove for eight hours.

This is a simple note for folks who wish to come to India and attend Amma’s temple tours.  I believe it is very important for women to wear saris and men to wear dhotis while we are out and about in India as well as with Amma.  The reason for this is deep respect for Mother India, for the gods and goddesses of each temple and for Amma Sri Karunamayi.  I must admit that because I don’t wear saris everyday, my own sari was a bit helter-skelter after an 8-hour journey.  But triumphantly I had a sari on! (Unfortunately it was falling off but I had to ignore this as typically my saris are wrapped and pleated a billion times in order to fit this tiny body and unwrapping and unraveling is not easy.  I have been told by some off the best sari drapers I have worked with that I am the most difficult person to wrap a sari on because the body I house is so small.  All of this to say that the average body size is much bigger than mine so I’m sure you all will have an easier time about putting on a sari at 2:30 am.)  The other choice for Westerners is to wear all white – which is sweet for a thousand reasons including the fact that it reflects light and keeps you from absorbing the hot sun.  When I weigh wearing all white to the challenge of wearing a multi-colored sari, the sari wins as it has multi-fold purposes and stays much cleaner than white does.

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Amaravati Temple and Shiva Lingam

The Darkness and the Light

On any spiritual path, if it’s any good, we face the darkest sides of the psyche and consciousness.  I’ve never been much of a follower of dictates of “right” and “wrong” in “black” and “white.”  I’ve always seen life as a lot more nuanced than two shades.  When I am asked about an either/or or a neither/nor – I can seriously often justify the answer: “both.”

Perhaps Rumi summed it up best:  “Out beyond our ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing, there is a field.  I’ll meet you there.  And as our souls lie in this grass, even the words ‘each other’ seem strange.”  

And I have to say this is the answer I get a lot from my Gurus, my teachers: “Not really this.  Not really that.  Both.”  It’s interesting how a Guru can have an entire dialogue with a disciple, alone, in a crowded room that penetrates to the Heart of a question.  When you ask a Guru a question, you realize in their answer, the source of your own question in the first place.  

For example, I asked Shiva Rudra Balayogi once why we were more spiritual in the East.  And he essentially said that this sentiment wasn’t true.  He said in so many words – “Outwardly it seems we are more spiritual in the East, but there are a lot of people quietly doing their own sadhana in the West.”  And then he told me to continue teaching others to teach yoga and to bring people out to gather for bhajans and sadhana.  Ahem.  But Babaji,  I’m in a hermit period right now.   I have a lot of hermits in my family and we have intense hermit periods.  See how the question tells one a lot about one’s Self?

In today’s world of instant mass communications through social media and the Internet, we come face to face with the darkest sides of the psyche and in each other.  For some reason, the electronic page, a Tweet, Facebook, news sites brings out the worst in “trolling” and harassment.  It’s even encouraged in our current media age to have out-right battles of name-calling on all public sites.  The behavior is something that the masses have had to accept in the current president-elect of the United States.  Which brings me to the point of this post – given that his consciousness leans heavily on the dark side with hateful rhetoric against many people in the U.S. and throughout the world, the man has incited a lot of fear, negativity and terror.  And we light-workers, well, we can feel it as the densest darkness that threatens to engulf the light of the soul.
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But there is something very positive about the exposure of all this darkness in the collective consciousness.  It is a way for all of us to look deeply at the suffering in the world in the eye and find sources that are of true help to everyone. 

What is true help?  What is true service?

I have had to work very hard at my own ego as a “helper,” a “rescuer,” a “giver of light,” a “yogini,” a “teacher.”  I’ve worked very much on the co-dependency triangle of victim-rescuer-perpetrator in my own psyche.  Co-dependency in a nutshell is the need for others to be helpless to justify one’s need to be of help.  It’s everywhere.  And then when the victim doesn’t seem to like the help, the co-dependent becomes the perpetrator and then the cycle continues on to the grave and into the next lifetime.  I have found the moment we cast someone else in the role of “darkness” or the “evil-one” (perpetrator) and we assume ourselves to be the purveyor of “light,” (rescuer)  well, there’s something incredibly patronizing (victimizing) in this dynamic, yes?  It’s not helpful.  Pity is another word for arrogance.

To act out of pity is to act out of sheer hubris at our own unabashed superiority.  To “feel bad” for another is to disavow our own feelings of darkness and throw it on another.  What I am saying is that rather than focusing on others’ issues, this Yogini has spent a good deal of time dissecting my own personal samskaras, demons, dramas.  And from the place where I can lay down any need to be better than, to push my own agenda forward, to need to be given the reward of Supreme Rescuer to all beings, then I know that perhaps there is some light I can provide just by simply being.  Energy precedes matter.  

And then perhaps the action of “help” can come from this place of truly being of service, not to win anything. Not to win any awards from God for being “better than,” “holier than,” “more spiritual than.”  You get it.  We live in a competitive world.  As Guruji has said in his booklet “Being and Becoming,” we seem to eternally grab hats to put on.  It’s not hot shit to be nothing.  We need to be known as the something that is nothing. Ha ha.  Makes sense?  Yes.  I did ask everyone to define the word “Swami” at the ashram recently and they all looked at me as I laughed and said – “Svaha ME.”  That’s a Swami.  I digress.

Desirelessness, even beyond the desire to be the most ridiculously BRIGHT purveyor of LIGHT across the Universe, is the ultimate quest for a seeker.

So back to why it is a good thing that all the darkness of the psyche is out and exposed for everyone?  Well, it means we can do something about it.  The disease is no longer festering under the surface, unnamed.  It is out, ready to be healed.  We can all be compassionate and loving in the knowledge that there is a tremendous amount of suffering in the world and understand why there is also a great need for tremendous amounts of healing and light.  I believe that all of this is a call for my favorite thing to sell: Sadhana.  More spiritual practice.  More true devotion.  More deep self-analysis and self-LOVE.

There is a light that never goes out.  It penetrates all darkness and is unafraid.  The greatest fears tremble and flee in this light.  It is the light of awareness.  The light of the Self.  May all beings know and live in this light even as we wade through the densest darkness.

Asat toma sat gamaya.

Tamas soma jyotir gamaya.

Mrtyorma amrtam gamaya.

Onward. Inward. Upward.

Om shantih om,

Sumukhi

Navaratri and the Golden Age of the Devi

I asked Amma Sri Karunamayi in my Heart – how do I truly honor the Divine Feminine? This question, of course, was inspired by the current presidential election in the United States when we finally may have a woman in the position of Commander-in-Chief.  Fact is the Divine Feminine has been quite suppressed by the patriarchy throughout the world for so very long and I’m not entirely convinced that putting females in positions designed by patriarchies is really going to honor the feminine.  The old order has been that if a woman wants to succeed in careers that have been designed by men for men, she really ought to become more “manly.” 

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I watch as Hillary Clinton tries to position herself in the consciousness of her constituents and as her publicists and advisors school her in ways to express herself, both in dress and speech.  She explained in Humans of New York that she clearly has no predecessors and has to create as she goes (men can be bullies in pulpits, women, not so much).  The government of the United States was designed by men for men.  I do trust Hillary Clinton to gracefully update the old antiquated design of the Founding Fathers’ government to include more Mothers and women in leadership positions.  And even the Founding Fathers understood the need for the Divine Feminine. There is a theory that  the masons, including George Washington, looked to the constellation of Virgo when building Washington, D.C.  All divinely masculine men worship the Goddess.

“Mr. Ovason also thinks Masonic surveyors lined up the Washington Monument, the Capitol and the White House into a rough triangle on the same alignment as Virgo’s major three stars. Pennsylvania Avenue as the main hypotenuse would be the route from which one could view those same stars from the Capitol every Aug. 10.” – Washington Times

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Amma Sri Karunamayi, 2016 Maha Maha Yajnam, SRIM Center, Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by Dakota Cheyenne

Of course with all teachers and Gurus, Amma included, the answer was not given to me bold-faced and written in black Sharpie across my T-shirt the moment I asked.  I even wonder whether or not I ask Amma questions in my Heart or if she puts them there.  But I do know that the answer that she gives all of us is to honor the Devi, honor the beautiful Goddesses of the Indian pantheon of the gods.  And what better time to do this than Navaratri, the nine days of worship of the Devi (Spring and Fall) when one chants the Chandi, Durga Saptasati or the Devi Mahatymam which describes the ferocity of the gentle Devis and how they annihilate the worst and most powerful demons.

And I have to say this, that in the question I asked Amma and in her gentle and clear prodding of my chanting consistently to the Devi through the Lalita Sahasranama, the Samputita Sri Suktam, the Mahishasura Mardini Stotram and the Khadga MalaI see that she is clearing the path to the golden age of the Devi, the awakening of the divine feminine in all beings.  The subtlest of answers lie in the Sanskrit texts themselves and the sounds they render into the atmosphere within, around, above and all around us.  We chant out loud in order to unite our bodies, minds, hearts and souls with the roar of the Devi, the HUM she renders to deafen and destroy the demons.

The Devi, the Goddess, is an archetype.  And perhaps this word, “archetype,” is difficult to comprehend.  But I understand the archetype to be something that permeates the psyche of all beings at once – the subtlest of vibrations of all of these Sanskrit texts chanted in unison throughout the img_1445world, awakens the sleeping giant divine feminine within all beings and exerts a force, subtler than the subtlest, greater than the greatest: a force we call Shakti.  I believe the answer is that this archetype is awakening as we speak and is ushering in the Golden Age of the Devi.  And that each of us with every little, tiny utterance of divine sound from any of these texts, collectively, in our own homes and in temples and ashrams everywhere are ensuring that the Devi is at peace in this current age, the yuga of darkness.

In the Devi Mahatmyam, the Goddess is the great benefactor, the Creator of the world as we see it.  If you have difficulties, she shows the path and ensures the way to victory.  She does this by killing demons.  She kills them in many, many ways.  She takes no prisoners.  It’s quite bloody and glorious.  The after-glow of Navaratri is both a purging of what is unnecessary and a peace with all that is.  And so the feminine wears beautiful dresses and jewels and rides lions while slaughtering demons.  Yes, of course.  What else would we do?

I could keep writing about these hymns but truly, reading my musings in English barely light a candle to their profound medicine when chanted.  Chant these hymns to understand how to honor the Divine Feminine – and, of course, we should not take their interpretations or meanings literally (especially in English.  God Bless the English language, it’s the one I’m most comfortable with for the time being, but it has a tough time articulating the poetry of the mystical, spiritual, soul-worlds of Eastern and South Asian spirituality).  

The literal interpretation of all major scriptures, of course, has been one of the main causes of trouble and suffering through all ages.  These are mystical texts that are much better understood in a meditative and loving environment.  This is the reason Guruji, Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati, founder and Guru of Ananda and Brahmananda ashrams in New York and San Francisco, insisted that we spend time with the Sanskrit rather than interpreting the texts – because literal interpretations are not quite “it.” The mind cannot comprehend the meaning of any of these texts.  You’ll know when the Golden Age of the Devi has arrived because this is when the mind no longer rules, but is subservient to the soul of the Universe, Mother Maya, her Self.

Victory.  Victory.  Victory.

Om shantih om,

Sumukhi

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The American Yoga Dream

I opened and closed a yoga studio in just under a year and a half.  Let’s just say, it taught me a lot about what I don’t want in yoga nor my life.  There’s a dialogue, you see among spiritual seekers and Yogis in the United States that has been haunting me since I embarked on this “career” as a yoga teacher way back when – and here it is paraphrased:

“I should make a decent, livable salary as a yoga teacher, comparable to what we are paid in corporate America, with benefits and such.”

I call the above the “American Yoga Dream”

I’m just as guilty of having this American Yoga Dream.  Guilty as charged.  Entitled as all Heaven above.  My luxury car should have my license plate in gilded gold blinging “YOGI” everywhere I turn.  Money spills out of every pocket when I walk in to teach a class in my gleaming spandex.  The Gods rain down clouds of heavenly gold and diamonds as billions of yogis stretch in spandex for miles in front of me while chanting OM.

Truthfully over the years, when I am asked about making money through yoga by folks, I’ve always said something like…”You know all spiritual practices – from Yoga to Catholicism to Buddhism to you name it – were pretty much handed to us by poor, wandering mendicant saintly people who took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. But this won’t stop me from trying to figure out how to monetize spirituality so I can feed my family.”

IMG_6952But I follow this by also saying that my yoga practices have led to positions and jobs that have made me money, with great ease and joy. Yoga as a philosophy, as a science, as a way of being seeps itself into every job, hat, title I’ve ever worn and makes them all ONE.  I continue to and have taken on huge projects with ease and relaxation through the gift of my yoga practices.  Jaya sweet Yoga.  Thank you.  To you, I bow infinitely with great devotion and love.

And maybe the sentiment that all genuine spiritual seekers are just flat-out poor is just as far-fetched as the American Yoga Dream.  There are certainly many yoga masters who don’t preach the gospel of poverty.  Amma Sri Karunamayi, a great Guru and Mother Divine herself, said “Does anyone like poverty?  No, no one likes poverty.”

Yoga is a divine trickster, it’s never very direct.  It gives money in many and infinite indirect ways, not necessarily just by me asking people to strike a pose and breathe.

Anyways, I did realize that something  between taking a vow of poverty and believing that one should make a decent salary from sharing yoga wisdom is missing from the American Yoga Dream.

Sadhana.

That’s it.  Sadhana.  This is what’s needed.  (And a Guru, but hey google is our new Guru, right? Smile.)  As a yoga studio owner and teacher trainer, I was profoundly disappointed to see the lack of discipline and commitment to sadhana from the yoga community in general.  It was  a beautiful and failed experiment to try to bring out sadhana in a more commercial context (one can argue I did not give the experiment enough time to cook, but I really don’t have another 50 years to just hang around waiting for sadhana to catch on like Kim Kardashian’s bling).  I mostly got a lot of folks who wanted a cute arse in spandex (if you are reading this, maybe you want a cute arse in spandex, some money and enlightenment.  I don’t mean to belittle anyone with this statement.  It’s a little funny, ha-ha. And sad at the same time. But you get it, it’s pretty common in our current world).  Not that there’s anything wrong with this intention.  It’s a beautiful intention.  But it’s not really one that I have any compulsion to attend to.  I am not lighting a candle for this intention.  I do not bring my forehead to the ground for this intention.  I do not give a flying fig newton about this intention.

So I closed the yoga studio.  The business model doesn’t work for me.  It seems to work for others, but it doesn’t work for me.  And at the end of the day, it seems that owning a studio means that the business model must work for you and your lifestyle.  But it doesn’t mean that I haven’t stopped trying to figure out how to help the practices of yoga spread far and wide.  I haven’t stopped trying to figure out how to help everyone, their mother and their dog develop a true Sadhana.  It doesn’t mean that I won’t open yet another yoga business.  It doesn’t mean that I won’t keep teaching yoga and training teachers to teach yoga.  I can’t help myself (have you ever read the quite literal meaning of that sentence?  I just did.  I can help myself, thank you very much).  Karma and Dharma all wrapped up in a bow, offered to me with a great glint of mischief in his eye, from my Guru.

But here’s the thing that is most important to me, beyond all outward shows of yoga or teaching or leading kirtans or even spreading the Gospel according to Patanjali: Sadhana.

What is Sadhana?

Sadhana is a deep, devotional committed practice to yoga and our spiritual Masters.  Sadhana is the continuous study and practice of love for all beings.  Sadhana is meditation.  Sadhana is all the practices of yoga united into a daily lifetime of practices.  Sadhana includes seva: selfless service, practice, discipline and love supreme.  Sadhana is the thing that makes our Gurus smile upon us and showers us with bliss and joy.  Without sadhana, yoga is empty.

And this is what I wish to continue to encourage.  And I can encourage it for free and for a small fee here and there and maybe extra large fees here and there too – your choice (because I love asking for and receiving money).  I will probably mostly give the money away to charities to lower my taxes.  Smile.  I am winking at you as I type this.  Start where you are.  If the thought of a cute arse, gets your arse on the mat, then by all means, let that guide you into a yoga class.  It will, hopefully, lead to a true and committed sadhana.

Oh to have no attachment to any outcomes, eh?

– Bhagavad Gita.  Jaya Yoga.

Om shantih om,

Sumukhi

 

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San Francisco Yoga Teacher Training

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Journey of I-AM -Urban Yoga Retreat

Journey of I-AM -Urban Yoga RetreatKnow who you are and Create a Conscious Life of Evolution and Bliss 10-day Urban Yoga Retreat at Brahmananda Ashram  July 15 – 24, price: $1200 , if paid by July 1st, after, $1500  (Non-residential option available at a reduced rate).

This retreat runs in combination and conjunction with the 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training.

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This is a unique “urban retreat” experience of full immersion into Ashram Yoga Life with the option of room and board including organic, Ayurvedic food prepared fresh throughout the experience.

Start your day at 5 am with Pranayama and Meditation and end the  day with Meditation, chanting and dialogue.

Join Sumukhi, Kiranavali, Briksha Mahendra and all YSSF  faculty and staff to nourish your body, mind and soul.

Deepen your practice beyond Asana and learn to integrate power of self- inquiry, breath-work, meditation, yoga nidra, Sanskrit and Vedic Fire Ceremony.

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