Bhakti - Art of Living Retreat Center

Cookies, Tea, and the Nature of Bhakti

By Jai Uttal
January 16, 2019

Bhakti - Art of Living Retreat Center

Bhakti Yoga brings us into the world of mystery, a realm where the dissecting, discerning qualities of the intellect are powerless next to the vast ocean of feelings. For most practitioners, the goal of Yoga is union, oneness with the Supreme. But in Bhakti Yoga we don’t think about the goal, we only weep, laugh, cry, sing and dance with our Beloved. Bhakti is about relationship; our stormy love affair with God. And Bhakti is about surrender; surrendering our personal heart into the Great Heart, offering our self will and all our efforts and actions to that vast Consciousness, to God. “Not my will but Thy will be done.”


In the holy places of India, towns and villages permeated with devotion, magic is a daily occurrence. Perception shifts like clouds moving across the sun. When the aroma of God’s name wafts down a village street we can suddenly find ourselves walking in the ancient footsteps of Ram and Sita, or Hanuman, or Radha and Krishna… Throughout the day, we hear bells ringing, mantras being uttered from every doorway, kirtans bursting from the primitive loudspeakers. We smell incense and flower offerings. We catch glimpses of Gods and Goddesses around every corner. Doing pilgrimage to the sacred shrines is an invitation to the mystical breath of Bhakti.


The ancient village of Vrindavan, the town that was home to the young Lord Krishna and His beloved Radha, is one of these great sanctuaries, imbued with worship. The lines between the past and the present, the astral and the concrete, are very thin, and pilgrims come from all over India to partake of the nectar of Rasa, or divine emotion, that colors the town. When I first visited Vrindavan in 1971, I was absolutely stunned by the sheer quantity of living temples. It seemed that literally every other building was a holy shrine, and the sound of God’s names reverberated from wall to wall, street to street, crumbling alley to archaic temple.


One day I was walking along Parikrama Road, a path that circumambulates the village. Devotees walk this dusty path (approx. 5 miles) as an act of worship, feeling that they are Radha, circling the body of Her lover, Krishna. Walking around Parikrama you see ancient India, priests chanting the Vedas, pilgrims weeping, sadhus gathered around their “dhunis” swaying to the driving rhythms of a kirtan chant, peacocks, cows, on and on… I used to take this walk every morning before dawn, timing it so I could have my first chai of the day watching the blood red sun rise over the Yamuna river. As the sun climbed into the sky my heart never failed to melt at the passionate cries of “Radhe” or “Hare Krishna” that echoed through the misty morning air.


On this particular day, as I was walking away from the river I heard a horrific racket. A young sadhu, covered with white paste, and wearing a simple cloth around his waist was sitting on a small stone wall, banging cymbals together and screaming “Radhe Shyam Radhe Shyam Radhe Shyam” at the top of his lungs. Instantly my “shanti” was shattered. The cymbals seemed louder than the rock concerts I’d left back home in the States. And his raspy voice was like sandpaper to the inside of my brain. Where was the blissful India that I loved?


I hurried my steps and tried to get past him without being noticed. But just then, an old old man in orange robes, bent with age, sporting long dreadlocks, stepped out of the little hut adjacent to the path. The young sadhu became stunningly silent as his ancient guru offered me tea and cookies. We sat and sipped the steaming chai, watching the brilliant emerald parrots fly from tree to tree, sinking into a deep, heavenly meditation, listening to the distant strains of kirtan floating on the gentle wind. What peace…


But, as all things must pass, the chai was finished, the cookies were gone, and the old man dismissed me with a soft smile. I pranamed, touched his ancient, cracked feet and continued my walk. At that moment the racket began anew. CLANG CLANG CLANG CLANG!!! The horrible cymbals!!! The hoarse, screaming voice!!!


Oh God, how quickly my inner peace disappeared…


But as I turned around for a last pained look, the magic descended. This old man, who seemed barely able to walk, was dancing in the doorway of his hut. Suddenly his crooked body was filled with the grace and beauty of a young maiden. His delicate swaying hips, his beatific smile, his long flowing hair; the old sadhu had transformed into Radha, the Goddess of Love! And to complete the mysterious change in awareness, the young sadhu’s kirtan was now the sound of angels singing. His terrible cymbals had transformed into a divine orchestra of tinkling bells and chimes. My heart stopped beating, tears sprung from my eyes. Here was Radha Rani, dancing her love for Krishna, amidst the gardens of Vrindavan….


When it seemed the world would end in an ecstasy of love, the old man simply stepped inside, leaving me to the heat and dust, and the sadhu’s cacophonous song. But my mind was quiet and my heart was full as I continued down the path. I had been given yet another reminder to see beyond the surface reality into what is hidden; to trust the perceptions of the heart before those of the judging mind. I had been given a few drops of grace from the vast ocean of Bhakti.


Jai Uttal hosts Everday Bhakti – Walk in Devotion at the Art of Living Retreat Center from March 15th-17th, 2019.


Jai Uttal is a Grammy-nominated sacred music composer, a recording artist, multi-instrumentalist and ecstatic vocalist. He blends Indian influences with American rock and jazz to create a stimulating and exotic fusion known as world spirit music. For Jai, music and spiritual practice are inextricably linked; earlier in his life he learnt the power of kirtan from the Indian saint Neem Karoli Baba, and he now practices, performs and teaches kirtan and sacred music around the world. Find out more at


This article first appeared on and is reposted with permission from the author.


Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!


Yoga Retreat Catalog for NC

TAGS: bhakti , Jai Uttal , kirtan , spirituality , stories , wisdom
Spiritual Purpose of Pets - The Art of Living Retreat Center

The Deeper Spiritual Purpose of Pets

By Robert Schwartz
January 14, 2019

Spiritual Purpose of Pets - The Art of Living Retreat Center

Remembering your true nature

The process of placing our energy within a body, and in so doing forgetting that we are vast, majestic, Divine Beings made literally from the energy of Unconditional Love, is akin to being struck on the head by a heavy tree branch and rendered unconscious, only to awaken with no memory whatsoever. What would happen if you actually had such an experience? All who love you, each member of your family, every dear friend, would come to your side and express great love for you. Though you would recognize none of them, their powerful outpouring of concern and affection would touch you deeply. You would conclude that only a truly loving person could be so beloved. And in that instant of realization, you would know, beyond any doubt, your true nature.


Such is the role pets play in our lives. In my book Your Soul’s Gift: The Healing Power of the Life You Planned Before You Were Born, I share the story of Marcia, who chose before coming into body to be a dwarf. In this lifetime Marcia is but 1.4 meters (less than 5 feet) tall. Marcia knew before she was born that people would reject and dismiss her because of her height, and she chose this difficult experience to foster her spiritual growth. She then built into her courageous plan a safeguard: she would always have the unconditional love of her pets. These animals are part of her pre-birth planning session. Her future dogs (Dusty, Brutus), cats (Snowflake, Goofy, Willie), rooster (Crooked Beak), and horse (Cheetah) all pledged in her planning session to support and care for her even when her fellow humans do not. Because she also planned to be clairaudient in this lifetime, Marcia has always been able to hear her pets’ thoughts when they communicated with her.


Only we who are Love could be so beloved

Just as people with amnesia do not remember those who were in their lives before the forgetting, so, too, do we not recall the pets who were with us before we were born. Yet, our pets come to our side and express their great love for us, reminding us daily that only we who are Love could be so beloved. And they remind us not only that we are loved but also that we are worthy of love. When Marcia came home from school and cried over the cruel words from the other children, Dusty was there to tell her she was perfect, that she “could always come home, and I would be there, and I would love you.” Cheetah also reminded Marcia that she was worthy of love: “It doesn’t matter what they say. Look what you and I can do together! Get on! Let’s go!” And so they would ride like the wind, the smallest of children on the largest of horses, both free and safe, in love with life and each other.


The healing power of pets

Pets also bring healing. Indeed, our animal companions are master healers, in part because they embody love in an entirely nonthreatening form. The clear absence of threat creates within us a willingness to receive healing. We may fear accepting love from another person, but Marcia had no such fear with Brutus or Snowflake. When Marcia’s mother lay ill in the hospital, Brutus, tail wagging and big ears flopping, was a healing balm for Marcia’s heavy heart. When Marcia’s mother returned Home, it was Snowflake who healed Marcia’s grief, saying, “My job with her is done. Now I need to take care of you.”

How do pets heal us? There is no greater healing power in the Universe than that of unconditional love. Yet, beyond unconditional love, pets heal by transmuting energies. Even when we feel weak and small, our pets still come to us for care and so remind us that we are strong enough, capable enough to provide it. Even when we are enmeshed in anger or blame, they sit joyfully at our side, radiating contentment and instilling peace within us. When we feel shame, guilt, or unworthiness, they look at us and see only perfection. Our pets see us as light, the light of which we are literally made, the light we knew ourselves to be before we were born. When we lose sight of our magnificence, they remind us of it.


Companions across lifetimes

Sometimes a loved one, even a spirit guide, will incarnate as a pet because it is the best, and perhaps only, way to share a lifetime with us. I have a close friend who planned not to have children in this lifetime. A soul she loves and who loves her dearly incarnated as her dog so they could complete the mother-daughter relationship they shared in a past life as Native Americans. Both had been healers in other past lives, and they continued their healing work together in the current lifetime. My friend often brought her dog into healing sessions with clients, many of whom commented that they felt healed by the animal’s presence.

Ultimately, whether it’s Willie reminding Marcia to have fun, Goofy caring for Marcia and so healing her grief after Snowflake’s death, Brutus teaching compassion and kindness, Snowflake modeling independence, or Dusty, Cheetah, and Crooked Beak loving a little girl who just needed acceptance and friendship, each of these animals came to Marcia to love her and to receive her love. When we choose to take human form on the physical plane, our primary intent is to learn how to give and receive love. We select Earth as the school in which we will learn this lesson because here there are teachers who have mastered it. We call them dogs and birds, cats and horses. Yet, Love by any other name is still Love.


Rob Schwartz hosts Awakening To Your Life Purpose at the Art of Living Retreat Center from May 17th-19th, 2019.


Rob Schwartz specializes in Past Life Soul Regressions and Between Lives Soul Regressions. He is the author of a number of bestselling books which have been translated into 24 languages — including Your Soul’s Plan: Discovering the Real Meaning of the Life You Planned Before You Were Born. He has worked with gifted mediums and delved into channels which allowed him to research pre-birth plans and develop methods to reconnect with them. Schwartz teaches internationally and offers individual spiritual guidance sessions; you can find out more at


Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!


Yoga Retreat Catalog for NC

TAGS: emotional healing , past lives , pets , reincarnation , Robert Schwartz , spirituality
What is Kirtan? - The Art of Living Retreat Center

What is Kirtan?

By Jai Uttal
December 22, 2018

What is Kirtan? - The Art of Living Retreat Center

Kirtan is the calling, the crying, the reaching across infinite space — digging into the heart’s deepest well to touch and be touched by the Divine Presence.


Kirtan is singing over and over the many names of God and the Goddess, the multi-colored rainbow manifestations of the One. It is said that there is no difference between the name and that which is being named, and as the words roll off our lips in song, the Infinite is invoked, invited, made manifest in our hearts.


Kirtan and devotion

Kirtan is part of an ancient form of Yoga known as Bhakti, or the Yoga of Devotion. But in Bhakti we redefine “devotion”, we expand the meaning to include every shade of color in the palette of human emotion, turned towards God through song, dance, and worship. These chants have been sung for millennium by sages, sinners, devotees, and the great primordial yogi alchemists of old. And, as we sing, we touch the spirits of the millions of people across the centuries who have sung the same songs and cried the same tears. As we sing, we immerse ourselves in an endless river of prayer that has been flowing since the birth of the first human beings, longing to know their creator.


Kirtan and release

Kirtan is a vessel that can hold love, longing, union, separation, lust, despair, mourning, anger, hate, sadness, ecstasy, and oneness. Powered by the fire of these emotions, the chants of Bhakti become like a ship, singing us to the other shore. In lightness, in darkness, in despair, in joy we sing the names — The Name — and turn our human hearts toward the One, who is closer to us than our own breath. Kirtan is food for the spirit, a life raft of song.

Kirtan is for all people. There are no masters of kirtan, no experts, no teachers, no advanced students, no beginners. The practice itself is the teacher, guiding us to ourselves. Kirtan teaches itself by allowing us to enter into a mystery world — a world where all the logic of our minds, all the conditioning and learning are left outside — and we allow ourselves to expand into the mystery.


And in this mystery, we create a temple inside of our hearts, a place of refuge, a place of love, a place of being, a place of sanctity… whatever we need.


Kirtan and freedom

There is no right or wrong way to sing kirtan. Kirtan can be breathtakingly beautiful, the music can be stunning and masterful; and it can be cacophonous, dissonant, and almost painful to the ears. Aesthetics don’t matter. All that matters is the spirit, the feeling. Don’t worry about what you sound like, feel whatever you feel, have no expectations, no inhibitions. Kirtan is an oil well digging deeper and deeper into the heart. A power tool of love and longing. A train carrying us home. Make these kirtans your own prayers and use their power to set fire to your own soul. We sing together and each person has a totally unique, individual experience. Yet by singing together we give strength, safety and passion to each other, and give ourselves permission to sing and dance freely, releasing and expressing through our voices and bodies, the emotions tightly locked in our hearts. The pain of separation is one with the bliss of union.


Kirtan as an offering

And finally kirtan is an offering, a gift to the great One who has given us everything, and to whom we can give nothing in return but our loving remembrance.


Come experience the sacred transformative power of Kirtan. Jai Uttal hosts Everday Bhakti – Walk in Devotion at the Art of Living Retreat Center from March 15th-17th, 2019.


Jai Uttal is a Grammy-nominated sacred music composer, a recording artist, multi-instrumentalist and ecstatic vocalist. He blends Indian influences with American rock and jazz to create a stimulating and exotic fusion known as world spirit music. For Jai, music and spiritual practice are inextricably linked; earlier in his life he learnt the power of kirtan from the Indian saint Neem Karoli Baba, and he now practices, performs and teaches kirtan and sacred music around the world. Find out more at


This article first appeared on and is reposted with permission from the author.


Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!


Yoga Retreat Catalog for NC

TAGS: devotion , Jai Uttal , kirtan , music , spirituality
You Matter to the Universe - Art of Living Retreat Center

You Matter to the Universe

By Robert Peng
December 18, 2018

You Matter to the Universe - Art of Living Retreat Center

Of all our relationships, one stands apart in its ability to inspire and mystify—our relationship to the universe—but most of the time we remain as unaware of the star-speckled space enveloping us as the wallpaper in our living room.


The universe is the pillar that sustains everything in existence, including all our relationships, but despite the pivotal role it plays, we hardly notice it at all. We identify passionately with our private property, neighborhood, country, or even the whole planet, but tend to remain oblivious to the boundless depth of starry space that stretches out endlessly in all directions around us.

“Through us the universe has grown arms and legs and has become self-aware….When you move, the universe stirs. When you sing, the universe dances. And when you cry, the universe sheds a tear.”

But if you stood under the vaulted heavens on a crisp summer night, gazed up, and became aware of the shimmering planets, stars, and galaxies that pixilate the vastness of space, what would you experience? Would you feel like a detached, insignificant spectator standing on a lonesome planet observing a meaningless mass of twirling matter from the fringes? Or would you feel a deep, personal, and heartfelt connection with those sparkling lights?


How do you really feel about the universe? Do you feel at “home” in it, or are you just a “homeless drifter” passing through? And if you imagined the universe as a giant being staring back at you as you gazed out at it, how do you imagine this being might feel about you? Does the universe relate to you with a sense of wonder, mystery, and awe, or as a meaningless mite on a planetary mote swirling in a galactic cauldron lost in immeasurable time?


The universe is your true family

As a rule, many of our deepest personal issues derive from our own early home environments. If we felt safe in our homes and were closely bonded to our kin, we are more likely to fully express ourselves in healthy ways as adults. But if our home life was fraught with fear, apathy, or uncertainty, we are more likely to shut down and close off in our dealings with the world later on. This rule also applies to the way we relate to the universe, our greater home, but on a larger scale.


The entire spiritual enterprise is founded on the notion that you matter to the universe more than you can ever imagine. In the broadest sense the universe is your mother, the stars are your ancestors, and space is your home, literally! The universe is your primordial family. Against the wildest odds, you won the cosmic lottery by being born a human being—a prize of inestimable value that is precious beyond all conceivable measure—and for this reason, the universe cherishes you as dearly as the most nurturing parent adores their child. This family loves you; this “home” welcomes you.


When we develop a loving, trusting relationship with Father Sky and Mother Earth, we awaken a universal love in our hearts that spans the breadth of the cosmos. We can then plug the network of all our human relations—even those that are flawed—right into that source and let them bask in the healing energy. In the process of developing a loving relationship with the universe, we inadvertently heal many of our own childhood traumas.


Through you, the universe evolves

Our insatiable urge to learn more about matter, life, and human nature represents the universe’s desire to know itself. Through our hands and eyes, the universe finally developed the ability to hold up a mirror and see its many faces. When an astronomer points a telescope at the starry canvas of space, the universe is admiring itself; when a biologist stumbles on a new species, the universe discovers another part of its body; when a philosopher elucidates the human condition, the universe becomes more knowledgeable about itself; and whenever a spiritual practitioner becomes enlightened, the universe realizes its own primordial nature.


Through us the universe has grown arms and legs and has become self-aware. Through us evolution has become self-directed. The rest of the animal kingdom is propelled into the future by the blind momentum of its evolutionary past, but we are not pushed forward from behind. We can conceive realities that do not yet exist and steer our own futures toward them—we control our destiny.


There is pain and pleasure in awakening

In pursuing our human destiny we offer the universe meaning, and through our fulfillment, we bring it happiness. But the universe also wallows in our sorrows. While striving to actualize a purposeful life, we stumble and fall repeatedly. We collect physical bruises and emotional scars that bleed and ache, sometimes for an entire lifetime.

In the midst of that pain, it is not unusual to forget who we truly are and feel stuck out in the middle of nowhere, without a clear sense of direction, overwhelmed by the hugeness of the cosmos and the seemingly insignificant space that we occupy in it.


Of all the species inhabiting the planet, only one can claim existential anguish as one of its defining characteristics: human beings. Elephants don’t suffer sleepless nights contemplating their purpose in life. Birds don’t need to read self-help books to discover their rightful place in the natural order. Crocodiles don’t require years of therapy to heal their broken hopes and dreams.


At its low point, the human condition becomes like a Greek tragedy in which the protagonist is blessed with a gift that is also a curse. That gift is our higher consciousness and the promise of the meaningful, fulfilling life that it can bring. But when we lack a sense of destiny or the energy to pursue it, then life becomes an unending nightmare from which we can’t wake up. That is the curse of being born human.


Despite the high hopes we place on finding happiness at some point in our future, the sad truth is that many of us leave this Earth still waiting to find it. But having a spiritual practice can help you avert that dismal fate. Your life can become a joyful, meaningful journey.


Your eyes are the eyes of the universe. Your heart is the heart of the universe. Your body is the body of the universe. When you move, the universe stirs. When you sing, the universe dances. And when you cry, the universe sheds a tear. The universe has awaited eons to awaken in you. It continues to evolve through you, right here and right now. As you sow seeds of creativity in the flowering garden of the world, realize that—frail creature that you are—you also soar as a god.


Rediscover the universe inside of you and your place in the universe. Robert Peng hosts Qigong Empowerments for Wisdom and Vitality at the Art of Living Retreat Center from March 17th-22nd, 2019.


Presenter Bio Image

Robert Peng is a Qigong master who, as a boy in China, secretly apprenticed under the legendary Buddhist monk Xiao Yao. Yao trained him in the martial and healing arts – a training which included 100 days of meditation and fasting in a dark, underground chamber deep in the mountains of the Chinese countryside. Later, Robert discovered that he had developed spiritual powers – including the ability to transmit powerful energy from his hands. He now offers a distillation of his training in the form of Qigong Empowerments, with the intention of enhancing the well-being and quality of life of his students.


This article was adapted from The Master Key: Qigong Secrets for Vitality, Love, and Wisdom by Robert Peng.


Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!


Yoga Retreat Catalog for NC

TAGS: emotional healing , purpose , qigong , Robert Peng , spirituality , wellness
Mind-Body Connection - The Art of Living Retreat Center

Believe in it All: A Neurosurgeon’s Perspective on the Mind-Body Connection

By Eben Alexander
December 9, 2018

Mind-Body Connection - The Art of Living Retreat Center


What is the relationship between the mind and the brain? Most people do not dwell on this question. It’s best to leave such musings up to neuroscientists and philosophers—why spend time thinking about such scholarly matters? Brain and mind are clearly related, and that’s enough for most of us to know, right? We have more important things to focus on in our lives.


As a practicing neurosurgeon, I was exposed daily to the mind-brain relationship due to the fact that my patients would often have alterations in their level of consciousness. While this phenomenon was interesting, my focus was pragmatic. I was trained to evaluate those alterations in consciousness in order to diagnose and treat various tumors, injuries, infections, or strokes affecting the brain. We have the tools and, hopefully,
the talent to benefit our patients by restoring them to more “normal” levels of conscious awareness. I closely followed developments in physics and knew there were theories about how it all works, but I had patients to care for, and more important things to consider.


The spiritual catalyst

My complacency with that arrangement of casual “understanding” came crashing to a halt on November 10, 2008. I collapsed on my bed and fell into a deep coma, after which I was admitted to Lynchburg General Hospital—the same hospital where I had worked as a neurosurgeon.


While in coma, I experienced things that, in the weeks after awakening, baffled me and cried out for an explanation within the bounds of science as I knew it.


According to conventional neuroscience, due to the severe damage to my brain caused by an overwhelming bacterial meningoencephalitis, I should not have experienced anything—at all! But while my brain was besieged and swollen with infection, I went on a fantastic odyssey during which I remembered nothing of my life on earth. This odyssey seemed to
have lasted for months or years, an elaborate journey into many layers of higher dimensions, at times viewed from the perspective of infinity and eternity, outside of space and time. Such a complete inactivation of my neocortex, the outer surface of the brain, should have disabled all but the most rudimentary experiences and memory—yet I was haunted by the persistence of so many ultrareal memories, vivid and complex. At first I simply trusted my doctors and their advice that “the dying brain can play all kinds of tricks.” After all, I had sometimes given my own patients the same “advice.”


A new perspective on neuroscience

My final follow-up visit with the main neurologist involved in my care came in early January 2010, fourteen months after awakening from my treacherous weeklong coma. Dr. Charlie Joseph had been a friend and close associate before my coma, and had struggled with the rest of my medical colleagues through the brunt of my horrific meningoencephalitis, recording the details of the neurological devastation along the way. We caught up on the specifics of my recovery (all of which were quite surprising and unexpected, given the severity of my illness during that fateful week), reviewing some of the neurological exams and MRI and CT scan results from my time in coma, and performing a complete neurological examination.

As tempting as it was to simply accept my extraordinary healing and current well-being as an inexplicable miracle, I couldn’t do that. Instead, I was driven to find an explanation for the journey I took during the coma—a sensory experience that completely defied our conventional neuroscientific concepts of the role of the neocortex in detailed conscious
awareness. The unsettling prospect that fundamental tenets of neuroscience were incorrect led me into deeper territory in my final discussion with Dr. Joseph that blustery winter afternoon.


The mysteries of the brain

“I am left with no explanation whatsoever as to how my mental experiences deep in coma, so vibrant, complex, and alive, could have possibly occurred,” I said to him. “It seemed more real than anything I had ever experienced.” I recounted for him how numerous details clearly placed the vast majority of my coma experience as occurring between days one and five of my seven-day coma, and yet the neurological examinations, lab values, and imaging results all confirmed that my neocortex was too damaged by the severe meningoencephalitis to have supported any such conscious experience. “How am I to make any sense of all this?” I asked my friend.

I’ll never forget Charlie’s smile, as he looked at me with a sense of knowing, and said, “There is plenty of room in our understanding of the brain, and mind, and consciousness to allow for this mystery of your remarkable recovery to indicate something of great importance. As you well know, we encounter copious evidence in clinical neurology that we have a far way to go before we can start claiming any kind of ‘complete’ understanding. I am inclined to accept your personal mystery as another lovely piece of the puzzle, one that greatly raises the ante in approaching any understanding of the nature of our existence. Just enjoy!”

I found it most reassuring that a highly trained and capable neurologist, one who had carefully followed the details of my illness, was open to the grand possibilities implied by my memories from deep in coma.


Deducing the truth

Charlie helped open wide the door that has led to my transformation from a materialist scientist, proud of his academic skepticism, into someone who now knows his true nature and has also been offered a glimpse into levels of reality that is most refreshing, indeed. Of course, it was not an easy journey in those initial months of exploration and confusion. I knew that I was entertaining concepts that many in my field would consider beyond the pale, if not outright heretical.


Some might even suggest that I let go of my inquiry rather than commit professional suicide by sharing such a radical tale.


As Dr. Joseph and I had come to agree, my brain was severely damaged by a near-fatal case of bacterial meningoencephalitis. The neocortex—the part modern neuroscience tells us must be at least partially active for conscious experience—was incapable of creating or processing anything even remotely close to what I experienced. And yet I did experience it. To quote Sherlock Holmes, “When you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” Thus, I had to accept the improbable: This very real experience happened, and I was conscious of it—and my consciousness did not depend on having an intact brain. Only by allowing my mind (and my heart) to open as widely as possible was I able to see the cracks in the conventional consensus view of the brain and consciousness. It was by the light allowed in by those cracks that I began to glimpse the true depths of the mind-body debate.


The mind-body connection

That debate is of extreme importance to us all because many of our foundational assumptions about the nature of reality hinge on the directions in which that debate flows. Any notion of meaning and purpose in our existence, of connection with others and the universe, of our very sense of free will, and even of such concepts as an afterlife and reincarnation—all of these deep issues depend directly on the outcome of the mind-body debate. The relationship between mind and brain is thus one of the most profound and important mysteries in all of human thought. And the picture emerging from the most advanced reaches of scientific investigation is quite contrary to our conventional scientific viewpoint. A revolution in understanding appears imminent.

This pathway of discovery continues to unfold, and will no doubt occupy me for the rest of my life. Along the way I have encountered some of the most expansive experiences and intriguing people I could possibly imagine. I have learned not to be seduced by simplistic falsehoods about an assumed world, but to strive to assess and deal with the world as it truly is. As human beings seeking a deeper understanding of our existence, we are all well served to take that approach to heart.


Believe in it all, at least for now

During the deepest and most perplexing phases in the nine years since I first awakened from coma, my mantra has often been, “Believe in it all, at least for now.” My advice to you, dear reader, is to do the same—suspend disbelief for now, and open your mind as broadly as possible.

Deeper understanding demands this liberation, just as trapeze artists must release the trapeze to tumble through the air, trusting that their partner will be there to catch them.


Have you always felt that there are deeper experiences out there – but never found a way to engage with them? Close the gap and discover your place in the universe. Eben Alexander and Karen Newell host Living In a Mindful Universe at the Art of Living Retreat Center from May 3rd-5th, 2019.


This post is excerpted from Living in a Mindful Universe: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Heart of Consciousness, and is reposted with permission from the authors. Read the entire first chapter here. 


Eben Alexander, MD, spent over 25 years working within academic neuroscience at Harvard Medical School and elsewhere. He thought he knew how the brain, mind, and consciousness worked–but after a near-death experience during a week-long coma, he discovered that there was more to life than he’d thought. He went on to reconcile spiritual experience with contemporary physicals and cosmology, and now shares this theory and practice around the world and in the media, including on shows such as Oprah and Dr. Oz, and in his own best-selling books.


Karen Newell is an innovator in the emerging field of brainwave entrainment audio meditation. She co-founded Sacred Acoustics, and empowers others in their journeys of self-discovery. She teaches how to connect with inner guidance, achieve inspiration, improve wellness and develop intuition; and has co-authored a book with Eben Alexander, entitled Living in a Mindful Universe: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Heart of Consciousness.


Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!


Yoga Retreat Catalog for NC

TAGS: afterlife , brain , mind-body connection , neuroscience , spirituality , wellness
What is Consciousness? - The Art of Living Retreat Center

What is Consciousness?

By Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
December 8, 2018

What is Consciousness? - The Art of Living Retreat Center


You ask me what is consciousness, but I ask you, what is not consciousness? Everything is made of of consciousness.


When you go deep into that empty space that you are feeling in meditation, three things happen. At the beginning of the meditation, you don’t see anything, you just see emptiness, but when you put attention there, when you continue there, then you start feeling the vibrations. This is called spandana, when you feel some vibrations, some sensations, and then that vibration becomes light.


So the first step is really nothing but relaxation, and then from there feeling the energy, sensations, vibrations, and then it becomes light.


But when you can’t just sit, and say things like, “Oh, where is the vibration?”, or “I want the light now,” it’s not going to happen, forget about it. Expectation itself keeps you in a very excited state of consciousness, and keeps your mind on the surface level, so it doesn’t let you go in.


Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is a humanitarian and spiritual leader, an ambassador of peace and human values. Through his life and work, Sri Sri has inspired millions around the world with a vision of a stress-free, violence-free world.  He has founded courses that provide techniques and tools to live a deeper, more joyous life and he has established nonprofit organizations that recognize a common human identity above the boundaries of race, nationality, and religion.


Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!


Yoga Retreat Catalog for NC

TAGS: consciousness , meditation , mindfulness , spirituality , sri sri ravi shankar
Inner Light - Art of Living Retreat Center

Celebrating Light Illuminates the Dark Days of Winter and Dark Nights of the Soul

By Lisa Cypers Kamen
December 4, 2018

Inner Light - Art of Living Retreat Center

It is precisely because we resist the darkness in ourselves that we miss the depths of the loveliness, beauty, brilliance, creativity, and joy that lie at our core.” ― Thomas Moore


Life is never static and change is the only guarantee.

As the holiday season comes upon us, many people experience winter blues. Perhaps it is triggered by shorter days, longer nights or even the holidays themselves reminding us that we might not have a picture perfect Hallmark family unit. Regardless of the reasons, the effects are quite similar for people: lethargy, sadness, loneliness, apathy, fear, and so on. If these emotions are something you struggle with- especially during the holiday season- heed some simple advice on how you can celebrate the Light to illuminate such dark days.


The dark night can be a beautiful experience

If you talk to those who have been through some “dark nights of the soul”, they will tell you now that they can look back upon the experience and see the beauty of such. Now back then when they were enduring the darkness, they did not see or feel beauty. Nope, they felt pain and hopelessness. They felt suffering. They felt some agony in their souls. Unbeknownst to them at the time, their egos or false Self was being obliterated, which produces some pain.

But as they endured their dark season, they came out a refined and purified soul full of radiant Light. They’d learned some valuable life and spiritual lessons through the sacred process. Think of it as a spiritual detox, as the pain that they’d been stuffing and carrying for years and years finally surfaced and had been dealt with and as a result, they felt lightened, refreshed, and born again.


Celebrate the light

Whether you’re celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanza, you too can celebrate the Light that is within you in order to illuminate any darkness you may be contending with. You do not have to go into the holidays with a hampered spirit and come out the same way. Take this time as a sacred journey to face any pain or negative emotions that you’ve been stuffing and sit with them a minute. Acknowledge them and let them know you feel them, but then purpose to let them go. The rebirthing process is a letting go of the old and embracing the new and just as childbirth requires some pain, that pain is forgotten the moment that precious new baby makes its entrance into the world.

As such, as you look to your Light this holiday season and trust that the Light is well equipped to shine a bright light on your path, you can certainly give birth to a new you. Bear down and give birth to your new self that is healed and whole, full of radiant Light and Love, and ready to offer such to those around you.

Know that you are not alone this holiday season.

  • If you feel alone in the darkness, look for the light switch and turn it on.
  • As you’re making your way to that Light, offer gratitude for all the good in your life, as this will help you on your journey.
  • If you need, reach out for help. People do care about you.

Dark nights don’t last forever; the daylight comes at its designated time, so persevere and know that plenty of others have gone before you. They are now cheering you on and rooting for you to look to bust through the dark into the glorious Light show.
You can do it.


Cold, dark night? Turn on the light

As the dark and cold days of winter approach, many people take note that they are not only contending with the dark physical realm, but many also content with the cold, dark spiritual realm. They feel like they are blindly crawling through the darkness searching for the Light. They feel sad, lost, and maybe even hopeless. If this sounds like you, know that just as winter is but only for a season, so is the dark night of the soul. As you endure the season, learning valuable lessons that can only be learned in the dark, you come to the Light fully ready to embrace newness. You’re reborn, so to speak, and more grateful than ever to see the sunshine.


Happiness doesn’t have to be a fleeting emotion. Learn how to handle emotional fluctuations and increase your resiliency through film, music, storytelling, and movement: Lisa Cypers Kamen hosts Harvesting Happiness at the Art of Living Retreat Center from May 17th-19th, 2019.


Lisa Cypers Kamen is a lifestyle management consultant who explores the art and science of happiness in her work as a speaker, author, and happiness expert. Through her globally syndicated podcast, books, media appearances, and documentary film, Kamen has impaced millions of people around the world. Learn more at 


Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!


Yoga Retreat Catalog for NC

TAGS: emotional healing , holidays , light , Lisa Cypers Kamen , loneliness , Love , spirituality , unhappiness
Samadhi and Enlightenment - the Art of Living Retreat Center

Samadhi and the Nature of Enlightenment

By Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
October 8, 2018

Samadhi and Enlightenment - the Art of Living Retreat Center


There are many different types of Samadhi. “Dhi” means intellect, or consciousness, and “sama” means equanimous, so Samadhi means an equanimous intellect.


When Samadhi becomes so stable that you don’t need to do anything, you don’t even need to meditate, then that state is called enlightenment. Until then, the practice of Samadhi is essential.


Samadhi is as though you are not there: see, whenever you get very deep rest and a sense of total peace within yourself, know that you have experienced a little bit of Samadhi. Unless you touch that area deep inside, you don’t get that freshness and deep rest and essence of joy or contentment. We sit for a little while, and then afterwards, as usual, things will move — but with practice, then it comes to a stage where Samadhi doesn’t leave you, you don’t need to hold onto it, and that stage doesn’t leave you at all.


December 21-30, Sri Sri will guide a series of transformational workshops in Boone, NC. These workshops include the Holistic Health Retreat, offered for the first time in the United States, and Unveiling Infinity, an amazing journey into different forms of meditation that bring peace and clarity to the mind. Learn more here: Winter Programs with Sri Sri


Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is a humanitarian and spiritual leader, an ambassador of peace and human values. Through his life and work, Sri Sri has inspired millions around the world with a vision of a stress-free, violence-free world.  He has founded courses that provide techniques and tools to live a deeper, more joyous life and he has established nonprofit organizations that recognize a common human identity above the boundaries of race, nationality, and religion.


Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!


Yoga Retreat Catalog for NC

TAGS: enlightenment , Samadhi , spirituality , sri sri ravi shankar , wisdom
Men's Spirituality & Power Animals

Men’s Spirituality & Power Animals

By Dr. Steven Farmer
October 7, 2018

Men's Spirituality & Power Animals


Men can’t help but be spiritual. The fact of being alive is a spiritual experience, yet many have lost their conscious awareness of this fundamental truth. Gradually over the past several centuries, the rational, logical mind has usurped the creative wisdom of Spirit and the deeper awareness of the interconnectivity of all life. Civilization has further eroded men’s intimate association with the natural world, and instead, earth and all its non-human inhabitants– plant, animal and mineral– have been viewed solely as resources for the sustenance of more and more human beings. The prevailing belief has been that the planet is to be dominated and subdued rather than viewed as a beautiful, giving, abundant Mother Earth with whom we can have a mutually beneficial and cooperative relationship.


Men’s spirituality, internal rhythms, and instinctual selves

What happens for most of us men raised with this as the norm is that we become removed not only from the more natural rhythms and seasons of the earth, but dissociated from our own internal rhythms and instinctual selves. Many never hear– or else ignore– the call of Spirit that beckons us to follow our soul’s destiny. Instead, we chase materiality to the exclusion of the deeper currents of life. Although this path may yield great riches– or at least a comfortable existence– the cost to our bodies and our souls is great.


One of my favorite poems by Rainier Maria Rilke (translation by Robert Bly,) speaks to this:


Sometimes a man stands up during supper
and walks outdoors, and keeps on walking,
because of a church that stands somewhere in the East.
And his children say blessings on him
as if he were dead.
And another man, who remains inside his own house,
dies there, inside the dishes and in the glasses,
so that his children have to go far out
into the world
toward that same church, which he forgot.


One of the men’s groups I have participated in would read this as part of the opening ceremony each meeting. It speaks to the spiritual adventurer that lies inside every man. Typically, unless he is raised in a way that supports this kind of exploration, his soul’s urgings to seek out the bigger truths of the earth and the cosmos remain dormant until such time as they are awakened– if they ever are.


The two by four approach

Over the many years of working with men, I’ve found that this awakening can sometimes come as a result of the “two by four” approach. This happens when a man is going along, thinking everything’s okay with his work and his relationship, (even though there’s this nagging voice inside saying otherwise,) and God hits him with a metaphorical two by four. His wife divorces him, he gets laid off from his job or his addictions catch up to him– some momentous disruption of his life takes place. He can ignore this or take it as a signal to change, but by the time he’s in his late 30’s or 40’s, it becomes more difficult to deny it.


When lack clarifies

I was in serious straits following my divorce from the mother of my two daughters. I felt alone, confused and unclear about what direction my life was taking. I loved my girls, but didn’t feel competent as their father. I was burdened with guilt from divorcing their mother while they were still young. I knew I had to change my life, but wasn’t sure where to go. The seeds of my spiritual awakening had actually begun during my marriage, following a dramatic realization that I felt unlovable as well as unworthy of being loved. It took the separation to underscore a heartfelt need for a deeper and more profound love– a kind of love that I later realized to be the love that all spiritual masters spoke of.


During the years that followed, I found solace in a sequence of spiritually focused organizations. My involvement in each typically lasted about three to four years, at which point I would move on and explore another “church that stands somewhere in the East.” About fifteen years ago, my seeking brought me to shamanism. From my first initiation, I knew it was the path I’d follow for the rest of my life. I also realized that each step I’d taken had been necessary to move to the next one.


Animal spirit guides

I’m not suggesting that every man needs to follow a shamanic path. However, there are important aspects of shamanic practices that I’ve found to be particularly attractive to a lot of men.

One of these shamanic technologies is forming a relationship with an animal spirit guide, or power animal. Power animals touch something deep and ancient inside a man, a yearning for a more intimate and heartfelt relationship with the natural world. That relationship has often been forgotten in the haste, competitiveness and isolation from nature that are so endemic to the modern world and modern man. Power animals help a man remember at a profound level his ancient and interrelated connection to Mother Earth. Working with power animals and animal spirit guides is a spiritually practical way to work with the various energies of the earth.

The whole notion of power animals has its roots in some of the earliest spiritual practices of humans cross-culturally. It continues in indigenous peoples today. It’s particularly fitting for today, when many men are awakening to the wisdom of our long-ago ancestors and realizing that so-called “primitive” people have much to teach us.


Part of the pack

Our ancestors also knew another secret: we need one another. Sometimes our lives depended on our connection to each other, and in combat situations this is still true. These days, getting together with other men generally happens in order to work together, play a sport or go to the pub and have a few– all perfectly legitimate ways for men to hang out together. Yet at some point in a man’s life, it’s important to expand on these characteristic ways of being together, to break the sense of isolation that many men experience– to be supported by other men in our mission and purpose on this earth. This is as spiritual as a man can get.


In all indigenous cultures, men would spend a good deal of their time together, whether hunting or preparing and enacting rituals to honor the sacredness of life. In Australian aboriginal cultures, men’s sacred ceremonies were exclusive of females, and vice-versa.


I’m a strong advocate of us gathering in groups on a regular basis to share our triumphs and concerns, and to give and receive support with one another. I’ve been involved in men’s groups for the majority of my adult life, and I can say unequivocally that this has made me a better man. I’ve developed close relationships with a few men who are spiritual brothers, ones I can call on in a time of need. And by need, I don’t mean only when I’m broken and bleeding, but milder needs as well.


Learning trust

Yes, there are blocks for most of us to overcome– the main one being to trust other men enough to be vulnerable. We’ve all been hurt in some way by other men, starting with father, and betrayals by other men stay with us for a long time. We may even have been teased for being too sensitive. In addition, when men get together, the specter of homophobia can appear, inhibiting us from revealing our inner feelings and thoughts. It takes a different sort of courage to confront these blocks and overcome them, to test the waters of trusting other men, to discern who can be trusted– and who can’t.


If you think of yourself as a spiritual seeker, then I strongly encourage you to look into the idea of a men’s group. You can put it together yourself with a couple of mates that you’re close to, taking a leadership role. Again, it requires courage to take this kind of risk, but the worst that can happen isn’t all that bad, and the rewards will become self-evident by your taking such a bold step.


Whether you’re new to shamanism, already have some training, or curious as to how you can integrate these principles into your daily life and/or an alternative healing practice, deepen your experience and understanding of shamanic realities. Dr. Steven Farmer hosts Integrating Shamanism Into Your Life and Work at the Art of Living Retreat Center from November 16-18, 2018.


Dr. Steven Farmer is a psychotherapist, shamanic healer, and the author of several best-selling books and oracle cards. In addition to workshops on Animal Spirit Guides, Integrative Breathwork, Healing Ancestral Karma, and shamanism, Dr. Farmer offers Integrative Healing sessions in person or remotely by phone, Zoom, or Skype, as well as an individualized Spiritual Mentorship program. He is on the board of the Society of Shamanic Practice and also offers a certification program, the Earth Magic® Practitioner training.


This article first appeared in Creations Magazine, and is reposted with permission from the author.

Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!


Yoga Retreat Catalog for NC

TAGS: community , fatherhood , indigenous culture , men's spirituality , men's wellness , power animals , shamanism , spirituality , steven farmer , wellness , wisdom
Keep the Drama on the Page - Art of Living Retreat Center

Keep the Drama on the Page

By Julia Cameron
October 3, 2018

Keep the Drama on the Page - Art of Living Retreat Center


Drama belongs on the page. We have a mythology which tells us writers’ lives are dramatic, but this mythology does not serve us. Writers’ lives are best non-dramatic. It serves us to keep drama at bay.


Writing when you just don’t feel like it

Today I woke up tired and crabby. I didn’t fall asleep until 2:30 AM, and this morning I was filled with anxiety— and might I add, drama. Fatigue clouded my thoughts and the day looked bleak ahead of me. I tried to sleep again, but was unsuccessful, and eventually I got up and filled myself with coffee. Still, I was “tired and wired”— anxious and fatigued. I didn’t want to write. I wasn’t “in the mood.” And yet, I knew the act of writing would bring me cheer.

I set my pen to the page. I had learned from long years of practice that writing always cheered me. I wrote about the clouded-obscured mountain out the window. The weather matched my dour mood. The day was grey and chill. I complained on the page. Nothing suited me. But what was this? My rancor was yielding to a stronger, better mood.


Moving to optimism

“I don’t want to write,” I wrote, “I’m full of drama and pessimism today.” And yet, in writing, I found myself gently moved to optimism. My mood lightened perceptibly. I found myself ready to write further. It was as if by putting my dour sentiments on the page I underwent an exorcism. The demon despair was vanquished. I found myself open-hearted. My sour mood transformed slowly into something more like hope. I wrote, “It is a grey day, but the clouds are thinning. A hint of blue sky looms overhead. And what’s this? Now we have a glint of sun. The day promises to become bright. My mood follows suit.” I have been writing for half an hour, not very long, but long enough. My mood could now be described as “cheery.” Writing has rescued the day from the dramatic doldrums I woke up in.


Join Julia at the Art of Living Retreat Center from November 9th-11th, 2018 for her retreat, The Artist’s Way: Blasting Through Blocks. 


Julia Cameron the Artist's Way

Julia Cameron has been an active artist for over four decades. She is the author of more than forty books, including such bestselling works on the creative process as The Artist’s Way, Walking in This World and Finding Water. Also a novelist, playwright, songwriter and poet, she has multiple credits in theater, film and television. 2017 marked the 25th anniversary of The Artist’s Way, with over five million copies sold.


This post first appeared on, and is reposted with permission from the author.


Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!


Yoga Retreat Catalog for NC

TAGS: Julia Cameron , mindfulness , optimism , spirituality , wisdom

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