Child Labor and The Girl Effect


Jayanti was only 8 years old when my brother-in-law discovered her.

She had been working as a live-in domestic servant for the people next door in their small town in West Bengal. It was clear by her appearance that she had not been treated well. She was exhausted, malnourished and unkempt.

For over 2 million women and girls in India, domestic work is fueled by economic necessity, and despite the efforts of NGOs like the National Domestic Workers Movement and laws prohibiting child labor, the respectable industry remains largely unregulated.

Would you like to come live with a nice family? he asked her.

She nodded, sobbing.

My husband remembers the day when Jayanti arrived at their home. His sister was given the task of bathing the child and brushing her hair. She was outfitted with new clothes and treated as one of the children. Her chores included providing cups of water when requested and helping their mother in the kitchen.

In exchange, his family provided needed remuneration to her birth family. She was sent to school and got married in her twenties at my father-in-law’s expense. She still lives close to their home and visits with her baby often.

I wonder, sometimes, where she would have ended up if my brother-in-law hadn’t intervened. An estimated 25% of domestic workers in India are under the age of 14, and many of them aren’t so fortunate.

Can you imagine the kind of financial desperation a mother would have to be in to send her young daughter to work for strangers?

I get a lump in my throat thinking about it.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if children the world over had the freedom to be children? To play and to learn and to figure out who they want to become?

It’s possible. 

The Girl Effect is the radical, hopeful idea that the most effective solution to global poverty is investing in the education and safety of girls like Jayanti in the developing world. Investing in a girl will sometimes mean microfinancing her mother or older sister in order to free her to go to school. An educated girl is far more likely to send her own daughters to school…

And so it goes. 

I hope you’ll take the time to watch the video below and share your thoughts. You are invited to post about the Girl Effect at your blog this week, read what others have written and add your link. We truly have more power than we think.


Posted in Peace & Justice | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Film Review! George Harrison: Living in the Material World

Last night, I may have attended a World Premier.

With barely a week to promote it, the Maui Film Festival presented a one-night-only screening of the new Martin Scorsese documentary, George Harrison: Living in the Material World, as a benefit for the “Trees, Please” program of Maui Tomorrow.

Its official release is not until Wednesday, when it will air on HBO in two parts, October 5th and 6th, so last night’s showing required the special sanction of Olivia Harrison and Martin Scorsese, themselves.

I couldn’t wait.

So I schlepped to the beautiful Castle Theater of the Maui Arts and Cultural Center, an hour’s drive from home, and anted up $20 for an HD glimpse into the inner life of one of my greatest personal heroes, in a 208-minute expose with Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound.

Oh, my sweet lord.

It was everything I’d hoped it would be, and more. Details follow.

But first! As curious as I was about the film itself, I was equally curious to see who would show up for this event. You see, I was once told that Beatles fans fall into one of four catagories: You’re either a “John,” a “Paul,” a “George” or a “Ringo,” depending on a number of scientific factors. If you look around this blog, it’s easy to determine which category I fall under.

So I wondered, driving to the theater, if I might be united with my people. The George People. The thought thrilled me.

What would they look like? What would they be wearing? What kind of cars would they be driving? I envisioned a lot of cool, grey-haired people in hemp clothing and wondered if I’d look out of place in my Army-green pants and Hawaiian shirt.

Spillage of crowds

Turns out, I had nothing to worry about.

The parking lot was packed by the time I arrived. I saw dirt-encrusted pickup trucks, swanky BMW sports cars and at least a couple of Combat Veteran license plates. Lines of people of every age and ethnicity spilled out from the Pavillion waiting to get in.

There was hemp clothing, to be sure, but also denim and drape jackets and doc martens. Our common thread? Clearly, it was an interest in a story which had not been yet been told.

George Harrison’s life is a sort of Hero’s Journey from materially humble beginnings to the apex of fame and fortune. Like me, you may have heard versions of the Beatles’ musical rags-to-riches story before.

What makes George Harrison: Living in the Material World so unique is that it doesn’t focus on what he did as much as it focuses on who he was. We learn about the motivation behind the man, from the people who knew him the best.

The documentary is a series of intimate stories, anecdotes and reflections shared by the people with whom George shared his life. It’s woven together with rarely seen photos and footage taken before, during and after his life with the lads and boasts a soundtrack that variously soothes and stimulates.

George’s son, Dhani, provides narration as he reads excerpts from personal letters and journal entries written by his father. Did I mention it was intimate?

What it is not is hagiography. Despite George’s pioneering charitable work and his deep commitment to spiritual life –specifically the path of Krishna Consciousness– he was not without faults and failings.

It is because of his humanity, however, not in spite of it, that his story resonates so deeply.

I hope you watch George Harrison: Living in the Material World. If you’re a George person, Martin Scorsese’s revealing documentary will make you feel like you’ve come home. And if you’re not a George person, you could very well become one.


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Piercings, Bullfights and The Kid With The Chicken

Today’s post came from an email I received recently from my favorite cousin, Tracy. We were pen-pals as kids, she living in New York, and I in California. Her mother, my aunt, now has Alzheimer’s disease. What follows are some of Tracy’s thoughts on memory in the wake of Alzheimer’s Awareness Month (September). Posted gratefully with permission.


Memories are funny things. I’ve recently had conversations with my sister and my father about how we all can experience the same exact moment and remember it so differently. Specifically, it was about when my sister Kelly and I got our ears pierced when I was 12, she 16. It’s a touchy subject in our family and my sister is still furious. Interestingly, we all have a different memory from each other on how we finally got my dad to agree. He was vehemently opposed to piercings, and my sister had been pleading for years.

In my mind, I went to him and negotiated by saying I’d pay for it myself. He has no memory of that, and my sister is adamant that was not how it happened. [Well what DID convince him if not my appeal to fiscal responsibility?] I told them it really didn’t matter what actually happened; what mattered was how I remembered it, and it was how I chose to continue to remember it. That is MY memory. And a good, funny memory it is for me.

My mom decided to get hers done at the same time, then walked into the house with her hair over her ears when we got home. I mean, what was she thinking? She could hide that for the rest of her life? No- my mother knew exactly what she was doing. I remember her voice and her sly conspiratorial smile to us before she walked into the house. I remember it like it was yesterday. My mother had a smile that could embrace you and take you with her. She was adventurous and supportive and made you think you could do anything.

Case in point: It’s crazy to me now to think it was a good idea to grab 4 kids in the wagon and camper and head to California or Mexico in the ’70s. For my father, who had not been far from his home town, she made it all seem not so crazy. I remember vividly going to a bullfight in Mexico and my older brother Rick being given a tail of one of the bulls- a coveted prize from the matador.

Coveted at least until we were detained at the border as they went through our things. Now, maybe it wasn’t all that dramatic, and maybe there weren’t guns being aimed at us as I worried we would be thrown in jail for smuggling in that tail. But that’s my memory.

I remember going through Mesa Verde with Dad hauling my brother Brian in a backpack on his back. I vividly remember climbing a ladder to go down into a kiva and up the side of the cliff dwellings. I remember the side trips that I’m sure were historical but only remembering the kid with the chicken. All four of the kids remember the kid with the chicken. The memories are jumbled, inaccurate and sometimes exaggerated. But they are MY memories of adventure and intrigue. I cling to them as they get farther away and more faded. 

This summer our family took a 22 day trip on Route 66 and the National Parks of the Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde, Utah’s arches, Colorado. We did every Junior Park Ranger program there was. We “hiked” with Will on Bill’s back into the Grand Canyon in 110 degrees. My kids climbed the ladders down into a kiva and up the side of the cliff. We rode horses in the snow in July.

I’m not gonna lie. I held my breath through a lot of this trip. The Jeep we took in the back country of Canyonlands was terrifying, but as the kids giggled, strapped into their carseats in the open air when we were at a 45 degree angle, I channeled my mother, grit my teeth, smiled and agreed that this was the best roller coaster ever! It was adventurous.

In Alzheimer’s, your brain can’t make new memories. Memories seem to be in reverse with the most recent being most fleeting and those older hanging on for dear life until they ultimately disappear. So our summer was based on the idea that we needed to imprint as many memories as we could NOW. I want the summer of 2011 to be their “summer of 1972.” I want Colleen and Will to have crazy, adventurous moments to look back on.

Last weekend we walked the Memory Walk for the 15th time in 16 years. Team Heart & Soles raised an unbelievable $8,888.45!! Thank you to all of you near and far who helped financially and/or emotionally. My kids thank you for being part of their memories as they reflected on past walks. They know it’s a sad day for their mother but that she grits her teeth, smiles and makes it an adventure- just like their grandmother would have done. They gave out pin wheeling flowers this year. It was amazing seeing the kids all raising them – it was a symbol of hope, of the future, of imprinting memories.

So I leave you with these words – go make some lasting memories of your own. I’m off to find out what a Peach Reach is that my mother loved and find a picture of that kid with a chicken.

With all my Heart & Sole-


Psst. This coming Tuesday, October 4th, is when hundreds of bloggers, including me, are going to post about The Girl Effect. Join us?

Posted in Life | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Lounging on a Bed of Nails

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

I needed to take a break from digital media this summer, so I took some time away from the screen. I needed to smell the salt in the air and feel the warmth of the sun. I also needed to get back to my yogic roots.

Above: a photo of me napping poolside.

Okay, that’s not me –but it felt like it was, at times.

The Sleep Number/ Select Comfort Mattress 

Have you ever tried to get comfortable in your life, tossed and turned, and ended up feeling like you were lounging on a bed of nails? No matter what you did, your decidedly pokey circumstances circumvented the aaaah you sought. Me, too.

Flat on my back: pokey.

Turned to the side: pokey.

Propped up with a pillow: still pokey.

Your instinct might be to get off the bed –to change your external circumstances. If you can do it, that works for awhile.


You find yourself in a new circumstance, this time submerged neck deep in a cold river wearing nothing but your favorite loincloth.

I know! I hate it when that happens.

The point is to make peace with the poke. Or with the parky.

Because no matter how carefully you manage your life, no matter what level of so-called success you enjoy, happiness and distress will appear and disappear like the winter and summer seasons. Discomfort spares no one. Be ready for it.

mātrā-sparśās tu kaunteya
āgamāpāyino ‘nityās
tāḿs titikṣasva bhārata  
~Bhagavad-gita 2.14

“O son of Kuntī, the nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.”

But How? 

The gentleman in the photo above is lying on a actual bed of nails so that when life presents him with a metaphorical bed of nails, he’ll know how to find the self behind his story.

He is using austerity (tapasya) as a tool to withdraw his senses (pratyahara) and cultivate his inner landscape.

Please don’t try this at home.

Life in the world brings with it abrasion enough.

In pratyahara we withdraw our attention from external distractions, both irritants and stimulants. In dharana we consciously focus that attention on a particular object, such as a mantra.

Just Add Water.

Krishna. Or Jesus. Or Allah. Or יהוה‎…

It’s your call.

Because once you get this higher taste, the things of this world, both “good” and “bad,” will no longer hold sway over you. rasa-varjam raso ‘py asya param drstva nivartate.

And those metaphorical nails of material life?

If you fall in love with the source of love, it may be seen that everything is coming to assist you; that your environment is friendly –adversity, discomfort and all.


And in other news….

The Girl Effect is the radical, hopeful idea that the most effective solution to global poverty is investing in the education and safety of girls in the developing world. You are invited to join the Girl Effect Blogging Campaign and write about the Girl Effect on October 4th, at your blog. Sign up hereThen tweet about this campaign and use the hashtag, #girleffect. 

Learn more at 

Posted in the Friendly Mind | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

How Thin the Veil

kamala-dala-jala jîvana talamala: Life is tottering like a drop of water on a lotus leaf. ~Govinda das Kaviraj, 1535-1613

Sometimes it takes a loss very close to one’s heart or a loss of catastrophic proportions for us to notice how thin the veil between this life and the next really is.  The old cliche to treat every day as if it were our last –or alternatively, as if it were the last day for each person we meet– becomes more than just rhetoric.

In truth, none of us knows when life as we know it will come crashing down in a cloud of debris. But knowing that we are made of something far subtler, and more permanent, than the dust around us helps us to see through the haze and press on, hearts-first.

Wishing you peace, and better.


Posted in Reflections | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Ice Cream in Calcutta

Photo: "Good Morning Calcutta" by Girish Kumar PJ/

When my husband was a kid, he had ice cream once a year.

At the time, ice cream –real ice cream– wasn’t available in the town of Krishnagar, West Bengal, where he grew up.

Oh, they had rasagullas and gulab jamun and their most famous confections, sorpuria and sorbhaja (types of very mildly sweetened, impossibly fluffy sandesh, covered in devonshire cream and then baked. Uhhhhhhhhh.).

But no ice cream.

To get ice cream, you had to go to the big city, which is what they did as a family once a year, when they made a 3-hour trip, by train, to the Calcutta Zoo.

I imagine it was not unlike my family’s annual pilgrimage to Disneyland.

While perusing the exhibits, they ate ice cream purchased from the “Quality Brand” cart, pre-packed into individual cups, with classic, flat wooden spoons.

And every year, my husband chose vanilla.

I can only imagine how good it must have tasted.

Observing tradition

Although tradition is often associated with religious ceremony, it can be as simple as having an annual ice cream at the zoo.

Havi Brooks, of The Fluent Self, says that traditions are important because they help us measure the passage of time. In addition, they ‘bookmark’ a particular time and space, making it easier to recall.

Maybe this is because a tradition simply tells the mind,

Here we are. What we are doing is special. Notice it.

Observances help us to become more observant of everything.

A ritual is just a conscious habit.

Whether we’re brushing our teeth, reading the newspaper or gathered around a holiday table, we can make it a sacred act.

For some, it begins with awareness of one’s body, of the space around him or her, and of others who may be sharing that space. It develops with awareness that we are a part of something grand.

That our lives are miraculous.

In Bhagavad-gita (7.8), we are reminded that Divinity can be found in the taste of water.

How much more so, then, in a cup of vanilla ice cream?


UPDATE:  I’m refilling the cup of my heart right now. If you haven’t already, you might wish to SUBSCRIBE (so that you won’t miss a drop when it runneth over).

<——–  Metaphorically speaking, that is. I’m turning on the tap of tejas, actually. Hare Krsna. :)

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How to Find a Genuine Guru

This week at The Yoga of Living, we’re boldly going where no man has gone before. At least not here, in this blog.

We’re taking a very sensitive and *important* subject –The Guru– and lifting the veil….So, if you’re curious, stick around.

Otherwise, by all means join us later when we tackle other pressing issues such as: The Yoga of Office Supplies, How to make Yoga-shaped Origami, and, my favorite, I Saw Ganesha in a Piece of Toast.


The Big Question:

In last Tuesday’s comments, the very astute Teeg from Living in the (k)now asked:

I guess the question now is –

How on earth do you begin the journey to finding a guru?!?

Great question, Teeg.

Getting the opportunity to associate with a mahatma is very rare.

In fact, it’s described to be as rare as a turtle in the middle of the ocean who comes up for air, only to have his head fit through the knot-hole in a piece of wood that happens to be floating *right* there.

Rare, indeed.

But the reason why it’s so rare isn’t just because genuine gurus are so scarce (though they are); it’s because genuine disciples are equally so.

Few people really want what a genuine guru has to teach them.

You can fill a stadium with people who will pay big money to hear what they want to hear: Stake your claim! Get what you want! Manifest your dreams!

But only a handful of people will lend an ear to the hard truth, even if it’s free:


A real guru will help you get there.

Decide if you want a guru.

It might seem like a silly question, but bear with me.

This is step one in becoming a genuine disciple.

Make sure that you’re not looking for a parent, or a therapist, or someone to fulfill an emotional need in you. This is more common than you might think.

In Vedic times, a disciple entered the ashram with nothing –no possessions and, certainly, no emotional baggage. Not so, these days!

So, by all means, listen, get inspired and render service.

But when you receive formal initiation, please do so with a clear understanding of what a guru is –and is not.

Do your part.

Pray sincerely to the God of your understanding that your guru finds you.

In the yoga tradition, prayer is generally chanted or sung in kirtan. I’m a big fan of kirtan because it opens the heart like nothing else I know. Plus, I like the idea of serenading the Divine.  :)

Find out what works best for you.

Continue your practice.

Watch for clues.

Then, be patient.

No need to jump on a bandwagon.

Remember that the guru within you is good company while you wait and will lead you to the guru without.

He or she must also be a disciple. Make note of the gurus who precede him or her and the quality of the disciples who follow.

As stated in Śrī Brahma-saḿhitā 5.59: The highest devotion is attained by slow degrees by the method of constant endeavor for self-realization with the help of scriptural evidence, theistic conduct and perseverance in practice.

So be the tortoise who wins the race–

or, better, the turtle who pokes her head through the knot-hole.



Posted in Self-realization | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Truth About Guru

You deserve to know the truth.

In this post, I’m going to demystify the Guru Principle.

This is pretty big stuff, but I’m feeling ambitious, so grab a pillow and sit close.

By the time we finish, you should have a fairly solid grasp on the most enigmatic of all yogic principles –Guru Tattva. And here’s the guarantee:

If you don’t know more about the subject than everyone at the next party you attend, you will get one of these.


That’s right, a Wha Guru Chew. They come in 5 exciting flavors.

I might even send you one anyway, if you ask me.


With gratitude to the kindness shown me by my own gurus, I’ll begin.

God is the only Guru.

This is the Vedic principle. It’s always been this way.

Acarya mam vijaniyam (SB 11.17.27) –I am the acarya, says Krishna.

Of course, you may insert whatever name for the supreme divinity you prefer.

How, then, is one to receive guidance from this perfect intelligence?

The Guru Within

God lives within the core of every heart; nay, within every atom. In the Vedic tradition, this localized aspect of supreme intelligence is called paramatma, or antaryami.

This ‘guru within’ is responsible for unexplained phenomena such as birds and whales finding their destinations when they migrate thousands of miles.

You might also call it the ‘still, small voice’ inside you.

The Guru Without

Then there is what I’m calling the ‘guru without’, an actual living person who is thoroughly conversant with both paramatma and with the sacred texts, having realized the essence of both.

Such a person follows in a bona fide line of disciplic succession and is known variously as paramahamsa, satgurumahatma, etc.

A saint of this calibre is very rare –sa mahatma su-durlabah (Gita 7.19)– and as such, he or she is treated with reverence and love.

He or she never considers him/herself to be anything other than a humble servant, however, and his or her objective is to help the disciple become better able to hear the guru within.

It’s a Checks and Balances System.

So these should all line up:

  • The guru within you
  • The guru instructing you
  • The opinion of the wise in your tradition

The teachings of the instructing guru must resonate with your own heart. If it makes you feel uneasy, don’t do it.

Likewise, the instructions of one’s heart should be corroborated by the wise and by sacred literature.

This is so nobody does something stupid and claims to be divinely guided. Puh.

Where People Get Confused:

Some people follow gurus blindly, with no need to reference the tradition he or she claims to follow.

Neither do they listen to their own hearts in response to his/her instructions.

Other people reject the idea of receiving guidance from a mahatma altogether, relying instead on how they feel at any given moment. You are your own guru! they’re told by well-meaning friends.

The truth is that most of us require additional help to access the inner guru reliably.

Be Careful Out There.

It’s a jungle of misconceptions.

Depending on what your goals in life are, you might not need a formal guru.

But you most certainly will need mentors.

If you are fortunate enough to meet a genuine mahatma in this life, however, please don’t hurry away.

Listen closely.

Then listen closely.


It’s Yogis Inspiring Oneness Month! You can participate by posting yoga-related articles on your blog for the month of April + support others who do the same. Find out more here.

Posted in Reflections | 13 Comments

The Tax Collector

You know when you’re participating in a guided meditation, and the instructor says, Imagine you’re somewhere that makes you feel calm and happy, and you imagine yourself in that place, and it feels really nice and peaceful?

Where do you go?

Do you go someplace real –someplace that brings back fond memories for you?

Or do you imagine someplace new –like the perfect beach at sunset…

or somewhere under a canopy of sweet-smelling evergreens?

I’ll tell you where I go.

I go to Vrindavan.

Vrindavan in the place where Sri Krishna appeared and ‘grew up’ over 5,000 years ago. It’s a small town, surrounded by many villages and forests, situated approximately 90 miles south of New Delhi, India.

It is also a state of consciousness in devotion.

In this place, Krishna enjoys childhood pastimes with his eternal companions, headed by his beloved Sri Radha. Even today, these same pastimes are said to take place both continuously and simultaneously, as they are not subject to the material limits of time and space.

Yes, you can see them.

But you are more likely to hear them.

The pastimes, or lila, of Krishna and his friends are recited and sung all over Vrindavan, 24 hours a day, and by hearing them, a listener becomes both entertained and enlightened.

So, I’m going to go out on a limb.

In honor of the looming American federal tax deadline (April 15th), and because I would rather do anything right now than codify receipts, I will narrate the dana-keli-lila, the pastime of the tax collection, and thus welcome you into my happy place.

Cookies and chai for everyone.


One day, the young milkmaids of Vrindavan were walking through a narrow pass at Govardhan Hill, carrying their milk products to a nearby village for a yajna (sacrifice). Krishna, along with his cowherd friends, came and blocked the pass, saying that the gopi girls had to pay a tax.

“Who are you to charge us a tax?” they scoffed.

“I am the king of Vrindavan!” Krishna replied teasingly.

Although the gopis knew Krishna only as their most beloved friend, he was, in truth, the One for whom their sacrifice was intended. Therefore, by demanding a portion of their offerings, Krishna secretly fulfilled their hearts’ desire.

Inwardly, the gopis were elated.

Outwardly, they pretended to be outraged –which pleased Krishna very much.

The taxing continued until the gopis decided one day to launch a counter-attack.

So, at the place of Sankari Kor (“narrow path”) in the village of Varshana, thousands of gopis hid themselves in caves and behind bushes, while the others proceeded as usual through the pass with their pots of milk products.

When Krishna and his friends obstructed the passage and demanded the customary tax, all of the gopis came out of their hiding places and pummeled the boys with clods of yogurt and butter.

Humbled, the boys made Krishna promise to never demand taxes from the gopis again, and Krishna happily conceded defeat.

Thus, the supreme controller, Sri Krishna, was controlled by the loving familiarity of his pure devotees.


Photo: Kusum Sarovar at Govardhana, Vrindavan/

Posted in Old Yoga Stories | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Pulling Back the Arrow

Photo: Corey Amaro

You’ve got goals.

Maybe they’re clearly defined, like words written in a notebook or images mounted on a board. Or maybe they’re more of a general idea, known only to you, like a prayer in the heart.

Either way, they feel so elusive –like you’re actually going backwards sometimes instead of forwards.

You know what I mean.

In her post, Would You Rather Be Productive or Creative?, Caitlyn Kelly offers that creativity actually depends upon a certain amount of un-productivity —the tree-watching, the pot-stirring, the dance-doing:

“…the quiet moments of connection and insight that can, when allowed to blossom quietly unforced by another’s schedule, birth wonders.”

How reasonable.

Yet, so many of us feel anxious or even guilty if we fall behind.

I once shared the story of my classical guitar teacher, who never chastised me if I couldn’t practice. “If you can’t practice,” she said, “then go out and live. Let your experiences inform your music the next time you sit down to it.”

So I did, and my music was far richer for it.

Likewise, I knew of a yoga devotee who, it seemed, had fallen away from his practice. All of his peers spoke about him with pity, but his guru knew better.

“He is just pulling back the arrow,” the respected teacher said.

Sometimes, it appears that we’re pulling back in defeat, when, in fact, we’re just pulling back as a natural matter of course –like the tide ebbs before it flows, or an arrow is drawn before it flies.

Posted in Life | 22 Comments