Category Archives: Blog

Ripples in the Pond

We have never once in our history been separate. We have always been linked to one another for survival, and our joy and our sorrow have never truly been our own.  Every action, every word, every thought… they broadcast new strands of connection at every moment.  This is an inescapable truth- we cannot disconnect these strands, and we cannot stop creating them.

When we try to sever or deny their existence, any perceived success is only a numbing of our awareness, and this numbing prevents us, not only from seeing each other, but from sensing our own Self.

It is only possible to say that we don’t want to be involved because we are numb to the truth that we already are.

Every action we take has an effect on our community.  Likewise, every success and failure we experience is due, at least in part, to the previous actions of others- every law that protects us or puts us in harm’s way, every invention that eases our lives or pollutes the environment, even social conventions like family structures, greetings and the amount of eye contact we make all shape our overall wellness for better or worse.

It is common in spiritual life to honor the teachings, teachers, lineages, and traditions that have made it possible for us to walk on the path. With this comes the realization that even our walking is not our own- it is driven by every foot that has stepped before us.

This is true in every aspect of our lives…

I become aware of this with every new melody that soars from the lips, every word that descends to the page from the pen, every metaphor and poetic form, every spark of creativity arising from contemplation. My mind is simply a pot stirring its influences, and even this stirring is the product of cause and effect.  

Was it the rock that created the ripple? Or the fallen branch that dislodged the rock? Or the wind that snapped the branch? Or the heavy rains that weakened it?

Of course it is the interaction of all of it, and it is in this systemic view of things that we gain a glimpse of something bigger, deeper, whole.  It is a great honor when we can witness this Totality through our own work, when it coalesces through our individual awareness to form a new nexus in the web of life.  

These words are one such nexus. They are meant to inspire us to turn towards each other. They show that our only true possession, if there is any at all, is our sense of duty to one another.

These words are meant to inspire the next nexus of creation. The ripples in the pond inspire the frog to leap from the lily pad, and this makes new ripples.

From the first eruption of the Big Bang to the creation of carbon in the stars, these ripples pulsated through the cold depths of space and time until that right moment when the first human could translate them into words. They have since been echoed by spiritual teachers, philosophers, activists, scientists, and yes, even the lily pad in the pond. It is these ripples that convince me we are not separate, that prompted the lifting of the pen to paper, that prompted the typing of keys, that prompted the clicking of “publish.”

May this little post continue the spreading of ripples until all beings are free.

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Bracing Against the World

Our samskaras, or the accumulation of habits formed from past action and thought, are deep impressions that have dug themselves into our mind-body system. These samskaras manifest in the form of bracing. We tighten in our mind-body in order to push away unpleasantness or to grab at the desirable. It is this contraction that creates the illusion of separation. By bringing our awareness to these deep holdings, they begin to loosen on their own, returning to their natural state.  We stop bracing against the world.

We often think of this in terms of our personal life. We brace against our relationships to other people, to work, and to ourselves. But, there is another set of deep contractions that we rarely, if ever, talk about.

We constantly brace against the immense suffering that surrounds us and the inevitable guilt we feel as an accomplice to this system of exploitation. Every time we buy something… anything, drive a car, turn on the electricity in our homes, or even travel to a dharma retreat, our mind-body braces against the horror of our involvement in this system of violence, and we brace again to stave off the helplessness of having no escape in sight. It is this bracing that allows us to continue without fully acknowledging our role as accomplice, or if we do it stays hidden from sight or subdued as a subtle whisper.

We brace out of the mistaken fear that we will drown in the world’s pain, but what we seek to protect is merely the outer shell of our Being. By protecting it, we not only create a dam from the world, but also from ourselves. The world’s suffering is our suffering. We spend precious energy maintaining this illusion of separation.

When we lower the floodgates, this outer shell begins to crumble against life’s oncoming river. What remains is something remarkable- the fierce courage of an open heart.  This heart carries the tides of grief and beauty on its inhale and exhale like a bellowing sea, informing the way we inhabit the world and animating each step. This heart sings the song of the world.

For most of us, this is not a one-time event, but a continual and gradual letting go. I have found that each time I allow myself to feel, I discover a new part of me that is still holding on, not yet ready to let go, still believing in a someone to protect from a world out there.

But this also leaves me with a strengthened faith in the process, for an open heart is inherently satisfying. It teaches that the world’s pain contains seeds of its power. And, if we are ever going to change the oppressive power structures at play, we will need that power to do so.

Problems cannot be solved without being acknowledged, and all of us, I don’t care if you have spent years in spiritual retreat or years protesting on the streets, can go a little deeper.

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Using Spiritual Truth to Shield Against the World

For a moment the the mind rests. Self identifications cease. The veil lifts. We see the Truth of it all.

As our conceptual mind emerges back towards the forefront, it attempts to glean what it can from this vast expanse and filters it into words. The universe is perfect. The fabric of existence is Love.

This transcendental experience quickly becomes a vague memory, and we use the memory to prove the existence of our new god- The universe is perfect. The fabric of existence is Love.

We worship these words as truth and then use them as shields against a world that often doesn’t agree- Genocide. Homelessness. Systemic oppression. Global inequality. Environmental destruction.

We brush the problems aside, trivialize them, or worse- we pretend they don’t exist, all in order to turn back towards our god- The universe is perfect. The fabric of existence is Love.

But after so many blows, our shields begin to crack.  There is doubt. What once seemed so true now seems at odds with the world. What was once revealed Truth is now just a conceptual idea, and when weighed against all of the evidence, seems like an easily disproven one.

All of this stems from a lack of faith in that inexplicable mystery that first birthed those words in our mind. The universe is perfect. The fabric of existence is Love.

Faith doesn’t need to cling to words because it accepts the ineffable understanding behind the words. Faith can sit with unknowing and trusts that inconsistencies only show us our understanding is incomplete. When the veil lifts and we catch a glimpse of the mystery’s divine harmony, we accept it. And when we read the news, look a homeless women in the eyes, or fill up our gas tank on a late night in a moment of awakened horror, we accept that too as truth.

The universe is perfect. The fabric of existence is Love. And yet…

The suffering is unbearable. Much of it is avoidable. Much of it is man-made. Much of it could be stopped. There is no spiritual “truth” I have found that can lessen the burden of this suffering. There is no divine understanding to magically make sense of it all.

It is a fierce practice to hold these two truths, perfection and suffering, simultaneously in our being. I find I often either teeter more towards one side or the other in any given moment. When I am too far on one side, I often find the other one to be triggering. It’s either too fluffy or too dreary.

My work, as I see it, is to constantly rework that balance, and to trust that the inconsistencies are my doorway to a greater and more expansive Truth, one that I may never have the proper words for but I have faith is at the heart of all things.

The universe is perfect. The fabric of existence is Love.

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What’s in a Name?

They say that these are revealed Names, that ancient Rishis pulled these from the depths of consciousness and placed them in this world as gateways to that Infinite Abode. They say there is something invariably healing about these vibrations, that they melt the ego as they ripple through our being. They say that these Names are perfect forms of God, that the Name and what is named are one and the same.

All I really know is that these are Names of my Beloved, and by saying them sweetly I partake in the language of the heart, engaging in an eternal love affair.  I know that  countless devotees have cried their pain, suffering, yearning and joy into them, a reminder that this love affair is bigger than me. It’s as if we are all Gopis partaking in Krishna’s dance, each one of us simultaneously claiming Him as our own. I am connected to a tradition of lovers that goes back millennia.

And I know that they do work.

They remind me that my Beloved is here, right here, in this world, in this body, in the depths of my being, in the face of every person I meet…

And what more could I ask for, but to be granted the possibility that at any given moment the Beloved might reveal Herself?

These Names are the Names of Love, and by saying them I engage in the most exquisite love making.

Maharajji said, “Go on saying your false Rams. One of these days you will get it right.”

So how do we say it? There are so many ways to say a Name.

Is it a chore list, something we ought to do? A magical incantation, a spell cast to bring the gods under our sway? Is it like rubbing flint, waiting for that one time when it will catch flame? Is it savory like morning pillow talk? Does it burn with yearning the way a flame leaps for air?

Or is it like the Gopis, whose ecstatic love moans reveal to us the potency of the Name, whose vocal emanations show us the healing vibratory power of the Name, who brought the Beloved completely under their sway simply by the power of their devotion, to whom nothing else existed except Krishna’s blissful form, who first ignited a tradition centuries ago when they screamed:

Śrī Kṛṣṇa!

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Mistaking Individualism for Freedom

Click here to read this on the Be Here Now Network

In today’s rapidly changing society, many of us no longer want to work for others. We want to use our talents, our creativity, and our passions to develop our own business or to work freelance. We no longer are willing to tolerate repetitive tasks, 40-hour work weeks or corporate bosses.

But it would be a mistake to think that this is breaking free of society, that we can remove ourselves from it, that we are somehow above it, or that we are trying to do something different. In truth we are only swapping forced conformity for a self-imposed one, and we mistake this individualism for freedom without acknowledging its paramount importance in the hierarchical value system of our society. We now turn the cog of culture at our own pace and rhythm, but we still don’t question where the machine is taking us.

It is only privilege that creates the illusion of separation. Unless we acknowledge this, we are stuck in a mire of arrogance and indifference. We too are complicit in a system of exploitation that is ruining our planet and destroying entire cultures. Even with our artisan candles and organic coffee. Even with our job as a yoga teacher or a freelance artist.

The more I sit with this, the more I am convinced that analyzing the value systems of our culture and the ways it has infiltrated our most intimate desires, beliefs and values is one of the most radical and deeply spiritual acts of our time. It is crucial for any real development, not because we can break free of culture, but because it is necessary if we are truly going to do our part to help change its direction. Continue reading


nirvanarupa

The word, “nirvāṇarūpaṃ,” rests in the first line of Tulsidas’s devotional poem, “Rudrāṣṭakam.” It is a compound word that means, “the form of nirvana.” It is referring to Lord Shiva, and the particular book I am reading translates it as, “eternal bliss personified.”

That is a lovely translation, one that plays my body like a sarod, my bones ringing in sympathetic harmony to the glories of creation. It is like a spell cast on my knees, weakening their very muscles until they collapse to the ground. It has become my muse for the night, and it inspires the question, “What is the verbal root of nirvana?”

Studying Sanskrit is another way for me to practice my devotion. I have a restless mind, the kind that would enjoy scrabble or a crossword or filling silence with meaningless words. I study Sanskrit for the same reason I write poetry. I am not disciplined enough to sit and meditate on the word “nirvāṇarūpaṃ” for 5 hours straight, but I find my own strange way, following inspiration like bread crumbs as I traverse the depths of the heart. First I find the page I need from the tomes of Sanskrit grammar.  Loosening it from its binding, I then meticulously fold it into an origami murti and place it on the altar of the wind.

Nirvana comes from the root √ “to blow.” It is in the past passive participle form “na,” meaning “blown.” It has the prefix “nis”, which here means “out.” Nirvana is final liberation, a state reached when the last trace of desire has been “blown out” or “extinguished.”

I quite like the translation of “eternal bliss personified.” It’s a poetic one that inspires devotion, reminding us that worship of the Beloved’s form is the highest bliss. The gods in heaven rain down flowers on the poet who translates it this way, knowing as they do how it captures the devotional mood. Tulsidas sings with them in a unison of praise, for he also writes in this bhāv. His words are arrows of fire. They melt the thoughts of even the most restless mind.

This flame reaches its climax at the Rudrāṣṭakam’s end. My eyes wince at the brightness of the page, and the night sky mistakenly prepares for the Sun. Lifetimes of longing are awakened in an instant when I read those glorious words, “O Lord! I do not know yoga, japa, or ritual worship. O Shambhu! I simply bow to you at all times and at every moment.”


A Spiritual Response to Crisis

The belief that we are all One is not spiritual if it blinds us from injustice. It is only spiritual if it reminds us of our interdependence- that none of us are free until every last one of us is free. Belief in in the Perfection and Harmony of the Cosmos is not spiritual if it allows us to gloss over suffering, but only if it empowers us by aligning our actions with that Cosmic Arc of Justice. Even prayer is not spiritual if it becomes a substitute for action, but it is a bold act of resistance if it fuels us in the fight for justice.

A spiritual response to crisis is not a justification of it, or a belief structure awkwardly imposed over it.  A spiritual understanding of crisis is that which allows us to see the world as it is, and this in turn inspires deep and heartfelt engagement. The spiritual map is that which leads to a more just world. The spiritual worldview is a way through crisis, and its very truth is both found and expressed through action.

Do your duty without any attachment to the fruits of your work, for only by acting without attachment can you realize God (Bhagavad Gita 3:19)

This is the true spiritual work. This is what sweeps us up in that Great Eternal Force. It’s working to make change, and doing so without any aim for personal gain. It’s living our Dharma. It’s marching. It’s organizing. It’s writing or making art that inspires. It’s growing a garden. It’s living by our values. It is speaking up against racism and sexism. It is tirelessly working to end all forms of oppression. It is a deep listening that allows us to authentically feel this great and painful grief- the firm realization that we are not progressing as we should, that we can do better. That we must do better.

If we cannot feel this then we cannot move forward in a real way. Our activism will be stunted, and its motives will be suspect. To truly make impactful change, we need to live with this collective grief and cradle it close until its painful message can emerge as wisdom, enriching our actions and drawing us closer to a world of freedom and justice for all.

A truly spiritual worldview allows us to do this. A spiritual worldview connects us to an innate and inexhaustible power that can live with grief and bear witness to pain. It is not a buffer that protects us from the atrocities of the world or that justifies oppression using cosmic wordplay. The spiritual worldview reminds us that such protections are not needed, that they only serve to dim the light on the indestructible nature of Being.

The Bhagavad Gita could, in one sense, be summarized by the words of Neem Karoli Baba, “All action is prayer.”

I have found that this is only true if I actually take time in my day for contemplative practices. These practices not only spirtualize my activism, but they make it more effective. The more I get in touch with myself, the easier it is to see where I am caught. This widens my perspective and fine tunes my awareness. I can begin to see more clearly the oppression in our culture and to resist it in the wisest and most skillful way.

But to practice with the wrong perspective can actually strengthen my narcissism rather than to dismantle it. My time in meditation and payer can be become an escape, and this can further enhance the view that I am the center of the Universe. Activism, service and Dharma help remedy this and make my contemplative practices more honest, real, and alive.

Thus I have found that contemplative practice and social engagement are both strengthened by the spiritual worldview, and in turn this worldview is fed and informed by these two practices. If I am ever going to successfully overcome my selfish tendencies of mind, I am going to need the full force of the spiritual life to do so. And until I do, I am just another cog in the wheel of the dominant, exploitative, capitalist culture.

“In the Name of God, the All‑Compassionate, the All‑Merciful” (Quran).


This Love has Room for Our Protest

Without me even noticing it, the conversation evaporated into silence. Ram Dass simply looked at me, and I melted into the chair, filled with love. I looked across the room towards him, and our eyes met. Just a few minutes ago he had told me the story of when Maharajji instructed him to meditate like Christ. Ram Dass asked him how Christ meditated, and Maharajji said, “He was lost in a sea of love.”

I was absolutely head-over-heals in love with the man before me, not because he was Ram Dass, but because his presence pulled me into a depth of Being within that could love anything. I realized that this is what it meant, at least in some small way, to meditate like Christ.

Ram Dass often says things like, “I love the wall, and the carpet, and this chair. I love my wheelchair.”

And when he says it, he means it. I saw this, not just in my darshan with him that day, but during following the two years that I lived with him. I would often see him sitting by himself, not reading, or napping, or thinking, or even meditating, but just sitting there, truly present and content. Because of his stroke, he is confined to a wheelchair, and his body is often in pain. Yet, he has a lightness about him that transcends his physical body. There is a joy and a contentment that can be at home with the pain.

Continue reading


How Belief Systems Shape our Interactions with the World

We were all crammed against the bar, elbows pressed to the counter and leaning forward to hear the audio as Donald Trump gave his victory speech. Clinton had just called him to concede his victory. A woman screamed at the screen, “She just gave UP?”

We were a room full of hippies and outcasts from all over the world who had traveled to this remote Northern California mountain town, with a population of only 300, to find seasonal work in the medical marijuana industry. Most of us were camping, and the bar was the only place we could watch the television. People openly rolled joints on the tables, and smoked it right outside on the front porch. A woman in her early twenties was attempting to light a red “Make America Great Again” hat on fire as her drunk friend told her that the hat was made out of rayon and would not burn. Continue reading


Working Through Election Despair

My mother once told me that she cried when Reagan was elected. I have been around enough hippies to know their thoughts about Nixon. I remember well my shock when Bush won his second term after the war in Iraq.

This is a new low for our nation.

This is not the end of the world, but this will cause suffering to those who are the most vulnerable. This will ruin lives, and some may not survive. There has already been an increase in hate crimes. I have cried quite a bit the last few days… for the children who won’t believe their teachers when they are taught bullying is wrong, for the undocumented immigrants who are unsure of their future, for the women, Muslims, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community who don’t feel safe, and for an earth on the brink of destruction that just doesn’t have time for this.

They say a parent loves her child so much that the child’s needs come first. Through exhaustion and fatigue, through early mornings and late nights, through rebellion, lies, and being ignored, a parent will ensure her child’s survival and even its thriving.

This is how I want to love the world.

I want to love a world that sometimes destroys itself, that often exploits and oppresses, that honors greed, hatred and delusion, ignores reason and wisdom, and loses its way.

I want to love it because that is the world we have.

That is what I have learned in this election- to hold steady my ideals and vision for a free and just society while deeply acknowledging the truth of this moment, especially when these are exhaustingly incongruous.

When two strings are out of tune with each other they cause dissonance. It is by deeply listening to this discordant sound that we can finely tune an instrument towards beauty and harmony.

This is our work- to deeply listen to the pain of the world, to listen to oppression and to listen to hate. It is through this listening that we can tune it towards justice, freedom, and yes… even love.

But, there is a chasm of doubt between where we are and where we want to go. The strings of the world are too heavy for any one person, and none of us are properly trained on how to turn their pegs.

And yet this is what the world needs, and this is how I want to love.

What we are really dealing with here is akin to the original meaning of compassion: ‘suffering with.’ It is the distress we feel in connection with the larger whole of which we are a part. It is our pain for the world… We are not closed off from the world, but rather are integral components of it, like cells in a larger body. When part of that body is traumatized- in the sufferings of fellow beings, in the pillage of our planet, and even in the violation of future generations- we sense that trauma too.

-Joanna Macy, Working Through Environmental Despair

Toward the One, the Perfection of Love, Harmony, and Beauty…

-Hazrat Inayat Khan, Sufi invocation


Because the World Needs us.

I have been writing much about suffering, so today I thought I would write about love. It’s difficult to discuss it in a way that is fresh and alive. The word itself died long ago in the coffin of cliche and teenage romance. What good will saying it one more time do?

When I first heard Ram Dass say the word’s “Souls not roles,” I felt my nerves tingle and cells sing. I printed out those words and taped them on my dashboard. When I drove, it seemed the whole world sang their glory. It only took a few days for the song to fade, and then they too were just words.

When I studied poetry in college, I learned the golden rules of modern American verse. The universal is gleaned at through the specific, and the abstract is earned through imagery and sound. Love requires the highest price; even better to invoke it without saying it.

Rumi, Hafiz, and Kabir served as a bridge to the devotional poetry of India, which seemed to have its own set of golden rules. It can appear soft and trite for the unprepared. Tulsidas writes for those on the path. His words are earned through years of practice. We prepare ourselves, working our emotions, attachments and mind, so when the gods shower us with rose petals we can appreciate their perfume. Tulsidas takes us beyond the clouds to be obliterated by the Sun.

I don’t know how to reach that depth of love without acknowledging suffering. Maybe it’s protestant guilt, unknowingly inherited through our culture and embedded in a poetry that teaches us love must be earned. Or, maybe its because my Guru once said, “I love suffering. It brings me so close to God.” We know Ram Dass has earned it when he looks from his wheelchair and says, “Suffering is grace.”

In Truth, the world has already earned it. It cries out tears of anguish, desperately in need of that Love.


The Dharma of Our Times

Now published on the Be Here Now Network.

I have spent years trying to find that morally superior stance that could acquit me of the suffering of society.  As a young environmental and human rights activist I found solace by making corporations the enemy. They were the cause of our suffering. Eventually that no longer worked, and so I had to find another strategy. As I moved away from activism and moved towards a deeper sense of spirituality and alternative living, the goal became to remove myself from the system. Yet, no matter how much I gave up, how much I shopped at co-ops, drove gas made from veggie oil, or moved onto an off-the-grid eco village, I couldn’t escape it. One day it dawned on me that even if it was possible to be totally off the grid, totally unreliant on any fossil fuel or system of government, totally in a sustainable way, I would still be responsible. It would require me to be completely removed and isolated from society while knowing what was going on. And how could I sit by idly while others were suffering? Wouldn’t my lack of engagement still hold me responsible?

The world is a messy place. Global warming, habitat loss, pollution and overpopulation are destroying the planet. We have corruption at every level of government. It seems we are constantly bombarded by signs telling us we are not good enough and pushing us to buy more. Our world is in a perpetual trance of war, and there are countless instances of needless suffering.

And there is no perfect solution to make it all go away or to absolve us of this. This doesn’t mean we don’t try. We should still work to end suffering and to live life in a way that is in harmony with our values. But forming an identity from this weakens our effectiveness.  It actually pushes the world away as we run into the safety of our labels and self-identifications.

The immensity of our global situation leaves us coping with strategies to keep it at bay. Some of us develop scapegoats, some of us ignore it through entertainment or our own personal concerns. Some of us try to escape through spirituality or alternative living. Some of us convince ourselves its not really a problem, or even if we admit it is, we don’t fully acknowledge it for fear that we will drown in a sea of unbearable guilt, fear, sadness and rage.

Continue reading


Spirituality Does Not Need Pseudoscience

The Ground of Being does not require science for it’s proof. It does not require quantum physics. Once that state is tasted, it can never fully leave you, and no amount of evidence could convince you contrary to it’s existence. Once we see that we are the depth of eternal consciousness, then every thought, sensation, experience, and even the sense of self become mere clouds passing through the sky of Being. We still may become lost in the clouds, but we know in our hearts that the sky is there.

Once this has been awakened one will see God’s handiwork everywhere, including in science. There, at the quantum level, at the edge of the Universe, or at the beginning of time, it seems we see the first dance of formlessness into form, where the Great Mystery flirts with our rational mind, turning over our assumptions of reality and opening us up like a Zen koan.

But it would be a mistake to look for proof in this. There is no mathematical or scientific proof for God, and trying to place one where it does not exist leads to pseudoscience. This is the mistake of many of the New Age thinkers of today. They see the miracle of the One sprinkled throughout the many, and they wish to share this with others. Many are sincere in their efforts, but nonetheless they actually widen the gap between spirituality and science by pushing away those with little patience for shoddy logic.

But if instead of looking for proof, we look for poetry, then the dance of creation can delight us with each quark, black hole, and quantum superposition, thus awakening us to our True Nature. The universe, too, is just a cloud passing through the sky of Being, and awe and wonder are the steps towards that great Stillness within.

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Drinking Urine for spiritual enlightenment?

I’ve caught myself telling casual acquaintances that I once smoked crack. “It was offered to me, and so I said, ‘why not?'” I don’t know why I tell people that. I get some weird satisfaction from their horrified look of disbelief.  I come across as pretty straight. My girlfriend can’t comprehend that the same person who won’t walk through a park where it says “keep off the grass,” once stripped naked on public access television while blackout drunk.

As much as I love shock value, I almost never tell people that I once willingly drank my own pee for its purported spiritual and health benefits…

It was the winter of 2009. I had recently returned to Seattle after my first experiment in renunciation, and it was about 6 months before I moved to Maui to serve Ram Dass. I knew that I needed to open my heart more, so I landed a job working as a residential counselor for at-risk youth at a non-profit group home. I had recently completed a 10-day silent Vipassanna meditation retreat and was adamantly sitting an hour every night and every morning. I had heard about monks in the Himalayas meditating naked in the snow and so I tried it on a few occasions in our back yard, never for more than 20 minutes at a time, but for some strange reason it made me feel like I was on the fast track to enlightenment. I was going to the nearby Hare Krishna Temple and making friends there. I was dumpster diving for food, eating vegan and practicing Reiki. I held a spoon-bending party at our home, and I did the 10-day master cleanse. I played with Tarot cards, saw psychics, and even organized a failed attempt at using a Quija Board.

I was your classic spiritual hipster, and like any other spiritual hipster, I would have become angry and defensive if you had tried to label me as such.

Always looking for the next “thing,” I was intrigued when one of my closest friends informed me that several of the monks at the Hare Krishna Temple were practicing “urine therapy.” They all raved about the effects, and that was enough for us to give it a try.

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Normalizing Truth

How are you?

How many times have I held back answering that question honestly because I didn’t want to deal with the responses that would follow?

Being honest and truthful is a powerful practice to soften the edges of the ego, drop pretense, and help foster more intimacy in the community, but our culture doesn’t make this easy…

How many times have I…

Admitted an insecurity or a character flaw only to have someone try to make me feel better?

Discussed a hardship in my life only to have someone offer me advice on how to fix it?

Offered advice or flattery to another person rather than being truly present with their sharing?

What could be a moment of openness and sharing, where the boundaries between self and other evaporate into the vast sky of Being, instead turns into a gaping chasm of separation.  Of course, advice and soothing words have their place, but I feel if we are truly listening, we will find they are useful far less than they are said. Often they lead me to feeling misunderstood at a time when I am vulnerable.

Many spiritual teachers, therapists, and others have commented on how these responses come from a desire to relieve our own discomfort, and I feel this is true. Because we can’t sit with our own pain, we can’t do so for others.

Every time someone shares their suffering with me it is an opportunity to look within at my own resistance, and every time I resist sharing what is truly on my mind it is another opportunity to do the same.

But what fascinates me most about this is that we lack a culture for sharing difficult experiences. It is so far out of the bounds of our social framework that it puts us at a loss of words. We don’t know how to respond.  And how could we expect it to be otherwise?  Since we don’t know its OK for people to be real, we assume they must want us to fix them if they are doing so.

It is so far out of the bounds of our social framework that it puts us at a loss of words.

Changing our culture is difficult. It is far more difficult than changing politics, but also far more profound.  I wish I had some big solution for this, but at this moment I can at least talk about its importance, and I can vow to intensify my efforts to be real with my friends and family and to allow them the space to do the same.  This is how we normalize Truth.

“Always tell the Truth.” -Neem Karoli Baba


The First Day of the Rest of My Life

Below is a record of the day when there was no doubt that I had met the Guru. Its the day that I gained a true faith in Grace. Since that day She has taught me that there is only in fact One, True Guru, and He/She/It is beyond anything that we can grasp.  The Guru is within. It’s the deepest reaches of our own heart, but its also a relationship. Its not just love in an impersonal form, but that which loves us and wants nothing more than our evolution towards that love. Its that gentle hand of Grace that helps us along our path. It can come to us in the form of an angel, spirit guide, or our own Inner Voice.  For me, the Guru has come to me in the form of the great Indian Saint Neem Karoli Baba, but my first meeting was not in that form.

The First Day of the Rest of My Life

It was the Summer of 2008. I had just turned 23 years old. I moved to Eugene, Oregon for the summer to work as a wildland firefighter. This was my second summer in Eugene doing this work, and so my plan was to stay with Alden, a fellow fire fighter, as we waited for the call to action. Due to a paperwork error at my fire company, I was not eligible to firefight when the call came to ship out to California.

It was a big fire, and the entire company was sent down there except me. This left me alone in Eugene, waiting until the error was fixed so I could go with them. In the mean time, the lease on Alden’s room was up and his next house would not be available for ten days. Alden and I were going to stay with some of his friends, but now he was out on fire and had no cell service. The only people I knew in town were firefighters who were all gone as well. So I made the best of it and decided to sleep in the park until either the house became available, or I got the fire call.

In the mean time I was dead broke and had debt to pay.  About seven months earlier I had been scammed out of 8,000 dollars, all of the money I had in my savings. (That is a story for another day.) After this I decided to move to the desert to work on myself and do some soul-searching. I was camping on the outskirts of Las Cruces, New Mexico and working just enough to buy food, see my spiritual healer and pay off my student loans. The solitude of desert life allowed me to practice pranayama, meditation and other spiritual exercises, thus I experienced some extreme spiritual highs. This was a big deal to me because it was the first time I had ever been “high” without the use of drugs. I used these peak experiences as a marker for my spiritual “progress.”

I was not saving any money, however, and on my way back to Seattle I had car troubles that ended up maxing out my credit card. My credit card company, as a penalty for maxing out my card, raised my interest rate to 30 percent. I was not even able to pay off the interest as it accrued.

Not only was I broke and in debt, but emotionally broken. Once I returned to Seattle, all of the spiritual work I had done felt like it had completely shattered. I was having trouble reconnecting to my old friends and found myself still in love with a girl I had worked very hard to get over.

So here I was, homeless in Eugene and extremely depressed. I began having intense periods of longing for some Guru to come and take me away on my path to liberation, some Divine Being who could make everything alright. I had read Be Here Now, and I remembered its solemn words, “It’s really just another cop-out to be searching for the Guru.” God is within, and by waiting for some external thing to save me, I was just pausing the inevitable.

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Satya- “Truth”

Through my Sanskrit studies I have become enamored with the word “Satya,” or “Truth.”  I am not a scholar of Sanskrit, but simply an amateur student. That being said, I thought I would share a little bit about this great and ancient word.

The word satya is made of two parts- “sat” and “ya.”  Sat is often translated as “existence,” but can also be translated as “truth.”  It is the present participle of the verb “as” or “to be,” which forms the word  “being” or “existing.”

“ya” is a suffix that means “pertaining to” or “deriving from.”

So satya can be translated as “deriving from existence,” or “that which pertains to existence.”  (Egenes)

And isn’t this what gives Truth it’s power?  Truth comes from Reality, the Is-ness of the moment. Speaking and acting out of Truth aligns us with a power far greater than our own. In Patanjalis Yoga Sutras it states-

“To one established in truthfulness, actions and their results become subservient.” (II.36)

It’s no wonder then, why great sages like Gandhi praised the power of Truth.

“The word satya (Truth) is derived from Sat which means ‘being’. Nothing is or exists in reality except Truth. That is why Sat or Truth is perhaps the most important name of God, In fact it is more correct to say that Truth is God than to say God is truth…Devotion to this Truth is the sole justification for our existence. All our activities should be centered in Truth. Truth should be the very breath of our life.” (Yeravda Mandir, Chapter 1)

Neem Karoli Baba placed an equally high value on it-

“Total truth is necessary. You must live by what you say.”

When asked how the heart could be purified, Maharaj-ji said, “Always speak the truth.”

(Maharajji.com)

This teaching is central to all cultures and traditions. Truth is self-evident and needs no justification. It is saturated with existence itself and is pregnant with the moment. It is inherently valid and is its own reward. It is the Self uninhibited by the cleverness of desire. It is Being set free.

“And the truth will set you free” -Christ (John 8:32)

When I see just how incredibly beautiful Truth is, it creates a burning desire to strive for it. It also shines a light on the ways that I fall short of this great ideal. It shows me just how subtle the mind and its desires are, and how deep these habits lie. In a flash of a moment my mind can churn Truth in its swirling stew of desires, tainting it’s beauty with a complex web of motivations and ego. I say I want God, but how many moments of the day do I truly allow raw, unfiltered Truth to flow effortlessly from my words, facial expressions, posture, and reactions?

Today I am awestruck by the power of Truth, and humbled by all of the ways I continually try to limit its transformational power.

असतो मा सद्गमय
तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय
मृत्योर्मा अमृतं गमय
शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः

asato mā sad gamaya, tamaso mā jyotir gamaya, mṛtyor māmṛtaṃ gamaya

From the unreal lead me to the real, from darkness lead me to light, from death lead me to Eternal Life

(Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad (1.3.28.)

 

 


Podcasts, kirtan dates, and more!

I recently returned from Maui, and I am feeling recharged and reinvigorated. Expect to see lots of new content in the next few weeks, as well as an updated kirtan schedule.  There are already lots of new dates lined up, so check out the schedule page! If you want to see me in your area, write to me at sitaramdass108@gmail.com

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At the Ram Dass retreat, gurubhai Muid and I were able to sit down with Bharat (Michael Morey) for a podcast at Mind Left Body. This was my first time interviewed on a podcast and it was quite fun!  Muid and I told many funny stories from our time living with Ram Dass, and there was lots of laughter as well as gushing over how much we love him. ❤ 🙂  At the end of the podcast is a sneak peak of a song that will be on my upcoming album, soon to be released!

Listen to the podcast here!

Ram Dass's presence, Ram Dass's living room, and Ram Dass's puja table are my favorite place to sing in the world!

Although the retreat was wonderful, the highlight for me was spending the week with Ram Dass after the retreat ended. It felt so good to jump back into my old routine and to serve in what ways I could. I also got to sing in RD’s living room to my favorite puja table on the planet!

 

The new album is coming along really well. Josh Polich and New Song have been phenomenal musicians to work with, and they are each in their own way adding new color and life to the songs. In case you missed my last post, I have another early sneak peak of a song for you. Listen below.

Ram Ram ❤

 


Early Preview of a New Song

 

This is an early preview of a song that will be released at the end of the summer on the upcoming album “The Puja Room Recordings.”

Original composition by Sitaram Dass (K. Sandin)
Dulcimer- Sitaram Dass (K. Sandin)
Voice- Sitaram Dass (K. Sandin)
Violin- NewSong (J. Bradley)
Tabla- Josh Polich


Compassion, Privilege, and Spiritual Practice

I just finished spending time at the “Ram Dass Spring on Maui Retreat.” An incredible assortment of teachers were present, including Lama Surya Das, Miribai Bush, Saraswati and Raghu Marcus, Nina Rao, Rameshwar Das and Shantala. Of course for me and many others, our reason for being there was Ram Dass.

It’s hard to put into words what the magic of the retreat was like. Ram Dass showered us with love from his own open heart, and we melted into it. Each of us in our own way blossomed and bathed in the light. We practiced meditation, yoga, chi-gong, kirtan, and listened to dharma talks. Spending time with satsang only deepened the love, and much of the magic occurred during the free time between sessions. People openly divulged their insecurities and fears to strangers during lunch. Hugs, sincere well wishing, deep listening and caring all became so commonplace that it was hard to remember any other way even existed. The love was real, and it felt amazing.

Many asked questions about how to bring this magic back into our daily lives, and others expressed their fear that it would slip away. All of us, I’m sure, sincerely hope that our time in love together will help us to be a little softer, a little more caring, and a little more present and loving in our daily lives.

This is my wish also, but that’s not what was on my mind during this retreat. Instead, I have been consumed with What do I do about all of this privilege that I enjoy at the expense of others, and how does spiritual practice relate to this?

“Recall the face of the poorest and weakest man you have seen, and ask yourself if this step you contemplate is going to be any use to him.”

– Mahatma Gandhi

How does this love benefit the poorest and most marginalized of us?

It is important to be in touch with our own inner well of compassion, presence and love.  If all of us did this then there would be much less suffering and poverty in this world, but in reality the inequality is staggering. We normally think of inequality as the income gap between us and the super rich, but there is also a gaping gap between rich countries like the U.S. and much of the rest of the world.

The inequality gap is so wide that I fear that the love, compassion, and kindness gained from spiritual practices by privileged Americans like me might be disproportionately benefiting other privileged people.

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