Peace

We’re all searching for peace in some way but what does that mean?…

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What is peace?

We’re all searching for peace in some way but what does that mean? When we look around we don’t see peace offered up like a commodity. We can’t buy it in a store. There are no peace vendors, so to speak. So, how do we acquire this ethereal concept that we all want but can’t touch?

Most of the time peace is defined by the use of negation. In other words, what peace is not. Peace is the absence of war and violence. Peace is freedom from disturbances; from antagonism, antipathy, enmity, hatred, hostility, unfriendliness, alienation, breach, divorce, estrangement, rupture, schism, scission, severance, dissent, dissidence, anarchy, disorder, disturbance, strife, turmoil… all things that peace is not.

But peace can be defined by affirmative qualities, too. Harmony, compatibleness, unity, cohesiveness, affinity, serenity, empathy, connection, tranquility, sweetness, empathy, understanding, love… factors that are peaceful or that lend themselves to a peaceful state of being.

Peace is a state of being.

Peace remains an ethereal quality. But it is dependent on certain factors. Truth, non-harming (ahimsa), compassion, empathy, harmony, all formless qualities, yet they are absolutely necessary in the formation of being a peaceful soul. And this is where we hit the nail on the head. Peace is an inner quality. In the end, there is truly no place to find peace except within one’s self.

While peace remains formless, non-peace can take on physical qualities. Dis-harmony brings about tension, stress, loneliness, anger, hostility, disease, all qualities that mire us with outward, mental anguish. And these manifest physically; we turn to drugs, alcohol, unhealthy eating habits, excessive shopping, inappropriate sexual behavior… we are negligent of our bodies, our vehicles, all physical things we use in an attempt to substitute for our general dis-harmoniousness. When we are disharmonious there is no space to explore our inner being, so we turn to external, physical ‘remedies.’

It has well been said many times by great advocates of peace that peace can’t be bought, nor brokered. It can’t be negotiated or contracted. Peace isn’t something you vote for. Peace is ONLY an inner quality of being. And I think peace is only attainable when we learn to live in a state of AWE. I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said it all:

“If you are not in AWE you are not paying attention.”

Our souls are mired in the everyday experience. We completely loose sight of the miracle of our existence. Our separateness conditioning is the chain that binds us to our physical form. We seem to forget that life on earth is the only life we have found in the universe (to date). We look upon life as commonplace and we find no peace in that. We find peace when we pay attention!

Meditation is a door opener to peace. In the practice of pratyahara, we withdraw our physical senses from our immediate attention so that we might bring awareness to the qualities that foster inner peace. Meditation is about heightened awareness. It’s NOT naptime. We develop a state of awe. We recognize the miracle of our existence and we tap into the infinite, the timeless. We make peace with life, with the universe.

Because we are a part of this universe, by the definition of Unity, singularity, we always have been and we always will be.

Our being began as a spark in the ‘big bang.’ Everything emanated from that singular impetus. It’s comforting to know that the universe and we are one. Life is not just biological. The universe is life. We are universal beings. And we are peace.

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Outlive Relationships

The Life expectancy for females is 81.2 years; for males, it’s 76.4 years…

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The Life expectancy for females is 81.2 years; for males, it’s 76.4 years.

Modern science has progressed such that we are able to live longer and healthier lives. We are able to function with high quality of life much further into our late years. This sounds great, doesn’t it? Longer life. Better quality. Why not?

But there’s a down side.

We have this capacity to outlive our relationships!

As we live longer, we have a greater chance to outlive relationships. This includes family, friends, pets, (unless you have a tortoise), people you admire and respect but don’t associate with, public figures, spiritual teachers and more. If you have lived into your nineties you have surly experienced this. Everyone you started off with is gone.

If you have a very old person in your world, you are lucky. They are fortunate, too. Most fortunate! Many old folks will live to see their children die, some, their grandchildren. All will see their friends depart… their spouses, their teachers, their acquaintances, their neighbors… Many folks depart totally alone, from boredom, loneliness.

Even when we are young we begin outliving personal relationships. Parents depart, sometimes friends, too. Sometimes we loose a small child… and then there are marriages. The average length of a marriage that ends in divorce is eight years. People wait an average of three years after a divorce to remarry (if they remarry at all). The average age for couples going through their first divorce is 30 years old. (2012 stats)

Between 40 to 50 percent of married couples in the United States divorce. The divorce rate for subsequent marriages is even higher.

Ok, let’s not dwell…

What to do?

Stay active. Make new friends. Let go.

There are many amusing testimonials attributing to long life. Two smokes a day (for 100 years), port wine, beer, a good cigar, bacon, and a kilo of chocolate each week. But most folks seem to also include these three: Staying active, making new friends and letting go.

Notwithstanding a healthy lifestyle, staying on your feet (as opposed to a chair) and doing what you love seems to be a common theme. Finding joy in your activities rather than stress or tedium keeps you engaged and egger to live.

Making new friends is vital. The old friends are gone. And yet, we need each other. Having good social networks and regular interactions keeps the heart warm and the spirit high.

Letting go. Loss is a part of life. People and relationships come and go. Things change. We need to be able cast aside attachments without loosing ourselves. We also need to skirt drama and not get caught up in the stress of the particulars of others.

Last, but not least: Live for God. Be good. Live by the golden rule. Help others.

In the end, it’s just, ‘the universe and ourselves.’

Reference:

Five Secrets to living to be 100:

https://personalexcellence.co/blog/longevity/

More Secrets testimonials:

http://www.cnn.com/2015/09/01/health/longevity-secrets-live-to-100/

Stats:

https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/deaths.htm

(2.7 million deaths annually, U.S. (attrition) all causes.)

Fun:

105 year old woman eats bacon every day.

http://newsfeed.time.com/2013/05/09/105-year-old-woman-says-bacon-keeps-her-alive/

More Fun:

http://modernhealthmonk.com/23-secrets-of-longevity/

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Compassion

Compassion is an evolved state of being. Compassion is learned…

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“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”Plato

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”Dalai Lama XIV, The Art of Happiness

“Our task must be to free ourselves… by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and it’s beauty.”Albert Einstein

“Compassion hurts. When you feel connected to everything, you also feel responsible for everything. And you cannot turn away. Your destiny is bound with the destinies of others. You must either learn to carry the Universe or be crushed by it. You must grow strong enough to love the world, yet empty enough to sit down at the same table with its worst horrors.”Andrew Boyd, Daily Afflictions: The Agony of Being Connected to Everything in the Universe

An Evolved State of Being

Compassion is an evolved state of being. Compassion is learned. Compassion is both a giving and a receiving. By adopting compassion as a trait, we evolve ourselves, our neighbors and communities, the world and the universe (all the same thing). Compassion is a trait that transcends all levels of enfoldment as we ascend the ladder of inclusion. Compassion is the trait that first lifts us from abject, animal barbarism. Compassion is a ‘heart quality’ and as I have written many times in the past, the heart can create more of any quality that you so desire.

Believe it or not, compassion is a trait handed down through the generations of the ‘lower’ animals, as well. Charles Darwin had some very interesting and profound thoughts on the topic. His theory of Natural Selection posits that traits beneficial to the survival of individuals get passed along to the future generations of the group, increasing the survival rate of the species. Traits not beneficial to the population get weeded out through attrition or extinction.

Survival of the Fittest

Did you know that Charles Darwin used, but did not coin the phrase, “Survival of the Fittest”? Herbert Spencer coined the phrase, principally to forward race and class distinctions. Darwin, in his volume, The Decent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, posited that:

“In however complex a manner this feeling (sympathy, compassion) may have originated, as it is one of high importance to all those animals which aid and defend one another, it will have been increased through natural selection; for those communities which include the greatest number of the most sympathetic members, would flourish best, and rear the greatest number of offspring.”

And further, that “…this virtue (human concern for one another AND for lower animals), one of the noblest with which man is endowed, seems to arise incidentally from our sympathies becoming more tender and more widely diffused, until they extend to all sentient beings.”

Survival of the Kindest!

Darwin understood it as, “Survival of the Kindest!”

Cultivate compassion. Meditation helps. Meditation clears the mind of clutter so that heart qualities can manifest. As Plato said in the above quote, practice kindness… be kindness, “…for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”

Note: Herbert Spencer’s phrase, ‘survival of the fittest’ becomes a more valid concept when the race and class distinctions are removed. However, one must realize that the compassionate component IS included in the survival equation; the more compassionate being is more fit to pass along to its offspring this and other evolutionary qualities, ensuring the survival of the group. Compassion is a quality, which is, “…increased through natural selection.”

Further, that evolution is more concerned with populations than it is with individuals. Groups separated by distance develop under the same principle (Natural Selection), while branching traits within disparate groups are particulars related to variables (environment, etc.).

Sources for further inquiry:

Modern Synthesis: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modern_synthesis

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The Secret Universe

There is a place where our true nature resides. I’ll call it, ‘The Secret Universe.’…

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There is a place where our true nature resides. I’ll call it, ‘The Secret Universe.’ It’s a place of peace, tranquility and realization. We all have this place within us… veiled. What is this veil and how do we thin it, penetrate it?

Heart/Ego

The place where our true nature resides is our heart. The veil is our ego.

We have very clear, glaring examples all around us of egocentric behavior. And as egocentric behavior grows ideals like compassion, empathy, love, benevolence and generosity frequently fall to the ground. The ego is a very powerful part of our makeup. And it’s a necessary part of our selves; it drives us to action. But unchecked the ego can be disastrous, for ourselves and those around us, for our planet… for the universe.

‘The will is strong. The flesh is stronger.’ — Bible: Matthew 26:41 (paraphrase)

It’s so very easy to let our ego rule our life. Our outward senses are overwhelmed by so much stimulus, so much temptation. Our ego fixates on these outward things and directs us away from our heart. And so we grasp and cling and accumulate in order to placate our ego, rather than releasing these fleeting desires for a more relevant, universal understanding.

Heart Qualities

In the past I have written about the heart knowing truth. The heart knows truth, the ego ‘lies.’ The ego should motivate. The heart should guide.

Our heart is the most powerful, creative thing in the universe. Our heart can create any quality, or more of any quality that we want in our life. Think of it like this: A second child comes into your life. You don’t take love away from the first child and give it to the second… You create more love. Our heart creates more love!

In the same manner our heart can create any quality we want in our life. And cultivating heart qualities benefits not only us. As we become better, more discerning humans, our heightened awareness benefits those around us, and the universe, as well. When we become more heart-qualified so does the universe!

Live within the heart-centered space of the ‘Secret Universe.’ Meditate on the heart qualities you want in your life. Become those qualities as you create them.

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Is Yoga Broken?

The question asked: Is Yoga Broken?…

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There has been a great deal of talk and discussion about the current state and direction yoga is headed. The question asked: Is Yoga Broken?

Alanna Kaivalia, who we interviewed about a year ago for pyo.yoga and two other teachers, Tara Stiles and Anna Conversano chime in: (an interview by Jennifer Gerson Uffalussy.)

Read it here: http://yhoo.it/2ca4HFc

Leslie Kamanoff, in another interview with Pilgrimage Yoga online also weighs in on the future of yoga.

https://www.pilgrimageyogaonline.com/leslie-kaminoff/

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… And here’s my take:

Yoga is a business. Whether you are an independent teacher, an employee or a studio owner, a non-profit or a for-profit, and ashram or a retail operation, it’s a business. There has to be a positive cash flow. The operation has to support itself; it has to have legs. And as we know, business practices can sometimes (or frequently) overlook, side step, disregard what might be deemed ethical, moral, virtuous standards. Yoga is no different.

The moral, ethical bar is set very high in the yoga world. The ideals and principles are clear-cut. The yamas and niyamas are solid and incorruptible. Derivation from these principles doesn’t corrupt them. It does, however, impact the overall impressions of the industry by the public. And it does impact the viability of the yoga business, in the long term.

Honor Before Profit

In the west, sadly, the capitalistic approach of business is predominately, ‘profit before honor,’ whereas, it is implied by its foundational principles that yoga should be based on, ‘honor before profit.’ This idea should be the foundation of all businesses. Sadly, it is not. We see plainly in our economy how profit is king, to the detriment of our people, the environment, the larger world, our vision of life… and the yoga industry is no different.

The yoga world has seen some big pundits go down in flames. In every case, the most fundamental tenants of yoga have been abandoned, violated. In every case, profit has been elevated above honor.

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Buy Impulsively?

I recall reading an interesting article a few years ago on the marketing of yoga. The idea was that business marketing centers around the premise of getting people to buy impulsively; to buy what you don’t need, to buy things that are bad for you, to buy junk, to buy and then buy again… and the author suggested quite implicitly that “Yoga doesn’t have that problem.” I couldn’t disagree more! Just look at the yoga fashion industry. Look at the yoga merchandise industry. Look at the yoga brands. Even when a yoga ‘superstar’ goes down in scandal and disgrace, he simply re-brands himself and seeks to profit. And we throw ourselves and our resources at these personalities and products even when it is obvious there is something wrong. Make no mistake. Yoga and capitalism are like oil and water. They don’t mix very well, most especially in the absence of honor.

So what do we do?

Despite what we are led to believe, the consumer has the power. If we mindlessly buy crap we will only have crap in our lives. If we research about what we are buying we will become a more discerning consumer. And that’s what is needed, in yoga and in general. We need to be more mindful. We need to stop buying crap. When we do, the crap will disappear. A business can only survive if it has customers.

One of the biggest participants in the yoga fashion industry started in a garage. Now, most, if not all, of their product is made in china. We still pay the same high retail price while they exploit cheap labor explicitly for increased profit. They make lofty claims about, ‘giving back’ and ‘improving working conditions,’ but this pretty package of goodwill is generated by virtue of the exploitation of the foreign worker, the lack of opportunity for the domestic worker, AND the exploitation of the end consumer, you and me. And we tolerate it. The cost of producing a yoga pant in China is about 30 cents in labor. The retail price for the same pant is $70-80.00.

Yoga’s highest purpose is to build discernment in the practitioner. Yoga is so much more than just a workout. When we discern that we are being manipulated and exploited we should put ourselves in check. We should make a conscious choice ‘not to be deceived.’ We must make conscious choices of what to buy and who to follow. Yoga’s purity breaks down through the apathy of unconscious consumers.

Support the mom and pops. Steer away from the institutions. Don’t be swayed by deceptive marketing. Be a discerning consumer. Research your leaders. Choose wisely. Yoga isn’t broken. We are.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Follow Your Heart

When I was a teenager I remember someone told me, ‘not to follow my heart.’ This person was…

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When I was a teenager I remember someone told me, ‘not to follow my heart.’ This person was talking about love relationships and how our unbridled passions can perhaps lead us down the wrong path. It struck me as funny then, and now, that we blame our hearts. I have always felt that my heart is the place where love and truth reside. Maybe this person should have told me, ‘not to follow my ego.’

Our Ego is Unbridled Passion

Our ego (mind/body) reacts to stimulation from our senses and then makes suggestions… powerful suggestions; do this, do that. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Our ego drives us to action. But our ego doesn’t care much whether the action is appropriate, or not. At times, our bodies scream at us to act: to buy this, to eat that, to drink this, to have indiscriminate sex, to create recklessly… At other times our ego compels us to NOT act; to resist growth, to be fearful of change, to doubt ourselves, to be uncompassionate, to be irresponsible…

Forested Road

The heart drives the discriminatory function. If you take the time to look, you will find that your heart knows what is truth, what is good, what is honorable, what is appropriate, what is love. The heart is the center of the will and the will is what ultimately controls the ego. Or it doesn’t. How many times have you cringed after some act that you knew you should not have done, but did it anyway? How many times have you thought, “I can’t believe I just did that?” How many times have you thought, “I can’t believe I’m still in this job” or “this situation?” You’ve ignored your heart.

‘The will is strong but the flesh is stronger…’ (Paraphrase from Bible, Matthew 26-41)

Look to your heart. Don’t be afraid. Be strong. Don’t give in to the tempting ego. Let your heart be your guide, literally! When I walk into a room the first thing I want people to perceive is my heart. Not my clothes, my car, my wallet, my personality…

Project Your Heart

We recently interviewed Aubry Wilcher, a social media phenomena about her incredible life change (Aubry Marie on InstaGram). She worked for Apple for about six years and had a promising career. But then she decided to take a leap and follow her heart-bridled passion, yoga and meditation. Her family and friends thought she was crazy. But her heart got a hold of the doubting, fear inducing ego. She quit her job and embarked on a new path. She now has over 200,000 InstaGram followers and is a leading ‘influencer’ in the yoga industry.

Her message: Don’t be afraid to quit what doesn’t serve your heart in this life. Do what your heart loves. Don’t be afraid to fail… keep trying and keep growing…

The seven deadly sins are all ego-driven. The seven virtues are all heart-driven. Our heart has the only power over the ego. Our heart knows truth, compassion and love. Our ego will ‘lie’ to us. Our ego will relentlessly steer us toward maya, illusion, to keep us from living our ‘heart’s desire. Don’t let this be you. Follow your heart!

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Who am I?

I have this identity. I am this person. I have this body. I have this story…

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I have this identity. I am this person. I have this body. I have this story… But deep down, when I slow down, I find that I have this other ‘me’ that I can’t really touch. I know it’s there. It’s very clear and yet, indefinable… ineffable, if you will. So I ask, “What is this?:” And, “Who am I?”

If you are currently practicing yoga, you have probably already come across this dilemma. In many respects, the recognition of this inner being is central to the practice of yoga. It’s called, “discovering your ‘true’ self.” In other words, we connect with the inner, indefinable, ineffable, untouchable part that we ‘discover’ is there, nebulously, veiled, secret, dormant. Who am I?

And then amazing and numerous Self-discoveries will be made.

Star Bud

Self-discovery

All of philosophy, spiritualism and religion have within the idea of Self-discovery. In fact, each considers Self-discovery to be primus, the principle purpose of life. Some doctrines would have you attain realization vicariously by devotion to a person, other doctrines, a concept. The grand idea, however, even if it is underlying, is that YOU must do the work. It is called ‘Self’-discovery, after all.

I like to think of my inner Self as being a spark of the universal. I consider how small my vessel is compared to the cosmos. And yet, I am a part of the vast cosmos. I am within it. I am not separate from it. And I was a part of the spark, the bang, if you will, that brought the cosmos into being. Every part of what is today was contained in that first spark.

Before time, I awaited…

Since time, I have unfolded…

When time ends, I will await again. ~the Author

Man and Nature

Science Breaks Down

It’s tough to swallow an idea that can’t be explained. Our intelligence only can take us so far… then intelligence breaks down. Science breaks down. What we have left is a miracle to be recognized, and to KNOW that the entirety is a miracle. It is a ‘knowing.’ It’s faith. It’s complete confidence. It’s something you feel and experience!

The imagery of the statue of Ganesha contains a beautiful example of our ineffable, inner being and how to reconcile with our physical knowledge. Ganesha is usually depicted with one broken tusk. Symbolically, the broken tusk represents the failure of intelligence on the physical plane to explain the ineffable nature of our origin and being; we have this inner Self that we can’t explain or touch. The unbroken tusk symbolizes that only faith can transcend the gap between the physical and the inner Self. In the end our intelligence fails to explain us… but we can ‘know.’ And that ’knowing’ is the basis for realization. It’s more than belief… It’s knowing! It can bring us peace; ‘the peace which passeth all understanding.’

The following quote points to this separateness thinking that confounds our efforts to find ourselves:

“There are hidden contradictions in the minds of people who “love Nature” while deploring the “artificialities” with which “Man has spoiled `Nature.’” The obvious contradiction lies in their choice of words, which imply that Man and his artifacts are not part of “Nature,” but beavers and their dams are.”

From Starship Troopers: ~Robert Heinlein

Peace

Children of the Universe

When we recognize that we are children of the universe, when we know that we are miracles, when we know that we are not separate, we are well on our way in the discovery of our true nature, our true Self.

Because I am a part of the universe, by the definition of Unity, I always have been and I always will be… Shanti, peace.

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The Benefits of Singing in a Group: How Kirtan Affects the Immune System

Did you know that singing, especially in a choral setting like Kirtan, boosts the immune system?…

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Did you know that singing, especially in a choral setting like Kirtan, boosts the immune system? Numerous resent studies (also: google, singing+immune) suggest that singing in a group setting reduces the body’s production of the hormone cortisol, a hormone released during periods of stress or anxiety and which can cause systemic inflammations, effecting the optimal function of the body’s natural immune system and overall health. Further, studies show that singing promotes increases in cytokines, proteins of the immune system which enhance the body’s ability to fight serious disease.

Most of the studies revolve around cancer patients who are experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety coping with their ailments. Researchers found a number of changes in hormones, immune proteins, neuropeptides and receptors. Those with the highest levels of stress, anxiety and depression were seen to have the greatest overall benefits from singing in a group setting.

But let’s not think that only someone who is seriously infirm will benefit from choral singing (Kirtan). Taking good care of our immune systems will have long-term benefits for our overall health. In fact, biological evidence suggests that choral singing can have a whole range of social, emotional and psychological advantages to health.

The Icebreaker Effect

On a social level, studies have shown that singing in a group setting (vs. non-singing creative group activities like crafts or creative writing) produced the quickest social bonding among participants. The other non-singing groups eventually caught up in terms of bonding, but singing tended to bond the participants more quickly. The created connection through singing in a group is quick and strong. We can draw on each other’s energy in the choral setting to amplify our positive immune response more quickly.

Smilin Tom

I find this interesting because singing is considered somewhat extraordinary in our culture, whereby only those with talent, training or some ‘gift’ should participate. It seems to be socially acceptable, ‘not to sing.’ In fact, those who claim to be non-singers are the majority. So it might be said that our culture is somewhat ‘anti-singing.’ We even ridicule ‘average’ singers who express themselves (think karaoke). Not very good for our immune systems.

The emotions invoked through singing and music are as numerous as there are musicians. Exposure to a range of emotions through singing and music can enable us to seek out the pleasurable and beneficial emotions and to build on them within: compassion, joy, peace, generosity, forgiveness… immune system builders.

Psychologically, people listen to music to regulate arousal and mood, to achieve self-awareness, and as an expression of social relatedness. All of these motivations are valid immune system builders. Controlling our mind and emotions, uplifting our awareness and being connected to one another surely benefits our overall health.

A Musical Vitamin

Choral singing (Kirtan) has been demonstrated to have positive benefits on our overall psychological and physical wellbeing. But don’t think that you have to be sick to benefit. On the contrary, singing in a group is like taking a vitamin.

Give yourself an immune system boost! Come sing with us.

Pilgrimage of the Heart Kirtan. San Diego’s ONLY weekly Kirtan practice. Thursday’s at 8:30pm at Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga Studio. 3301 Adams Avenue, 92116

See the master schedule for Kirtan, Mindfulness, Meditation and Pranayama classes, and of course, over 80 yoga classes each week.

Here is one of our favorite videos from last year, the traditional Om Asatoma Sadgamaya. You can also find this and many others on our album Jai Ram Sita Ram available on iTunes and CDBaby.

Happy Holidays.

Tom

 

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Music and Meditation

Kirtan is a meditation practice set to music. Yoga classes usually include music, either recorded or ‘live.’…

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Kirtan is a meditation practice set to music. Yoga classes usually include music, either recorded or ‘live.’ When we meditate before our shrines, we might incorporate some gentle sounds to help clear background distractions. However, we likely won’t be trying to meditate while playing raunchy hip-hop or Led Zeppelin, nor should we practice yoga while listening to hard-hitting genres, as they tend to distract our attention rather than focusing our practice. I tend to agree with author Binazir regarding music at yoga classes. In the same manner, I’m not a fan of teachers cracking glib jokes during yoga classes. When someone is in a challenging, balancing posture and a joke is made, laughter is an enormous distraction that can potentially result in injury.

We are surrounded by music. Every media source incorporates music: even print, by suggesting music through dance-like body postures. Listen to the music used in movies, TV shows, advertising, etc. It is so routinely incorporated that it almost is unnoticed, is subliminal. It’s intent is to affect us emotionally and to get us to act on those emotions. In certain examples music might be used intentionally for evil.

Music is a vital, necessary part of our being. Our very first sounds are ‘cries of joy’ at entering a new experience. Interestingly, the first sounds purported to be ‘song’ is said to have originated by man imitating the sounds of nature. In fact, the human voice was likely the first of man’s ‘instruments.’

Sunset

And there’s a concept called Motherese, whereby a gestating mother communicates sounds (vocally) and other vibrations (kinesthetically) to the fetus, who after the 20th gestational week is capable of hearing and feeling these vibration AND remembering the vibrational patterns. This helps in the development of language and higher cognitive functions.

Music gets a pretty mundane place in our modern world. We’re so used to carrying music around with us on our little devices. We have music at our fingertips. We can put a thousand songs on a device no bigger than a postage stamp. Music is relegated to mere background noise to block out the irrelevant clutter of input and stimulus, but also to camouflage our heart’s yearning for something deeper, hence the propensity for discordant lyrics.

Music, for thousands of years was solely a performance art. There was no ‘recording,’ save for the record impressed upon the heart. Only within the last hundred years has music evolved into a canned art form. Families of old would gather in the evening around the fireplace and sing together. There was no TV, no radio, no other opportunities for ‘entertainment.’ And in some cultures, music was principally relegated to spiritual, existential thought, hence Kirtan, a gift celebrating existence.

Kirtan is one of the only events where individuals can walk in the door and sing. It’s an open invitation. There is no audition, no preconceived requirements. One simply shows up. And by its design the practice intends to provide a vehicle by which one can elevate their soul to the highest of heights. Singing, dancing, coupled with pure, soulful thoughts can fundamentally change the way we see the world and our place in it. And that is its purpose. To allow our true nature to grow, upwell and become again. Your becoming benefits the world.

Our Kirtan offerings include two CDs and our regular practice every Thursday evening at 8:30pm in Normal Heights. Sing, dance and make new friends. And please note: There will be NO KIRTAN on Nov. 24th (Thanksgiving).

See the schedule to find Kirtan, meditation, pranayama and mindfulness classes offered at Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga Studio. And be sure to check out Pilgrimage Yoga Online, our huge community resource.

Happy Kirtan!

Tom

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Kirtan and Dance

Just as a person who is extremely happy may spontaneously sing and dance to express their special pleasure…

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Kirtan and Dance are Intertwined

The Bhakti tradition in Hinduism is very clear about dance. Dance is a part of the spiritual experience. Dance is an integral part of the overall Kirtan experience.

“Just as a person who is extremely happy may spontaneously sing and dance to express their special pleasure, in the same way the Supreme Lord performs all actions to express His consciousness, which is perpetually in a state of Supreme Bliss.” ~Brahma Vaisnava Sampradaya

When We Dance, We Embody the Supreme State

In the Dvārakā-māhātmya (Skanda-Purana) the importance of dancing before the Deity is stated by Lord Krishna as follows: “A person who is in a jubilant spirit, who feels profound devotional ecstasy while dancing before Me, and who manifests different features of bodily expression can burn away all the accumulated sinful reactions he has stocked up for many, many thousands of years.”

In the same book there is a statement by Narada wherein he asserts, “From the body of any person who claps and dances before the Deity, showing manifestations of ecstasy, all the birds of sinful activities fly away upward.”

Just as by clapping the hands one can cause many birds to fly away, similarly the birds of all sinful activities which are sitting on the body can be made to fly away simply by dancing and clapping before the Deity of Krishna. – Quotes and Commentary from Nectar of Devotion

https://www.amazon.com/Nectar-Devotion-Complete-Science-Bhakti-Yoga/dp/0912776056

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Body, Mind, Spirit Align

Embodied cognition, the theory that the body reveals the nature of the mind can be seen in the following: Consider the mosh-pit verses an intentional, spiritual expression of dance. The former involves chaos with no spatial awareness, no empathy for others and no attempt to mirror or unite with a common awareness. Conversely, dance of a spiritual nature involves complete awareness, resembling a verbal language with vocabulary (dance movements) and grammar (system for combining movements) where each moment becomes a supreme expression of mind/body/spirit Unity.

Karen Pechelis states that the word Bhakti should not be understood as uncritical emotion, but as committed engagement. She adds that, in the concept of Bhakti in Hinduism, the engagement involves a simultaneous tension between emotion and intellection, “emotion to reaffirm the social context and temporal freedom, intellection to ground the experience in a thoughtful, conscious approach”.

~Karen Pechelis (2014), The Embodiment of Bhakti, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195351903, page 3

In any form of meditation the way involves awareness. Meditation is not mindlessness; it’s not emptiness, save that we empty ourselves of the extraneous. We fill our spirit with our Creator. We express our devotion through our bodies, our minds and emotions and we realize the bliss that is the perpetual state of the Supreme. Ecstatic dance becomes a spontaneous expression with a singular platform: Complete, joyful, blissful, unifying awareness.

Consider also the output. When we dance we create vibrations. Just as with everything else, the ‘quality’ of our vibration is our own. Do we wreak havoc in the mosh-pit bringing chaos to the universe? Or do we create beauty and joy by our physical expressions, dedicating them devotionally to the whole? What do we contribute by our dance?

We are Musical Instruments!

Dance is as music is. Each is a language. Each can only be an individual expression (even in a group setting). Each is sublime. When we combine song and dance we open ourselves further to a greater unifying principle. Dance is the letting go of inhibitions so we can more fully express our gratitude, our joy and our freedom.

There’s a fun little saying and it goes like this: ‘When we are old enough to talk, we are old enough to sing. When we are old enough to walk, we are old enough to dance.’

Bring your best dance (and your voice)… and a friend to Kirtan on Thursday nights at 8:30pm. We are made to dance and sing.

Additional reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychology_of_dance

Check the schedule here for Kirtan, Meditation, Mindfulness and Pranayama classes.

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Invocation: Call it Forth

Take invocation to a higher level. If we want something in our world…

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Take invocation to a higher level. If we want something in our world, our lives, we must become what we want.

What is an invocation? What does it mean: to invoke? All spiritual traditions have invocation in their practices. How can the act of invocation deepen our spiritual practice and bring more joy and happiness into our lives?

As a Kirtan practitioner we recite, invoke the divine names, set to music. Through this invocation practice we replace the clutter of random mind chatter with a singular thought, a divine thought. We bring our attention and concentration to that thought. Yet at this level of invocation there is still a sense of separation between us and that which we are invoking. The next step is an actual merging with that divinity. We become that. Like a drop of rain falling into the ocean of singularity, we are our invocation. This type of becoming is central to deepening our practices and also in actually manifesting what we want in our lives.

If we want more love… practical applications:

If we want more love in our lives, we must first become more loving. We must manifest that desired quality from within. We must show more love to ourselves… first. If we want more peace in our lives, we must first find more peace in ourselves. If we want more affection, we must become more affectionate… first. It really doesn’t work the other way around. It can’t be demanded. These divine ‘heart qualities’ do not come from outside of us. We can’t buy them. They are within our hearts and are longing to come forth. Invoke them.

“…In My Name.”

In the Bible, Jesus uses the expression, “…in My Name,” many times. Pray in My Name. Gather in My Name, etc. What does He mean by that expression? I believe He means for us to invoke His spirit and become as He became.

The dictionary defines invocation as a calling upon of some agent for assistance. We can expand that definition more spiritually by saying that an invocation is to seek greater connection to the divine: to become One, to merge.

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What would Jesus do?

(This phrase has been used rather commercially by Christian variants but the underlying essence of the question is sound.)

I often ask myself this contemplative, self-reflective question. It helps me to deepen my awareness.

How would Jesus pray or meditate if He were I, in my given situation? Consider this! What would be his thoughts were my immediate circumstances His? I challenge myself to pray as if I am Jesus. I try to meditate with His knowledge, His understanding, His discernment, His compassion and love, His closeness… I pray as I feel He would pray. I try to absorb His perspective. This is what I believe is meant by His expression, “…in My Name.” I invoke the spirit of Jesus to guide me in my meditation of becoming. I try to become Christ-like.

So, when we invoke, the ideal is to become that which we invoke. We can invoke the Supreme or an aspect thereof. We become a divine trait.

Wikipedia categorizes invocation with ‘Self-identification,’ “…the taking on of the qualities being invoked.” Webster’s defines it like empathy; “The feeling that you share and understand the problems or experiences of someone else,” in our case, the Divine. Self-realization might be a more familiar term.

Invocation is also described as a form of possession, where (perhaps) psychologically one’s personality is replaced with that which is invoked. I like to think of this more as a merging, a union, rather than a replacing. Nothing can be replaced, where one thing no longer exists. We transform into our invocation. We reunite with the Whole.

Invocation calls up from within ones-self that which is already there, veiled as it were, the subject of our invocation. Our meditations are designed to thin or strip away the veils of maya, forgetfulness, our delusions so that we can develop a rapport with our invocation, or perhaps ultimately an oneness, a lasting Oneness… we become One in the Name.

We can take our meditations another leap forward by becoming the nature of our invocations.

Happy meditating!

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Devotion and our Existence

When we meditate, when we chant Kirtans, one of the things we are doing is expressing our devotion…

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When we meditate, when we chant Kirtans, one of the things we are doing is expressing our devotion to our Creator. Devotion might be the supreme aspect of our meditation practice. There’s a longing. We want to experience our existence fully. We work towards a Oneness. We strive devotedly, lovingly, longingly to be nearer to our Creator.

Creator is an ineffable concept. So each of us will consider the concept in our own way. But just like a parent/child relationship, we have a child relationship to that Creator. And we want that relationship, even if we don’t realize it. We want that love. We long for it.

Devote yourself to your practice

As I have said before, I practice (meditate) first thing in the morning. In my first waking moments my thoughts are of my practice. I’m drawn to it. I want that closeness; I build and nurture that relationship out of love for my life, my experience and my place in the grander scheme. I devote my practice to my loving Parent. I give thanks. I grow love.

Life is a miracle!

Devotion to this concept is perhaps only possible when we set aside our limited physical selves and recognize our relationship in the bigger picture. We are a part of Creation. We are able to view the past and see into the future more precisely than at any time in recorded history. And yet we often feel an emptiness with this greater knowledge. It seems that the deeper we explore our physicality, the further we move away from our true source.

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Consider sitting quietly with your beloved, just holding each other. No other intentions or activities; just BEING together, becoming as one. Consider wanting that closeness daily, being fully in love, without reservation, without expectation, without condition, completely absorbed in the devotion. Now, consider that relationship experience with your beloved Creator. We have to make this happen. We must sit together, wrapped in each-others arms… Our separateness conditioning continually turns our attentions away from our true oneness-self. Devotion, love takes resolve. It requires practice. It’s easy to be separate…

Uncertainty?

Consider the very nature of the universe.

There is a concept in physics called the ‘uncertainty principle.’ Simply put, it means that when you observe something in motion (everything is in motion), the more closely you observe the objects position, the less you will know about the objects speed and visa versa. But you can never know exactly both.

The science behind the concept is deep and permeates the entirety of physics. Philosophically speaking, the idea can relate to our concept of duality. Despite the advance of our instruments and our ability to closely observe, we still have no cut and dry explanation of the nature of our universe or why we are in it. There is an uncertainty. It might be said that the universe both is and isn’t. It seems to me that the more closely we observe the universe, rather than disproving Creator, Creator simply gets bigger. Love grows!

Uniting the dual qualities is a fantastic spiritual (and mental) challenge. On a physical science basis I will never understand the math. But I can relate to the concept. We are separate from AND also connected to our Creator. Devote yourself to the recognition of this miracle-Oneness. Devote yourself to your practice. Develop certainty.

Check the schedule for Meditation, Kirtan, Mindfulness and Pranayama classes offered each week at Pilgrimage of the Heart.

Join me at Kirtan on Thursday’s at 8:30pm

Tom

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The Master Key

It’s not often that someone says, “Here is The Master Key.” In fact…

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It’s not often that someone says, “Here is The Master Key.” In fact, ninety-nine times out of a hundred it might be regarded as a fool’s statement, akin to claiming enlightenment. It seems ridiculous that someone might have the Master Key to the ineffable.

I found such a claim to The Master Key

It comes from what I consider to be a reliable and well-considered source, Manly P. Hall.

Our task as yogis, as humans, is to put effort into mindful consideration. We meditate. We slow our busy, frantic activities in our outer world and delve into our inner world. We seek our place in the universe. As we progress, we recognize the concepts of Unity and diversity of Principles and particulars, of Generals and personalities. And this is key: we begin to realize that men come and go, live and die… but Man, the Principle continue in the universe and even beyond, by evidence of Man’s presence here and now as a part of eternity. Eternity is wholeness. We always were and we always will be.

Mistaking particulars as Principles

We have great tendency to equate or elevate particulars to the status of Principles, a fallacy. Religion is an obvious example. Each claims supremacy over the others and yet each teaches the same thing. St. Paul understood it perfectly: “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect (Unity) is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.” (I Cor. XIII: 9-10) The Christian church would have that ultimate unification of mankind under it’s own banner, unmindful that it is itself a particular, and can only be sustained until “that which is perfect is come.” Unity, Wholeness is without parts.

Manly P. Hall

What is the Master Key, then?

The key is the aligning of our consciousness, by establishing our mind in wholes, in unities, rather than particulars. This is The Master Key!

“…the establishment of the mind in wholes (unities) is essential to right thinking, and is the master key to the rational cognizance of the order and sequence of parts…” — Manly P. Hall

As long as man considers himself an individual, he is mortal. The key is the mindful consideration of Unity.

Excerpted quotations from the volume, Lectures on Ancient Philosophy, Chapter 12, by Manly P. Hall.

I highly recommend the above book and also Hall’s marvelous volume, The Secret Teachings of All Ages, published by The Philosophical Research Society, Los Angeles.

Check the schedule for times and locations of meditation, philosophy, mindfulness, pranayama and Kirtan at Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga.

 

 

 

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Meditate on Geologic Time

When we consider the idea of time we usually think of moments. We think of short intervals. We look ahead a few minutes, an hour, a day…

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When we consider the idea of time we usually think of moments. We think of short intervals. We look ahead a few minutes, an hour, a day… Seldom do we consider the idea of eternity, infinity, geologic time.

Geologic time encompasses billions, perhaps trillions of years. Our universe began about fourteen billion years ago. It began! What was going on before it began? Theoretically, millions of universes have popped in and out of existence in what might be considered ‘moments’ in the grand scheme of eternity. So, fourteen billion years is a short period of manifestation considering the eternal nature of space. How does geologic time relate to us? What does it mean considering our brief period of ‘existence’?

Making Sense

To me, one of the greatest ideas concerning our universe stems from Einstein’s relativity theories. He discusses the idea of singularity. Everything about our manifest universe began from a point of Unity. This, to me is very significant in that it means the energy that coalesced in each of us began at that moment, the bang. Everything, that is, began together, in that moment.

I developed a mantra to meditate on about this idea: “Because I am a part of the Universe, by the definition of Unity, I always have been and always will be a part of this universe.”

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Food for Meditation

Geologic time is fascinating to me. Consider that human civilizations have only been around a mere few thousand years by most reckoning; maybe ten thousand years at best. That’s just a blip in the grand scheme of things. But the energy that is manifest in you and me began at the bang. We’ve all transitioned through geologic time from the beginning. An atom of hydrogen from the center of some ancient, burned out sun could be the spark that awoke the consciousness in you. Thinking even further back, consider the bang. Einstein posits that the universe started as a singularity. Do we exist within an expanding black hole? And since we are expanding, what are we expanding into? Timeless, eternal, undifferentiated space?

Finding Peace

Geologic time keeps me company when I consider the trivialities we tend to focus on. It reminds me of what is really important. It enables me to expand my focus and see the big picture (pun). I find peace in this idea of eternity. It points to both the importance and the insignificance of moments. As I have said before, the only thing that truly matters in the entire universe is what is writ on our own personal ledgers. Our ledgers are eternal. Are our entries written in black, or red, or do we write in the purity of light? Fifty thousand years from now, a million years… a billion… trillion… everything will have transitioned, nothing will have mattered… except to you, your spirit, your spark.

Ouroboros

In Kirtan, as in our yoga practices here at Pilgrimage of the Heart, we begin and end by chanting the syllable, OM. Throughout the ages OM has been regarded as the universal vibration, permeating through everything; the vibration by which all other vibrations emanate. This has been substantiated by the discovery in the 50’s of the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation. It was discovered that this radiation is found in every corner of the observable universe, with no apparent source and it began literally at the Big Bang. The universe is an eternal chant and when we participate we align ourselves with its eternal spark. We glimpse eternity and perhaps are illuminated as to our one, universal task.

Consider geologic time. It’s an avenue of becoming.

Pilgrimage of the Heart offers several meditation classes, Pranayama (breath practice) and Kirtan (chanting/meditation set to music) each week. Check the schedule for days and times.

Namaste, my friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Foundation is Breath and Heart

Let’s develop breath/heart awareness!…

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With each and every breath I live on my heart’s God-altar.” — Sri Chinmoy

 

Let’s develop breath/heart awareness!

We take fore granted this thing called breath. We inhale and exhale a substance called air. The mechanics of this breath process are almost entirely autonomic: controlled by the subconscious. In fact, until we slow down, stop and direct our awareness directly at our breath, we don’t even know we are doing it.

Here is an exercise that helps focus our awareness, our consciousness, on our breath and heart. You don’t have to be a yogi for this to work for you. Very briefly:

As you sit, bring your attention to your breath. Notice yourself breathing. Let your body breath… FEEL it. Then, consciously slow your breath down a bit: Breathe a little more deeply, exhale a little more fully, don’t strain… take control of your breath process. Direct your consciousness, your awareness on your breath. Stay focused. Stay steady.

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Then when you are ready, inhale nicely and hold your breath… don’t strain, try and feel your heartbeat. You might have to do this a few times. Once you get a feel for your heartbeat by holding your breath, begin your controlled breathing again as you continue to feel your pulse. Feel both. Stay focused!

As you continue to breathe, feel your pulse. Notice that you can feel it radiating out from your heart to your extremities. Feel your pulse in your belly, under your arms, in your hands, your legs, your feet. Then feel your pulse down to the cellular level. Every cell, every corpuscle pulsates. Feel it!

This technique is useful in all of the above practices. I wrote about it very briefly. Take your time. Slow down. To feel this subtle process requires stillness… and repetition. Inevitably, you will be able to feel the link between heart and breath, continuously. Have patience, my friends and practice.

Pilgrimage of the Heart offers Pranayama with Lauren, Mindfulness with Joe, Meditation with Sujantra, Papaha and Astika and Kirtan (chanting) with Tom, Sujantra, Sita Rose and ‘Fast Heart Mart’ every week. Check the schedule for times and dates.

Happiness, one and all!

Tom

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Yoga Sutras – Om

When I meditate I always begin and end my practice by chanting Om…

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When I meditate I always begin and end my practice by chanting Om. It’s like stepping through a portal. I usually chant it several times until I really feel a strong connection/punctuation… I chant it externally. Then I chant it internally. The vibration in my throat stops but the vibration in my heart-universe continues.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, expounded upon by Swami Vivekananda (also see) in his book, Raja-Yoga, particularly addresses the use of the syllable Om in aphorism 27 (The word that manifests Him is Om.) and 28 (The repetition of this (Om) and meditating on its meaning [is the way]).

Tom on Harmonium

What is God’s name?

I find it interesting that try as we might, it is impossible to put a definitive name to ‘God.’ Every thought in the mind has a corresponding word, a symbol. Thought and word are inseparable. If the symbol (word) corresponds to the thing signified then we are assured that there is a valid relationship: the symbol can then conger the thought. However, many symbols, many words can represent the same thought.

Vivekananda posits that there might be hundreds of words for ‘God’ across the globe. But there must be some underlying generalization that can be distilled from all these names. There must be some common ground in all these names. That common name would then best represent them all.

Patanjali suggests the common ground is Om.

Notice a variety of ‘God’-names: God, Yahweh, Jehovah, Allah, Brahma, Shiva, Buddha… notice that each name contains the syllable, ‘Ah,’ closely corresponding to the first part of the pronunciation of the syllable Om (or AUM, Ahh-Ooo-Mmm). Speculating that someone from England might not recognize the Pakistani or Japanese word for ‘God,’ for example, never-the-less both might be familiar with Om and would recognize the underlying thought. It’s interesting to note that many ‘God’-names are preceded by adjectives to qualify them, like Personal God, Absolute God, Christian God, etc., limiters. Yet Om requires no qualifiers, having around it all significances.

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Repetition of Om and Meditation on its Meaning

Whether vocalized or silent, repetition of Om creates vibrational energy in our bodies, minds and in the universe. As we have already determined Om to be divine, Vivekananda equates chanting Om to be, “…keeping good company with the mind.” And he suggest that, “One moment of company with the holy builds a ship to cross this ocean of life: such is the power of association.” So we repeat Om and meditate on its meaning. Om is the foundational expression for ‘God’ in this context. It is an utterance without qualification. The more it is repeated, the more it is considered, the greater the association and, “Thus light will come to you; the Self will become manifest.”

Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda (Image via Wikipedia)

Vivekananda really pushes the idea of keeping good company, specifically, good company with the purity of ‘God’ by virtue of repetition and meditation. We all have the old scars and wounds. We each have within us the potential for the greatest good or the greatest evil. Keeping evil company (thought, word, deed, associations, etc.) is like picking an open wound. It will manifest as a festering lesion. Repetition and meditation on the meaning of Om will bring to the surface those perhaps latent good impressions and qualities and build a strong foundation for introspection and the destruction of obstacles, those negative qualities which hinder our spiritual growth.

Chanting Om is as foundational as is breath. Ujjayi breathing is simply chanting Om using only the breath, foregoing vibrating the vocal chords.

When I first began my yoga life I truly thought the breath work was kind of trivial and silly; such a simple, almost inconsequential thing. I really didn’t see any real practicality about it. Most studios I frequented rarely chanted Om at the beginning and ending of a class. It was only that I was a singer that it finally dawned on me that breath control was so vital a part of the practice. My ‘home’ studio, Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga Studio in San Diego, CA (my  employer) has always chanted Om at the beginning and ending of each class, one of several practices that endeared me to the studio.

Make the practice of chanting Om a daily endeavor.

Consider it’s meaning. Om is the unqualified expression of the divine. Let it spring forth from your heart as the first, the only and the last vibration… Be Om.

 

 

Featured image by MAMJODH, license.

 

 

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Kirtan as Meditation

Kirtan is a singing, chanting practice that is part of the Bhakti* (devotion to your creator) tradition in yoga. While it might appear on the surface…

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Kirtan is a singing, chanting practice that is part of the Bhakti* (devotion to your creator) tradition in yoga. While it might appear on the surface that it is an entertainment, the reality is that Kirtan is a profound meditation practice.

Meditation is often thought of as the elimination of thought from the consciousness. True enough, if not an oversimplification, but a difficult task. Sometimes it’s easier to replace the random, spontaneous thoughts with a single, repetitive thought that has meaning and loft, and to concentrate and focus on that, assisting stillness, resting on a single thought.

 Tablas
 

The Mantra:  Mantra means ‘Mind Tool’

Kirtan uses mantra, simple (not always), repetitive devotional phrases which the practitioner swaps with the random spontaneous thoughts streaming from the mind. The mind takes up the mantra and its meaning, or at least its implication and becomes a center of Self-awareness. We work on that divine inner place that we know is there but that we cannot touch. The mantra is repeated over and over until it becomes something like a background object, there reminding you of your particular quest. A single syllable or phrase, a long, involved invocation; to chant is enough. This is the basics, except for one thing. One should cultivate a supreme purity about this practice. It is nothing less than a celebration of life, creation, existence and a personal expression of heart-centered gratitude for your existence.

Kirtan turns what would ordinarily be a solitary, personal offering into a musical celebration among friends. People gather and chant together. Musical instruments are played. A Kirtan leader sings the chant and the participating audience sings it back in response, over and over… It creates a sort of rapture. It entrains vibrational energies. It becomes bigger than the sum of its parts. You realize that your participation was essential to that event. It couldn’t have happened the way it did without your (and everyone else’s) being there… Being present. It really can be extraordinarily profound.

 Pilgrimage of the Heart Kirtan Band
 

A solitary, personal offering:

To chant is the object. Our personal, heart offering is the object. The mantra guides, focuses your inner path, either by meaning or by melody/rhythm. It keeps us attuned, sharp, aware. It is a drishti, a center, which holds us to our path. It’s a technique that enables us to explore by choice. The moment you start to chant, your practice begins. One begets the other. It requires no one but you.

And yet, we gather for Kirtan with like-minded (and the curious) folks with the intention to participate in each other’s experience. Our personal experience both radiates and absorbs energy. It becomes a oneness of individual AND a oneness of multitude. As your practice grows it becomes a part of your makeup. You look forward to the mantra, the Kirtan. You realize that your voice has meaning and that it’s worth sharing. You become part of a community. Kirtan is a place of being. It becomes a group home.

 Kirtan Collage

A Universal offering:

Kirtan comes from the east, from India. But it was never intended to be exclusively Hindu or Buddhist. All faith-based systems have both singing and invocation in their traditions. Singing, music and devotion to creation are universal expressions. They span all traditions.

Pilgrimage of the Heart hosts Kirtan every Thursday evening at 8:30pm in the East Room. No experience necessary. Free and open to all.

 

* For further reading about Bhakti see Sir Edwin Arnold’s Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 8. This is the most beautiful translation of the Gita I know of. It is said that Ghandi carried this translation with him for the majority of his life. Read this book!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Finding Peace

So much of our time is spent being distracted from peace. We are constantly bombarded by input. We have ‘busy’ lives, or so we say, and our minds are constantly…

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We need to find peace!

So much of our time is spent being distracted from peace. We are constantly bombarded by input. We have ‘busy’ lives, or so we say, and our minds are constantly in flux. Sometimes our minds are so in flux that we mistake busy for simple, mental chaos. And let’s not forget our relationships. Our relations demand our attention. Our relations demand our time. We really find little time for ourselves. Then there’s sleep. We fall into bed dog tired without even a simple moment of prayer. The link above lists ten ways to discover inner peace. Good words.

There’s no time for peace?

 

Make the time!

I’ve written several essays about creating a meditation space. Meditation requires your presence. It requires you to be somewhere. Unless you have been meditating for years and have established a ‘perpetual,’ meditation mindset, then it’s best to have a personal space where you can peacefully seclude yourself and remain undistracted. It’s so important to be able to disconnect from the outer, ever changing mind/world. Your meditation space will become a desired place of peace, stillness and refuge (as your practice deepens). You will want to be there.

Finding Peace

 

I Need Motivation!

Make setting up your meditation space a mini-project. Enjoy it. Anticipate it. Go on a quest. Find meaningful artifacts to populate your meditation space. Consider the work you will be doing in your space while you are setting it up. Begin to think of the sacredness of this endeavor. Start the growth process. Make creating your space personal and meaningful.

 

New to Meditation?

Make meditation an adventure. Forget about the mystic behind meditation. It’s just a tool. What’s important is that you slowly build a simple, evolving, poignant practice. Think about peace. Think about calm. Think about centeredness. Think about your internal qualities. These are desired results. Consider them and their impact on your future (we still haven’t started meditation yet).

 

Make your meditation practice simple.

Your practice should be an easy event. It should not be tedious or inconvenient. It need not take too much time. Ten minutes every day is much more effective that one hour a week. In fact, a one-hour per week practice likely won’t work. You’ll quit, because it’s too long and is not routine. I’ve found (through years of personal experience) that ten minutes, first thing in the morning works very well. You are there. You are ready to begin the blessings of a new day. And the rigors of sensory input hasn’t reared its head yet.

Finding Peace

 

Time to practice:

Sit down. Get comfortable. Take some comfortable, deep breaths. Focus your awareness on your breath. Breath awareness is initially challenging because we are not used to it. Our bodies breathe themselves. So, focus your awareness. Controlled, slow breathing is the center of your practice. As your focus shifts from external input to internal breath awareness your mind becomes calm and tranquil, peace starts to manifest. Slow the breath. Notice how the breath slows in response.

 

More breathe work. Feel your Heart:

Try this. Take a fairly deep inhale and hold your breath. Feel your heart beating. It may take two or three attempts. Once you feel your heart beating, gently return to your slow, steady breathing while keeping the awareness of your heart beating. Then, expand your heart awareness so you can feel your heart pulse radiating outwards to your arms and hands, your tummy, your legs and feet… even to every cell and corpuscle. Make heart awareness your priority. Become inspired by your heart.

These two techniques are the start of something magnificent!

These two simple awarenesses are the beginning of a meditation practice centered around peace. Peace is already there within you. Your practice is about rediscovery! It’s about awakening. Turn your attention from external mental noise to the calm, internal peace of breath/heart awareness. It’s that simple. If your mind wanders, take a peaceful breath and return to your heart. This is the beginning.

A few minutes each day is all it takes. In a short amount of time you will find ease in your growing practice and a new peace that has been trapped within by a chaotic mind/world.

Peace is not an external object that we can possess. It is already within us, waiting to be rediscovered.

“Begin where you are.” —B.K.S. Iyengar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Meditation – Building Your Home Practice

The importance of a home meditation practice and how to successfully establish one for yourSelf. Practicing meditation might just be…

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The importance of a home meditation practice and how to successfully establish one for yourSelf.

Practicing meditation might just be the best thing you can do for yourself! We’re so busy every moment of every day that we spend no time on Self-realization. Meditation is a practice where we consider the nature of our existence. Through this exercise we take stock of our life. It’s a practice of Self-awareness and Self-growth. We discover that there is more to life that just existing. We discover how to live. We discover Truth… inner Truth, outer Truth. We improve ourSelves.

PYO

Let’s face it. When we’re by ourselves it’s easy to be lazy. We can rationalize any excuse to avoid and procrastinate (substituting low-priority endeavors for high-priority endeavors.)…  no ‘task’ is too big or small that it can’t wait until tomorrow.  And that’s part of the problem; we tend to look at meditation as a TASK. And avoiding tasks can easily become habitual.

It’s important that we reassess our perception of meditation early on. How we establish our practice initially is vital to its longevity. We want to create an anticipation about our practice so we are drawn to it. It’s important to look forward to your meditation practice! It can’t be tedious. If it becomes tedious you’ll skip it. So it’s important to establish a TIME during the day that works within your schedule. That time is set aside for your meditation practice every day.

Buddha

I recommend that you keep your regular, daily meditation short. Ten minutes is a good DAILY practice. If you want to go on a marathon meditation adventure once in a while, go for it. But your regular, daily practice should be short and sweet, an easy routine.

I practice in the morning, first thing. I get out of bed, take care of my body, make a cup and go sit down for ten minutes. It’s entirely routine. I look forward to it. It’s easy. It’s a good way for me to start my day, centering, aligning, grounding, sharpening my focus, building greater awareness. And from a practical point of view, I’m not so busy and engaged in my day yet that I can willfully avoid my practice.

Make sure your family or roommates understand that for your 10 minutes or so you are UNAVAILABLE! If you want to meditate as a family, that’s fine. But otherwise, this is your private time. Do not disturb! No kids, no spouse, no phone, no doorbell…

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Create a Mediation Space

Create a meditation space. Establish a comfortable seat. Set up a little altar or shrine. Populate it with meaningful reminders that resonate with you. Pictures, plants, candles, statuary… it doesn’t matter what it is, necessarily. What matters is that they remind you of what you are doing there. Meditation. Devotion. Outpouring. Contemplation… And then keep your space pure. Keep it tidy. Don’t leave your coffee cup on your shrine. Straighten it up once in a while. Add new things. Let it grow with your practice. Keep it sacred.

Lastly, understand that change is inevitable. Our shrines are just tools, like meditation itself. Avoid becoming too attached to the tool. We may move, so a new shrine is in order. A while back I moved six times in three years. I reestablished a new shrine at each new location. Every shrine was different depending on space and environment. What was enduring was that I immediately created a space where I could continue my practice. It might be all too easy to have just let it slide. The first thing I do is establish a meditation space.

It doesn’t take long to establish a routine. You just have to DO IT. Once you are established you will look forward to it. SELF discovery is exciting! Practice Self-discovery daily.

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You’ll be amazed what you will find!

One last thing: If you are brand new to mediation, find a guided meditation class offered at a local yoga studio or spiritual center. Participating in a few of these offerings will help you develop a meditation routine for yourself. You’ll learn the philosophy of meditation and gain some insights about basic meditation techniques that might work for you. Then, ‘cut and paste’ to create a routine for yourself. And remember, your practice will change and evolve as you grow.

Be open to change. It’s inevitable.

 

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The Gayatri Mantra – An Ancient Mantra

The Gayatri Mantra is one of the most ancient and revered mantras in existence…

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The Gayatri Mantra is one of the most ancient and revered mantras in existence.

Om bhur bhuvah svah

Tat Savitur varen(i)yam

Bhargo devasya dhimahi

Dhiyo yo nah prachodayat

 

I lead a weekly Kirtan practice at Pilgrimage of the Heart yoga studio in San Diego. We’ve been practicing as a community for over five years and the Gayatri Mantra has become one of our staple chants.

As a Kirtan leader I enjoy exploring the deep meanings of the chants, which allows me to enter more deeply into the spirit and intent behind these beautiful utterances.

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The Gayatri Mantra first appeared in the Rig Veda, which was written in Sanskrit about 2500 to 3500 years ago. It is said that the sage Vishwamitra was given the Gayatri Mantra by the Supreme Being for his many years of reverence and meditation, to be shared with all humanity, so there is considered no earthly author.

It has also been said that Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha himself recited this mantra. (See The Light of Asia – Arnold, Book the First, page 7, Routledge)

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Chanted through the Ages…

The Gayatri Mantra has been chanted by trillions of people over the course of eons. Quite literally it is likely sung by a billion people every day, even today.

There is a wealth of commentary and opinion as to good translations of the chant. Googling Gayatri Mantra will generate numerous interpretations. The basic gist follows:

The word Gayatri refers to the meter of the verse. The mantra consists of three lines of eight syllables each. But wait. There are four lines! That’s because the first line isn’t actually a part of the mantra itself. Its a prefix.

The Great Utterance.

The first line is a mantra unto itself and is known as, “The Great (spiritual) Utterance” (mahāvyāhṛti).

It precedes many other mantras, is used universally or can be recited by itself. It is a great aligning and centering phrase and can be interpreted as aligning oneself to the earth, heavens and what lies beyond… Or, aligning with the material world, the world of mind and with the supreme spirit… The important idea is the alignment of one’s Self with the purest Unity.

The meaning…

The mantra itself begins with the word, ‘Tat’ which means ‘That’ and refers to the Supreme that defies any earthly description…

Savitur means Sun, but not the physical sun. More like the divine light of knowledge and discernment, the animating impetus for everything.

Varen(i)yam means adoration.

Next line: Bhargo Devasya Dheemahi means contemplation of the Divine, Illuminated Grace.

Last Line: Dhiyo Yo Nah Prachodayat means loosely, whose divine intellect/illumination our prayers/meditations are for/about…

As a leader of a kirtan practice, I found the original meter (three lines of eight syllables) to be somewhat cumbersome to arrange musically/lyrically for western interpretation. So, I broke from the original meter and formed lines as follows:

Om bhur bhuvah svah

Tat Savitur varen(i)yam

Bhargo devasya

Dhimahi dhiyo yo

Nah prachodayat

 

This arrangement allows for a chant that musically simple and beautiful, and easy to play and sing.

Here’s our version and a link to another version with the classic meter:

Our arrangement: Pilgrimage of the Heart Kirtan band

Classic arrangement: This is a beautiful version by Deva Premal.

It actually maintains the classic meter while running each ‘measure’

as 5 – 6 – 6 – 7 beats per line. Beautiful, but challenging for most to follow and sing with.

 

A must have…

What is important is that the mantra be chanted with the utmost of pure intentions and an appreciation for the profound implications of the scope of this chant. It is an outpouring of one’s heart to the Supreme and a recognition of the Divine Grace bestowed upon all creation and beyond.

If you have a chanting practice, The Gayatri Mantra is a ‘must have’ in your repertories.

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Family: The 1st Step to Union

Family is everything…? We’ve heard this before. The most important thing is family. We have probably said it ourselves…

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Family is everything…?

We’ve heard this before. The most important thing is family. We have probably said it ourselves. And don’t get me wrong. I agree. But let’s take a look at this idea from a philosophical perspective.

In his book, Lectures on Ancient Philosophy, (Philosophical Research Society) chapter 5, Manly P. Hall (March 18, 1901 – August 29, 1990), an extraordinary researcher, sage, mystic, philosopher and commentator of comparative religion writes that the inclusion of the family in a person’s life and circle is ‘the first step’ upward in realization from a state of abject barbarism. In other words, as a soul begins to perceive something other that its self, something bigger than self, the first thing to be included and considered is family.

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A Widening Perspective

Let’s be clear. It’s the first step upward. And it’s an important first step! It signifies a new, widening perspective, a deepening of consciousness, an unfolding of awareness and at least a tiny cognition of the annihilation of separateness.

As awareness grows other people get included within our sphere… friends, nation, race, world, planet, universe, beyond… more and greater inclusion until the sense of ‘Oneness’ becomes the all encompassing. It becomes clear that the only real reality is Unity, Yoga. Instead of being controlled by diversity, we become masters of diversity. We transcend individual concerns.

A False Sense of Separation

Our false sense of separation is why we continue to violate our families. We lie, cheat, brutalize, abuse, neglect, abandon… why we cheat the world and lavish our ill gotten gains on our families, with the expectation that we will be praised for being a good provider… not all of us… but a good many… It’s because the inclusion of family is pretty low on the scale of ascending realization. Over half of all families break up, after all.

Pretty grim truth. But don’t fret! Awareness of the reality of truth is important. Each step of inclusion into our worlds decreases the differences we perceive in others. And it also strengthens the lower rungs, too, building compassion and acceptance, making better families, better friends, better communities, better world, better universe… better you!

Thinking Like a Neanderthal

So when we think to our selves, “I’m going to do this for my family and screw everyone else…”, we’re thinking like a Neanderthal. Good families make sacrifices and reach out all the time to help friends, strangers, communities, the world… Transcend separateness. We are One.

Manly P. HallI am a big fan of Manly P. Hall. I highly recommend his books, The Secret Teaching of All Ages and the companion book, Lectures on Ancient Philosophy. Both of these are fantastic primers for anyone looking for timeless interpretations of the history of thought. They are comprehensive and thorough, leaving no stone unturned, and can stand alone as texts or are great food for further research. Both are available in paperback. I would highly recommend the coffee table sized hardbound of The Secret Teachings of All Ages, a masterpiece in and of itself and a source you will pass on to your grandchildren. You may have to visit an old fashioned bookstore to find a copy. Pay the money! It’s worth every penny.

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You only use 10% of your brain?

First of all, as stated above, it’s a bit misleading. The brain is a continuously active, living organ that is always functioning, always on…

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First of all, as stated above, it’s a bit misleading. The brain is a continuously active, living organ that is always functioning, always on and no area of the brain is ever off or unchanging. There may be heightened or lessened periods of regional activity, but the brain, in any event is always 100% on and in use.

In my opinion, the critical point that is being missed in this concept is that we only use about 10% of our brain’s functioning capacity for maintaining a state of consciousness.

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And that begs consideration, don’t you think?

The brain and its extensions controls everything about the body. Most functions are autonomic, operating in the background, constantly maintaining peak bodily operation. Other parts are used for our sub-conscious dealings, sensory inputs and sorting, habits, emotions, memory, plans; again, mostly automatic. These two make up over 90% of all brain activity.

The roughly 10% is the part that we use for our awareness, our perceptions, our mindfulness, our discernment. It’s the part that recognizes Itself. It’s the part that senses a bigger picture. It’s the part that remembers the spark within. And I am of the belief that we can, in fact, use more than 10% of our brain functioning for our consciousness.

This is what yoga teaches. This is what meditation teaches.

To become more aware!

We accomplish this by concentrating our will to direct more brain activity to our state of consciousness.

At some point, the barbarian recognizes that they are part of something bigger than themselves.

1%

Then they include someone else in their sphere, as a, ‘Second self’ (spouse, children).

2%

Then they bring the ’stranger at the gate’ into their inclusiveness. (friends)

3%…

The percentage of our brain activity used for Self-awareness grows and builds. Our brain wrangles functional capacity for consciousness and awareness. Our perception sphere expands. More and more brain activity is applied toward questioning, contemplation, introspection. And as consciousness enfolds, eventually, inevitably everything becomes our inclusion sphere. We expand our perception beyond everything… beyond the universe… to perhaps repose with the ‘Supreme.’

Yoga and meditation are tools that build awareness. Yoga and meditation help develop our ability to use more of our brain activity for consciousness more often and for longer periods of time. And when we exercise our consciousness, our awareness, we are building New Neural Pathways by which we are better able to perceive this new, heightened consciousness.

What does all this mean?

You have the ability to use your will to concentrate your consciousness, your Self-awareness. With practice you can move beyond 10% and use more of your brain functioning for continuous mindfulness. Slowly, steadily, with practice, your universe opens.

Let’s try for 20%.

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Kirtan and Health

The numbers are astounding! – Singing, especially choral singing is one of the easiest and best things you can do for your health…

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The numbers are astounding!

Singing, especially choral singing is one of the easiest and best things you can do for your health and well-being.

“Group singing is cheaper than therapy, healthier than drinking, and certainly more fun than working out. It is the one thing in life where feeling better is pretty much guaranteed.”

I know this from experience. I’ve lead a weekly kirtan, a chanting and meditation practice, for over five years. At the end of the evening I am exhilarated. I feel good. I’m happy and at peace.

“Group singing, for those who have done it, is the most exhilarating and transformative of all.

“It takes something incredibly intimate, a sound that begins inside you, shares it with a roomful of people and it comes back as something even more thrilling: harmony.”

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Our Breaths and Hearts

When we sing our breaths and hearts come together, a process called entrainment. Vibrations sync up. And studies further suggest that group singing can be extremely beneficial for older folks who don’t exercise regularly.

“Deep breathing is a key to meditation and other relaxation techniques…”

A  Form of Pranayama

I’ve often described singing as a form of pranayama. Think about it. Precisely controlled breathing. Inhale a measured volume of air, pause, regulate and pressurize, exhale in a very conscious manner to produce a specific sound, continuing to refine the exhale to control and improve the sound or change notes… Repeat. All together, now…

Great for Everyone

A kirtan is great for anyone to find a safe, welcoming and easy place to find your voice. No auditions are required. No one cares what you sound like. And in fact, the benefits of singing are available even to the most average singers (of which I am one). Find a kirtan. Find your voice. Enliven your heart.

We’re here for you!

Join Us Live or Live Stream

The reality is, when you join in choral singing you become an integral component of something you can’t create by yourself. You recognize and appreciate both the necessity and the offerings of those around you. You become part of a larger whole, a community of ONE.

The Pilgrimage of the Heart Kirtan Band plays every Thursday evening at 8:15pm (Pacific) for FREE and streams the event LIVE. Join us in person if you are in San Diego. Download Stre.am (free app) on your mobile device and search for pilgrimagekirtan to connect with us worldwide.

 

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Kirtan for Weight Loss?

Kirtan for Weight loss! Wait, what… Really? If we’re talking about the ‘Weight of the World.’ Kirtan can help with that! Kirtan is a place…

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Kirtan for Weight loss! Wait, what… Really?

If we’re talking about the ‘Weight of the World.’

Kirtan can help with that! Kirtan is a place where the weight of the world is gone. It’s a place where we can shed our chains, where we can lift eyes to our maker. It’s a place of communal outpouring, chant upon chant about love and gratitude – for our miracle-lives! It’s a place to find our courage. Heavy can be life. We can all change the way we look at things in our worlds. Kirtan can be a good vehicle in helping us find the inner determination to take meaningful steps in our lives. Jai, jai Ganesha!

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Fear of Singing… 

Sometimes the way to propel yourself forward involves sticking your neck out a bit. Folks often have an aversion to singing. So, their initial response is, “I’m not good enough.” Don’t let this happen to you! You don’t have to audition. Just show up. When you are ready, join in. Singing is not heavy… It’s pure light, pure vibration. It feels good. We loosen up as we vibrate. We loosen the chains we’re holding onto so tightly. We can let go…

When we sing and vibrate together as a group, we are a Unity. It’s a concrete reminder of an abstract concept; that everything in the universe vibrates as a perfect Unity.

Kirtan. Shed the ‘Weigh of the World.’  Move lightly.

Want to know more?

Our San Diego community, Pilgrimage of the Heart members and participants are fortunate to have FREE Kirtan every Thursday evening at 8:15pm (Pacific). This event is now streamed LIVE! Download the FREE app for your mobile device and follow us at stre.am/pilgrimagekirtan.

Lose the ‘Weight of the World!’

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Discover Kirtan… Find your voice

If you have listened to recorded Kirtan music, you might have a degree of appreciation for the genre…

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If you have listened to recorded Kirtan music, you might have a degree of appreciation for the genre and perhaps Kirtan’s serene soulfulness. But I tell you; Kirtan is meant to be experienced live! Kirtan is a participation practice. The whole scope of the practice will change for you when you are there participating.

Where can I go to sing?

Folks often say to me, “Where can I go to sing?” Or, more frequently, “Singing at Kirtan has freed my voice! Thank you.”

You could join a church choir. You might find a choral group if you are lucky… that’s about it. You have to audition. You need skills. What about the rest of us?

Kirtan is for everyone! All you have to do is show up. The ‘quality’ of your voice is not what matters. The creation and sharing of your heart-voice is the practice. Find your heart-voice!

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What really happens when I sing?

When we sing, we vibrate! Everything vibrates. From the smallest corpuscles to the songs of the celestial spheres, the entire universe vibrates. Vibration FEELS good. We are made to vibrate. And our voice is our mechanism, our gift. Couple your voice with a single, sacred thought. Take a deep inhalation, sing ‘Om’ (Aum) for a full breath. Feel your heart as your vibrational energy is transmitted through you, into the room, into the universe…

Find a Kirtan practice in your community.

Kirtans are popping up all over! Find a Kirtan practice in your community. Walk in. Be a part of it. Find your voice.

WATCH our Kirtan LIVE every Thursday at 8:15pm (Pacific) using the FREE Stre.am app for iOS and Android. Download the app, sign in and search for pilgrimagekirtan to connect with us. Become part of our world-wide community.

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Kirtan Roots – Start here!

Not in a million years would I have imagined being so deeply involved in Kirtan as I am today. When I was introduced to Kirtan…

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Not in a million years would I have imagined being so deeply involved in Kirtan as I am today. When I was introduced to Kirtan around 2007, I had no idea of the impact it would have on my life. Playing music as a teenager in the mid-‘70s and finding the yoga world in 1990, I had a regular meditation practice. I had even listened to Krishna Das recordings but I was, as yet, unmoved by Kirtan. Only after becoming friends with Sujantra, founder of Pilgrimage of the Heart yoga studio in San Diego, did I find this genre and become enthralled.

Sujantra and I struck up a relationship around yoga and Kirtan. We started jamming together. Sujantra played the harmonium and I was on bass guitar… I started learning some chants. The whole process was subtly compelling.  We started practicing regularly. We recruited players. We started a band. Now we have one of Southern California’s best Kirtan offerings, playing weekly for five years now.

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Plant your Kirtan roots with us!

We offer Kirtan tutorials at Pilgrimage Yoga online so you can learn and start a Kirtan practice in your community.  Our lessons demonstrate harmonium, guitar, bass guitar, tabla and other percussion instruments broken down into the basics so you can quickly and easily learn. We demonstrate traditional and contemporary chants, original chants written by us, and feature ancient and modern chants by spiritual leader Sri Chinmoy. Anyone with a true desire and the most basic music background on any instrument can master this genre.

Grow your Kirtan roots deeply

Do you want to know more about what Kirtan is and how to sow your Kirtan roots? Follow my blog.

Pilgrimage of the Heart Kirtan. Every Thursday night at 8:15pm. Always FREE!

WATCH our Kirtan streamed LIVE on Thursday nights. Download the FREE app for your iphone, ipad or android devise at Stre.am and search for pilgrimagekirtan to connect.

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