A Meditation on Art as an Everyday Experience

A Meditation on Art as an Everyday Experience

A Meditation on Art as an Everyday Experience

Laura Dickstein Thompson, Ed.D., 2017


YOGA PLUS MAGAZINE - Meditation on Art as an Everyday Experience

This essay is a mindful exercise. Find one small edible object, like an M&M, raisin, or piece of an orange. Go ahead, I’ll wait…

Now, find a seat and sit up straight. Holding the object in your hand, take a few nice deep breaths. Get as comfortable as you can, and please pay attention to what you are experiencing as we go along. You may want to read over the next steps before you proceed with the meditation. If you lose your way or your mind becomes distracted, don’t worry, just go back to the breath, thinking about how it feels going in and out through your nostrils.

With your eyes closed, hold the object in your hand and feel the sensation of it rolling around on your hand. Roll it just in the palm, and then roll it from one hand to the other. Clasp both hands and shake the object in front of you. Place it near your ears and see if you can hear anything. Bring your clasped hands with the object near your nose. How does it smell? Now go back to holding the object in one hand and roll it around your palm using the other. Do you feel any textures? And stickiness? How would you describe this object to someone who has never seen your object or who cannot see?

Now take another breath in, and out. Open your eyes and reexamine the object. Turn it over on your hand and check out all sides. Do you notice anything that you didn’t see when your eyes were closed? Place the object up to your nose and take a whiff. Now the moment you have been waiting for: place the object on your tongue—but do not bite it. Notice what is happening to your tongue. Is saliva building up? Do you have the urge to bite it? Roll the object around in your mouth letting it go from side to side hitting your cheeks and teeth. Play with it a bit more in your mouth. Now bite and chew the object, trying to pay attention to how long it will take you to chew completely before you swallow it.

Consider this: What was your experience with the object? Did your perception change when your eyes were open? Were any memories evoked, such as thoughts about the first time you had an M&M? And what does this all have to do with art and creativity?

In this activity I hope you have seen that skills of mindfulness, attention, and close observation are necessary to bring deeper understandings of an object (which could be something in your everyday life, as mundane as a raisin, or something intended for contemplation like an artwork). This focus also levels the playing field between the various objects that surround us because we can apply the same skills to build understandings and have deeper, perhaps even transformational, experiences with everything in life.

Anything can be art because art is the contemplative experience you have with anything and everything. Art is an experience, not just a product. A painting is just that, a painting: it is the precise language to describe an actual thing that was created with paint, a product of the art experience. Art is a vague umbrella term that doesn’t give us the ability to distinguish all the possibilities for art materials and art-­making techniques. Art can take on a broader, yet clearer meaning both as nouns (objects or products), and as verbs ( action as experience [see box]).

If we accept this definition that art is experience, it therefore does not necessarily require the creation of a tangible object; however, since the beginning of human history, we have made things, both utilitarian (spears and clothing), and creative (musical instruments and cave paintings). These things metaphorically become containers for holding histories and memories, symbols of thoughts and feelings, values and beliefs. They urge us to be alert to their embedded messages; to not ignore the lessons contained within the objects. Objects don’t necessary need to be made by humans, either, to be opportunities for artistic experience. They can just as well be the moon, sun, or the trees in our front yard. We need just to apply our contemplative skills to have a focused experience with whatever we are viewing, and the resulting exchange between object and person can be termed “art.”

Objects don’t have to exist at all to have an art experience. Art can be the images conjured up in your mind’s eye or in a dream. Art can be the sounds, senses and flavors of a memory; it can also be the pictures created in the mind while reading a good book, or as someone describes something to you. Art is experience because it is active; it is an action that you can apply in any context and with any object—or not. It is a way to experience life, to be in the present moment with the ordinary and the extraordinary.

Another way to look at it is that the arts can come out of the so-­called ivory tower, the grand marble monuments to history, the exclusivity of the gallery world and from those in the “know,” and given back to the people. In this way, we are liberated from thinking that artists are the only makers of art, and moreover, that art is only experienced in museums, only at certain times in our day, and only understood by certain people. Art is part of the everyday experience. It is not something that is done for 45 minutes once a week in the schools; it can be done all the time. It is a metaphysical exchange that sounds off like a gong, bringing us to the present and helping us to be sensitive to the influence of our past, and may help us to even alter our planning for the future.

The great 20th-century philosopher John Dewey wrote in his seminal book Art as Experience (1934) that museums display art and artifacts with the “vulgarity of class exhibitionism,” or for purposes of establishing and maintaining economic and social status. He makes a case for the arts as part of our everyday experience. Dewey asserts the original intention of art and artifacts is to enhance the everyday. He also argues that art is not necessarily designed for, or required to take place in, an institution; rather it is a part of an organized community and can be a social tool for interactions among people and things, to create opportunities for conscious, active experiences. A Deweyan experience from a mindful perspective means to be fully present, to apply our contemplative skills, to be bold with our innate sense of curiosity and wonder, and to have the courage to genuinely engage with others and the objects that surround us. In contemporary times, we have created what I have termed “objects of distraction” (i.e., iPhones, Facebook, Internet), that though designed to bring people together, adds stress to our lives to the point that we become overwhelmed with images and data. As Dewey might contend, we must no longer look for ways to calm, dull, or silence the noises of our lives; rather, now we should rejoice in letting the arts ring loud and clear in celebration our extraordinary everyday experiences.

So on that note, reader, I hope you will realize your own potential as an ingenious communicator as well as an observer and appreciator of all things, seeking the creativity in them that makes you feel connected to other beings, such as cooking a good meal, reading a great book, or viewing a majestic work of art.

Laura Dickstein Thompson, Ed.D. is MASS MoCA’s Director of Education + Curator of Kidspace, as well as an Adjunct Professor in MCLA’s Arts Management Program. She has over 27 years experience in arts education and is a trained mindful practitioner. This essay was the foundation for a workshop Dr. Thompson conducted at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, March 2017.

Jason Naylor

Jason Naylor

Jason Naylor

By iana velez


Jason Naylor ART

“Do you remember when you were too cool for LOVE? When you were too busy being tough or macho to let any one know that you actually have feelings? Well, were you really tough? Because guess what…that shit is over…love is on fire. All the cool kids are into it. And I’m proud to say that I think love is tough, cool, masculine, AND manly. And NOW is a great time to talk about it. So get into it…get on the love train with me, and if you’re not, then start learning. Learn to love LOVE. Because love can change the world.”


Bold. Colorful. Happy. Scroll through Instagram and Jason Naylor’s art is sure to catch your eye. With messages of positivity delivered in his signature syle, when you see his work, you can’t help but smile. We chatted with Jason to learn more about the man who put the smile on our face.

I think i’ve always been a pretty positive person, like sorta relentlessly optimistic. I like to look for the silver lining in everything and I guess i’ve kind of discovered that most people really respond to and enjoy positivity and optimism. Something I realized a few years ago was that there is this world of positive quotes and motivational messaging and its huge – but its a smidge cheesy in terms of design. That “motivational world” is full of beautiful messages that resonate with me and millions of people, but the messages come on tacky refrigerator magnets with sad font choices and unfortunate typographic designs.

I started putting up my own positive messages in an application completely opposite the fridge – the street. There’s something magically vulnerable about putting your art on the streets because it is an open forum for any and all to love, despise, photograph, celebrate – even destroy (but please don’t do that). It’s the most public forum to express any message, so what better place to express positivity, color and love? Visually, street art has edge to it, but I believe that feelings are the new edge. Love is the new black. And vulnerability is the new chic. So to me, bright colors framed in black is the perfect way to design a message of love for the street. And I sincerely hope my designs are a little better than the ones found on the refrigerator magnets.

I often think about baby me, and how crazy I was. I grew up in a very stringent religion/culture so I went through the expected rebellion to escape it. But crazy as I may have been, I feel that I wouldn’t be the “me” I am now (and love). However, here are a few things to say to that guy in hopes of sparing some unnecessary troubles.

This is the biggest one. My whole life I felt people were telling me what to do and who to be. In order to feel like I was myself, I had to prove that I wasn’t like anyone else by being the opposite. This is a disaster, because the opposite of what you think people expect of you, is not necessarily who you are. And who you REALLY are IS cool. So f**k what people expect of you altogether, and be comfortable with you are. Easy to say, hard to do.

I have gone through a lot of extremes in terms of behavior, appearance and opinion. Extremes often affect the balance in the system, and lack of balance causes unrest. Peace and happiness are more easily found when you have balance in your life, so practice moderation in things. Balance things out a bit, and you’ll find yourself at peace more frequently.

This one is huge, and easy. Gratitude can solve all your problems in seconds, and it’s the easiest and most effective way to change your attitude. Remind yourself to feel thankful for the good, the bad, and the difficult. Feel thankful for the things that are easy, thereby enabling you to endure the challenges. Feel grateful for the pain so you know what it feels like when its gone. Practice gratitude. Do it.

This takes us right back to my advice to “Jr. me.” Its ok to be you. Understanding who you are relies on being honest about what really is TRUE to you. It’s a simple concept, but in practice it can be difficult. Being honest with ourselves is something that I’m sure we can all improve, and I think it’s safe to say we, as a culture, don’t do this enough. What do I really like? What do I really think about life? What kind of music do I like?

Start small, ask yourself what do I want for dinner? And then notice that your opinion will begin with scanning your expectations of what others may want, and weighing those into your opinion. DON’T DO THAT! Stay in your lane, don’t worry about what others want or like. What is it that YOU want. Just you. So that’s a little bit on being honest with who you are, what you want and being yourself.

Now TRUTH itself is a bigger concept that I think relates to the way one experiences reality. And it speaks to your core values. What is true to me may be different than what is true to you. Here are couple of my truths: It’s true that kindness is the key the success. It’s true that I am often reminded of how far I can get in life by being nice. It’s true that I will never regret being the bigger person. It’s true that I can rise above my fears, I have done it before and I will do it again. It’s true that I have the power to be the best me I choose to be. And it’s true that that me, is good enough for me.

Learn more about Jason // jasonnaylorcreative.com and @jasonnaylor

Jason Naylor ART
Jason Naylor ART
Jason Naylor ART



Tawny Lara, Music Editor


Yoga Plus Magazine - MUSIC BATALA NYC drumming

People, predominantly women, are looking for some sort of outlet to express what they’re feeling and how they’re dealing with current events. Batalá New York is providing just that: a true awakening to the women playing the music and for the audiences lucky enough to see their shows. Batalá New York is part of a global arts project made up of over 30 bands around the world. The music of Batalá originated in Salvador, the capital of the state of Bahia, in northeastern Brazil. New York’s all women afro-brazilian samba reggae percussion chapter has performed at Brooklyn’s Curl Fest, NYC’s Women’s March, and Make Music New York, to name a few. Batalá New York’s directors, Deinya Phenix and Laura Torell, let us crash their rehearsal space in Williamsburg on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Over the course of two hours, we danced while they were practiced, chatted with some of the musicians, and even got to play a few songs with them.

Thanks for letting us crash your band practice! The energy in there was incredible. Everyone had a beautiful, genuine smile on their face. How would you describe your rehearsal?

Deinya: I like to use the Brazilian Portuguese word axé coming from Ifá religion. It means divine, creative energy.

Laura: Suingue, it means to swing. It means you’re not just playing the music – you’re feeling the music. You’re feeling the beat. That’s why we try to use less words and more demonstration.

How long have you both been doing this?

Deinya: Well, in this band since 2012. I used to do folkloric dance including Afro-Brazilian dance and samba. And I’ve been doing that pretty much since 2006.

Laura:  I’ve been doing this since 2012. So, five years I’ve been playing Brazilian percussion since 2007. I started off with samba and I played with various samba bands. I’ve played a couple different genres in Brazilian music. I dipped into a little bit of Samba reggae during that time, which is why this transition felt really good.

Batalá’s vibe is empowering women all the world. Are the groups always women-based?

Laura: Only in a few key cities: New York, Washington D.C., Mendoza, and Brasília.

Deinya: What’s interesting about all female bands is that only two of them are female led: New York and D.C. Drumming is often dominated by men. An all female Batala group is focused on female energy that eclipsed in a mixed gender setting. It creates a positive space for women. Women tend to be braver in the context of other women. Take more risks creatively around other women. Half of us have traveled to play in other bands, some co-ed of course.

What does the word “awake” mean to each of you?

Laura: In terms of what we’re doing here, a key thing is that we are bringing in people who have had perhaps no experience, or very little experience in playing music, or drumming. I would say more often than not people come in with no experience. It awakens a sense of creativity, that musicality that may have not existed before. That’s what happened to me when I first started playing Brazilian percussion with other groups. I hadn’t done it before at all. I didn’t think I could do it, and here I am 10 years later leading this project.

Deinya: I took a few percussion classes here and there but I never considered myself to be a percussionist until Batalá. So I’ve been waking up to a shift in identity. Batalá, more than any other project I’m involved with now, has connected me with my ancestors. Including those who have brought African religion, and traditions from the motherland to the Americas. I travel to Brazil often and one thing I’ve noticed since participating in Batalá is that the African traditions are expressed differently in each place where slaves were taken. Brazil happens to be one of the most conscious places as far as the African traditions of my ancestors. Connecting with this music has awakened a consciousness in me, a racial conscious that I didn’t have before.

Batalá uses five different drums. Can you tell me a little bit about the significance of each drum? Why are there five?

Laura: The five drums comprised of five different parts so that they all connect into one arrangement. We have the surdo 1 and 2 which provide the bass. I would say the surdos are the wheels and the caixa is the engine.

Deinya: We also call the surdos the heartbeat. It’s a single beat for the heartbeat. One, two, one, two. With that heartbeat going, the band feels like it has life. The dobro plays in between the heartbeat, almost like a breath. The repinique resembles the African djembe drum. It’s one of the hardest ones to play because it’s very loud.

You need extra earplugs for that one?

Deinya: You definitely need extra earplugs. But also for women, in general, being loud is difficult yet so necessary. Another form of awakening comes from women playing this repinique drum. It’s a master drum and here we are – women – playing it. Where the repique often calls and the dobra will respond or the other way around. They interact a lot. And this is the heartbeat of the engine going the whole time.

It sounds like it all works together like a well-oiled machine.

Laura: Yeah. It is also interesting when you go to Batalá worldwide you see that the repinique and the caixa are primarily played by men in co-ed environment, whereas the dobras are played primarily by women. Surdos are kind of a mix. I started playing dobra, because I used to play a similar drum in samba, and I wanted to learn the repinique because I wasn’t seeing a lot of women play this drum outside of the context of an all women band where by default all of the women play all of the drums.

Deinya: I also feel like playing the repique I’m serving my space.

Laura: Yeah. Because it’s a call thing. I love that in Rio style samba all the calls are done by repinique. It’s like you lead and then it responds. So, it’s nice to put yourself out there.

You all wear red, black, and white when rehearsing and performing. What’s the significance in those colors?

Deinya: Like I mentioned before, a lot of African traditions were brought to Brazil and the Americas. They’re often expressed and reinterpreted through popular music formats and aesthetics. The colors are often connected to the Orixas, which are deities of the African religion Candomble. White and red together are the colors of  Iansa and Xango. Iansa is a female Orixa that is connected and syncretized with Santa Barbara that is the goddess of sacred thunder, lightning storms, and hurricanes. The red and white are also connected to Xango who is the god of thunder and lightning. The colors red, black, and white together are associated with Exu a trickster deity. So those colors are meaningful to us, but they’re also high contrast and energetic.

If anybody wants to get involved in Batalá, how can they?

Deinya: They should write us. Our website is batalánewyork.love

Dot love?

Deinya: Yeah. If you use “dot com” it will still connect, but we love to say “dot love.”

What’s the audition process like?

Every few months we are tentatively open to new members. It just depends on what we need. Some have little to no drumming experience, while others have been drumming for years. These women come from all walks of life.

What’s the age range of your group?

Deinya: Right now, we have about 45 women age 20-68. There was a time when we had someone as young as 11 in the band, my daughter. Most of the women involved in Batalá are in middle class. I really want to expand our community to other cultures and classes. We’re doing workshops in The Bronx and the Lower East Side to branch out our membership. If I had been caught by a movement like Batalá when I was younger, I’d be so much better for it. I want to offer this opportunity to younger women, especially younger black women.

Follow Batalá on Instagram @batalanewyork. Check out their music on YouTube and ReverbNation.

Kiran Gandhi: Drumming with a Purpose

Kiran Gandhi: Drumming with a Purpose

Kiran Gandhi: Drumming with a Purpose

Tawny Lara, Music Editor


Yoga Plus Magazine - MUSIC BATALA NYC drumming
Kiran Gandhi does it all. She toured the world as MIA’s drummer while pursuing an MBA from Harvard University. While running the 2015 London Marathon, she made global headlines for free bleeding (menstruating without the use of pads, tampons, or panty liners). She’s a feminist activist who channels her passion through song lyrics and speeches. Kiran credits her accomplishments to what she calls Atomic Living. Kiran’s focused on identifying what she’s truly passionate about: drumming, feminism, friends and family, and the music industry. When opportunities come her way that could potentially nourish one of those four pillars, Atomic Living tells her to say “YES!” and she goes with it. This way of living allows her to be present in the moment and contributes to her creativity.

What does creativity mean to you?

Creativity is the ability to have the clarity to let your fullest self be expressed. It also means being able to shut out the surrounding influences and really assess what we think or feel. That’s part of the reason why, as a creative, I prefer to live in a place like LA. Now I even see a lot of New Yorkers going to places like Beacon or Hyde Park because sometimes when we are too stimulated by things around us, it’s difficult to access our inner creative spirits and inner creative thoughts. Creativity is also when you’re able to provide a new perspective that’s different than what’s around you so you can inspire and challenge others.

How do you shut out those external influences?

For example, one day I promised to meet some people at our local farmer’s market, then I realized I really needed to write and work on music at home. I didn’t feel the need to exchange external energy. Having the courage to accept that, without feeling obligated to say something that didn’t feel right to me, is very important. That’s not a selfish or egotistical thing; it’s more honoring and understanding myself so that I can actually be better to those around me. I don’t really book that many meetings. I try my best to spend time alone so that I can actually hear my thoughts. I think that’s why people like yoga and meditation. It’s the same idea.

So many people are terrified of that alone time that you’re talking about.

They are. At a recent show, I realized I only had five minutes left, but I wanted to share something with them. In a yoga class the day before, the instructor said “Let the blood rush to your pituitary gland, your third eye, your intuition, where you’re never wrong”. I was so obsessed with this because we question ourselves all the time. We’re afraid of being wrong and hurting ourselves or others. But at the same time, I do believe that those who practice meditation and yoga are so in touch with their own energetic flow that they know very clearly what they need to do, where they need to be, and what they need to say no to.

You mentioned the importance of being cognizant of how you spend your energy. How do you balance that with what you call Atomic Living?

It’s the exact same. It’s all connected. Atomic living is exactly what my yoga teacher said: listening to intuition. For so long, humans, especially women, only had their intuition. Think of motherhood. There’s no manuscript telling you what’s right or wrong. You just exist based on your intuition. You have a feeling through your own anatomy that your child is hungry, so you feed them from your own body. It’s so pure. Then in the 1200s, missionaries came in and told humans they need to listen to God. They told us to put our faith in something external instead of internal. This teaching shows up everywhere. We still look for external validation through Facebook. We look for the answer by Googling it. We look for hope by praying to God. While prayer is powerful and it helps millions of people, I don’t think it should come at the expense of being able to listen to our own intuition. When we say “The Future is Female,” it means returning to that place of trusting your own intuition.

If we go against the grain or that typical way of thinking, we’re thought of as weird.

Look at the greatest leaders of our time; those are the people that listened to their gut. In the short term, they set back challenges and exclusions and even death threats. In the long term,  they’re ones who push our society forward.

b>Most people don’t think that they have the capability to be that great. We often idolize celebrities or profound leaders from the past and think “I can’t do that”. They’re just people, too! They’ve learned how to ignore the haters and listen to their intuition.

Absolutely. I spread this message in my lyrics. In one song, I say “Own your voice, don’t be afraid.” In another song, I say “I own my voice, I am not afraid.” I say it over and over again because it’s so powerful. It can be something as simple as not telling their boss what they think because they’re afraid or something as extreme as sexual assault and rape victims not feeling confident enough in our society to speak up against right and wrong. A capitalist society depends on people not listening to themselves. The majority of us knows better. We know better than to idolize someone because they have fake breasts. We know better than to value ourselves based on how we look. We know better than to smoke or drink. But capitalism depends on us to ignore those things, to feel bad about ourselves. It’s a toxic system.

Speaking of business, I think a big miss with struggling artists is that they don’t see themselves as entrepreneurs. Would you agree?

Artists recognize that creativity and doing something pure at heart shouldn’t be tethered to material wealth, so they shy away from the business based on a stereotype of capitalism. I believe that artists need to be able to receive the value that they’re giving. We can exchange value in different ways. This is a materialistic example, but sometimes when you’re making art, you need material things. I recently went into a store that sells beautiful sunglasses. I told them I’m making music video and I’d love to be able to place their glasses in a shot because they’re so cool and really on brand for what I’m doing. I let them know that there was no money at all, but I used to work with MIA and we have a big press partner, so it could a good opportunity for them, too. When I teach artists about business, I don’t teach them about greed or corruption, I teach them about how to understand the exchange of value.

When I speak about change and social justice, I talk about my four levers of social change. People don’t think that they can make a difference for various reasons, but actually, we need all four of the following to make any kind of social change:

  1. Radical Activism – This can be protesting in the street, my free bleeding during the London Marathon, or anything that forces society to question its norms.
  2. Access to Education – Education is the thing that convinces us because it caters to our brain and teaches us how to know better. It arms us with information so that we don’t have to be afraid of something because we don’t know anything about it.
  3. Policy Change – When the masses care about an issue, policymakers are forced to care about an issue
  4. Innovation – This is where the business people come in. Whether it’s an app or a product that can change the problem we’re trying to fix for the better.

How does feminism fuel your creativity?

I think of my creativity as the method through which I express my beliefs on women’s equality. I believe we still live in a world where a woman is a second class citizen. I use my creativity in an innocuous way to inspire change. If I were to be a lawyer or politician and say the things that I believe, it would make people afraid or repulsed by my ideas. But I say the exact same thing and express it through art and music. Because art and music don’t exist in our official channels, a lot more can pass through. Artists impact people so much more than politicians because art caters to people’s emotions first.

What’s your yoga/meditation practice?

7 a.m. yoga – that’s my jam. I don’t have a “job” that I have to wake up and go to, so creating this has been an anchoring point for me. It keeps me from drinking the night before. It makes me go to bed early. It makes me start my day at 8:30. I feel like my limbs are stretched out. I feel like my physical well being supports my mental well being. There’s oxygen getting to every fiber in my muscles. The meditation I do doesn’t happen by sitting still in silence. It happens at two specific times. It happens when I’m driving. I get the chance to zone in on what I really want. I’ll take notes and send myself reminders from that time. Another time is when I’m drumming. As a musician, you get to a point to where your craft becomes muscle memory.  I’m no longer addressing the learning at the front of my brain, it’s already happening. I let my limbs do whatever and my brain goes off into a thought process. I recognize that most schools of thought for meditation are about clearing your mind completely. The way I think about it is clearing external stimulation completely so that I can hear myself. Maybe I still have work to do when I access one level beyond that, which is complete blankness of the mind, which is a very Indian school of thought.

A lot of people do find peace through stillness. It sounds like you find meditation in movement. The beauty of meditation is that there’s no right or wrong way to do it. Some people can sit quietly for 20 minutes and feel recharged. For you, maybe you get that from drumming. 

Learn more about Kiran Gandhi and Atomic Living on her social media channels:

website: kirangandhi.com

Instagram: @madamegandhi
Twitter: @madamegandhi

Jason Naylor ART
Krishna Das on saints, creating happiness, and saving your own ass…

Krishna Das on saints, creating happiness, and saving your own ass…

Krishna Das on saints, creating happiness, and saving your own ass…

By Iana Velez, Editor in Chief


Yoga Plus Magazine - MUSIC - KrishnaDas bip photo

If the Kirtan world had rockstars, it would Krishna Das.  Originally from Long Island KD, as he is affectionately known, spent the late 60s travelling and living in India where he met his guru Neem Karoli Baba, known to most as Maharaj-ji. He returned to the states after a few years and was lost for a while after the the death of his guru and drug use found peace by chanting. What started as a small group chanting at Jivamukti in NYC over twenty years ago, has turned into sold out tours all over the world and a Grammy nominated album. Editor in Chief of NY YOGA + LIFE sat down with KD to chat about kirtan, joy, and saving your own ass…

To be honest years ago, kirtan and chanting were always things I avoided. I’d be in a yoga class and the teacher would pull out the harmonium and in my head I’m screaming “no, no, not the chanting.”

I still say that when most teachers pull out the harmonium (laughing)

(laughing) Then I saw One Track Heart ( Documentary about KD’s work and life) and it pretty much blew my mind. What we want so share with our community is that there are so many paths you can take. Yoga may not be for you, meditation might seem impossible…but here is another option: kirtan and chanting. For someone new to all this, how would you describe kirtan?

Lets just say that most of our pain and suffering, comes from our thoughts. It comes from the way our minds function, and the way they obsessively follow every thought that comes. And also believing every thought that comes. So the idea of yoga or union with your true self, would mean to find a way to let go of those thoughts that pull us out of our self and into confusion. 

Asana practice helps, but chanting is like asana of the heart and mind. It’s moving more directly at the root cause of unhappiness. And, more directly at the cause of happiness, of peace, and well being. They say that underneath all the nonsense that we feel and think most the time is real happiness. Our true nature is a feeling of “OKness.” Which we in the West and the modern world have really lost touch with. 

We use music and the repetition of these mantras, which in India they call the names of god. But we don’t have to call them that. For instance the word “God” bothers me, I’m not comfortable with that. It is a very western tinged word and it invokes a feeling of some big guy up in the sky throwing thunderbolts at you. That’s not my idea of fun. So when I went to India and met real godly people, people who knew what this was all about, the feeling was of a total being at home and total happiness. And none of that good and evil judgemental stuff, which is pretty much where we spend most of our time in our thoughts and emotions.

Why is that?

We are programmed that way (laughing). It’s the nature of this world. In this world everything is either too little or too much. And why is that? It’s because we are not dealing with real happiness, we are dealing with pleasure and pain. And the nature of pleasure and pain is that it’s always changing, it’s always in flux. What is pleasurable and brings some kind of happiness at first, morphs into something else and then it brings unhappiness. What’s painful, very often morphs into something else. The nature of the world of the mind and the senses, or the thoughts and the senses, is that it’s always changing and impermanent. 

Since that is all we have been taught growing up in western culture, its very hard to recognize that there might be another way to live. There might be another quality to life that’s not included in the five senses and the thoughts. That’s the place you are touching when you do asana. It brings you out of your thought process and paying attention to the body, and the body has many things going on that are revealed to us as our minds get quieter, and we pay deeper attention.

Imagine taking that attention, and turning it directly to the source of all being. The source of life, the source of goodness and truth, peace and joy and happiness and real satisfaction – which is who we are. So what we chant is essentially the names of that place inside of us that is all those things. That is peace. That is happiness. That is a sense of OKness. It’s just that we’ve fucked it up so badly…(laughs)

I love one of the things I’ve heard you say before is you chant to “save your miserable ass” (laughs) I love that. How’s that coming along? Is it still in process?

Definitely still in process, and my ass has gotten much wider (laughing) It’s in a good way! In that it includes a lot of people, it includes the rest of the world. So when I chant, of course I get results from that in the immediate moment, but I also recognize that there are other people involved that are also getting something. I’m not giving it to them, we are creating an atmosphere where each person can move more deeply into themselves. Through the chanting, through the music, and the chanting of these very special sounds. These sounds have come from that place within us, and so they have the power to bring us back to that  place. That place is what we are all looking for.

What we do is develop the ability to let go of thoughts, and come more deeply into ourselves while we are chanting, while we are doing that practice. And just that bit of practice loosens up the grip of all that stuff, little by little over time. Because we are so programmed on so many levels to look outside of ourselves for what’s really within us, it’s a very slow and deep process of turning towards ourselves.

Watching you chant, it seems as if energy is travelling through you, not from you, so you never seem drained by what you are doing.

When I am singing, I am not singing to the people in the room. I’m doing my practice. I can’t even open my eyes, I never see people dancing and jumping up and down. My eyes just close and I forget about opening them because I am doing my practice. It’s not about the people in the room, it’s about me and that presence. So I don’t feel anyone is taking anything from me, I’m just entering into that presence and of course that brings a lot of deep feelings. 

I’m not trying to entertain anybody, I’m not trying to give anyone experiences or anything. I sing, then I go home. That’s why it’s so powerful I think, because I’m not trying to manipulate people. If I was trying to manipulate people, everybody would feel that somewhere. And some people want to be manipulated, they are the people that come up and follow me around, because they enjoy being manipulated. 

This is given freely, and openly, you’re free to come, you’re free to go. Because it’s who you are, it’s inside of you. There’s nothing anyone can give you,  except every once in awhile a great saint can give you a little glimpse of who you are. To encourage you to keep moving down the path to yourself.

Do you think there are any more saints out there?

If there weren’t saints, we wouldn’t be here. There are always saints. Whether they show themselves to us or not…there’s a reason that they do or don’t. They are always here, they are the ones running the show. Everything happens for a reason and they are doing what has to be done. You can’t go looking for a saint, you’ll never find a saint. Saints find you.

You don’t do it, all you do is try to get in touch with that longing that you have in your heart. Trust it, and follow it, and do what you can to realize what you are really longing for. The chanting is not only an expression of that longing, it is also the fulfillment of that longing at the same time.

The theme of this issue is CREATE. What does that word mean to you?

All creation comes from some intention. A lot of people talk about creating happiness in their lives, people say “we create our own happiness and unhappiness. ” Not really….our lives unfold in time, in front of our eyes, according to our karmas. Our own actions in the past that have been created by our own actions. Every action creates a karma and every karma creates an action…so to speak. Our job, our duty, our responsibility to ourselves, if we want to “create happiness”…is to deal with what arises in our lives, what shows up in our lives, in the best possible way that we can. That means different things to different people at different times. When I say “best” that is a qualitative statement, it could mean a different thing to me tomorrow than it does today and that’s the beauty of it all. But the idea is that everything that is happening in our lives has been created by our own karmas. 

Like a wave that is coming in from far off in the ocean and crashing over us on the shore. All we see is the wave, we don’t see how long it took to get there, what originally created that motion in the ocean that created that wave. If we recognize that happiness lies beneath the waves, so to speak, we don’t want to create more waves by pushing back on that wave. We want to allow that wave to come over us, pass through us, and be gone. But if we react, we create more karmas in that moment, based on that wave. The idea of creation is very interesting.

So when we talk about creation we have to recognize as human beings in the situation that we are in, we are reacting all the time to stimuli inner and outer. If we want to create happiness, we have to create the intention to find that place within us that is deeper than the reactions. Out of that place, an incredible space of love and compassion and kindness will arise…will be created. It’s not like we are going to just push a button and create something, not on a spiritual path…it’s very different. However you do have to do the work, you have to sit down and do the practices. That is what creates the space around the thoughts and emotions and reactions that we have. To create or invoke the life we want, we have to have the intention, the will and the strength to participate in certain practices that will train us not to react, and not to keep recreating the storylines we tell ourselves.

****For more information about Krishna Das recordings and live events visit KrishnaDas.com****




Tawny Lara, Music Editor


Yoga Plus Magazine - MUSIC - MCYOGI- bio Photo
Nicholas Giacomini, also known as “MC Yogi,” is a hip hop artist and yoga instructor known for lyrically modernizing ancient yoga teachings through song lyrics, motivational speeches and yoga classes. His authenticity resonates with yogis all over the world.  Russell Simmons has even said, “The world needs more artists like MC Yogi.”  MC Yogi performs at international yoga festivals and teaches classes with thousands of participants, but before he can do any of this, he must remind himself of his mantra: Soul is the Goal.

What are your goal-setting tactics?

I have one overarching goal that goes throughout my whole life: SOUL IS THE GOAL. Of course there are daily goals and hitting certain timelines, but having a soulful experience supports the big vision. It helps to steer my whole life in the right direction.  Whether I’m walking my dog or performing in front of 5,000 people, my goal is always to have a soulful experience. Atman is Sanskrit for soul, so I have a little saying: “The Atman is where it’s at, man.”

Last year lululemon had some pants called the Atman Pant — it’s cool to hear the origin of the word.

It’s a very rich history that ended up becoming the name of some pants. What an interesting evolution!  The Sanskrit words are so powerful. The ancient teachings say that even hearing the word yoga in your lifetime in considered a huge blessing. It’s great that the words are out there now and being used more.

How did you come up with this mantra of Soul is the Goal?

When I was a kid, I had a few experiences that led me to realize that my soul was being compressed. The more I started meditating, I realized that my purpose was to unpack, open, expand, and stretch this light that is inside all of us: the soul. I don’t think I’m special in this way as we are all made up of the same stuff. Yogis say we are made up of bliss, light, and the soul. When you start practicing yoga, you get the initial endorphins that are released just from going to the gym. As you begin to look into the philosophy and live the philosophy of yoga, you begin to dig a deeper tunnel into yourself. On the other side of the mind you find a vast storehouse of bliss, love, energy, and peace.You can’t just read about these things or listen to people talk about these things. You have to develop the desire on your own. Essentially, desire is the fuel which drives the process. You have to be hungry and thirsty and really want to get free from your own mental psychosis and habits. When that desire gets strong enough and you want to free yourself from your own suffering, you will begin to take the practices more seriously.Yoga is not just about stretching; it’s about eradicating your own demons from the inside. You have to go all the way or not at all.

That reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, “If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a no.”

Yeah, that’s a really good one – I use that philosophy as well when making decisions. Sometimes I’ll find myself not wanting to do something but for some reason, destiny has me do it and I’m grateful that I didn’t miss it. Sometimes it’s a hell yes and I didn’t even know it; it’s not always so cut and dry.

That’s along the lines of learning how to say no things.  It’s easy to be a “yes man,” but I have to try and stay focused on my purpose.

Sometimes the rational mind doesn’t always know what’s best, so you have to get in tune with your intuition. There are times when I’m in a bad mood and think I don’t want to do something, in retrospect I look back and realize that if I didn’t do it I would have missed an incredible opportunity to broaden myself and get better at my craft. It’s a tricky one — you gotta follow the soul.

Do you write down your goals?

I constantly make lists and I see it as a bad habit in a way. I could just be doing the thing that I need to be doing instead of making lists. I’m a graphic person – always drawing or scribbling but at a certain point I make myself stop and just do what I need to do.

What’s something that distracts you from achieving a goal?

The goal itself can be a distraction. Goals are great. There’s no doubt that having some direction is good, but sometimes goals can be a problem. You can set goals that are unrealistic and create a pattern of failure if you don’t create a smart goal. You know the acronym for S.M.A.R.T? (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely). It’s important to use that to make sure that you’re setting the right kind of goals. If you don’t set S.M.A.R.T. goals, you could get frustrated and give up. Being too goal-oriented can create a mentality of not paying enough attention to life. You can get myopic and lock-jawed. Society can become too focused on the outcome, but it’s about the quality of the process. My manager, Tim, always reminds me of that. His philosophy is actually not having goals – which I don’t always agree with – but he reminds me to stay focused on the process. It’s the old saying, “it’s not the journey, it’s the destination. If you’re too focused on a goal, you could be missing the show as it’s happening.

There’s such a juxtaposition with New York and yoga. Everything is going so fast and yoga tells us to slow down, and sometimes it can be hard to listen. Any tips on finding balance in a crazy city like this?

In my song Clear the Path, I speak of a teaching referring to the world being binary meaning zeroes and ones. Essentially, everything you do is a zero. This includes work and family.  You can have a lot of zeroes and a lot of ones, but if you have a lot of zeroes in the front it doesn’t add up to a lot. If you put a one in front of everything else, it enriches anything that you do because you put that one thing first. That’s why we say “Soul is the Goal.” My number one…before my family, my music, and my art… is my spiritual practice. Even if that’s just sitting for five minutes in the morning, chanting a mantra throughout the day, going for a walk, or whatever I need to do to reignite that connection, then I find that everything else flows better because I put a one in front of those zeroes. So my advice to anyone, no matter they live, is to make your spiritual practice a priority and let everything else fall into place.

Instagram: @mcyogi

Music Available on Sound Cloud, Spotify, and iTunes

Yoga Plus Magazine - MUSIC - MCYOGI- bio Photo
Yoga Plus Magazine - MUSIC - MCYOGI- bio Photo
Yoga Plus Magazine - MUSIC - MCYOGI- bio Photo