A special version of Will the Circle Be Unbroken in memory of Sheila Hyslop, animal caretaker at Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, and great soul.Read More
This year will be my 3rd (or 4th?) year attending the Vegan Spirituality Retreat in Philadelphia. In 2011 I was the keynote speaker, fresh out of my Jivamukti Yoga teacher training, talking about veganism and yoga as conceptualized by Jivamukti Yoga co-founder Sharon Gannon in her groundbreaking book Yoga And Vegetarianism: The Diet Of Enlightenment. Last year I taught a yoga class, and this year I will do the same, along with Jivamukti Yogi Ximena Milagros Savitch.
The event takes place this year on Saturday, July 20th in Gladwyne, PA (near Philadelphia). To publicize the event I was interviewed by Prarthana Jayaram, and have included the transcript below. There was also a video made of last year's retreat set to my song "Big Ole Vegan Mountains", which is here for your entertainment. This year's event will feature Will Tuttle (author of The World Peace Diet) as the keynote speaker. Hope to see you there!
PJ: How did you get involved with the Retreat and/or the Vegan Spirituality Group?
Pashupa: I first became involved with co-founder Lisa Levinson and the project "Public Eye: Artists for Animals". I lived in Massachusetts and had founded the Vegan Bus Project. Our goals were similar, to use art as a means to spread the vegan message. We brought theVegan Bus, a full-sized school bus running on waste veggie oil, to Philadelphia to participate in some events. It turned out Lisa and I were also both interested in the connection between veganism and spirituality, and around the time she started the Vegan Spirituality Group I was becoming a Jivamukti yoga teacher. I agreed to give a talk on yoga and veganism in 2011, and last year I led a yoga class.
PJ: How do you see veganism tied to spirituality? (And does this relate, specifically, to the spiritual practice of yoga?)
Pashupa: It is my belief that a path towards higher states of consciousness, or towards god if you like, calls for us to eventually give up things that cause harm to others. This is not to say that people who eat meat can not be spiritual. We are all spiritual, and all have a yearning towards enlightenment. Often this yearning is blocked or redirected by cultural beliefs, religious beliefs, peer pressure, or any number of other factors that in yoga we call avidya. Avidya means mis-knowing. In yoga the goal is to achieve union with the divine, and to do this we must constantly question and refine our beliefs. What stands between us and enlightenment is our own ignorance - ignoring uncomfortable realities to cling to the comfortable and familiar. In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, one of the most important texts of yogic philosophy, the practice of ahimsa, or non-violence, is the first recommendation towards finding peace and spiritual fulfillment. It is the foundation that all the other practices are built upon. Yoga without ahimsa is like a bicycle without wheels. Eventually one needs to examine how we see others, because that determines who we are, and how others will treat us.
PJ: What has been your favorite part of being at Retreats past?
Pashupa: I love seeing Freya Dinshah, whose husband Jay Dinshah founded the American Vegan Society in 1960. They put out a magazine called Ahimsa back in the day. Something about her makes me feel peace in my soul - to me she embodies the divine feminine spirit of compassion. She is humble and quiet, but exudes wisdom and strength. There are lots of great things about the retreat, but when I think of it her presence comes into my mind first. I hope she will be there this year too!
4. What is valuable about having a spiritual and/or vegan community (and community events)?
Pashupa: First of all any gathering of vegans is important, as the community support is what helps people keep on this path in the midst of a culture that is deep in avidya. Many vegans I know don't believe in god, and perhaps do not see themselves as spiritual. There is a lot of cultural baggage around god, because our western religions have instilled a vision of god as an authority figure who created animals for us to exploit, which alienates the community. But without the grounding of a spiritual view of life vegans can tend to be angry and to offend other people, creating the opposite effect of what we want, which is to end animal enslavement.
The value is to find a common ground, and to be open to others beliefs. It is dangerous to define what is spiritual and what is not, and so a diversity of beliefs is necessary. I think one thing we should all have in common is a sense of compassion towards all beings – human, animal, and plant. The other ingredient would be a feeling of reverence and awe for life and creation. Within that framework we can have an exchange of ideas and practices. If we can maintain the openness to other's beliefs, as long as compassion and non-violence are at the core, then there is great value. If we try to become an organized religion that becomes dogmatic, then the value is lost.
Taking time to honor the true spirit of Thanksgiving, and to consider the thousands of sentient lives that we take in order to 'give thanks'.Read More
A poem written for the goats of Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, rescued from human abuse, yet still able to forgive. They are the ambassadors for the billions who are run through our system with no human compassion, to die violently for our fleeting desires. Learning to awaken human compassion for the ones who have no voice to beg for it, would surely be a complete and beneficial evolution for human consciousness.Read More
I have been reading Gandhi, An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments With Truth and it has inspired me to create this gallery of photographs I have taken at Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary accompanied by quotes from the great yogi, and some of my own commentary.
"To my mind the life of a lamb is no less precious than that of a human being. I should be unwilling to take the life of a lamb for the sake of the human body. I hold that, the more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to protection by man from the cruelty of man." ~Mahatma Gandhi
"I do feel that spiritual progress does demand at some stage that we should cease to kill our fellow creatures for the satisfaction of our bodily wants." ~Mahatma Gandhi
"It has always been a mystery to me how men can feel themselves honoured by the humiliation of their fellow beings." ~Mahatma Gandhi
The piglets in this photo, Antonio and Bertha, were born to a sow who was rescued after being beaten and burned by a factory farm worker. The abuse was so awful that it was reported by a co-worker, an almost unheard of act of bravery in this industry. The abuse earned the sow, who was named Julia, her freedom. Upon being transported to Farm Sanctuary, she gave birth to 16 piglets. Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary soon after provided homes for two of them, Antonio and Bertha.
It is a sad truth that in factory farms and slaughterhouses the workers treat the creatures, who already endure lives of horror and suffering, with additional levels of violence and cruelty, including beatings and sexual abuse. Before condemning these workers, imagine yourself working in these conditions, earning your living from the exploitation of other beings. In order to feel OK about it, you will have to create a mental barricade between your sentience and theirs. Once this wall is erected, these beings become insentient in your mind, and to reinforce this distortion of reality you must trivialize their brutalization. You at the very least participate in it, and may even escalate it, building the wall between "us and them" ever higher.
The workers in these industries are typically exploited themselves; often immigrants who can not find other work, do not speak English, and fear being deported. We who buy the flesh, milk and eggs stolen from those that they imprison, torture, rape, and kill - are not separate from the acts that they commit. We are an interconnected web of beings who have ourselves created mental barriers between the food that we take into our bodies, and the realities of where it comes from.
"I hold flesh-food to be unsuited to our species. We err in copying the lower animal world if we are superior to it." ~Mahatma Gandhi
While I feel that we are not superior to the "lower" animal world - we are a part of it - there is a meme of human superiority that we encounter everywhere in our culture. As vegans we often have to argue against it ("I didn't climb to the top of the food chain to become a vegetarian" "If god wanted us to be vegetarian, why did he make animals out of meat?" "Nature is red in tooth and claw"). I believe that we are evolving, and that our qualities of intellect and inherent spiritual nature give us the ability to choose the path of our evolution, to some extent. Shall we choose to continue on as a violent species, whose greed destroys everything in its wake? If so, then I predict we will not survive much further into the future.
There is another path, the one of compassion, that presents itself as a choice in every interaction we have with other beings. It is the path of the yogi. Every time we sit down to nourish our bodies with food, we have this choice. Let us use our vast creative and intellectual potential to imagine a world where we are nourished by plants, and where animals live liberated from the prisons we euphemistically call farms. Liberated also from zoos, science labs, entertainment industries (as Maybelle was), and pet stores.
"You must be the change that you wish to see in the world." ~Mahatma Gandhi
Please check out my photographs of farmed animals living in sanctuaries for inspiration. You can also purchase Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary's 2013 calendar which is filled with my photographs, to be inspired for a whole year!
I have been blessed in this life to experience many sweet moments, strung together like mala beads. In the japa of being, my mantra is gratitude. And so it is that the highest blessings come around like the guru bead; sometimes anticipated, sometimes unexpected.
I have been living as a gypsy the last three years, my transitory locations all oddly connected by the names they have been given. New England, New Orleans, New York. NOHO & NOLA. The Big Easy to the Big Apple. Now I will be living in the city that never sleeps (but hopefully still dreams) fort the foreseeable future.
Less than three years ago I took my first Jivamukti Yoga classes at Swan River Yoga in New Orleans. Last May I became a Jivamukti Yoga teacher. Today I begin my job as the Web Editor for Jivamukti Yoga in NYC. I had enrolled in the Jivamukti Immersion at the Wild Woodstock Forest Ashram before I knew about the job, and it turned out to be the perfect transition for me to my new life. The guru bead was passing through my fingers.
How fortunate to have spent time with my teachers and some of my dear friends from the 2011 teacher training, along with the beautiful jivas I am getting to know. The theme of the immersion was the student-teacher relationship. The lectures featured commentary on a poem from Geshe Michael Roach called "The Magic of Empty Teachers" and the inspirational "10 ways to keep a precious teacher in your life". David Life told entertaining stories from Hindu mythology, Sharon waxing poetic with wonderous insights.
Sharon led us through the Jivamukti Magic 10, stretching the 10 minute sequence into an hour long class that explored each asana in detail. David's class the next day synchronized our breathing to a metronome as we explored the same sequence. Throughout the weekend it went like this, teachings of yoga channelled through the unique perspectives of Sharon & David. To sweeten the situation we had advanced certified Jivamukti yoga teacher Dechen Thurman giving us assists and a third vantage point to ingest.
What has made Jivamukti so successful as a method is this yin/yan, Shiva/Shakti approach of the founders. Their message is similar but not the same. They have profound respect for one another and are able to fill in the spaces that the other one leaves open. It brings levity and is a living example of how two beings can live in harmony while keeping their own identities. I am not sure I can quite describe what it is about them, but they are genuine yogis and teachers, completely human and humble yet wise and confident in their message. The two that become one in yoga.
The weekend was a wonderful way to transition from New Orleans to New York City and to begin my journey as Jivamukti Web Editor. Enjoy the slideshow below which features my favorites from the Woodstock Jivamukti Yoga Immersion. I have posted the rest of the photos on my Derek Goodwin Photography Facebook page.
Mardi Gras is an epic time in New Orleans, no matter how much one tries to avoid getting caught up in it. This year I have been struggling with money and had no fancy costume or big plans other than to work a lot at my job with NOLA Pedicabs and make lots of money to get caught up on my bills with.
My father once said, "man plans, god laughs." Well for sure we all get caught in the cosmic giggle. I am a bad ass on a bicycle but as it turns out my dharma is not to haul drunk people around New Orleans for a living. The 2nd Saturday before Mardi Gras was to be my first big money-making day because there were tourists and parades, but mama nature had other plans and chilled us the fuck out to about 35 degrees so that not even the drunkest of drunks were getting in my cab. After 8 hours all I had to show for my toils was the beginnings of a two-week long throat cold.
The night before that was pretty awesome though, as I got to go photograph the Apocalypse Ball - an annual benefit for the Louisiana Himalaya Association (LHA.) (a volunteer-staffed, non-profit organization dedicated to international social work with Tibetan Refugees in the Himalayan regions of India and Nepal). This year the ball was held at Studio 3 on Toulouse Street. I danced my ass off, had my face painted like a sugar skull from the Day of the Dead, and flirted with all kinds of beautiful people. I would like to thank my friends Kate and Trishell for getting me in as photographer.
So back to this pedicab thing. I have been entertaining my yoga students with my pedicab tales for a while now, how I would go out for hours and not make any money. How the pedicab-pep talk would always turn to how much we were going to make over Mardi Gras. As my bills piled up and I ate peanut butter sandwiches to survive I wondered a lot about my karma and my dharma.
Mardi Gras means 'Fat Tuesday', and it is traditionally a final celebration of gluttony before Christians fast for Lent (on Ash Wednesday). The fasting traditionally lasts 40 days to honor Jesus' time in the desert chatting with Satan. Hungry Christians are exempt on Sundays, which are mini-Easters. Easter ends the fast. (random fact: I was born on Easter in 1967, therefore I am an Easter expert). Traditionally Christians fast from meat, dairy and eggs during Lent. St. Thomas of Aquinas thought eating animal flesh gave people more nourishment and "greater surplus available for seminal matter, which when abundant becomes a great incentive to lust." Kind of gross if it was true, but fortunately/unfortunately eating animal proteins tends to make men impotent instead. Not that anyone you will meet on Bourbon Street would know or care, but there you have it, ignorant ideas that have evolved through the ages and are still with us.
I was signed up for pedicab shifts from Thursday through Tuesday, culminating Mardi Gras night. Friday night my cold from the week before, which I considered past me, came back with a vengeance. I lost my voice and could only work for about 3 hours before my headache became unbearable, long enough to make the money I had to pay NOLA Pedicabs for using the bike for the night. I paid them off and went home to rest. Saturday it rained all day and night, and I did not work. Sunday I went back to work and did OK even though my voice sounded like a squeaky mouse. Monday (Lundi Gras) I actually made a bit of money.
Tuesday I spent the daylight hours with the Society of St. Anne, my favorite Mardi Gras parade. It isn't a super-organized parade with floats and all the gross excess of bead throwing, but rather a meandering gaggle of costumed freaks heading from the Bywater to the French Quarter, passing through the Marigny, stopping at bars, being joined by brass bands and psychedelic portable DJ contraptions, spontaneous dance parties, and run-on sentences disguised as journalism.
After a beautiful sunny day spent with my lovely freaks, I left to go work my night away on a pedicab. On the way to the shop I got a call from NYC, which turned out to be Ganeshadas from Jivamukti Yoga setting up a job interview with me the next day. A sure mood-lifter impeccably timed by that same universe known for cosmic giggles.
Suffice it to say that after about 4 hours of being harassed by drunks on the back of my pedicab I put enough faith in that same universe to quit my job for the night and head home for some well-deserved rest. Money seemed less and less important the more I thought about it. And I like peanut butter well enough. I will still eat it now that I have been hired to move to NYC and become the web editor for Jivamukti's soon-to-be-released web site. Life is good and so am I.
There is big news today in the world of Pashupa. I have been chosen to be the Web Editor for the soon-to-be-launched Jivamukti Yoga web site!
The position is my dream job, combining many of the talents and skills I have accumulated over the years of my life. I will be working with Jivamukti teachers and centers around the world overall responsibility for all aspects of developing, launching and maintaining the new website, which will become the global online hub of Jivamukti Yoga.
I had applied for the job about a month ago when I got an email from Jivamukti about the opening. The applicant's were to write a letter explaining why they felt they were suited for the job, and I wrote mine that same night and then edited and submitted it the next morning. It was purely a stream of consciousness, describing my vegan projects, web design skills, and passion for being a Jivamukti yogi.
On Mardi Gras day as I was walking from hanging out with my friends on the shore of the Mississippi River after the St. Anne's Parade (see my photos here) to my job with NOLA Pedicabs, I got a call from Ganeshadas to set up a Skype interview on Ash Wednesday with Sharon Gannon, Gopal and himself. Surrounded by the madness of Fat Tuesday and costumed freaks I was hardly able to believe that it was happening.
The next day I got to see my beloved teacher on my computer screen, and had my brain inspected by three sharp yogis while I went through emotional and mental whirlings of my mind trying to represent my true self and ideas. I was still recovering from losing my voice over the weekend and had to pause the interview while I had a coughing fit I was afraid wouldn't end, but eventually it passed and I completed the interview and was offered the job!
There are no words to tell how grateful I am, how excited, how humbled, or how incredibly fortunate. I will be moving to NYC in March to begin, and with the support and encouragement of the Jivamukti community I intend to co-create the best yoga web site in the known universe.
Stay tuned for updates and insights, and if you hear of a place available around NYC in April please let me know! Comments below are appreciated...
We all have our own true north. Mine is Pashupa.Read More
Swan River Yoga opened its first studio on Magazine Street in New Orleans in 2008, one year before I first came to NOLA and two years before I began wintering here. Founder Michele Baker and co-owner Keith Porteous (both Jivamukti certified yoga teachers) poured their hearts into creating a sacred space for the community to practice yoga, attend events, and grow spiritually.
Since those auspicious roots, the community at Swan River has blossomed. Swan River expanded into three additional locations, began teacher trainings, and has become one of the best known and most loved studios in the city. Last year Swan River opened in Mid-City, at a location know known as the Mandir, which has three floors filled with various rooms and opportunities. As the Mandir's popularity increased it became apparent that it was time to leave the Shala.
Last night Keith Porteous taught the final class at the Shala, and the room was full of appreciative yogis. Aaron Lind, Mary Glackmeyer, Joseph Stein and myself all showed up to give loving adjustments. Keith's dharma talk used the metaphor of a spaceship that uses tremendous energy to leave the stratosphere and then is able to coast in space. Swan River is now coasting along without the Shala booster, with all of us yogi astronauts floating beyond gravity. Keith carried the metaphor throughout the class, at times talking about getting searched at the spaceport and eating dehydrated astronaut food.
In this year that promises to be a year of transformations, it was a class full of sweet memories and letting go. It was so wonderful to see all the people that showed up, to assist along side some of my favorite teachers and holy beings, and to work in a little bit of photography amidst a room full of arms and legs that I had to jump over and duck under.
Having passed through the winter solstice we now look forward to the hours of daylight gradually increasing as we move into the mythical year of 2012. Swan River, the studio where I teach in New Orleans, has cancelled most of their classes this week for the holidays. Studio owners Keith Porteous and Michele Baker were kind enough to let me offer classes to our community every day this week.
Tonight I taught a beautiful class at the Mid-City Mandir, subbing Michele Baker's "Swan River Yoga & Gong Bath" class. As the rain fell audibly outside I led the students in flowing asana illuminated by candles and soft lighting. During shavasana I played the gong, using my fingers and knuckles to create a sound bath. I hope the yoginis enjoyed it all as much as I did!
Tuesday through Friday I will be teaching at the Magazine Street Shala (2130 Magazine St) at noon every day. I am really looking forward to these classes and the opportunity to develop a daily rhythm that they offer. I am hoping to come up with a fresh dharma talk and class sequence each day, which will be a challenge! This is also a bittersweet time, as the Shala will be closing at the end of January as Swan River consolidates their energies and offerings into the beautiful and spacious Mid-City Mandir.
I will take Saturday off (and hopefully take a class myself!). On Sunday I will co-teach a very special class, The Magick Male, a News Year's benefit with donations and proceeds going to the Swan River Community Center in Arabi. Class is from 5:30 - 7:00 pm and will be taught by Haiyan Khan, Aaron Lind, Joe Stein, Ben Kappel and myself (teacher bios can be read here). As Michele Baker says, "activate your yang, pingala, surya, and Siva side!"
I hope many of you will join me at one or more of these classes during this very special week. In January I will begin teaching the Jivamukti Spiritual Warrior class at 7 a.m. on Tuesdays & Thursdays in Mid-City, as well as a community donation-based class on Wednesdays at 5:30 at Divine Kundalini. Please check my class schedule page for details on all of my classes.
May the new year bring you all light, love and blessings!
Article originally appeared in my column The Vegan Examiner of New Orleans
Christmas is a time to say "I love you." While it is nice to say it to other humans, we have all heard it so much it is nearly meaningless. Cows, on the other hand, don't get to hear it enough. If they did, they wouldn't understand your tiny mouth noises anyway. But if we truly did love cows, then everyone would be vegan. Or at least not eat, milk, or human-ually impregnate cows.
Some people confuse sex for love. Perhaps that is why in the dairy industry people are paid to artificially inseminate cows. In these times it is hard to find a job, and some of us turn to sex work, that is just a common reality. First the sperm has to be collected. This is done by a human, who uses an 'artificial vagina' to collect the seminal fluid. If you are curious how this is done check out this video. Next, another human dons a long latex glove and inserts his arm into a real cow's vagina and squirts a bit of sperm into the cow. If you are curious how this is done, here is another video. In case you are wondering, cows need to be impregnated every year to produce milk, and this is how the majority of cows get knocked-up.
This is not the ideal vision of a white Christmas, and Jesus probably would not have approved. Some Christians worry that if same-sex marriage is allowed it will lead to humans marrying animals. Yet every time a Christian drinks a glass of milk or eats some cheese they are practically paying someone to engage in sexual acts with a cow or a bull. Sex without marriage, as we know, is a sin. Either we should quit drinking bovine mammary secretions, or allow people to marry whomever they like. This would create lots of jobs in the wedding industry, and offer alternatives for sex workers who want to change careers.
For the record, the Vegan Examiner of New Orleans officially condones same-sex marriages and condemns bestiality. That is just how he rolls. Many people say they condemn bestiality, but then eat animal products produced through such practices. Domestic turkeys, for instance, can no longer mate naturally because of breeding and genetic manipulations that have grown their breasts too big for coital contact. Some humans may have reached these proportions as well, of their own accord. But let's not go there.
It is best to express your love for animals non-sexually. Take, for instance, the band The New Hot 5. While none of them are known to be vegan, and although they play New Orleans Jazz but don't live in New Orleans, they still have at least once been nice to cows. They went all the way to France to play When the Saints Go Marching In for some cows (see "Jazz for Cows" video attached to this article), who seem to genuinely appreciate it. No one knows what the band had for dinner that night, but we can be hopeful they might have thought twice about eating cow flesh.
If you would like to do something nice for a cow this Christmas, how about helping a cow out at an animal sanctuary? Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary offers animal adoptions, where you can pay a monthly donation to help out one of the critters living there. The national organization Farm Sanctuary offers the same. These can be given as gifts, and come with photos of the animal and other benefits. The biggest benefit being that you are helping to raise awareness about animal exploitation.
This holiday season, say "NO" to bestiality, and choose to eat vegan. Leave your outlandish comments below.