Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Snatam: Jai, I attended some of the kids' program with you at Sat Nam Fest East last year and was so impressed by what was happening. The kids were completely engaged in the activities being provided and there was this sense that you were engaging more then meets the eye... a kind of soul presence had been established. I am really grateful that you will be joining us for our retreat in Costa Rica (Song Of the Self Retreat) and at Sat Nam Fest West. I wanted to ask you a few questions about how you design your programs and how you work with children so that perhaps people can get an idea of how special these programs will be. Can you tell me what you think about when you are designing a program for children? What are your goals with the program?
Jai: My first intention in working with children is always to create an environment where they feel physically and emotionally safe. Another goal of mine is to empower the children I work with. There are many fun ways of doing this—through leadership activities, trust-building skills, and non-competitive games, we can expand the consciousness from the individual to the group.
I like to find fun ways to teach the children something meaningful, and often spiritual—to provide a space for them to deepen their connection to their own intuition and spirit. Our daily yoga and meditation-time sets the foundation for this, and then we carry that energy though the day, tying it into the crafting projects, games, and activities, which help bring the teaching to an experiential level for them.
Snatam: I noticed in the program that I attended with you that the kids were so motivated to participate in the activities that you had planned. It blew me away! How do you plan the activities? Where do you get all of these great ideas from?
Jai: I have been working with children literally my whole life. My mother has been running a childcare center since I was a baby, and I have learned much from her. I've also been running a summer camp for many years. I formed my bag of tricks all along the way, and am continually adding to it. I am lucky to have many friends who have served as incredible resources in this area—professional children's entertainers, outdoor educators, experiential educators, ropes-course directors etc., as well as ideas from books. I find working with the children ages 5 and up to be especially stimulating. It is here that I can really get creative with games and activities, which this age group is able to participate in. I have a lot of experience with low- and high-ropes course initiatives, and team-building skills.
I get so much joy when I see children experiencing that expansive consciousness one gets while learning what it means to be a part of a group. Weather it be as an empowered yet humble leader, or in finding a place amongst everyone as an active listener helping to create cohesion and harmony, every child can lend their energy to the group. When I am able to be a part of providing the ground-work for this magical experience to unfold with a group of children, and they are having so much fun all the while, I feel a great joy and know in the moment that my purpose is fulfilled.
Snatam: You have done a lot of work with children in performance art. Can you tell us a little about what you have planned?
Jai: Working with children to open to the abundance of their creative, radiant selves and the joy that can come from sharing this with an audience is one of my favorite things. For both the Song of The Self retreat, as well as the Sat Nam Fest, we plan to have a little performance opportunity for the children on our last day. Due to the short time we'll be spending together, we will need to be a bit spontaneous in our planning for the show. We will draw on several of the activities that will be a natural part of our day.
One such class I will offer will be Creative Movement, where we can explore many different traditional and non-traditional ways of dancing and moving our bodies to music. I have extensive experience in ballet both as a dancer and as the assistant director of a ballet school. I have also been trained in both modern and jazz dance, and currently teach West African dance to our community and in several area colleges. The show will be a collaboration with the children, highlighting their talents and interests, and will also include expressive demonstrations of the meditations we will learn during our morning yoga classes.
Snatam: Have you ever had an idea that just flopped? How do you recover when that happens?
Jai: I can't think of a great story to illustrate this experience, but I certainly know what it's like to be working according to a structure and have to let go of expectations when I see that things are not unfolding according to my plan. I have learned that adaptability is a great asset when working with children.
When I am managing the energy of a group of children I play the role of the leader with a strong projection to draw the children into the activity. Simultaneously, I am the nurturer who is flexible, creative, and spontaneous, with the ability to change gears in response to the children's needs.
Each day that I work as a caregiver to children, I am given many opportunities to learn from them. Every child is unique, and every group brings something new, so I continue to expand and grow alongside them.
Snatam: What do you do when you have a child that is shy or doesn't want to participate?
Jai: I take the child aside and connect with them by asking them questions, and sharing about the fun things we have planned. Often by just taking a few minutes with them they open up to me, and they begin to trust that I am a friend and so they are willing to join the group by my side. The conversation we have can also give me insights into why they are feeling shy or not interested in doing what the group is doing. Although I do my best to help each child feel safe and welcomed, if they prefer to just observe for awhile I let them know this is fine as well.
For some, the idea of being my “special helper” really empowers them to leave their parents' orbit. Or I may offer them some choices of alternate activities to do, which might spark their interest and help them transition after a bit. If they still remain shy or hesitant, I will give them some space and then follow up and check in with them every so often.
My husband Parmatma (who will be working with the children in Costa Rica as well) has the gift of comedy, and he can often help break the ice with the children through laughter. When we're lucky we even get a magic trick or two out of him. These are always a big hit for all!
Snatam: Why have you chosen to work with children?
Jai: My life has been surrounded by children since I was born, as if it's in my destiny to serve and provide for them. When I was young, I was very responsible, but was also very connected to my inner child. This combination lent itself very well to being a care-giver for children in many different settings, whether it was working alongside my mother in her holistic daycare, or working as a nanny or a babysitter. Later in life, as I've evolved, my relationship to working with children has changed as well. I now am in a position to take on the management of large groups of children, and find much joy in creatively planning these programs.
Snatam: How do you help children get in touch with their spirits?
Jai: Children are inherently spiritual and excited about life. Yet right from an early age, most children in our culture are immersed in media and and toys and games that are so entertaining and immediately gratifying, that the children begin to prefer their artificial stimulation over their basic sensory experience as human beings. I feel it is my job, as a child's caretaker, to help ground their energy and give them a form in which they can express themselves with clarity, confidence and a connection to what's really important in life—you know, the basic things: love and respect for self and others, connection to one's breath, and an understanding of the power of our thoughts, words and deeds.
Part if this understanding is developed simply by providing the child with an “unplugged” environment, with a lot of time spent outdoors. I've noticed that in response to a child spending more time in nature, their energy will begin to become balanced within themselves. This adds harmony to their relationships and their surroundings, as they return to their natural rhythms.
Yoga and meditation are also very effective ways of reminding us all of who we really are and why we are here on this earth. As a group we always begin every day with some yoga and meditation so that this energy can be carried with us throughout our day's activities and play.
Snatam: With every child that comes to attend the program with you in Costa Rica or at Sat Nam Fest West, what do you hope that they walk away with?
• A new group of loving friends they will carry with them in their hearts.
• Learning something new about the beautiful outdoors!
• Having had at least one experience of completing a challenge through use of cooperation and group consciousness.
• A strong confidence in themselves.
• A growing appreciation for yoga and meditation, and how they as children can use these tools to connect with the peace and harmony within themselves.
• The joyful experience of sharing and self-expression that validates each child as an individual and as a part of the whole.
• A deepening understanding and love for their unique individual strengths and gifts.
Snatam: Thank you Jai for taking the time to answer all of my questions. I feel totally blessed that you will be with us, and know that all of the children that have the opportunity to be in one of your programs will have a very special experience. I hope that this has in some way given encouragement to parents who are considering bringing their children to either the Song of the Self Retreat or Spirit Fest West.
Children's Program Director:
* Song of the Self Retreat with Snatam & family
March 10-17 in Costa Rica
* Sat Nam Fest West: Kundalini Yoga and Music in the Desert
April 12-15, 2012 in Joshua Tree, CA.
Monday, December 26, 2011
Sat Nam everyone. This morning in our small Gurdwara in Hargobind Sadan I was blessed to sing this Shabad (sacred poem), "Mehervaan Sahib Mehervaan." This photograph was taken just after we finished chanting this Shabad. In the photograph you can see Jaspreet Singh, who plays the sitaar with us and Mahan Atma Singh who lives in the ashram with us. This Shabad gave me so much peace this morning that I got inspired to share it with you. I invite you to take a moment to read it, and feel the peace that is within these sacred words. It is written by Guru Arjan, the fifth Guru of the Sikhs.
miharvaan saahib miharvaan
tilang mehlaa 5 ghar 3.
Tilang, Fifth Mehl, Third House:
miharvaan saahib miharvaan.
Merciful, the Lord Master is Merciful.
saahib mayraa miharvaan.
My Lord Master is Merciful.
jee-a sagal ka-o day-ay daan. rahaa-o.
He gives His gifts to all beings. ||Pause||
too kaahay doleh paraanee-aa tuDh raakhaigaa sirjanhaar.
Why do you waver, O mortal being? The Creator Lord Himself shall protect you.
jin paidaa-is too kee-aa so-ee day-ay aaDhaar. ||1||
He who created you, will also give you nourishment. ||1||
jin upaa-ee maydnee so-ee kardaa saar.
The One who created the world, takes care of it.
ghat ghat maalak dilaa kaa sachaa parvardagaar. ||2||
In each and every heart and mind, the Lord is the True Cherisher. ||2||
kudrat keem na jaanee-ai vadaa vayparvaahu.
His creative potency and His value cannot be known; He is the Great and carefree Lord.
kar banday too bandagee jichar ghat meh saahu. ||3||
O human being, meditate on the Lord, as long as there is breath in your body. ||3||
too samrath akath agochar jee-o pind tayree raas.
O God, You are all-powerful, inexpressible and imperceptible; my soul and body are Your capital.
raham tayree sukh paa-i-aa sadaa naanak kee ardaas. ||4||3||
By Your Mercy, may I find peace; this is Nanak's lasting prayer. ||4||3||
I am personally experiencing so much transition. We are in the process of creating a new home. In the past few days the energy of questioning whether or not I am making the right choices in my life became a little overwhelming. As I sat and meditated this morning the thought came to my mind that I could give it all to God... I could talk to God about it. As I talked to God about it.... the energy inside me shifted from the mental intensity of thinking... to the experience of just being in the midst of transition. The energy of change is powerful. God's Divine Hand is doing the change. It starts deep within and as we are in God's Will we carry out those deep commands that come from Him... or Her as you like to call it. We think we are making choices. We think we are the doers. But we are not. The beauty in it is that God, the Great Doer, is the light within each of us that is connected to the light within all of our family, our relations, and within everyone. And that light searches out the darkness, and heals each of us. If we resist the flow of light it will simply just keep trying in one way or another to shine through us. As we connect to that light and allow it to flow through us we naturally do the things which are in the best interest of all, which bring light to all.
Thank you for the opportunity to share a little of my personal experience. I invite you to join us in Costa Rica for our retreat coming up this March (please consider bringing the whole family - children can participate in our children's program). We will be able to chant together, meditate, and really take the time to connect to that light within each of us. If you haven't heard about our retreat here is a link to it.
May the light within you flow through you this week and always!
Love and Blessings,
Monday, December 19, 2011
Sat Nam everyone. When I was 3 we lived in a big ashram across the street from the ocean in Long Beach, California, right outside of Los Angeles. Every morning everyone got up to do an early morning sadhana. The children were carried down in bundles of blankets. My mother said that I would be asleep for the whole thing, but often would get up to sing along when the chanting part came. If you haven't done the Kundalini Yoga sadhana before it consists of a 20 minute recitation of Jap ji, followed by about 40 minutes of yoga, about an hour of chanting, concluded with a prayer and sacred reading from the Siri Guru Granth Sahib (the sacred text of the Sikhs).
As my life unfolded, sadhana always seemed to be at the center of things. In college, I opted to live at the ashram with my parents because they practiced sadhana every day and also had really healthy food. This was a major decision for me, because I so much wanted my independence from them. But, for me, sadhana gave me so much in my heart on a personal level that I made this kind of an unusual choice.
We had live music every morning. Looking back on it, I admire how my parents got this going. They were the ashram directors at the time. Or should I say, my mother was the ashram director! Just kidding.... kind of. My mother managed to get me to do all sorts of things I would logically say no to if anyone else asked me. She still has this gift. She had me playing drums with her while she sang the chants, or I sang the chants while she played the drum every day. I enjoyed it.... don't get me wrong. But, every day! In the first few months I remember playing the drum for her and looking over at her in slight annoyance that my mother yet again got me to do something I didn't want to. But then something started happening. An energy began to churn within me and in the whole experience. Slowly I forgot that my mother had asked me to do anything. A few people besides my parents and I began to attend regularly. We kept it up, day after day.... and then....something happened. I can't tell you the day that it happened. All I can say is that a very deep shift happened inside me. Sadhana became this experience of letting go. The music got deeper, the chanting got deeper. And then there was a magic that happened... every single morning without fail. In the chanting I knew I would experience the sweetness of God and feel completely cleansed for the day.
So this is how my love of Sadhana began. Since that time I moved out of the ashram called Hargobind Sadan and lived my life for some twenty years. And now with my husband and our daughter we are back at Hargobind Sadan... dipping back into that experience of chanting together again.
Someone living in America once approached Mother Theresa and said something like, "I would like to help you out with your projects in India. You are doing so much to help people there." Apparently Mother Theresa inquired as to what this person did. She told her that she was a writer among other things living in America. Mother Teresa said something like, "Work and serve the people of America. In this place there is a famine of the Spirit."
So we are here now in America praying to do that which Mother Theresa asked this lady to do. We have a little ashram here called Hargobind Sadan which has inexplicably brought me back into its magic fold of energy. I serve this beautiful energy and invite you to come and take part in our small and humble offerings any time you are in town.
You can find out about the events at this ashram by signing up for our newsletter. In particular we are doing a New Year's Event this year. Here is the information for that.
Love and Blessings,
PS - Please join us in Costa Rica this March, 2012, for our Song of Self Retreat. The image above is from the past retreat.
Monday, December 12, 2011
I got inspired to do this with my daughter because of our incredible experience at Khalsa Youth Camp. My husband and I both serve as staff members at the camp. Every morning the kids get together to do yoga, to meditate, and then to chant together. It is so incredible because the children just own the space. They are singing with full gusto. You feel their hearts, you feel their souls. It is fun, lively, and beautiful! Of course not everyone is in tune. And as many of the kids bang away at the various percussion instruments without being totally together... your head kind of gets a little fuzzy. But after awhile the soul and spirit of it just takes you away... into the reality that each child is a beautiful soul unfolding. To have this realization is incredible. To actually see it before your eyes can only happen in certain sacred environments. One of them is Khalsa Youth Camp.
So this year we are doing something very special at Khalsa Youth Camp. We are making a recording of all of the greatest hits from camp. Many of the songs are from the camp Director, Siri Nam Singh, who is brilliant with the children. I've watched as he sings these songs.... kids just light up. It feels great to be able to get these incredible songs out to other children who cannot attend the camp. The profits from this recording will be used to give back to the camp so that it has the funds to continue the incredible work that it does with children. I am extremely grateful to my record label, Spirit Voyage, who has agreed to such a generous project.
This morning I listened to some of the rough mixes for the album. I think it is going to be a really fun album. I'll be working with Ramdass Khalsa, who produced my mother's album "Seasons of the Soul". We will be recording the children for this album at camp this year. So, if your child would like to be a part of the Khalsa Yough Camp choir and be on our CD, sign up for camp right now!
Love and Blessings,
PS - Join us in Costa Rica, March 10-17, 2012 for our Song of the Self Retreat
Monday, December 05, 2011
Sat Nam everyone. We have made the great journey from India back to America. I feel blessed to be home. It was an incredible journey, powerful and deeply rewarding on so many levels.
We have made so many deep friendships and had so many incredible experiences there though.... that we will for sure go back to serve in some way. It feels like a little seed has been planted in our hearts. I am grateful for this little spark of light within us now, knowing that my soul was in some way awakened in India. God bless this beautiful land.. this place of surrender, of spirit, of confusion... yet great relaxation in the midst of it all. May her waters, may her soil, may her air one day be clean again. May her people know prosperity and health.
So now we are in San Leandro California at the ashram. This is my mother's ashram... called Hargobind Sadan. There is a cozy little Sangat of people who live here, who have dedicated their lives to spiritual growth. Last May we sold our home in Espanola New Mexico and have literally been on the road since then. The fact that we are making a home here is deeply fulfilling to me. I am grateful to have finally reached this feeling, after months of traveling. It has been 20 years since I have lived in the Bay Area. Apparently, the famous football team called the "49ers" is doing well again after a 20 year break from success. I told my mother... there must be a correlation to our arrival. Or the fact that the sky is blue, the air is crisp, and flowers are still in bloom. Every once in awhile.... the universe seems to be playing a tune just for me. In the enlightened words of Yogi Bhajan, "Every heartbeat is God's Name to me, Every breath of life is ecstasy." Someday.... I pray to experience his level of awareness. Until then... rock on all you fellow traveler's of spirit. In perfect and imperfect ways... we shall reach the yonder shore.
Blessings to you for a beautiful week in God's Grace.
Song of the Self, join us in Costa Rica, March 10-17, 2012