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Special Ramayana storytelling sessions ~ Now available in the Bhakti Breakfast Club!

Hey Everybody,

Well, this has been coming for a long time – I’ve finally filmed my telling of the Ramayana, the great epic story of Ram, Sita and Hanuman. Many of you have heard me do this at Kirtan Camps and workshops around the world. It’s always a deep experience of remembrance and devotion for me, and I love seeing an audience of adult yogis and yoginis transformed into a group of sweet little kids…. These stories are an essential part of the Bhakti Yoga practice and have the power to reawaken a childlike wonder in us all, as well as a deep and ancient well of Bhakti. The Ramayana is particularly close to my heart, as my guru always loved hearing it sung, and encouraged us to explore its unfathomable depths…

We filmed the entire Ramayana in four consecutive one-hour sections, each with some kirtan. There was a really sweet studio audience packed into the small, hot and sweaty little studio. We all felt the energy get stronger and stronger through the day, as if Hanuman Himself had joined us and was listening to his primordial tale.. I hope this feeling comes across to you all when you’re watching and please, please sing along and feel like you’re right there with us.

Part 1 and Part 2 have just been released today, you can watch them now with a Bhakti Breakfast Club membership. Parts 3 and 4 will be added next month. Visit www.BhaktiBreakfastClub.com/jai to sign up. With a membership, you can watch all the other courses in the Bhakti Breakfast Club too, including harmonium lessons with Daniel Tucker, who teaches the harmonium classes at my kirtan camps, and upcoming tabla lessons with Daniel Paul they’re filming next month. If you’re a harmoniumer, you can learn lots of the songs from my “Kirtan!” album, and other live kirtans. And if y’all like the Ramayana courses, maybe we’ll film some more Bhakti story courses for you in the future!

Here’s a little clip – check it out!!

Lots of love,

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Update on “Shiva Station” Remake

Hey there, friends……

I hope this beautiful Spring day finds you all in good spirits. Life is so complicated and odd sometimes, isn’t it? But we can still try to keep our hearts and minds fresh, regardless of the challenges that cross our paths. Uh oh, sounding kind of ‘Hallmark’, aren’t I? Well, I’m just trying to remind myself!!!

Anyway, here I am, in between traveling and daddy-ing and husband-ing, working on a new album. Well, new and old at the same time. I’ve been recreating my CD Shiva Station for a 15th anniversary remake. But while the original was a completely rocking, band oriented project featuring the ‘Pagan Love Orchestra,’ this one is solo and acoustic, a very intimate take on a very extroverted BIG album. And it’s sure been challenging. First of all, trying to at least suggest all the orchestral parts on acoustic guitar and banjo really stretches me way beyond my limits, technically…. (Thank God for digital editing, I’m embarrassed to say.) But there’s more to it than that. As I revisit these lovely songs, I’m, of course, revisiting the moods and emotions of 15 years ago. You know how you feel when you listen to an old song that meant a lot to you in a completely different period of your life? Or when you go through a box of old photos? Well, this is sorta like that. And in those days my life was SOOOOOO different. The longings of my heart were pretty much the same, but my external circumstances were quite different and filled with a lot of sadness and anguish. I’m so thankful for the grace that has brought me to where I am today, and it’s healing but difficult to re-experience those feelings that birthed these songs… And rediscover them with the energy and joy the permeates my life now… Does that make any sense? I hope so.

I’m writing this quickly and I gotta go because I’m late for my recording session. Ben just texted me: “Where are you? I bought lunch!” So I’ll ‘see’ you all later.

Lots of love,

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Join us at our Summer & Winter Kirtan Camps

Dear friends,

Greetings from Northern California!!!

I hope the last days of winter find you all healthy and happy… I know there’s been a lot of colds and flus this season – I’ve struggled with a bad one – but don’t despair, the warm weather is just around the corner.

Also around the corner is our 11th Annual Summer Kirtan Camp, from August 5th to August 11th, in San Anselmo, California. This yearly adventure has grown and grown in depth, joy, music and devotion. If you’ve been thinking about it for a while, now’s the time to take the chance and go on a heart-adventure you’ll never forget.

A year and a half ago we said we were skipping our summer camp, but as usual, God had other plans and last summer we had a beautiful Bhakti journey with about 50 sweet souls. We did, however, skip our winter camp! Not again!!! Next December we will be returning to Blue Spirit in Costa Rica, from December 28th, 2013 to January 4th, 2014 – “New Year’s Kirtan and Bhakti Yoga Camp”!

Yes, we are going back and we are sooooo looking forward to it! Omega will be offering a weeklong program after our retreat and both Nubia and I are teaching at that one as well. You can come just for our New Year’s week or if you wish to go for 2 weeks and rest, bath in the warm waters, sing, dance, move your body, hike and play in the pool and ocean with Nubia, Ezra Gopal and I, SIGN UP SOON AND GET THE BEST ROOMS AVAILABLE.

To sign up you can email:
nubiacoruja@gmail.com

Lastly, I’m starting 2 new albums… hmmm… surprises in the air!!!!!!!

And if you haven’t heard Kirtan Kids you are definitely missing out. My wife, Nubia, who’s completely unbiased (!!!) has this to say about the kids CD: “It is one of the most artistically and inspiring albums for children I have ever heard!!! and I heard a lot with little Ezra!!! Your friends with children will simple LOVE the gift!!!!”

You can buy it at my website, but if you would like a special deal – 10 copies for $108 plus $10 for shipping – write to Nubia at nubiacoruja@gmail.com

I guess that’s it for now… I’m late for my recording session, as usual…

Lots of love to you all,

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Wishes for 2013

Dear friends,

I know I’m a bit late which is totally normal for me, but better late than never! HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ONE AND ALL!!!

May 2013 be a year filled with joy, love and peace for all beings in all the universes, seen and unseen…..

My family and I have just returned from a beautiful trip to Brazil and I’m finding the adjustment a bit difficult… Summer to winter, relaxing at the beach to getting back to work…. Jet lag is a weird disorder. But basically, all’s well.

Brazil was a time for reconnection. First reconnecting with our lovely Brazilian Kirtan community, then with Nubia’s vast and incredibly affectionate family (who are now my family, as well) and, lastly, with the divinely human trinity of Nubia, Ezra Gopal, and myself….

In São Paulo we had such great Kirtans. Thank you Gui, Rama Kumara Dasa, Govinda Dasa, Dacha, Jose Neto, Charlie at Yoga Flow, Andy & Fe at Aruna Yoga, and all our sweet friends. The light on Solstice night was shining brightly! And guess what…. The world didn’t end!

Then Christmas Eve with family. Seeing Nubia’s happiness melting in the arms of her mother made the whole trip worthwhile. But, gosh, when am I going to get my Portuguese together? Ezra was speaking perfectly, making friends wherever he went and feeling so comfortable with the Brazilian side of his heritage. Playing soccer, telling jokes, sneaking sips of Coca-Cola!!!!!

On Christmas Day we traveled to Bahia, to an island called Morro de São Paulo. A plane, a boat, and a long hike through the sand and we collapsed into the gentle embrace of Yemanja, the mother of the sea…. Every day we’d step outside of our little cottage and into the ocean where the tide pools allowed us to visit with thousands of colorful fish. Then some coconut water and a dip in the pool before our daily foosball tournament. It was boys against girls – Ezra and I on one team versus the mighty Nubia… Touch and go, but us guys emerged victorious….

Ok, I’m rambling again. But really what I want to share is that this period of downtime was so healing and nourishing and so needed after a long and somewhat challenging year. Yes, it took me several days to unwind, to stop worrying about being ‘productive’. (After all, it was the first New Year’s in 10 years that we didn’t do our Kirtan Camp.) But after a little while I found myself surrendering to the amazing spirit of the ocean and the earth, and to the truly blessed love of my family. Happy New Year!!!!!

So now we’re back home… Many projects, concerts and tours are in the works for 2013. Hopefully I can keep my internal rhythm a bit slowed down to really enjoy and give my best to the work I do… And, God-willing, I hope we can all keep our hearts more and more in tune with the Divine melody, the inner calling, our true essences in the year to come….

Much love and light,

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Chicago Children’s Choir Welcomes Back ‘Sita Ram’

The world is a stage for Chicago Children’s Choir as they bring the world musical and cultural treasure ‘Sita Ram’ back to life in Chicago and beyond.

Chicago – Chicago Children’s Choir is collaborating with Lookingglass Theater Director David Kersnar and the critically-acclaimed Natya Dance Theatre to re-launch the world musical “Sita Ram” on stage at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance on December 14 and 15.

A youthful melting pot of a musical based on an ancient Hindu epic and performed with an operatic intensity, “Sita Ram” uses nearly every musical genre, from classical to hip-hop to South African, to reflect the multiculturalism of the city and the world.

After the show wraps up at the Harris Theater, Chicago Children’s Choir will take it to India to tour the cities of Jaipur, Delhi, Bangalore, Agra, and Chennai.

“The performance is an uplifting way to reflect the rich diversity of the globe and foster peace through cultural understanding,” said Chicago Children’s Choir Director Josephine Lee, who commissioned Kersnar and Grammy-nominated world music composer Jai Uttal to co-create the production in 2002. “It reflects my passion for the Choir and its mission.”

Directed by Kersnar, “Sita Ram” will feature nearly 200 performers, including 110 singers, 32 dancers from the Natya Dance Company, twelve principle actors and actresses, and 23 acrobats from the Inappropriate Theater Company. Azeeza Khan, creative director of Chicago-based Atelier AZZA and “TimeOut Magazine’s” 2012 Breakout Emerging Designer is creating the costumes.

Azeeza Khan, creative director of Chicago-based Atelier AZZA and “TimeOut Magazine’s” 2012 Breakout Emerging Designer is creating the costumes.

“It’s going to be a party on stage,” Lee said, referring to the bombastic opening scene the show has in store this December. “We see this show as something that could become the next ‘Lion King.’ The collaboration brings so much life to the stage, and it exposes the children to a culture they would not have exposure to otherwise.”

Premiered at Lookingglass in 2006, “Sita Ram” is a modern interpretation of the Hindu epic, “Ramayana” (Rama’s Journey), a sacred 20,000 verse religious poem that teaches morality and ideal behavior through allegories.

“The young prince and princess find each other on earth again to bring the world righteousness, awareness, and love between all beings,” said Natya Dance Theatre’s Associate Artistic Director and Principal Dancer Krithika Rajagopalan.

The tale is just as critical to East Asian culture today as it was in 300 BCE. Children grow up hearing the tale that explores human values and demonstrates how powerful love is created when the two elements (protagonists Sita and Rama) come together to bring the world peace and harmony that is made possible only through love.

Chicago Children’s Choir: http://www.ccchoir.org/
Sita Ram: http://www.sitaramthemusical.com/
FBSitaRam: http://www.facebook.com/sitaramthemusical
Twitter @SitaRamChicago

TICKET INFORMATION
Harris Theater for Music and Dance
200 East Randolph Street, Chicago, IL
-FRI 12.14.12 / 7:30PM
-SAT 12.15.12 / 2:00PM
-SAT 12.15.12 / 7:30PM
Tickets: $15-$65
www.sitaramthemusical.com/tickets/

ABOUT CHICAGO CHILDREN’S CHOIR
Founded in 1956, Chicago Children’s Choir is a multiracial, multicultural choral music education organization, shaping the future by making a difference in the lives of children and youth through musical excellence. The Choir currently serves nearly 3,200 children, ages 8-18 through choirs in 60 schools, after-school programs in eight Chicago neighborhoods and the internationally acclaimed Concert Choir. Under President and Artistic Director Josephine Lee, the Choir has undertaken many highly successful national and international tours, received a Chicago/Midwest Emmy Award for the 2008 documentary Songs on the Road to Freedom, and has been featured in nationally broadcast television and radio performances, most recently on The Oprah Show, NBC’s Today and the PBS series From the Top: Live from Carnegie Hall.

ABOUT NATYA DANCE THEATRE
The Natya Dance Theatre (NDT) is amongst the most critically acclaimed and culturally treasured Indian dance companies in the United States. The professional dance company was founded in 1994 and is based in Chicago. The highly innovative work of NDT offers profound and subtle expressions of humanity’s deepest questions and values in the context of our present day lives. Rooted in Bharata Natyam, one of the great classical dance forms of India, NDT preserves and perpetuates Bharata Natyam in its entire classical rigor, and moves the art form in innovative directions n to foster cultural exchange through dance.

ABOUT DAVID KERSNAR
David Kersnar is a founding ensemble member of Lookingglass Theater Company. Kersnar founded and currently instructs with the Lookingglass Education and Community Program and served as its director from 1992-1997. David recently directed and co-wrote The Last Act of Lilka Kadison for Lookingglass and Charles Mee’s Iphigenia 2.0 for the Next Theater Company. Kernsar is also writing and co-directing sequences for Don Pasquale at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. David holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from Northwestern University.

# # #

For more information about Sita Ram, please contact Misho Ceko at info@sitaramthemusical.com.

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Jai on The Golden Age Music Show on November 4

Jai will be doing a live interview on The Golden Age Music Show on Sunday at 9pm ET/6pm PT. Call in to request a song— if you’re one of the first three callers, you’ll win a copy of “Queen of Hearts!”

More information about the show can be found here.

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New Single: “Parikrama – The Path Of A Thousand And Eight Tears…”

Hey there, friends…..

Well, it’s been many years since I released my first album, Footprints, in 1990. Life’s panoramic vistas have changed immensely in many many ways; personally, I’ve passed through beautiful, joyous mountain tops and dark, lonely, despairing caverns, chronicling it all in fourteen CDs and many smaller musical and spiritual projects. Although stylistically my music has developed quite a bit over the years, in some ways I’d say that I’m still exploring the same themes…. What is the most beautiful, perfect melody that will heal my spirit, share my soul, and connect my heart with the eternal heart of divine love…. What are the colors and rhythms in which to dress that melody…. How deeply can I rip open my being and let my voice and feelings free to fly to God…. And how can the melodies and colors of ancient India intermingle with the sounds of today…. It sounds kind of pretentious to put it into words, but isn’t this the eternal quest shared by everyone? And as an artist, I’m also always struggling to improve my craft, my vocal and instrumental techniques, to support this emotional and spiritual process….

Meanwhile, the world has changed and the “business” of music has also changed drastically in recent years. I often ask myself “is there any real reason to make another CD?” Most people are so over saturated with music that, at most, they’ll download a song here and there, not even considering the purchase of a new CD. Or else they’ll tune in to Pandora, Spotify or other similar music services. And then, of course, there’s the issue of bootlegs. Ohhhh, don’t get me started on that!!!!

So, what to do… One day early in this year I called up my musical partner Ben Leinbach and said, “Hey!!! Let’s record a single and I’ll release it on my website and Facebook and see what happens.” And then I thought, rather than charging a set price I’ll put it up for donation. This way folks with no money can just download it for free, and those who have a little extra money will perhaps remember that this is how I make my living and support my sweet family…

Listen and Download “Parikrama – The Path Of A Thousand And Eight Tears…”

So, to the song itself:
Circling the ancient town of Vrindavan in North India is a dusty dirt and sand road called Parikrama Marg (or path). Like a garland placed around the lotus neck of Sri Krishna Govinda, or perhaps a flower garden surrounding the bed chamber of Srimati Radharani, Parikrama Road is considered a great and holy place of pilgrimage. Walking barefoot around Vrindavan morning after chilly morning, my feet numb from the frigid cold, I’ve witnessed the simple miracles of the devotional life; “Bhaktas” literally crawling in the dust crying Radha’s name; aged Sadhus tearfully chanting the Srimad Bhagavatam as peacocks danced around them; an elephant turning into Sri Krishna, his trunk stretched out to the side like a bamboo flute; men and women dancing in ecstasy, seemingly lost to the outer world, singing the Mantras of divine love; little kids momentarily interrupting their wild games to bow before an image of Hanuman, the Monkey God; young renunciates shaving their heads and bathing in the blessed Yamuna river; on and on….. Experiences of deep longing, uninhibited joy, compete commitment to the path of Bhakti….. My new song, “Parikrama – The Path Of A Thousand And Eight Tears…”, though it bubbles along on a distinctly Bossanova-esque rhythm, remembers and offers obeisance to this holy journey, the dirt path that circles the sleeping body of Gopala, Parikrama Road. I hope you enjoy it…

Love,

Credits:

Produced by Jai Uttal and Ben Leinbach
Engineered and mastered by Ben Leinbach

Recorded at Old Bull Studios, San Anselmo, California
Written by Jai Uttal
All instruments played, sampled or programmed by Jai and Ben.
Vocals by Jai, Ben, Prajna Vieira, and Mary Redente
Track art by Giuliano Guarneli

Lyrics:
Shri Krishna Govinda Hare Murare
Hey Natha Narayana Vasudeva

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama
Rama Rama Hare Hare

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Teaching Bhakti

Can You Train The Heart?

On October 20th and 21st noted bhakti and kirtan leader Jai Uttal will present a weekend of chanting, devotion and teaching to the students of the Yogamaya as part of their teacher training.

Fortunately for the rest of us, this program will be open to the general public so we all have the opportunity to learn from this bhakti master.

To find out what is in store, YogaCity NYC’s Alex Phelan sat down and had a conversation with Yogamaya founder Bryn Chrisman and Jai Uttal.

Alex Phelan: Describe the idea behind the bhakti segment of your teacher training.

Bryn Chrisman: The immersion into bhakti is one section of our 300 hour training. We call it devotion because not everybody knows what bhakti means. It’s four weekends, based on the first sutra in the second book of Patanjali: Tapah Svadhyayesvara Pranidhanani Kriya Yoga – Kriya-yoga, the path of action, consists of self-discipline, study, and dedication to the Lord.

The weekend with Jai is the one weekend that we open up to the public.

AP: How is a section with this emphasis on bhakti unique?

BC: Bhakti can be really misunderstood in the commercial yoga world. When it’s put out there in this low common denomintator sort of a way, people miss what the possibilities are of the practice. When you really connect with it or get a proper frame of reference from somebody it opens things up in people.

AP: How do you describe bhakti to those who are unfamiliar with it?

Jai Uttal: The practice of bhakti yoga for me is the attempt or the intention to deepen and intensify my personal relationship with god – whatever aspect of the divine one is drawn towards. It’s a very very personal feeling that is nourished and nurtured by certain practices like mantra and chanting and music and dancing. Even writing, poetry, cooking practices can be part of bhakti if they are enacted within the spirit of offering, surrender and connection to god.

AP: How did you first start down this path?

JU: I was a teenager in New York City and the first exposure I had was hearing the hari krishna folks singing in the street. I was never drawn to join that movement. But then the singing and the rythyms, the drums and repetition of these mantras really connected with me.

I went to India in 1971 and I met my guru, Neem Karoli Baba. Many people have different opinions about who he was and what he taught; he was shrouded in mystery in a sense. But in my case I felt that he bestowed upon me the path of bhakti yoga. We chanted all the time around him and he instructed all of us westerners to chant kirtan.

AP: How did you transition from this as a personal practice to a professional one?

JU: It was a really slow process and I fought it continuously. I always saw myself as a spiritually focused professional musician. But I had this one band that I was so passionate about called the Pagan Love Orchestra. It was a combination of devotional, classical and folk music from India mixed with hip hop, reggae, rock ‘n roll and a little bit of jazz – all very much with a spiritual intention. I loved this band, but finally it slowly crashed and burned.

Meanwhile, I kept getting calls from people saying ‘would you come over and lead us in kirtan and talk a little bit about your experiences?’ My responses were always, ‘I’m not really a singer; I can’t do that; this is just my own private thing; you should find someone else.’ But there really weren’t other people doing this at that time. So I kept getting these calls and I eventually said ok. I’m still insecure about singing but I embrace the insecurity and know that it is my role to sing. But it took a long time and was mostly from the insistence of others, which I indirectly interpret as the insistence of my guru.

AP: Why is it important to have bhakti as a component of a yoga teacher training?

JU: That’s a question that requires an opinion – some would think it’s completely unimportant. But if you look at the ancient phenomena of yoga, asana was never separate from meditation, pranayama, bhakti. It was all a complete package for the ancient sages and yogis. Just as the hip joints need practices, the human heart needs practices. So the idea of including it in a teacher’s training now seems very novel, because when yoga came to the west it primarily came as a physical practice without the deep spiritual component. All these aspects were and are interconnected. So it think it’s really great that some yoga schools and teachers are beginning to realize that all these different practices enhance each other.

AP: How does this segment of your training help to make bhakti or devotion more accessible to your teacher trainees?

BC: I think Jai Uttal is, in a way, the perfect ambassador between yoga people in the western yoga world and the real bhakti. He’s such a sweet generous soul but he’s so relatable to anybody. I remember when I first started teaching I was really confused about how a teacher was supposed to be. I thought that if you were a real teacher you commanded authority in the room, that you held people accountable, that you had to be strict if people did things like walk with shoes in the yoga room. And I remember being in his kirtan camps and people were making themselves comfortable. Kids were running into the temple room with their shoes on, making noise. And it never phased him, he was just open and joyous to all of it. And it was such a teaching for me because he has my respect but he’s not yelling at people or trying to control every move they make.

AP: What does your daily practice look like?

JU: The bulk of my daily practice is taking care of my little boy – he’s 7. Sometimes that’s playing music and singing, sometimes its building legos, sometimes its watching TV, sometimes its just hanging out. That is my main devotional practice right now. There are certain prayers that I say every morning and every night. Sometimes I sing them, sometimes I whisper them; sometimes it’s very fast and brief, and sometimes it’s very full of feeling. But I never skip them.

And I do a lot of public kirtans. Even though I frame that as my job, it’s also my practice. The day it stops being my practice and just becomes a job is the day I can hand in my card and say ‘I’ve gotta start doing something else.’ And once a week I go to my wife’s yoga class, which is just about enough to feel constantly achy.

AP: How does one move more deeply into the practice of bhakti?

JU: I think the best way is to dive into the practice and be consistent. Even if the time is short, every day spend five minutes finding a place in your heart that is a vulnerable feeling place and sing a mantra. Just see what happens; for each person it’s going to be completely different and it won’t happen overnight. Try out these practices without expectation — in the west we are so goal-oriented, and our time clock is ticking all the time. In the east where these practices come from, they think about many many many lifetimes to somehow find one’s self for one moment of one’s life in that real deeply blissful loving presence of god. So it’s not an overnight thing.

I never prosyletize. What do I know about anyone elses journey? I barely know my own. But when people say that they are drawn to this, then I say try 5 minutes a day for two weeks – singing. And they say ‘but I’m not a singer’ and I say ‘what does that mean?’ Everyone is a singer if you open up your mouth. God is not a critic. And then they say ‘but I’m not very spiritual’ and I say ‘neither am I, but you have a heart that is inhabited with feelings’. Then they say ‘but I don’t know any mantras’ and I say ‘try ram’. It’s really easy to find a simple mantra for kirtan. Kirtan mantras are mostly pretty simple, they are just names of gods.

AP: What will your weekend for the teacher training at Yogamaya look like?

JU: I never plan ahead. . I’m just sharing what I do and what I am, for better or for worse. All I can do is share what experiences I’ve had and what prodigiously small knowledge I have of this tradition – share about my guru and my songs and re-tell the great stories from the Ramayana which are part of the tradititon. What I really like when I’m with a group is for people to ask questions because it can steer us towards what people in the group need. We will sing a lot and I’ll do some gentle exercises for people to open up and discover their voices a little bit. We’ll laugh a lot hopefully and maybe cry a little. We’ll try to find ourselves in an open vulnerable, feelingful place with each other which is a vulnerable, open, feelingful place with god.

For more information about or to register for the weekend with Jai Uttal at Yogamaya click here. Cost is $160 before October 12th and $175 after. To come to Uttal’s Kirtan performance alone costs $28.

Alex Phelan teaches anatomically influenced and alignment conscious yoga in New York City.

Read the original article here.

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Explosion of Life: An Interview with Jai Uttal

by Chris Grosso

CG: So here we are in lovely Estes Park, CO for the 2012 Yoga Journal Conference. As I’ve been taking in this beautiful scenery the past few days it sparked my curiosity about your personal experience while performing in relation to the various locations worldwide you travel too. Do they affect said experience, or is it based more on the collective energy of the people, or is it Maharaj-ji coming through?

JU: It’s all of the above. One thing that affects the event is where I’m at physically. So at last night’s performance for example, I was really feeling the altitude and my energy was a little low. It changed towards the end, but I felt during the first hour that I just didn’t have much physical energy. Singing, playing and performing, it’s very physical. You’re a drummer Chris, so you know.

CG: Yes, for sure.

JU: Yeah, it’s very physical, spiritual and emotional and for me, I don’t deny that and try to go out of that experience, it’s part of the beauty of it. It’s a physical practice, particularly singing, which is breathing. So last night I was a little short of breath and in that sense, even though it’s very, very beautiful here, the geography here made me struggle. If I’d been here for a week, it would have been different. I would have felt very expanded by the expansiveness of this place. I’ve had that experience being in the foothills of India a lot. The first couple of days I’m there I feel tired because of the altitude but after that, I feel energized. Then, everywhere I look, I see vast spaces and it does something to my heart and psyche, no question.

The collective energy of the crowd is always a big part of it too. It’s not a performance per se, there’s elements of performance, for sure, but essentially it’s a group invocation practice. So when everyone is into it, it’s just so amazing, and when everyone is perhaps not into it, it still can be amazing, but in a different way. It’s always different and yet in a sense, it’s always the same because it’s an internal journey of prayer, calling to my Guru, calling to God.

I would never say Maharaj-ji comes through me, but I will say that sometimes I feel Maharaj-ji comes to listen and I can feel that when it happens. Perhaps, on the other hand, it always happens and I’m just not aware of it. I get distracted sometimes. I find if I’m well rested and I have a good cushion under my butt and a good sound system, it’s usually fine though. If I’m tired and physically uncomfortable, well, I still look at it as part of the practice because the practice is internal.

CG: Right, absolutely.

JU: Sometimes it’s an effortless beautiful flow, and sometimes it’s not and yet, it doesn’t change what it’s about. It seems to me that if we were supposed to be in constant bliss, we would be, but part of being on the path is all the challenges. If we never felt the joy and ecstasy, it’d be a bummer and it’d be like, “why bother?” but it’s as if God gives as enough to keep us going. In the Bhakti tradition, the feeling of separation, the pain, is such a big part of it because that’s what adds the fire to the longing, the movement towards that Beloved.

CG: Yes, that definitely resonates with me and totally I hear you on the geography here taking it out of you. I’ve been here four days now and am just starting to feel adjusted, and of course, I’m leaving after this interview.

JU: Of course (laughing.)

CG: So, I love that you did your Kirtan Kids album. I’ve told you in the past I have a teacher friend who plays it for her kids in class and they love it!

JU: That’s great to hear.

CG: Definitely, and we’ve also talked in the past about your son and that you’re obviously a very loving papa to him. So with that being said, can you talk a bit about the importance of facilitating spiritual awareness in children’s lives and how, in your own experience, you’ve found the most nurturing way to do so?

JU: That’s a great question and like you said, I can only speak from the experience of myself, my son and family, so it’s not a blanket statement for all kids, because I just don’t know. With my son, I feel that he’s a completely spiritual being. It’s not spiritual as the same way of the people in my generation, I won’t even speak for yours, but we grew up in the consciousness that spirituality was something sort of separate from life.

Many of us, in our late elderly age (laughing) are realizing that no, that’s not the case. Spirituality does, needs to, and must be pervasive of everything. People have different beliefs about that but that is mine. If spirituality is separate from life, what kind of spiritual is that? God pervades every molecule so how can we think that spirituality is something else, and I see with my boy that complete awareness. Light is everywhere, it’s in him, it’s in everything. It’s a blissful devouring of life, and complete connection to the spirit world, love, and Maharaj-ji. To spiritual practices like Japa (repetition of mantra) and Kirtan, but it’s not like Japa is one thing and playing Nintendo is another thing. It’s all just a full explosion of life.

So then what’s my job? Of course, as a father, I’m always reevaluating that question. It’s like the eternal question, because my child changes every day, which is cool, but it’s challenging. So I introduce practices, not as a teacher, but rather sharing what I do, so he can join me, or not.

Sometimes as we go through life, it gets challenging and the Divine energy gets beat up a little bit, so it’s important to have little tools that help keep the connection strong. I think Ezra’s generation will have an easier time keeping that connection stronger but still, life is life.

We do Japa together and sing Kirtan together but I don’t frame it as more important than other things we do together. I feel that Ezra, he’s a wild kid, he’s a good and kind kid. He’s not a tantrumy, mean kid, but he’s wild and I love that in him. Sometimes sure, I wonder what I’m going to do with him, but at the same time, he has a passion for doing beads, doing Japa, saying Ram, he loves it. Does he love it more than playing Pokemon? I don’t know and don’t really care, because he loves it.

There’s a bunch of rules that his school has and they’re not wrong rules, they’re behavioral rules for being in school. Some seem pretty silly, some important, and the first day he brought home a list, which was his homework, and we were supposed to look at it together and then I’d sign it. So we were looking at the list and he told me which rules he’d broken and I realized that I’ve never really followed rules my entire life, for better or worse. I don’t want to be a hypocrite to my son, so I said, “Look, the only rule I beg for you to follow, as best as you can, is to always be kind” and he said, “Okay, I’ll try.” Then the other day he told me how he was mean to another kid and I told him all we can do is try.

So I see Ezra’s generation, and not just him, but many of his peers, as the ones who will save the world. We try, we do our bit, we all do our little bit and it all adds up to something big, so there’s no question about that, but I see his generation as the ones who really have the illuminations and the shakti, the energy. They have the power. So I know that my work as a singer is important, it’s valuable to me and to others, but I think that in the bigger picture, I’m just trying to keep my heart pure and open. It’s almost impossible, but with God’s grace, it seems semi-possible.

In the bigger picture, I see my job as keeping Ezra safe, happy, empowered and loved. His generation is going to do a lot so what I can do for the world is to be his servant. Of course, I’m still his father and disciplinarian but also, I want to nurture him until he’s able to take over and do whatever he has to do in the world. I don’t know what it is, but I know it will be big, and I know it’s not just him but his generation as well.

CG: That’s beautiful. Having worked with children myself for six years, I totally understand what you’re saying about his generation being illumined and of service in the context you described, very cool. So something I’m curious about is regarding your “celebrity” in the spiritual community and how that affects your ego nature? Is it something you have to be consciously aware or is it sort of second nature these days?

JU: The ego is always there and everybody’s ego has different flavors. Mine, rather than falling into thinking I’m great, tells me I’m awful and that I suck, but it’s the same deal. I don’t try to vanquish my ego.

CG: Sure, I get that.

JU: Yeah, the ego is just part of who we are. Sometimes it’s great and helps us move forward and sometimes it’s a bummer. For me, it’s usually a negative voice that I call ego, though you could also call it conditioning maybe. When I was just beginning to have that “celebrity” status, I would think I was a star and rolled with it a little but that was then. Last night for example, there was a big stage but we were on the floor on a blanket (laughing.) So I really feel myself to be a human who struggles, but like I said, the most important thing is my work as a papa.

I feel many, many challenges in my career but I try not to obsess about them. I deal with them, but not obsess. Most of the time, not all of the time, but most of time, when I’m singing and playing music, I feel in my heart, that the ego issues of the heart and mind aren’t there, or maybe they’re there, but they’re not bugging. Before and after they are (laughing). But the “star” status, it just doesn’t mean much to me. Mostly I’m just around home and doing my thing and I feel pretty regular.

CG: Sure I totally respect you view and approach. I was curious because of course, people such as yourself who are able to touch so many lives tend to be held on a pedestal by many people, or Guru worship, and unfortunately with some teachers, a lot of teachers actually, it’s obvious it goes to their head.

JU: Well, I don’t feel like a celebrity, so sometimes when people approach me as such it’s like, “What, who, me?” but then there’s another side to it which is nice, the side when people, if it’s not all projection and bullshit, approach me with a beautiful feeling of respect and I take that in and I like it. I don’t live on it because it’s only part of the picture, but it’s nice. It helps me remember my journey and that I can be respectable, respect myself, and others. So that is one side of it that I don’t want to belittle, it’s nice. Like I feel old, well not old, I do have a lot of energy, but I’m 61 and these days, well I’ve been through a lot. It doesn’t make me enlightened, or this or that, but I’ve had a handful of experiences that have given me some information that I can share with others.

CG: Right, and in the way you describe transmitting those experiences, it’s certainly of authentic value to others and that’s awesome. So going back to the negative and judging voice you said you experience as your ego/conditioning, you and I have talked before about being in recovery and how we’ve been to some pretty dark places our lives, as have a lot of people on this path, substance abuse related, or not. In your personal experience, how have those dark nights of the soul helped you grow in your spiritual journey?

JU: Well let’s not put it in the past tense because every other day I have a dark night of the soul. It’s doesn’t last all day, so I guess I have a dark moment of the soul (laughing). My Guru, Neem Karoli Baba said one time that people call on God when they’re suffering, so there is that. You can’t deny it, it’s not that we wish suffering on ourselves or anyone, but when we feel like we’re against the wall, we just call on God, we just do. I had a dark night of the soul last night. I have such bad insomnia and sometimes with insomnia, you can sort of relax and read a book, but anyone who has insomnia knows that other times, it generates incredible anxiety.

So how did I deal with it, not well. I laid there being anxious, but I did repeat God’s name over, and over, and over again. Did I repeat it with love and passion, I don’t think so, but I repeated it, and I know that every repetition of God’s name is a footstep towards that One. Every day I could have a different answer to this, but lately, I do feel that in the journey of Bhakti and Kirtan, our entire emotional range is offered and is expressed. For myself, I can be singing one moment and feeling so joyful and then the next moment feeling full of despair, and I don’t know why, it just is. I feel that all the experiences I’ve gone through in my life, the joyful ones and the painful ones, they add to the picture and completeness of who I am.

So the more of the different corridors, caves and rooms in our heart the we’re able to explore and experience, the bigger our offering and our emotional range, or the pallet of colors we’ll have with which we connect to God and to other humans, because if we can’t connect to humans, we can’t connect to God. I feel for myself, that I’m able to relate to people regarding many different things in context to human spirituality. I say human, not like mountaintop spirituality, but human, you and me, spirituality. There have been many different phases and experiences in my life, which allow me to relate to many people in different ways. I also feel it makes me able to relate deeply to my Guru and to God in my singing and my songs.

This is an eternal debate but I don’t feel we necessarily choose our life experiences. I think karma and grace give us what we need to have. Sometimes you think, “Why the fuck is this happening to me?” and other times you think, “I know why this is happening to me, because I’m an asshole” and yet other times you may think, “Why the fuck is this beautifulness is happening to me, what did I do to deserve it?” Maybe you did nothing, maybe just being a child of God makes us deserve the grace, but everything that happens creates who we are. Sitting with Maharaj-ji creates who I am just as much as sitting in a 12-Step meeting creates who I am.

I can think some things are more important than other’s but even that is kind of weird to say because how is it so, especially if you believe on any level that it all comes from God. I don’t always live that, but I always believe it. So if you believe everything comes from God, how can you say this is more important than that? Some things make more lasting impressions, but that’s a whole nother question. I forget a lot of my moments and days and hours sitting with Maharaj-ji and I wonder how I could forget those blissful times of my life, but I also forget a lot of the bad things that have happened. I understand that as a survival mechanism though, or maybe I just have a bad memory. It doesn’t all have to be cosmic. Maybe I just need to eat more carrots or something (laughing).

CG: You’re preaching to the choir in that answer, my friend. Well, except for the carrots part because I think they’re terribly gross. Anyways, the last question I wanted to ask you is if we were to lay aside all the yoga pants, malas and kitschy spiritual sayings, and go beneath the surface, what does spirituality in that place look like to you?

JU: Man that’s such a hard question because instantly all these aphorisms and statements from The Dalai Lama or a yogi pops into my mind and my mouth wants to say them (laughing), because they’re really real and true.

CG: Absolutely, of course.

JU: But what’s really real though, what’s really spiritual? Oh God, I don’t know.

CG: Yeah, sorry to hit you with this one last.

JU: No, this is good. Well I was just thinking this morning about how does one live right or live truthfully, honestly, lovingly and caring. How do you care for others? I want to know what real devotion is, but then that’s just a word, you know? I was reading recently in the Shrimad Bhagavatam, I don’t read spiritual books that much, I mostly read suspense novels (laughing), but I do occasionally read spiritual stuff. So, the Shrimad Bhagavatam was talking about the highest stage of Bhakti being clear, with open eyes, seeing and completely loving God in every molecule of creation and particularly, in every human being, and serving and loving God in every human being. These are words that are coming out of my mouth now, but I have no idea of what that actually would be like, but I’d like to know what it’s like.

I know that by loving and serving my family, it’s a little step towards that. I know that by remembering my Guru and remembering God, through mantra, singing and praying, I know it’s a little step towards that. I know that singing Kirtan, which usually I love but sometime’s can be a job that I don’t necessarily love, but through Kirtan, I know it’s a step towards that. The last thing is loving people. I don’t exactly know how too. I can be kind and caring to people, that comes naturally, and that’s a little step. What does it all adds up to? Well when I get there I’ll tell you, but right now, I don’t know.

I want to live right and that means learning how to be kind to myself. I was tormenting myself last night with the insomnia and anyone who has insomnia knows that it often leads to anxiety and getting mad at ourselves, which makes it worse. And it’s not just insomnia, in many instances in life. But how do I learn to be kind to myself? Sometimes you can be with a group of people and feel so much love for them while you’re looking around and then you get to yourself and you go, “Ugh.”

CG: That’s the story of much of my life, Jai.

JU: Right, you like to skip over yourself real fast and go to the next person and that goes back to the ego question. It’s a negative ego but only calling it ego doesn’t help. I need to remember that I’m a human being too, so why can’t I love me (laughing)? Last night, I did something, it was only the second time I did it and it’s very silly, but it triggered something for me when I did it the first time last week. I was thanking all the performers who played with me and after I thanked all of them, I looked down and said, “Thank you Jai.” So I’m trying to be nice to me too. It’s kind of childish, but it’s work that needs to be done.

CG: That doesn’t sound childish at all to me. Sounds like important work, but I totally get where you’re coming from for sure. Well, I can’t thank you enough for your time Jai. It’s a pleasure getting to chat with you again.

JU: Yes, thank you Chris. I really enjoyed these questions.

CG: Cool, thanks. Safe travels my friend.

JU: And you as well.

Originally posted on The Elephant Journal and The Indie Spiritualist

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Upcoming Events in Colorado and the East Coast

I’m excited to be getting to a few places in the next few weeks I don’t regularly get to — Estes Park for the Yoga Journal Colorado Conference, Washington, DC, Connecticut, and NYC. Take a look at my tour page for more details as well as info about Prana Fest and several events in California.

I’ve been reminiscing about some pivotal events in my life on Facebook in the past few weeks… studying with Ali Akbar Khan, seeing Jimi Hendrix in concert, traveling to India for the first time… if you’d like to read about the crazy journey that got me here, please like my Facebook page and take a look at my Timeline.

Love,

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