Giving thanks may be easier on the day we Americans set aside for it, but how do we keep that thankful feeling flowing? How do we maintain an attitude of gratitude on a daily basis, especially in the post-holiday haze and pre-Holiday craze of these longest winter nights upon us?
Here are five simple suggestions to flex your appreciation muscles. Once you get in the gratitude groove, you begin to become aware — gradually but inevitably — of the abundance that surrounds us at any given moment. You just might be amazed at how much there is to be grateful for. Try it.
1. The Tried & True Gratitude Journal
Every day, wake up and think: What Am I Grateful For Today? List 5 things. Keep a notebook next to your bed and write them down.
2. Make Someone Happy
Do (at least) one thing every day that shows another person — be it your life partner or the kid at the coffee shop — that you appreciate them.
“When you practice gratefulness, there is a sense of respect toward others.” ~ The Dalai Lama
3. Write a Thank You Note
And I mean the old-fashioned way. Handwritten. On a simple card or scrap of paper, it’s the message that matters. Tell someone how they made a difference to you. Find their address, put a stamp on it (yes, they still have those), and send it snail mail.
4. Find the Gratitude
Think about a difficult or challenging situation you are facing. Find something about it that you are thankful for. There’s always something — a lesson learned, a pattern of behavior revealed, even just the simple knowledge that the situation will pass, in due time.
5. Make It Your Mantra
People don’t say thank you nearly enough. Surprise your partner by thanking them for something they do all the time, like making the coffee. Thank the bus driver or the toll operator. Thank the sun for rising another day.
Here’s some inspiration for giving thanks from kirtan’s pop-mantra queen and dancing diva Donna De Lory, singing her beautiful ode to gratitude, Sanctuary, at Bhakti Fest Midwest last summer.
You Can Count On Me, the much-anticipated sequel to David Newman’sStay Strong charitable project for Global Green USA, was released this week with a new single available on iTunes and Amazon and a nice long video of the joy-filled jam session that created it. Newman spoke with The Bhakti Beat about the project’s Aha! moment, kirtan activism, and how his own practice has evolved in the 20 years since he founded Yoga on Main in Philadelphia (hint: fatherhood has factored!).
Have you seen this video yet? It’s a bhaktified joyride with a boatload of the wallah world’s favorite musicians singing their hearts out and generally having a blast recording the charity single, You Can Count On Me, in one of the music industry’s most famous recording studios.
The epic jam session began as a twinkle in David Newman’s eye when he was driving to Los Angeles after Bhakti Fest last September. “I just got a very strong feeling about doing it,” he said. “I thought: wow, what if I brought a bunch of my colleagues into this really special, historic studio and we recorded this together, and filmed it all?”
Photo courtesy Stay Strong Project
The pieces came together at the speed of an L.A. minute. iPhones were humming all over Southern California — Newman said everyone was invited by text!– and the response flowed in. Shiva Baum signed on to co-produce the single with Newman and long-time axeman/collaborator Philippo Franchini. Amy Dewhurst came aboard to produce the video. The very next day — and lots of thumb-tapping later — anyone in the bhakti world who was in L.A. at the time gathered at the legendary Village Recorder studio to give it up for Global Green USA.
Photo courtesy of Stay Strong Project
“Everything was put together in a 24-hour period,” Newman said. “The final decision to do it was made Tuesday morning after Bhakti Fest and the recording session happened on Wednesday night.”
Talk about instant karma…
Just look at the list of musicians who showed up to collaborate in the band, choir and dance party. “I guess you could call them the L.A. Bhakti All-Stars,” Newman said, adding that many artists who were invited had already left the area.
You Can Count On Me , written by Newman and Donna De Lory, is a feel-good anthem chant in the songwriter-meets-wallah style Newman is known and loved for. The medley fuses Newman’s original lyrics evoking an “I’ve got your back” loyalty and kinship with a rollicking Shyam Bolo refrain that you can’t help but sing and dance along with (see the video for evidence of that). The single — available digitally only as a single short track or a two-track set with the longer Shyam Bolo jam — features the vocal nectar of De Lory, C.C. White, and Shyamdas, in addition to all three of the Newmans. Yes, even toddler Tulsi got her chance at the mike (she’s officially listed in the credits for “giggles”). Cuteness overload alert!
Pulled To Do Something Different
With this song and the original Stay Strong single, which broke the top 5 in the iTunes world-music chart, Newman said he had felt pulled to do something different. “You could say these two songs didn’t feel like they belonged to me.” At Bhakti Fest he sang a somewhat mellower version of Count On Me, and it was during the course of the festival that “it started becoming clear that the song would be a wonderful vehicle as a follow-up to Stay Strong,” he said.
Mira & Tulsi Newman (Photo courtesy of Stay Strong Project)
All proceeds from the song go directly to Global Green’s Green School program, supporting the organization’s effort to build green schools in needy communities and help foster appreciation for sustainability in the next generation, the future stewards of the planet. With Tulsi as a constant reminder, Newman says these are the topics he thinks about a lot these days. Read the interview below.
Q&A With David Newman
THE BHAKTI BEAT:You Can Count On Me is a benefit for Global Green, as was the first Stay Strong. Why this cause?
DAVID NEWMAN: As we’ve seen with Hurricane Sandy, there are lot of issues going on in our environment, and sustainability for our future and for our children’s futures is an important issue. The idea of green schools is critical to building a sustainable future .
Now that I have a child, I think a lot about what this world is going to be like for her.The children are really the shepherds of a future sustainable life on this planet Earth, so environmental issues are very dear to me.
Initially, I did Stay Strong with Global Green partially because I really loved what they were doing, and partially because the chief operating officer, Richard Wegman, is a bhakti yogi/Reiki kind of person – he is someone who really sees the relationship between living with an open heart and activism. I have a real strong connection with Richard, so there’s a synergy there between us.
TBB: What inspired you to create this sequel to Stay Strong?
DN: I would say 50 percent or more of what I do on the Stay Strong project in terms of my impetus or inspiration is just simply to put something out there that inspires people, opens hearts and brings a smile to those faces who see it. That’s my main inspiration.
Secondarily, with both this new song and the first Stay Strong release, there was something unusual about the writing process that motivated me to do something different. I guess you could say, for whatever reason, these two songs didn’t feel like they belonged to me. When I wrote the song You Can Count on Me, I just felt that I wanted to do something special with the song. Then when I was at Bhakti Fest, it started becoming clear that it would be a wonderful vehicle as a follow-up to Stay Strong. That’s how it came about.
Photo courtesy of Stay Strong Project
The inspiration to do the video at this legendary recording studio called Village Recorders in Los Angeles really came to me while I was driving back from Bhakti Fest to L.A., where I was going to be for a week. I just got a very strong feeling about doing it, I thought wow, what if I brought a bunch of my colleagues into this really special, historic recording studio and we recorded this together and filmed it?
What was so graceful about the project was that everybody involved, including the producer, musicians, singers, film-makers, it was all put together in a 24-hour period. The final decision to do it was made Tuesday morning after Bhakti Fest and the recording session happened on Wednesday night. And, talk about the technology of 2012 — every single person invited was invited via text message.
TBB: Wow. What does that say about this community coming together?
DN: The outpouring of energy was amazing. The evening in the studio was just absolutely charged, really a creatively high experience. To some degree I was limited by the people who were still in L.A. [after Bhakti Fest]; there were others I contacted who had already left the area. So in a lot of ways this is kind of a Los Angeles project — the L.A. Bhakti All-Stars, I guess you could say.
TBB: Does that mean there will be an East Coast version to balance it out?
DN: I never know. This all came alive in such a short period of time. The Stay Strong project to me is a mystery: I didn’t expect it to happen the first time and didn’t expect to do a second release, so who knows what could come from it moving forward.
TBB: We’re seeing a lot of “kirtan activism” these days, from Hurricane Sandy relief to sex trafficking in India. What role can or should kirtan play in activism?
DN: I think the practice and the sharing of bhakti kirtan is its own form of activism (chuckles), because it activates people’s hearts and that inspires them to follow their bliss and passions and to participate in life in a conscious and joyful way.
For all of us road warriors out there doing door-to-door kirtan, that is activism. It’s playing an active role in the upliftment of the planet. I think all of us who practice bhakti are connected to serving humanity. I can’t really speak about what the role is in getting involved in more traditional activist settings, but to me, [bhakti yoga] is a means to help in a broader way. That’s always been a big part of what I do, and one of the reasons my presentation of kirtan has a little more of a Western flair is to bring it to more people.
In terms of supporting charities and nonprofit organizations, I can’t speak for other people but it definitely plays a role for me. My last CD, Stars, gave a portion of every CD sold to Peter Gabriel’s Witness.org, a humanitarian organization that distributes cameras and iPhones to people around the world to document human rights violations. The video we made, Love Belongs to Everyone, was dedicated to the work that Witness does.
TBB: You’ve just celebrated the 20th anniversary of the yoga studio you founded in Philadelphia, Yoga on Main. How has your practice evolved in the past two decades?
DN: I think the way in which my practice has evolved is that it has expanded, in a very profound way. When I was younger I had very strong ideas about what was “spiritual” and what was a “spiritual experience,” so in a way I was confined to identify with that through certain kinds of practices – which were very supportive of my spiritual expansion.
Now 20 years later, there isn’t anything that isn’t spiritual to me. It matters less and less what particular activity I find myself engaged in, whether it’s talking with you or having a cup of tea or practicing yoga or taking a walk. Whatever it is, to me, it’s all part of the same oneness. It’s really been quite liberating, like letting go of a burden of seeing it in some places and not in other places. To see everything as spiritual, as divine — for me that’s been a big shift.
Photo by Balramdass, from ImageEvents.com
To me this is what we’re working for as bhaktis. As my guru Neem Karoli Baba said: “See the divine in everything and in everyone.”
He also said: “The best form to worship god is in every form.” This is the bhakti vision, the divine is in all beings and in everything. So 20 years later, I feel that there’s a much deeper awareness of spirituality in exactly what the moment presents. There is less of a compulsion to make it look different.
TBB: How has fatherhood contributed to that evolution?
DN: In a huge way! My daughter Tulsi is just full of love and full of awe. She’s so present and so joyful. Being with her, you just see the transparency of spirit, because she’s so close; she’s living in that. Being serious, being heavy, or being preoccupied just doesn’t work in her presence.
I always say: who needs a guru when you have a child like Tulsi?
The Deadline: November 16, Midnight Pacific Time
Raised as of 11/16: $12,401
The Campaign Continues Until Fully Funded — Donate Here Now!
Sheela Bringi has all the makings of a mantra-music star being born. She grew up in a musical household rooted in the West but steeped in the sounds and traditions of the East. Her Indian-born parents, devotees of Sai Baba and Amma, hosted weekly satsangs and Sunday gatherings where she and the other girls learned bhajans from her mother while her father taught the boys mridanga drumming. Summers were spent visiting relatives in South India, joyfully joining “singing parties that would encompass everything from Beatles singalongs and Bollywood hits to full-fledged Carnatic ragas.”
A star being born? (Photo by Masood Ali Khan)
As she grew up, Bringi’s informal lessons turned to formal training with luminaries of Indian Classical music, including her bansuri teacher, the renowned Pandit G.S. Sachdev, and her mentors and teachers during her master’s degree in world music at the California Institute of the Arts, Ustaad Aashish Khan and Swapan Chaudhuri. In the years since graduating she has made a name for herself performing and recording in the West Coast world-music scene and beyond. Solo or in collaboration, her musicianship is flawless on the bansuri flute, harp, harmonium and vocals. She has played with legendary tablist Karsh Kale and with acclaimed sitarist and Ravi Shankar disciplePaul Livingstone. In the mantra-music scene, she has opened for Grammy-nominated kirtan pioneer Jai Uttal and played with Wah!, Gaura Vani and Dave Stringer. The past year saw her teaming up with hang drum sensation Masood Ali Khan for bi-coastal tours that included a coveted spot on the line-up for Omega Institute’s Spring Ecstatic Chant weekend.
With producer Clinton Patterson (Photo by Masood Ali Khan)
The seeds for Bringi’s debut album were planted in those weekly satsangs of her youth. She told The Bhakti Beat that about a third of the CD will be based on the bhajans her mother taught her as a child, resurrected in the studio with a cast of musicians led by producer/songwriter/trumpeteer Clinton Patterson, Bringi’s long-time collaborator on PremaSoul. The rest of the record will feature mantras “rearranged in new ways” and Bringi’s own original compositions with harp, bansuri and harmonium. Featured musicians include Carnatic singer Aditya Prakash, Masood Ali Khan on percussion, drummer Gene Coye (Carlos & Salvador Santana, Larry Carlton), bassist Ben Shepherd (David Archuleta), and tabla player Javad Butah. She’s particularly excited to bring in Jake Charkey, a Mumbai-based artist who plays an “unusual and rare” style of cello in the Hindustani tradition.
This is not an album that can be easily labeled; expect a genre-bending fusion of world music with ancient Indian melodies and mantras interlaced with with harp, bansuri, voice, strings, hang drum, tabla, and more, Bringi said. One thing is sure: it will not be your traditional call-and-response kirtan album. “With this album,” Bringi says in her campaign video (below), “I hope to express the songs of my two traditions with one voice, to honor my heritage, break down boundaries and uplift hearts.” Recording has already begun and the target release date for the disc is February 1.
Bringi On Crowd-Funding
Saying Thank You
The process of reaching out to friends and fans to help fund her debut CD has itself been somewhat of a spiritual practice for Bringi, who describes herself as “socially shy” and “not the type to be putting myself out there.”
“Asking for help is a little bit challenging for me, so this campaign for me personally has been partly about pushing past fears,” she said in an interview. “It’s been a way to push myself to open up, to receive support and to share more widely what I’m trying to do with my music.”
With Masoon Ali Khan (Photo courtesy of Sheela Bringi)
As soon as the new CD hits the digital airwaves, Bringi will be embarking on a worldwide tour in concert with Masood Ali Khan, which will take the pair to India, Japan and Europe before heading back to New York in June for a repeat of their successful East Coast tour last fall.
Shorter term, Bringi and Ali Khan are performing at a charity gala in Beverly Hills, Calif., Nov. 14 that is raising money to benefit orphans and “vulnerable children” around the world (details here). On November 15, Bringi plays for superstar yogi Shiva Rea in Rea’s popular Prana Flow Chakra Vinyasa class at Exhale Venice.
How does one person in suburban California manage to raise $20,000 to fight sex trafficking in India?
Enlist the kirtan troops!
That’s been a big part of the winning strategy for Srutih Asher Colbert, a Palo Alto yogi mom and hair stylist who is now within sight of meeting her ambitious fundraising goal by the end of the year. The troops who signed on to help include none other than the Chant Master himself Krishna Das, who contributed his share of the proceeds from NYC’s Bhajan Boat charity cruise in late September (check out the video here). That pledge alone added $3,000 to Colbert’s coffers.
"Kirtan is not about getting blissed out and escaping life..."
Both jumped at the chance to help raise money. Vieira told us: “As kirtan leaders, we’re here to serve the devotees in their practice and help provide the conditions for exploring the depths of love and devotion. To me, expanding that sweetness of devotional service into the world is the whole point.”
“As a woman,” she added, “sex trafficking is an issue that is very dear to my heart, and I wish I could do a thousand kirtans for it…If we have an opportunity and the means to contribute even a little bit of time, energy or resources toward the solution, it’s a great blessing. Kirtan is not about getting blissed out and escaping life’s problems. It’s a call to wake up, to broaden our capacity to love and our willingness to serve.”
Off the Mat Into the Bhav
Colbert’s funding drive is part of the Global Seva Challenge, a worldwide service project created by Off the Mat Into the World (OTM) that has raised over $2 million since 2007 for a range of international humanitarian causes. The 2012 campaign is focused on battling sex trafficking in India through locally based empowerment and rehabilitation programs, and Colbert is one of about 200 yogis who have taken the $20,000 challenge this year; so far about half a million dollars has been raised, collectively. (OTM is the charitable organization founded by Seane Corn, Hala Khouri and Suzanne Sterling with a mission to “use the power of yoga to inspire conscious, sustainable activism and ignite grassroots social change.”)
Suzanne Sterling: Not resting
Colbert got involved with Off the Mat at Wanderlust Festival three years ago, where the OTM session is always a favorite. (No wonder: two years ago at Wanderlust VT, Michael Franti and his band joined Seane Corn on stage for a rockin’ 2-hour party-for-a-cause. This summer, MC Yogi riled up the troops with a rousing rendition of “Give Love” (watch it below), then Suzanne Sterling knocked it home with a foot-stomping, soul-stirring rendition of a civil rights anthem called Ella’s song — “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes” — that flowed right into the yogi’s anthem, Om Namah Shivaya.)
A top fundraiser for OTM three years running, Colbert kept earning herself a free ticket back to Wanderlust — and doing it all over again. When she heard that the 2012 Global Seva Challenge was directed at helping the young victims of sex trafficking in India, she signed on.
‘We Live in This Little Bubble’
“I have two daughters myself — 5 and 8. I just felt moved to try to help these girls, and inspired to show my own girls how important it is that we help people who can’t help themselves,” Colbert told The Bhakti Beat. “We live in this little bubble. There’s so much suffering in the world and we can do something to help other people.”
OTM works with six different charities in India that are working in local communities to rescue, rehabilitate and empower women and girls affected by the sex trade. “They [OTM] talk to people who are already doing this work to create sustainable change, instead of just throwing money at the problem.” The funds might be directed, for example, to build a new wing on a safe home, or to teach women self-sustaining skills.
Nearly $2,000 was raised at a Brooklyn kirtan (Photo by Srutih Asher Colbert)
Reaching out to friends in the yoga and kirtan worlds to support the drive was natural, she said, because “those are the two things I love and practice regularly. It’s been an amazing blessing to reach out and have people say, ‘absolutely, how can I help?'”
People like Krishna Das. Not bad.
Colbert first met Krishna Das at her Yoga Teacher Training at the Sivananda Ashram in the Bahamas, at a time when she “didn’t know anything about chanting and thought it was weird.” After five straight nights of kirtan with KD, “it really clicked for me,” she said. “I totally fell in love with chanting. It completely changed my life from that moment forward.”
Ten years later and $3,000 away from her goal, with bhakti yoga strongly at her side, Colbert is paying it forward, hoping to help change the lives of girls trapped in India’s sex trade, from this moment forward.
Is there room for politics in bhakti yoga? If social media on election day is any indication, the answer is yes. In droves, bhaktas and yogis have taken up the call to engage, fully and consciously, in the quadrennial rite of passage that is the American Presidential election. Even artists who you might not exactly consider “political” or “activist” are joining the drive to get out the vote, and in some cases, being very explicit about which candidate they support.
You might call it “Chant the Vote,” kirtan’s own informal spin on the popular “Rock the Vote” drive that enlists pop/rock idols and celebrities to encourage young people to register to vote and make their voices count at the polls. The chant world may be coming to the game a little later than say, Madonna (who was booed at a concert for saying “I don’t care who you vote for, as long as it’s Obama.”), but, like Madonna, kirtan artists are not shying away from naming their allegiances.
White Swan Records, the label of sacred chant superstar Deva Premal, posted this picture of her, apparently standing before a huge mural of Obama. The caption read: “From Berlin, Deva Premal says to ‘vote.'” If the written message was neutral, the picture says it all.
On Sunday before the elections, Snatam Kaur, the soft-sp0ken Sikh chantress, posted this message to her facebook followers:
No ambiguity there...
In two days on facebook, the post received nearly 4,000 likes, 170+ shares, and over 300 comments, which were overwhelmingly positive, by our reading. (Snatam has the largest facebook following of any Western chant musician, with 109,000+ “fans” following her page; in comparison, Krishna Das and Deva Premal & Miten each have about 70,500.)
Chanters with Chutzpah Ki JAI
The outspokenness of these two artists, both of whom have a reserved, quiet demeanor (in terms of their public face at least) surprised us a bit — in a good way. Anyone who is willing to stick their neck out to voice their opinion in this close, contentious race deserves a Golden Cojones prize, in our view, especially in digital age, where one can be slashed and burned in mere minutes on social media.
"Seize the day"
Mid-day today, Donna De Lory joined the chorus of Obama supporters, posting this message on her facebook page: “Today is a day to ask yourselves, who do I trust? Despite all of my human disappointments, Who is most compassionate and concerned in the sustainable future of all living beings, this beautiful life as we know it?” De Lory then reprinted a lengthy message from a friend named “Allison” laying out the case for re-electing Obama.
Of course, there are folks like MC Yogi who have left no question as to their political allegiances: the conscious hip-hop artist released a special single and video in support of Obama’s first campaign (Vote for Hope). He has also been an active proponent of Yoga Votes, the voter-registration drive that has had a strong presence at Wanderlust and other yoga festivals in the past year.
MC posted this Obama graffiti portrait on his facebook page yesterday, with the message: “We can’t wait for the change, we have to be it!”
Vote Then Chant
Other artists have focused more on getting out the vote than on promoting a particular candidate. Girish and manager/partner Virginia Rodriguez launched a special election-day concert called “Vote then Chant” that was scheduled for election night on Long Island — but sadly, was cancelled due to the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Undeterred, the artist has taken the effort worldwide, offering up a special live version of Om Namah Shivaya for 99 cents and up to encourage people to “vote then chant,” and at the same time help the victims of Sandy. Proceeds from the sale of the single will be donated to the Red Cross’s Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund. Get the details here.
“Chant with us in support of our east coast chant family and in support of the highest outcome of our national election,” Girish implored fans in his newsletter mailing.
What Will You Be Chanting?
From the buzz we’re seeing on facebook and elsewhere, people are going to be chanting through the results from coast to coast, whether in small community kirtan circles or with touring musicians. In Hillsboro, NH, for example, Bethel Farms is presenting “Bhagavan Das–Electing Kirtan” in a three-hour election-night chant and in Atlanta, Bhakti Messenger’s Ian Boccio is leading a group of bhaktas in a Rama mantra (because “every little bit helps,” he said). In Minneapolis, Pascale LaPoint of Kirtan Path was hosting satsang at her house “where we will chant, chat and meditate in peace without following the results.” In Sacramento, Radiant Friend kirtan is getting the chant out at Yoga Shala …
The Bhakti Beat wants to know: did you chant through the election results? What were you chanting and where?
And, the burning question we have: are there any Romney supporters out there in chant land? We know there must be…