Category Archives: Blog

The Nectar of the Name- A Story about Kirtan, Lila, and the Hanuman Chalisa

“People don’t know- every line of the Hanuman Chalisa is a Maha Mantra”
Neem Karoli Baba 

Many of us have come to kirtan and felt inspired, felt our sorrows lifted, or even experienced a deep healing or surrender. These are beautiful experiences that are meant to be cherished, but they are also ultimately just initial doorways into a rich and satisfying journey to God. Kirtan is more than just a temporary experience or emotional high. It is an opportunity to gain a taste of the nectar of devotion.

Just like in any worldly relationship, we first feel an attraction to someone, and some “high” in our body tells us we like them. If this initial attraction turns into a relationship, then over the years it has the opportunity to deepen into something even more satisfying than we could initially imagine. It has the possibility of offering an incredible healing and deeper sense of safety in the world. If this is true for a worldly relationship, then what to say of a Divine one?

What if our Lover was Perfect? What if They had no desires of Their own, save maybe for us to attain our own liberation? What if this Lover lived in our own heart as our True Nature? What if falling in Love with Them meant falling in Love with everyone, including ourselves? What if this Love affair fostered a sense of safety that stayed with us? Even through our most difficult times? Even through sickness, old age, and death? This is what kirtan can offer us- a chance to gain a taste of this nectar and to deepen this Holy Relationship.

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I was a guest on the Quantum Alignment Podcast

Earlier this month I was a guest on the Quantum Alignment Podcast with host Dr. Pepper Hernandez. We discussed the usual suspects- Bhakti Yoga, kirtan, the importance of daily spiritual practice, suffering, grace, psychedelics, and Ram Dass, to name a few.  It was just posted yesterday, and I am excited to share it here.

Each podcast and interview I do get a little easier and smoother, and I am excited for these continued opportunities to discuss these spiritual matters as they relate to life’s deepest questions- Who are we, what is the nature of reality, and how are we to navigate this material plane. This, in my view, is a worthwhile and fulfilling endeavor.


Mistaking Planes of Consciousness

There is this place in the woods outside of Eugene that I would often go to clear my head. It was a short drive and hike to reach my favorite spot, a small clearing with an unassuming tree that I claimed as my own. On this particular day, I sat down in my little forest oasis with an extra-heavy weight. I was pretty lost in life- jobless, aimless and floundering, and this confusion draped over me as an all-consuming depression. I pulled out my pipe and loaded it with some weed. There were no other drugs involved. I sat there after taking the first hit when I heard a rustling in the distance. I looked around but did not see anything. I was about to take my second hit when I heard a giggle.  It was a boyish-sounding laugh coming from behind a tree in front of me, maybe about 20 feet away.

I saw a head peak out from behind the tree. The face was green and triangular, and it smiled at me. What… the… fuck…? Stepping out from behind the tree, I shit you not, was a little green elf.  It giggled as it took off in a wild sprint towards me, leaping forth from the tree as each step bounced from the mossy forest floor. My jaw unhinged, body in shock, mind racing and not even ready yet to believe my own eyes, the elf jumped into the air and flew towards my face until, get this, it disappeared right into the back of my head. It still lives there, inside of my mind. It talks to me from time to time, and it has never led me astray. It gives me good advice. Life advice. It helps me. It helped me to enroll back in school, start going to the gym, helped me enter a new relationship and get my current job as a boss of a fire crew. I don’t feel lost any more.

This is one of the more far-out stories I have ever been told, however, it is still one of many. I have had sincere people tell me their experiences involving UFOs, Ascended Masters, Ghosts, Angels, Quija Boards, Sasquatch… you name it. And these were the stories that I believed. I did not have the sense that any of these people were lying, nor that they were confused or delusional. In my own spiritual community, I can’t even count how many people have told me they saw and interacted with saint Neem Karoli Baba, a being that left his body in 1973. They were not talking about dreams or visions, but actually seeing and interacting with him in this physical world. I have, of course, had my own set of far-out experiences, some of which I have written about on this blog. It’s up to you if you want to believe any of this or not. There are some people who have permanently closed off this door of reality, but for those of us who remain open, what are we to make of this?

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Radio Interview

About a year ago, I was interviewed by Reverend Derek Moody and Sister Tracy on the Church of Rock radio show out of Southern Oregon (KSKQ 89.5 FM & 94.1 FM). They just recently posted this on their youtube channel. We discussed our love for Ram Dass, the power of living from the heart, Be Here Now, and kirtan as a rudder for living in this material world. The interview lasted for about 10 minutes, and after they played “Jaya Hanuman” from my latest album, The Puja Room Recordings.

I was also recently on the Humboldt Lighthouse Podcast, and I will be on the Quantum Alignment Podcast in September.

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Psychedelic Awakening

These medicines will allow you to come and visit Christ, but you can only stay two hours. Then you have to leave again. This is not the true Samadhi. It’s better to become Christ than to visit him – but even the visit of a saint for a moment is useful. But love is the most powerful medicine.

Neem Karoli Baba

I will always have the highest respect for psychedelics. I am ecstatic by the current resurgence in research and the steady change in public perception. This post is my own small way to help break the taboo. The honest truth is that I would have never met Ram Dass or found the spiritual path if it was not for these early adventures, nor would I currently be working on my MSW or be doing any of the work I am doing. This experience, although one of the more memorable, was one of many, and it offered me a taste of faith, one that only really took root after meeting Ram Dass and coming in contact with my Guru, Neem Karoli Baba. Regardless, this was the first blossoming of the seed, the first rustling leaves of an awakening, the kindling on the fire of love…

We had taken two gel tabs of L.S.D., and it was coming on strong. Dan and I walked to a nearby city park in Eugene, OR, the manicured lawn displaying geometric fractals bordered by pulsing coniferous trees. The energy in my body was building fast, and it became difficult to move. I sat down in the lotus posture, a habit I had developed from the last year of active experimentation. I closed my eyes and began breathing. This began to calm the energy in my body, but it didn’t do anything for my deep unanswered question. Is God real?

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Crisis as Meditation

*This is based on my notes from a recent training I offered to staff who work with teens in a crisis home. It involved a meditation, experiential body-awareness exercise, and group discussion about the relationship between crisis and deep embodiment. If you are interested in having a similar workshop or training at your agency, write to me

“We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.”

― Archilochos

How we react to crisis is how we react to life. The way we train for crisis is to practice in our life. This means that what is needed is a 24-hour-a-day, 365-days-a-year practice routine. The bad news is you don’t get paid for this. The good news is that this is one of the keys to a rewarding and fulfilling life.

We live in a disembodied society. There is very little about the reward mechanisms of our culture that promote self-awareness, especially the awareness of our bodies. Our jobs, education system and daily lives are increasingly becoming more cerebral, and the barrage of instant and constant gratification on our phones creates an opportunity to be distracted each and every moment of the day.

And we have enshrined this in our modern mythology. Our Sci-fi movies show us a future where our consciousness is no longer confined to these pain-and-disease-ridden bodies. There are people in Silicon Valley trying to figure this out right now. This modern myth encapsulates our culture’s highest values: We view our bodies as a mistake to be overcome.

But what I am offering today is a possibility that our bodies, rather than being a mistake, are actually the greatest gift we have. They are the vehicle of our consciousness. Our consciousness is not just housed in our brain but, at the very least, is infused throughout the body. This is the barometer that receives information from our environment. The more we bring our attention to this great tool, the more we can act with the best possible information. This is especially true for crisis.

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Love is not Soft

Jesus said to Love your enemies. I don’t think he meant that our inability to do so should prevent us from acting. Dismantling oppression is an act of love, and in my mind it is one of the highest, deepest and most important expressions. We can’t wait until our love has matured to act. Our very waiting is the stunting of growth. It is a missed opportunity in a moment when we are being asked to step up.

But, while we fight, what if we allowed our love to grow? Because, after all, He did say it. Love your enemies.

The Love He talks about has room for the oppressor and the oppressed.  This is not a love in short supply at risk of depletion. It is an Endless Reservoir and an ability strengthened by its very use.

Let’s be clear: all forms of oppression must be stopped. This includes the radical hatred of white nationalists and the cruel indifference of sweatshop profiteers. The heart knows this truth, but it also knows this- Love isn’t soft.

It’s not about letting anyone off the hook. It’s not normalizing or minimizing. It’s not false equivalency or taking the middle road. It is simply ensuring that our hearts don’t close.

Since the 1950s the Dalai Lama has practiced Tonglen for the Chinese government, who are responsible for the mass genocide of the Tibetan people. In this practice he breathes in their suffering and breathes out goodwill towards them. When asked if his practice has had any benefit, the Dalai Lama said, “I think it has benefited me.”

I can’t allow my heart to grow cold towards anyone. If I were to find words to state my life’s mission, I might quote Kabir or Maharajji, who whisper at every moment, “Never put another person out of your heart.”

I have heard some of the cruelest, most racist and sexist words come out of children’s mouths like you wouldn’t believe. I have witnessed teens bully and physically attack others with weapons. It’s my job to love kids like that. With a child it’s unsettling. We instantly know those words and actions aren’t theirs, but rather an ill-fitted costume awkwardly draped over the body. But one day, if uncorrected, those very words and actions can shape a large part of their worldview.  The child will grow into that costume and form to its awkward shape, making it seem like a perfect fit.

Love is the antidote for that outcome. I can correct a child’s speech out of love. I can stop one person from hitting another while keeping my heart open to both of them. It’s easy with kids…

But I have also met adults that have been locked up for committing violent crimes, who completely blew me away by their level of compassion, empathy, introspection, and self-awareness. There are Bodhisattvas behind bars at this very moment that are more in touch with themselves than the vast majority of us on the outside.

Those who harm others have been harmed themselves. As the saying goes, “Hurt people hurt people.” Likewise, those that have healed from harm are those that can assist in the world’s healing. And, it’s never too late to heal. For anyone.

So what I’m asking is this: let’s work tirelessly to end all forms of oppression. Let’s take bold and creative steps to do so. That is Love in action, and we need that.

But, while we’re at it, let’s expand our Love and deepen it. Let’s open our hearts enough that we see the Truth of our own Unlimited Well… because, after all, He did say it…

Love your enemies
(Matthew 5:44)

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I was the guest on “The Humboldt Lighthouse” podcast

I was recently interviewed by Nate Hankes on The Humboldt Lighthouse. We had a great conversation that covered all of my favorite topics- Grace, God, the Guru, Ram Dass, psychedelics, Maharajji, suffering, systemic oppression and our complicity with it, spiritual bypass, not holding too tightly to any concept or understanding, mental health, kirtan and Hanuman. I really enjoyed my time with Nate, and I hope you enjoy listening.

You can listen to his podcast on Itunes, Google Play, or directly from his website here:

https://www.thehumboldtlighthouse.com/the-podcast/2018/3/25/episode-15-sitaram-dass

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The Problem with Grace

If I were to pick one word that is central to my spiritual worldview, it would be Grace. And yet, I often find it to be the most difficult to talk about. It is profound as Truth and simultaneously problematic as a concept. It is a word that points to the deep nature of Reality and our soul’s relationship with God. But any explanation I can possibly think of is problematic if taken literally and applied inappropriately.

For instance, the words, “Everything is Grace,” can be either a soothing balm or a dagger to the gut depending on our understanding and application. They can be used to minimize danger, trivialize the suffering of others, or to spiritually bypass our own journey. They can also be that deepest reminder of our inherent OK-ness, even when our body, mind, and life circumstances are not OK.  They point us to the indestructible nature of Being, even in the face of death.

Ram Dass has often taught that the words, “Suffering is Grace,” are a tool that should only be applied to one’s own self. It should never be imposed outwardly on others. This is, of course, good practical advice and a safeguard from becoming a total dick, but it also points towards a deeper understanding than the words.

The semanticist Alfred Korzybski coined the now famous phrase, “The map is not the territory.”  Our ideas about the Universe are not the same as the Universe itself. A map is only useful if it takes us where we want to go. “Suffering is Grace” is one map that can be used to lead us right to the heart, even in the midst of extreme pain, but only in certain circumstances.

This map can also be used to circumvent our discomfort in witnessing another’s pain. Rather than using it to let go of our own discomfort, we instead minimize the other’s suffering. But Grace is not a concept to minimize pain. It is a force erupting from Infinity that grants us the capacity to hold it.

The concept of Grace is like a finger pointing at the moon. Move the hand, and it points us astray.

Sometimes Grace is what we pray for, like a mariner raising their sail and waiting for the winds to come. Other times Grace is more like dusting off an old window to allow in the light of the Sun.

Grace is all-pervading. That means that there is nowhere that Grace does not exist. It is the fabric of Existence itself, and yet… when I think of humanity’s worst atrocities and the most traumatic experiences of the human condition, there is no way I can call any of that Grace.

These inconsistencies create a doorway into a space that is deeper than words, where I no longer need to pin concepts to intuitive understanding and where I can truly rest in the spaciousness of Grace.

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White Men Spiritually Bypassing “Identity Politics” & the Allure of Jordan Peterson

“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”

-Audrey Lorde, Our Dead Behind Us: Poems

There is a troubling belief gaining traction within the various spiritual communities I am apart of. In various ways, people are claiming that so-called “identity politics” further separate us into our individual differences, that somehow they widen the divide of “us and them.” I have seen teachings of Ram Dass, MLK, and Neem Karoli Baba used to support this view. This has been almost entirely expressed by white men. Not only is this spiritual bypassing of “identity politics” problematic for the world, but we can’t actually be whole until we consider their implications.

Jordan Peterson, a psychologist and professor at the University of Toronto, has gained a following among mostly-white-and-male spiritual seekers. Due to his incorporation of Jungian Psychology, mythology, and transcendence into academic psychological thought, he is often used as a “spiritual authority” as to why “identity politics” often oversteps its boundaries. In the video “Jordan Peterson Debunks White Privilege,” he states, “I can’t quite figure out why the postmodernists have made the canonical distinctions they’ve made. Race, ethnicity, sexual proclivity, gender identity, those are four dimensions along which people vary, but there is a very large number of dimensions along which people vary… There is an infinite number of dimensions along which people vary. So the postmodern question is, why would you privilege some of those distinctions over others?”

Here he is not making any real arguments of merit. He is simply using pseudo-intellectual lines of logic to obfuscate what should be plainly clear: these “distinctions” are four of the primary ways that we discriminate and oppress in our culture. This is not a philosophical abstraction. For people of color, women, and members of the LGBTQIA community, this is a daily reality. So what he calls “identity politics” is a needed remedy to a system that unfairly privileges whiteness, maleness, middle-and-upperclassness, etc.

So-called “identity politics” don’t further ensnare us in our separate selves, they actually help free us by shining a light on our deeply embedded identities. For white, heterosexual, cisgender men, our identities are so thoroughly supported and reflected by the dominant culture that they are made invisible to us. The acknowledgment of these identities is often painful because it shows our complicity in an oppressive system. Actually taking the time to understand how white supremacy or patriarchy functions in our culture shows us the ways that they function in our own mind. This does not reify the ego, it only clearly names its underlying structure.

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Guru Kripa

It is not necessary to meet your guru on the physical plane. The guru is not external.

-Neem Karoli Baba (Miracle of Love)

For me, the Guru is how God becomes personal. The Guru shows me that God is not just an Eternal, Impartial, Truth, or even an All-Pervading Essence of Love, but is also a Being who loves me and all of us unconditionally. Before meeting the Guru, I had faith in God, but not a personal relationship. It was the Guru that gave that to me. Now I see that the lines of the Guru Stotram are true: “There is no truth higher than the Guru, no practice higher than the Guru, and no knowledge higher than the Guru.”

For some of us the Guru can take the form of a physical person on earth. A true Siddha, or Perfected Master, is a Being that has no ego. When you look at Them, all you see is the divine radiance of God shining through. There are no impurities to block the light. This Divine Presence is within all of us as our True Nature, but it is clouded by a web of desire and self-identification. A Siddha has none of that. You can clearly hear the voice of God in Their words, and Their body is a living Murti.  Their very life is the wisdom of the Vedas.

Such a Being cannot die. Their physical body may fall away, but the God within was never confined to that body anyway. We can still use Their form to connect with Them. We can look at Their pictures, sing to Them, travel to Their temples, and experience Their Grace through satsang with other devotees. The Guru shows Their devotees that They are still here, often times through dreams, synchronicities or miracles, but always through an inner knowing of the heart.

“When two or three people gather in my name, I am there” Christ (Matt 18:20).

The personal relationship with Christ experienced by many members of the Christian faith could be seen as an example of this. For me and for other members of the Neem Karoli Baba satsang, we refer to our Guru as Maharajji, a Siddha that left His body in 1973. Of course, if we don’t feel called to a specific form of the Guru, we can still connect to Her.

The Universal Guru is the God within every heart, and we can connect to Him by reading about any of the saints we are drawn to. Each one is a different mask of God, as if She just swaps bodies the way we might change clothes. This analogy took on new meaning for me the day I met Ram Dass for the first time. Still jolted by the Shakti of that encounter, I had a vision that night as I fell asleep on the beach. I saw two figures hovering in front of me, Jesus and Maharajji. They were both levitating a few feet off the ground, and a subtle light illuminated their bodies as they each shapeshifted back and forth into each others’ forms. Jesus would turn into Maharajji at the same moment that Maharajji would turn into Christ. This lasted for maybe 5-10 seconds, and then I fell asleep.

Some of us might not require any form. Since the Guru is within, if we are truly quiet, we can hear that still, small voice. The moments when I am connected to my intuitive heart are when I can most clearly see that the Guru guides every step of the journey.

I remember a dream I had shortly before I moved in to live with Ram Dass. Maharajji and I were both in a room together. He was barking ridiculous orders at me, and I was blissfully complying with all of them. “Bend over! Now point one arm up towards the sky! Point the other arm down! Spin in a circle! Now walk backwards!” We both laughed hysterically as my body spun around in the most awkward shape. I woke up from that dream in a state of incomparable joy. The message was clear- Maharajji is the puppet master, I am the puppet, and this dance we enact together is one full of rich, cosmic humor.

Even moments of confusion are the Guru doing His needed work. In suffering I find I am often ripped away into the deepest surrender. It is these moments that I cling to the Guru, not as a spiritual practice or an exercise in devotion or faith, but out of necessity. Sometimes it feels like hanging on for dear life. Other times it’s like I’m completely helpless to do anything, and yet there the Guru is, holding me when I can no longer hold on to anything.

“You can leave me. I won’t leave you. Once I catch hold of you, I don’t let go.”

-Neem Karoli Baba (Miracle of Love)

This is Guru Kripa, or the Grace of the Guru.  It is the realization that we are His, that the Guru has us wrapped up in Her warm embrace, that every aspect of our lives serves to draw us towards Them. All we need to do is listen to our heart, and, even when we forget, that too is a part of the Perfection that is the Grace of the Guru. It is through this Grace that we gain faith. This faith is not the same as a belief. Belief is in the mind, but faith is deeper than that. It is a knowing of the heart that the Grace of the Guru is with us every step of the way.

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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. 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 the exploitation of people and the planet, 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 billowing 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 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

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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).

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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-heels 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