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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

om chanty chanty chanty

so what do you think the typical reaction at work was monday morning when, in addition to spotting the henna mehndi on the back of my hand and the garland of bright orange chrysanthemums hanging on my cubicle wall, my officemates found out that i had spent the better part of sunday chanting with the hare krishnas?

just as i had expected. they smiled, shook their heads, and walked away.

by now, they've all given up trying to figure me out. after all, how can you reconcile a junk food addict who spends her days in front of a computer monitor, poring over specifications, reports, and spreadsheets, yet gets animated when she talks about pulling a flower-strewn chariot down the venice boardwalk? if they only knew that i had actually spent the better part of my weekend -- friday, saturday, AND sunday -- chanting the names of hindu deities...

on second thought, i should probably keep that to myself if i want them to keep talking to me :(

my weekend started friday evening at the lululemon store in beverly hills. and while i won't deny that i was hoping to find a bargain hidden amongst the regularly-priced merchandise, i was there to attend an operation shanti fundraiser yoga class with lulu ambassadors krista cahill, brock cahill, and chris chavez. they had asked fellow yogi daniel stewart and his cohorts to provide some inspirational music during the class. a little vinyasa flow, a little musical entertainment -- who could resist?

anyone who's taken krista's, brock's, or chris's classes know that they're not for the faint of heart. nor for the weak of body. their devotees are clearly level 3 students and above. first-time students who aren't quite at that level either end up swearing never to show up again or swearing to keep trying until they get it right. it's hard to stay indifferent when you're worked to exhaustion! so you can only imagine what a class with all three team-teaching would be like. sun salutations with handstands and bakasanas thrown in for fun? piece of cake... don't i wish!

the room was surprisingly full, given that it was a friday night (aka date night). but then again, once the class started, it was clear that many of the attendees were there because they were regulars at the cahills's classes at yogaworks. or chris's classes at his home studio. as for me, it was pure fortuitous timing; i was there because daniel had sent out an email blast right after i had found out that the event i had originally planned to attend that evening -- the dave stringer kirtan at the soon-to-open be love yoga -- had been postponed. so i got to trade one kirtan for another AND got a juicy yoga class thrown in. not a bad deal.

while krista, brock, chris, and dice (a lulu BH regular who dropped by and made the teaching staff a foursome) went around the room guiding and assisting, daniel and his merry musicians kept the background beat appropriately energizing or soothing, depending on the pose we were working on at the moment. and after we emerged from our much-appreciated savasana, they led us through an ecstatic call-and-response while accompanying our voices with their harmonium, cello, and drums. the time allotted for the mini-kirtan just wasn't enough to really savor their talent; if it weren't such an effort for me to get to the valley from the south bay after work, it would be so easy to rejoin them at their upcoming kirtan at rising lotus yoga this coming friday evening. sigh.

after the class, fresh coconut juice and hors d'oeurves were served while we viewed a video of the health care, education, and vocational training operation shanti continues to provide the children of mysore, india. it was truly astonishing how the love and support showered by people who care have helped turned these children's lives around! a $30 suggested donation? sold!

my chanting expedition continued saturday night at black dog yoga in sherman oaks, where a party to celebrate peter barnett's new post at the studio helm was already in full swing by the time i arrived. with dave stringer and his kirtan choir rocking the entire place with their melodious voices (at least i caught dave this time!), i congratulated peter and helped myself to some wine and cheese before making my way to the packed main classroom. i managed to find a spot against the front wall, and from my vantage point, i was able to watch the crowd in action. they were clearly loving it all, and so was i.

high on all that bhakti bliss, as well as on lots more wine and cheese, i soon found myself chatting with rita sahakian-das, a mehndi artist who was busy applying her artwork on the yoginis gathered around her. next thing i knew, she was drawing a pretty lotus flower on the back of my hand as we made plans to meet the next morning at the ratha yatra, or festival of the chariots, in venice the next morning.

since it was the second year in a row that i had decided to participate in the festival, i knew the drill: show up early at the santa monica civic auditorium parking lot, observe swamis light up coconuts and chant invocations to the deities as they hurl the coconuts onto the ground, take my place along the long rope attached to a chariot, then wait for my cue to start pulling.

and pull we did that sunny sunday morning. hundreds of us -- young and old alike -- helped propel the three massive chariots of lord jagannath, his brother balabhadra, and his sister subhadra out of the parking lot, down main street, past the farmers' market where we stopped just long enough to toss flowers at the shoppers gathered on the sidewalk, head towards the ocean along rose avenue, then continue along the boardwalk to the festival tents at the end of the parade route. and for the entire two-mile stretch, we chanted. the locals chanted. the tourists chanted. everyone chanted the familiar maha mantra:

hare krishna hare krishna krishna krishna hare hare
hare rama hare rama rama rama hare hare

by the time we reached our destination and released the ropes, my throat was parched from all the chanting. as i looked around in search of something to drink, i spotted rita, the artist from the night before. as it turned out, both she and her husband are active members of the LA ISKCON community; from that point on, she took me under her wing and introduced me to one swami after another as we made our way from the food tent to the merchandise tent. by the time we parted ways, my belly was stuffed with vegetarian goodies, my arms were loaded with an assortment of souvenirs, and draped around my neck was a garland of chrysanthemums from the chariot i had helped pull.

looking back, it was one crazy weekend... and one crazy story... which could possibly label me as...

i just hope no one at the office is reading this :)