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 www.jaiuttal.com

 

This article first appeared on JaiUttal.com 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
Art of Living Retreat Center - Living Yoga

In House: Jurian Hughs on Living Yoga

By Jurian Hughes
June 1, 2018

Art of Living Retreat Center - Living Yoga

 

Thirteen years ago, on a July 4th weekend, I was desperate to get out of New York City, where life was stressful and not heading where I wanted it to. I’d spent most of my life up until that time as a theatre actress (Broadway, off-Broadway, regional theatres around the country, and a little film and TV), but that career felt complete, and I’d fallen into producing corporate events, which didn’t seem to suit me at all. Despite the fact that I was making more money than I’d ever made in my life, I was irritable, depressed, tired, and lost.

 

What even happens at a yoga retreat?

The idea of a yoga retreat center was exotic and strange, and it filled me with more than a little angst: “What did one do there? What did one wear? You mean I can show up on my own and not feel like a freak?”

My angst disappeared quickly. I’d chosen to stay in a simple room for two. I’d been paired with a lovely woman whose name I’m sad to say I can’t recall now, but whose being I remember well otherwise–how welcoming she was; how we sat on our beds and talked at length like old friends; how she made sharing a small room with a stranger feel like the most normal thing in the world.

Figuring out the dining hall etiquette helped set me at ease as well: Sit down and join others without waiting for an invitation, or simply enjoy eating alone without feeling like an outcast. What a novelty.

 

More tears, more laughter, more freedom

With my sleeping and eating concerns taken care of, I threw myself into yoga and dance classes, workshops, hikes, massage. I recall crying that weekend. A lot. And I remember what a great relief it was to be in a place where no one seemed to think me odd for that. And so, I let go more. More tears, more laughter, more of myself free to let go of things I didn’t even know I was holding onto.

The highlight of that visit was a noon Let Your Yoga Dance® class with LYYD founder Megha Nancy Buttenheim. I didn’t know what magic this woman was working, but it made me feel giddy and powerful and childlike and so alive! I couldn’t possibly dream then that this woman would become not only a mentor and colleague, but also, finally, a cherished friend and business partner. I had no idea that this ‘dance of the chakras’ would change my life forever. After that weekend I went home, signed up for the training, somewhere along the way quit my job, and eventually moved to the retreat and never looked back.

 

Living yoga off the mat

The next couple of years were some of the happiest I’ve had. As a  Yoga Intern I worked–and laughed a lot!–alongside amazingly creative and talented teachers; generous and courageous souls who taught me so much about passion and service, the yoga of asana, and — more importantly –the yoga of relationship. I was–and still am–so proud to have joined the long lineage of yoga teachers. Observing, learning from, and ultimately teaching beside my mentors was life-changing.

 

In all of my teachers I saw a dedication to truth, a passion to keep growing, a generosity of spirit that extended to me and to every person that walked in the room, and an intense determination to live yoga off the mat.

 

The yoga of life

This is the yoga that excites me the most now. Though I still love, teach and practice hatha yoga–asana and pranayama–it’s the yoga of life that intrigues me the most now. The yoga that moves off the mat and into the living room, the grocery aisle, behind the wheel of my car. I want the yoga practices of compassion, contentment, truth, surrender to be so ingrained in me that they follow me through every part of my day. I may not do them perfectly–oooo, not by a long shot sometimes!–but I endeavor to
be yoga to the best of my ability at any given moment. I dare say that I like who I am as a human being more because of it. That my livelihood as a teacher of these practices now gives me the opportunity to pass on some of that to someone else is inspiring, sometimes daunting–and never short of amazing.

 

Jurian Hughs, E-RYT 500, MFA, is founder of the Yoga of Voice; co-founder of A Wild Life Sanctuary™; co-creator of The Yoga of Yes; a Let Your Yoga Dance® teacher trainer; voice coach; personal mentor; writer; speaker; and theatre performer known for her passionate, playful, and engaging teaching style. As a senior faculty member of the Kripalu School of Yoga since 2006, Hughes has led thousands of workshops and programs and trained more than 1,000 Kripalu yoga teachers.

 

For more about Jurian, visit jurianhughes.com. Join Jurian for her ten-day Let Your Yoga Dance® Teacher Training at the Art of Living Retreat Center from September 22 – October 2, 2018.


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: Jurian Hughs , knowledge , kripalu , Let Your Yoga Dance , living yoga , stories , wisdom , yoga

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