Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data.

I'm garnering so much goodness from Sharon Gannon and David Life these days. These creators of Jivamukti do such a rich, intelligent, elegant job of melding art, music, movement and philosophy in the name of yoga.

Give this interview a quick read. It's an excellent taste of the overarching spirit of Jivamukti philosophy: the beauty of work toward union encapsulated in a wild and radical vision for being alive in relationship that transcends Otherness. Love.

Here's a blurb:
We were both radicals and devoted to challenging the norms of our present culture and we were trying to do that through art. We were artists who practised yoga but over time, our audience became more and more interested in our yoga practices and less interested in our music, poetry, dance or painting. We began to realise the inherent potential of yoga, more than art, to elevate consciousness and dismantle our present culture. I believe this to be true at this time of global consciousness and shift on the planet. For the most part, art has become commodified and because of that, lost its spiritual potency to shift consciousness. Our present culture has successfully buried the spiritual potency of art, which was once able to move people into a higher realm of awareness. Culture has pushed the arts as well as the spiritual into a state of dormancy.

We started teaching yoga by default, but when we did we just thought to share with the students who showed up. Everything had personal meaning to us on our spiritual journey, hence, the emphasis on compassion for all beings: animal rights, veganism, environmentalism, political activism, the music, the scripture references, personal meditation techniques and reflections, and of course the love of God we integrated into our classes.

Yoga was exciting to us because of its spiritual activism. Swami Nirmalananda encouraged our activism. He taught us the mantra Lokah Samasta Sukhinoh Bhavantu. If the practice of yoga wasn't going to make us better people who were better able to contribute to the happiness of others and the upliftment of the planet, then why do it?
Great, right? Love, love the marriage of radical countercultural vision with yogic principles. There are so many overlaps here between this philosophy and many of the progressive Christian and Buddhist theologies out there right now: the emphasis on compassion, the erasure of otherness, the interconnection of all beings, the push toward mindfulness in relation, the potential for art and the sacred to intertwine in celebration and affirmation of our own aliveness.

Dig into the whole thing - the bits on ahimsa and compassion, the baubles on art and commodification, the beauties on yoga as a practice of dying. And then swim around in this final last gem:
To live in a way that our own life would enhance the lives of others is a radical concept as it gets to the very root of how happiness comes about. ....Yogis by nature are radical, not content to live superficial lives, but instead enjoy diving into cause.
Amen, babydolls. Amen.

Pure Yoga: Sharon Gannon and David Life

Monday, September 27, 2010

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.

We begin to find and become ourselves when we notice how we are already found, already truly, entirely, wildly, messily, marvelously who we were born to be.
~ Anne Lamott

(Anne's rocking my world these days.
Can you tell?)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Raw, idiom, 14a: in the natural, uncultivated, or unrefined state: nature in the raw.

Autumn's here, and with it, San Francisco's summer. I love.

That means Hardly Strictly Bluegrass next weekend. It means fab old friends in town from the East Coast. And it means the fall arts season's back in full swing. Again - I love.

I spent last night in the second row at the SF Opera's heart-cracking production of Werther. See it. For the stylish, minimalist sets. For the killer orchestrations. And for the tears.

And if that's not enough to get your blood moving, take a listen here, now, enough, to Nat King Cole's fantastically classically elegant rendition of that old melancholy ballad, "Autumn Leaves." Andrea rocked an instrumental version yesterday morning for savasana, and I spent that whole supposed-meditation time singing along in my mind.

Hello, Autumn.
We're so glad you're here.

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival
San Francisco Opera: Werther
Nat King Cole sings "Autumn Leaves" (YouTube)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.

...music is about as physical as it gets: your essential rhythm is your heartbeat; your essential sound, the breath. We're walking temples of noise, and when you add tender hearts to this mix, it somehow lets us meet in places we couldn't get to any other way.

~ Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies:
Some Thoughts on Faith

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Raw, adjective: 1. uncooked, as articles of food: a raw carrot.

I'm thrilled to be assisting my dear friend and colleague, raw vegan (yogi) chef Briksha this weekend for a fascinating workshop on the Yoga of Eating. Please swing by Urban Flow from 1-4pm Saturday afternoon the 18th for more information than you could possibly process in three hours.

It's an excellent way to take your yoga practice off the mat and to the dinner table. Among other topics, we'll be discussing prana and the ethics of eating as inspired by the Eight Limbs of Yoga, the sacred nature of how, what and why we eat, how to best approach your diet according to the three gunas (sattva, rajas and tamas), and how to bring mindfulness and consciousness to the way you eat.

In preparing for this, I've been loving having an excuse to revisit a lot of my older research on Ayurveda, holistic nutrition, and the ethics of consumption. Take a few minutes to revisit this really informal little raw foods primer that I wrote a few years back; it touches lightly on a few of the topics we'll be exploring in greater depth on Saturday.

Let your eating build your prana, and in so doing, bring life and light to all the beings around you. It's a wildly beautiful thing. Hope to see you on Saturday.

Rachel's Raw Foods Primer
Urban Flow Yoga

Monday, September 13, 2010

Raw, adjective: 5. crude in quality or character; not tempered or refined by art or taste: raw humor

I've been reading Neal Pollack's snarky yoga memoir, Stretch: The Unlikely Making of a Yoga Dude. It's funny as hell. As in, makes-me-awkwardly-guffaw-out-loud-on-the-bus-scaring-my-seatmates funny.

Check it out, pick it up, give it a whirl. You can find blurbs here and there all over the interwebz. Head over to Salon.com for this hilarious excerpt from the chapter chronicling Pollack's drug-addled visit to a politically-loaded Jivamukti class in NYC, where you'll find classic bits like when he calls bullshit on his passionately vegan teacher, in front of the entire class:
This particular dharma lecture confused me. Weren't yoga teachers supposed to present themselves as humble servants of a higher power rather than moral paragons above reproach or laughter? Also, while I've had some raw food episodes in my life, and understand and appreciate the philosophy behind veganism, her science was almost as faulty as her manner was condescending. Someone needed to take her down a notch. The right time to do it, I figured, was during a yoga class attended by a hundred of her followers, while I was toasted to the nines.

"Bullshit!" I said.

My friend looked at me, pained and nervous, pleading with her eyes for me to stop. The teacher heard because she was right in front of me.

"If someone disagrees with what I'm saying," she said, "they're obviously not well-informed and are speaking from a position of insecurity."

"I'm not the only one," I mumbled under my breath.

This wasn't going to go well. She huffed haughtily and resumed her dharma talk. Finally, our physical practice began. It pushed way beyond any level I could handle. The flow moved too fast, and many of the positions were new to me. I stumbled around, flinging sweat off my head onto other people's mats, huffing and sighing. The instructor, by now, had me in her crosshairs. She kept giving me adjustments, though the most effective adjustment might have been to put me in a chair and leave me there.

"Maybe you should practice a little bit before you start criticizing," she said.

"Maybe I should."

"Maybe you should."

"That's what I just said."

She walked away. I don't think I was her type of student. Then again, I'd yet to find a yoga teacher who was naturally drawn to sarcastic, incompetent fat asses.
As you can see, said Yoga Dude's got a great sense of self-deprecating humor. Pick up a copy. You'll find it a refreshingly snarky antidote to some of the more self-aggrandizing yoga tomes out there.

Die, smug yoga teacher, die (Salon)
Stretch: The Unlikely Making of a Yoga Dude (Amazon)

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.

The world is so charmingly small.

So Sunday - yesterday - I'm sitting in Sharon Meadow with my badass friend Autumn. We've just arrived in Golden Gate Park for the annual Opera in the Park concert, my long-standing favorite San Francisco tradition; we've staked out some primo territory to the left of the makeshift proscenium stage where the orchestra's been tuning up all morning, and we're laying out blankets to save space for the folks to come. The sun's flirting with coming out and staying, in between gusts of wind and churning fog.

I start pulling bottles of wine and quart bags of grapes and carefully-wrapped hunks of cheese out of my trusty wicker picnic basket. Autumn breaks out the rosé and starts making wine spritzers with club soda. We're fresh from yoga and ready to chill for a few minutes before folks start rolling up. And then, out of nowhere, there's a tap at my shoulder, and I look up to see a warm open-faced woman leaning toward me, pink iPhone in hand.

She says, shyly: "Excuse me, I think I have a picture of you on my phone. Is this you?"

And, sho' nuff, I'll be damned - there I am staring out from her iPhone, well, that is, a year-old version of me with bobbed hair and purple print sundress, bundt cake and fake flowers in hand. Turns out this woman - Michelle, I quickly learn - had been on the adjacent blanket, right in front of the stage, at last year's sea of thousands at Opera in the Park, and we'd chatted, made friends, shared some cake, you know, the kinds of easy nice interactions you have with fellow arts lovers when you share outdoorsy live music traditions like this one.

So here we are, one year later to the day, and Michelle and her husband Stacy just happen to have set their blanket up on the opposite side of the stage this year, much further back, and I've happened to arrive much later than my usual 10 or 11 am, owing to a juicy yoga class that kept me sweaty and not even home to shower til 11:30, and the two of us and our respective soireés have once again set up next to one another.

Turns out my new-old friend Michelle and her husband Stacy are from Chico, and they come here every year for Opera in the Park, as have I for the last seven years, even in those first few years when it was usually just me and a book and a bottle and the Chron, because I didn't know anyone in the City who'd want to take in hours of opera on a Sunday afternoon that happened to also be the onset of the nascent NFL season. But here in a sea of 15,000 people, we'd managed to find one another again, and Michelle gathered from my sundress and basket that it was the same picnicking cake-maker from last year, and she came over to say hello.

So we decided that the universe most definitely wants us to be friends, and traded digits, and made plans to see one another next year, same time, same place.

And I think the whole beauty of the story, this little ten-minute interchange that left me smiling and content even before the majority of my picnicking companions had arrived or the music had even begun, was that it reaffirmed that sweet theme that I've seen sung over and over in my bhakti baking practice these several years: the reality that a stupid cake, a silly over-frosted, tackily-decorated bundt cake, can soften strangers, bring them together, give them something to connect about, provide a reason for remembering, for noticing, for paying attention.

Michelle told me she'd said to her husband that very morning in the car: "Oh, I wonder if we'll see that cake girl in the sundress from last year?" And then not hours later, there I was settling in next to her.

The world can indeed be impersonal and huge and indifferent and overwhelming and magnificent in its existentialist loneliness at times, to be sure; especially in urbanity, where anonymity and purported isolation can give us implicit permission to ignore one another's humanity, we can so often feel there is so little hope for connection, that we live in a swarm of comings and goings, that we just look past one another on the sidewalk, that we're all so caught up in "getting our own" that we trample the people in our way. It can be easy to forget, in the midst of chaos and war, hatred and bigotry, and this weekend's anniversary of an atrocity committed in a spirit of fear and anger, that at the end of the day, we're just people, everyone's quite human, and that when you take the time to see the humanity in one another, to remember the faces, to pay attention to the sundress or the blanket or the picnic basket or the Sierra Nevada fleece keeping Stacy warm on a cold gusty foggy afternoon in the park, connection can be quite simple.

Rusty always reminds us to "shrink the world, one person at a time" after the typical Namastes have been spoken at the close of a yoga class. Instead of chatting it up with your buddies from the clique, you reach out to the stranger next to you and just say hello, whasssup, "why are you here?", because you never know if that person might be your next best friend. In that same kind of shrinking-the-world spirit, I was touched, heartened, lifted by yesterday's little moment with Michelle. It reminded me of the power of paying attention, the potential for softening to strangers, the ease with which we can open to one another and find tenderness there, instead of living in bodies wracked with tension and fear and distrust.

Yoga teaches us to be flexible, yes, in very physical ways; it stretches the hamstrings and loosens the shoulders, opens the hips and softens the jaw, if we let it; but it also teaches us to be flexible in less tangible ways: to be fearless about speaking to the stranger on the blanket next to us, to approach without hesitation the lonely-looking man sitting by himself with the Chron and to offer him a glass of wine or a slice of cheese, to see the Krishna-Buddha-Jesus-Gaia in everyone, everything, with whom we come into contact.

For me, in my baking and the bhakti seva that's come out of that particular practice, I've seen it happen so easily, so softly, so naturally, that it continues to inspire me to keep baking. But the silly cakes are really just a vehicle for something that can happen without the aid of buttercream or bundt carriers. We can learn from the doing, and see the opening, and carry that on in little ways, in the eye contact we make with the grocery store clerk who probably feels invisible much of the day, in the authentic thanks we offer the mail carrier for that long-awaited package just delivered, in the asking the crying stranger on the sidewalk, kindly, tenderly: what do you need?

It's really quite simple, and beautiful, when you let it be. Thanks to Michelle, and Stacy, and the SF Opera, and Golden Gate Park, and my favorite Alice in Wonderland picnic sundress, and last year's ridiculous margarita bundt cake, for reminding me so.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Raw, adjective: 2. not having undergone processes of preparing, dressing, finishing, refining, or manufacture

Monday morning overlooking my garden here in Lower Nob Hill, and I feel it, that summery ease sinking in on a day that broke clear and blue and warm. Bees buzzing outside and the apricot tree rustling and the streets relatively quiet with the Burners still on the Playa. After a go-go-gadget kind of week here, and a slammin' breathless night behind the bar crashing into exhaustion, I woke this morning still and mellow and oh-so-ready for exactly this kind of molasses-moving, sun-dappled day.

And it's, perfectly, Labor Day. We slow down, we sit still, we sprawl on the beach, we curl up with a beer, or a book, or a baby. And just be, before the waterfall craze of autumn schedules and dates and plans and appointments rushes in. One last glimpse of that elusive dog-day summertime ease.

Shambhala Sun pulls a gem out of its archives today, in honor of slowing down, sitting still, being here, now, enough. Read Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche's piece, "Slow Down, You Move Too Fast," and in it find balm for the constant rushing, a reminder that we accomplish more when we slow the racing mind and just focus on the putting one foot in front of the other:
When we speed around, are we mastering our life or hanging on for dear life? Mastering our life comes from the ability to be content with life as it unfolds. The first step is recognizing that we can be happy and at peace. Wanting to be anywhere but where we are, doing anything but what we’re doing, are unnecessary moves that throw us off balance. We can develop patience, which means not being so aggressive with our life. We don’t have to buy into speed’s game plan. We can slow down. Eating more doesn’t necessarily make the food more delicious. Getting angry over traffic doesn’t make it move faster.

The practice of meditation offers us the opportunity to slow down for a short time every day. This is how we can begin to step out of the cycle of speed. In sitting still and focusing our mind, we are declaring daily that this human life is precious. Taking time to appreciate it comes from our own determination and wisdom. Through this discipline, we simplify our life. We regain the space to appreciate it, having lost nothing but speediness. We learn how to float aloft, carried by the winds, appreciating what we see in every direction. We learn to relax.
An apt reminder on this culturally-sanctioned day of rest. Savor the moments today. They blow by so quickly.

Slow Down, You Move Too Fast (Shambhala Sun)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data.

Stop waiting.

Look around. Listen to your breath.
There is no more perfect time.

This moment is all there is.