Last week, my wife and I spent the week with Dr. Manoj Chalam (a teacher of Hindu symbolisms and mythology), his wife Jyothi Chalam (a Vedanta scholar and South Indian classical singer), yoga and mindfulness teacher Christina Enneking, and about 80 other knowledge seekers at the Rising of Knowledge retreat in San Diego, CA. We practiced yoga, meditation, ceremony, and learned about Vedanta philosophy and yogic (Hindu) deities. We visited the Self Realization Meditation Gardens in Encinitas. Of course, it was an enlightening week. I thought I’d share some of Manoj’s teachings and their relevance to my life’s journey.

When you visit our yoga studio in Vermont, you will see murtis, statues of Hindu and Buddhist deities such as Ganesh, Shiva, Lakshmi, Sarasvati, and Hanuman. You can understand a deity at many levels. The easiest way to relate to them is as personal archetypes. The word archetype was coined by the Swiss psychotherapist, Carl Jung. An archetype is a symbol or a form that is imprinted in your subconscious.

There are archetypes from many traditions. For instance, the Sun God is called Ra (Amun Ra) in the Egyptian tradition. The same Sun God in the Roman tradition is called Mitra, while in the yogic (Hindu) tradition, the Sun god is also Mitra or Surya. Even though the cultures were thousands of miles apart, these are Universal archetypes. Interestingly, Mitra was born of a virgin mother on December 25, was a wandering preacher with 12 disciples and when he died, he was resurrected 3 days later! Of course, the cross is another beautiful archetypical symbol. The Hawaiians call these archetypes Aumakua such as Pele, Goddess of the Fire. And I’ve written before about the four archetypes of Warrior, Healer, Teacher and Visionary (I base my morning ritual on them).

The entire philosophy of yogic Self-Realization is embedded in the symbols of these archetypes. These archetypes are within our Collective Unconscious. These archetypes lie deeply embedded in our Causal Body and are available for the whole human race. They appear in times of transition in our lives and help guide us to achieve higher ideals in life. One of the highest ideals is knowledge about oneself (self-realization). When we know who our archetype is, we can learn how to invoke the associated knowledge and superhuman ideals in our lives. At its very core, these teachings are not a religion nor a philosophy. It is a Sadhana (Spiritual Practice) of actualizing our human potential in every stage of our lives. It is always Perfecting as opposed to Perfection and looking at the good in everything around us.

The Sanskrit word for archetype is Ishtadevata. Ishta means desired and devata means deity. The murtis (statues) are not “out there”, but within you as archetypes. They not only help you in your transformation, but they lead you to Awakening. As Joseph Campbell said, myths are Collective Dreams, while your dreams are Personal Myths! When your personal dreams, hopes, and aspirations are in tune with the Collective Dreams or myths, there is amazing harmony in your life.

Finding your archetype (Ishtadevata) is like falling in love: the form of the deity has to appeal to you. It is like walking into a room of new people and immediately liking someone, or going into an art museum and connecting with a piece of art.

Similarly, you can look at these deities, touch them, feel them, understand their Symbolisms and myths. Sooner than later you will find yourself gravitating to one, two or three deities. Usually you have one primary archetype and another secondary one. They change during your life because you change! These archetypes give you the reason to live with joy and help you in your personal, professional and spiritual aspects of your life. They also remind us of the grander ideals we can all live for. They bring out the yearning some of us have to make an impact on people and society and leave a legacy beyond the transitory nature of our lives.

About 20 years ago, I took a grand leap and left my job as a partner in a consulting structural engineering firm. As a young engineer, I had progressed quickly into a leadership role. I was quickly emerging as a firm and regional leader, designing large projects, developing key clients, publishing research work, and leading regional professional organizations. Knowing deep inside that there was a greater service-oriented purpose in my life, I resigned. I had no plans, no job, no idea what was next. But I felt this incredible sense of inner power and devotion to a greater purpose in my life.

Since that time, I have pursued work as a teacher, a coach, a wellness coach and mentor, a spiritual seeker, and as a yoga practitioner. I am a devoted step-father and husband… and son. I have taken additional leaps of faith on my life’s journey, often when my professional career leads me astray from my heart-felt greater purpose. Looking back now, after meeting Manoj and learning about these archetypes, I have realized that the Hanuman in me was guiding me and giving me the power to make these various leaps, especially since that time. But, like many other archetypes and spirit guides with whom I walk, I realize that Hanuman has always been with me.

In a nutshell, Hanuman represents superhuman strength and superhuman intellect with a high degree of devotion. He resides in the heart chakra. If there is one deity who embodies Bhakti (devotion or love-attachment), it is Lord Hanuman. Power comes from devotion. Hanuman represents service towards others with a keen sense of humility.

Hanuman is the ultimate quiet, non-attention-seeking superhero. He enjoys working behind the scenes to support others. Many aspects of yoga come from Hanuman, including many asanas. His father was Vayu, the wind deity so he taught the yogic world pranayama. His guru was Surya, the Sun god so he taught the world Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation). He is so intelligent that he is able to reconcile the three main systems of Vedanta philosophy: Dwaita (Duality), Vishishta Advaita (qualified non duality) and Advaita (non duality). Manoj illustrates this aspect in this story: When this unassuming monkey becomes a superstar of the Ramayana, at the end Ram asks Hanuman “Who are you?” Hanuman replies: deha bhavena dasosmi – when I take identification with my body, I am your (God’s) servant. This is Dwaita, duality where you are separate from God and thus express devotion, the path of Bhakti; jiva bhavena twadamshakaha – when I take identification with the traveling soul, I am a part of you – this is Vishishta Advaita, qualified non duality where you are part of God; and atma bhavena twamevaham – when I take identification with pure Consciousness, I am You – this is Advaita, pure non-duality.

And of course Hanuman’s mythical leap to move mountains is memorialized in the pose Hanumanasana. This pose asks you not merely to stretch your legs but also to bring true devotion into your practice. Hanumanasana expresses the expansiveness possible when devotion is in the heart—the sense that you can overcome any obstacle when your yearning to help is combined with reverence and respect, as well as an intense and fiery devotion. In Hanumanasana you strive to reach much further than seems humanly possible.

It is interesting how my personal musings and reflections in the past years have led me down the path of looking at God or the Divine from these various perspectives. I have always felt that I am really me when I am observing myself and the world around me as a totally interconnected, loving, joyful, and spiritual soul… Advaita. In this place, I feel ultimate power and our divine nature… and I see in others our power and divine nature.

Experiences are always shared; our lives are always connected. In you, I see me. I am, because we are. Or, as the Beatles might say: “I am he as you are he as you are me – and we are all together!” and “And life flows on within you and without you…”

Om Anjaneya Namah.

Thank you, Manoj, for being you… and for sharing your insights with the world. (Much of the content in this article is directly from Dr. Manoj Chalam’s teachings.)

Random Morning Perspective

In a world where externally-motivated approval, wealth-accumulating desire, and survival of the fittest are the norms of day-to-day existence, have we lost our sense of inner power, interdependence and interconnectedness?

If the lessons of our ancestors (and the results of modern neurological research) teach us that we as humans are intended to seek feelings of interconnectedness and happiness, and that we have the power to make choices, have we lost our direction?

What if, through all of these centuries, we as humans have defined God in a manner which helps us personally explain our deep desire for feelings of interconnectedness and happiness?

What if, instead of looking for these feelings externally (through approval from a perceived higher external power, wealth, or competitive success), we just focus our day-to-day living on practicing feelings of mutual interconnectedness and happiness?

What would that look like? What would that feel like?

Do we, each of us as individual humans living in an interdependent world, indeed have the power to choose how we act, how we behave, and how we interact?

Maybe, just maybe, we’ll find our own connection with God internally by taking responsibility for our own thoughts and actions… and directing ourselves towards a common vision of interconnectedness and happiness.

Changing Habitual Emotional Reactions

(From Terry Fralich: The Five Core Skills of Mindfulness)

Each time you encounter a negative emotion (irritation, impatience, anxiety, anger, etc) that threatens to dominate your awareness, try practicing the following:

STOP – Recognize the warning signs of the emotional reaction as soon as possible, and remind yourself to pay attention to them immediately.

BREATHE – Become sensitive to the natural softening quality of your breathe, and send a mental message to your body to release and let go, allowing the negative emotion to soften.

REFLECT – Appraise the situation: Is your reaction supported by old patterns or stories or past experiences? What resources and options do you have in the present moment? Can you change your perspective about how you see yourself in this situation? What are your best insights from this situation and what do you want to remember?

CHOOSE – Having become more aware of your negative emotion and possible patterned response, settled yourself a bit, and tapped into your insights, consider other possible reactions. Remember that you have the power to choose your reaction; can you shift an old pattern and make a creative choice towards another possible reaction? What might be your best choice under all of the circumstances?

This 4-step mindfulness practice can be a powerful tool.

For me (if the situation allows), listening to my body, and perhaps moving my body or relocating myself to a natural and safe place, can help the breathing process and help make my reflections clearer and more in tune with my natural instincts and my deeper intuition.

I try to remember that I am human – bad things happen and I make mistakes – but I also have the ability (and responsibility) to choose my response. If I practice these steps, and pay attention to my positive intentions in life, cultivating positive states (delight, joy, calm, confident, loving, etc) in mind and body, I will eventually change habitual negative emotional reactions to more positive responses, responses which will also be more in tune with my true nature.


I was personally introduced to the concept of Ubuntu a few years ago by a close friend. It aligned closely, from my perspective, with the Gaia Theory (Gaia being the name of the timber-frame-home design business I started years ago), that we are all connected and can be viewed like a single organism. The word came to mind this weekend when discussing the concept of isvara-pranidhana during our discussion of the Niyamas, and the dedication to the ideal of pure awareness and the interconnectedness of all things.

From drfranklipman.com (Thanks to Christie for sharing this, and to Mike for showing me the way.):

What does Ubuntu mean?

Ubuntu is a Xhosa word which serves as the spiritual foundation of African societies. It basically means what makes us human is the humanity we show each other. It articulates a basic understanding, caring, respect and compassion for others. Ubuntu is a belief in a universal bond of sharing that unites all of humanity – the conviction that no person can be truly full while his neighbor remains hungry. It represents a world-view that sees humanity as a web of family, rather than a mass of individuals. This philosophy affirms that a person is a person through other people, that we are all related, interdependent and connected to each other. This is similar to what we know as compassion, compassion for ourselves, our families, our community, the global community and the earth.

How do you think the practice of Ubuntu effects one’s health?

I think we all tend to get caught up with our own “dramas” which keeps us in our heads and takes up a lot of energy. When we stop focusing on ourselves and when we are sharing or being compassionate to others, we let go of a lot of unnecessary anxiety about our own dilemmas. So we often actually receive more than we give. It is a selfish thing, but if you want to feel better, helping others will probably help you as much if not more than whoever you are helping. Giving without receiving or expecting anything in return is extremely uplifting. I believe what it does physiologically to you is the opposite of the stress response, it stimulates the parasympathetic system. But also when one sees how others are living and they are happy even when they have nothing or very little materially, it often shifts one’s perspective on life and what’s important and how you feel. And often when people learn to give or start volunteering and caring for others, they in turn learn then to care for themselves as well. For many giving to others is easier than giving love to themselves, so it can help people learn self love.

What do you recommend for someone to kindle in them a sense of Ubuntu?

Find something that is meaningful to you, that you can connect with. It needs to be more than just giving money….which is nice but impersonal. When you connect with the person or persons you are giving to, it is probably the best thing you can do for your health. Partly, I think this is because what has happened in our culture today, many of us feel isolated. Whereas in Africa, there is still community, extended families, people feel less isolated, the support systems are usually better. I think what happens is we are so busy trying to survive in this crazy hectic world, we don’t have time to serve others or give back because of time constraints. But it is in our nature, everyone wants to give, we have just been numbed by our culture. That’s why if you look at most “slower” societies, there is more Ubuntu. So I would say, it is in our nature, it is a part of us, let it out.


It was interesting to hear a group of yogis have a rather intense discussion on the word striving recently, often taking issue with the word. I remember a workshop almost a year ago when two of my favorite yoga teachers had the same pointed discussion on the same word. I remember it as being one of the most insightful discussions I had heard at the time; two master teachers, each expressing their unique and sometimes differing perspectives. To me, that is the essence of learning to live a full and joyous life: seeing and paying attention to multiple perspectives, then synthesizing them in a way that gives enhanced personal understanding and a greater sense of inner knowingness.

To me, this process of synthesizing multiple perspectives, engaging in deep personal reflection and learning, then adapting with time to continue to survive happily in the present moment, is the essence of my yoga practice. No judgment, just learning and adapting. Isn’t this what svadhyaya (the second Niyama) is all about? When we look inside with a sense of discovery and wonder, we begin to understand the difference between knowledge and knowingness, information and wisdom. When our sense of awareness is lively, joy arises from within rather than being dependent on outer influences or accomplishments.

I know that when a word or a concept causes a sense of uneasiness, it is worth looking at why and delving deep into the question. Why did the word striving cause such an intense reaction? Hmmm.

For me at least, it might show how deeply we hold on to doing things the way we think they are supposed to be done based on outside influences (job advancement, approval, norms of behavior), rather than letting go of those outside expectations and acting in a manner authentic to our true selves and our own sense of inner wisdom.

Striving can mean our steady work to fulfill our true purposes in life and our acting in a manner according to our deepest intentions and wisdom. It can mean having faith in ourselves and our own unique abilities and acting accordingly. For instance, my striving to build my body and mind, and to be spiritually connected as a result of my honest emotional expressions of love and connection to others, is my way of finding joy in my life. It is me, the wise me, learning through personal discovery and self-study with a sense of awe and wonder, adapting each day to the circumstances of the present situation and experience. It is constantly balanced with a keen awareness of acceptance, respecting my own vulnerabilities, humbly seeing the interdependence of all things around me and the way things are.

But striving can also mean the constant desire to do what other’s think you need to do, to act in a competitive manner to succeed in comparison to others, to become attached to a career identity or a certain status, or to just feel like you are never good enough the way you already are. It can also mean striving to do a yoga posture that isn’t right for your body just because some other guru, living in a different body, said that this is the way this posture should be done.

Personally, I am motivated to learn and to adapt, to strive to live a full expression of my life while accepting honestly and humbly who I already am. I am motivated to strive to see and respect the best in others, showing compassion and sharing honest caring emotions, while accepting that they walk their own path. I strive to be responsible for myself: my health, my happiness, and my actions. I accept that because we are all interconnected and interdependent (and that I am human), my fate is not just up to me.

I look for learning in all interactions and experiences. I strive to respect the perspective of every person, young and old, weak and strong, quiet and loud. I honor other yoga teachers and the long lineage of yoga teachers. But it is up to me to find my own peace and joy in my life, both striving to be me, making effort to practice and learn as my best self, while accepting all that is me and that will always be me… and being aware of the difference.

I enroll in yoga teacher-trainings to be challenged to learn multiple perspectives in order to learn more about myself and my place on this planet; I do not enroll in yoga teacher-trainings in order to strive for outside recognition or to learn to do things in a certain accepted way. It does not impress me when someone tells me that I need to do things a certain way, just because that person has been taught by many big personalities or influential teachers. It is always up to me to synthesize a teacher’s perspectives with respect and an attitude of whole-hearted learning, but then act in an authentic and honest manner according my deep sense of personal inquiry and wisdom. I believe that this is the essence of the Sutras as well as many other spiritually-guided texts.

As a teacher, it is my job to guide and empower others to find their own sense of personal knowingness and wisdom, learn more about their own bodies and minds, their own sense of importance and vulnerability and connectedness, not to encourage them to strive in a certain manner just because it is my own personal perspective or the normal way to do things.

To me, this is how we all learn to live together for the greater good of us all and this planet. It is indeed my perspective that we are innately wired to live this way… but it also my perspective that as a teacher, I’m only striving to help others discover this in their own manner, if indeed it is the way we are intended to be.

To me, this is the essence of being a yogi and a yoga teacher. To me, this is why I absolutely love having engaging and interactive non-judgmental discussion on deep subjects, like on the concept of striving.

And, to me, this is why I absolutely love to sit down, reflect, and write afterwards.