It’s the final day at Bhakti Fest, and all the things I’ve learned from the many masters throughout the weekend had opportunities to be practiced: kindness, appreciation, and listening to subtle energy all made an appearance. I almost felt giddy, smiling, laughing, and hugging so many people. What they say is true: Love transcends and the bhav is palpable. It changes you.
Sri Kirtan started my day. A dynamic kirtan duo with decades of musical and spiritual dedication was the perfect soundtrack for me to see all the lovely faces and identify more friends than when I came.
As the stage set up for Jaya Lakshmi and Ananda, the Bhakti Puppets, voiced by Adam Rudder, Kiyoshi Shelton, and Gary Peterson, entertained the crowd. I love them for their light-hearted humor prompting us to always keep that attitude in our hearts. Later, Kiyoshi (puppet-free) rocked the EarthWE stage with his conscious Hip Hop style powered by beats from Dru Ali of Mental Physix. His music is as uplifting and spiritually driven as traditional kirtan. The messages are the same although the delivery is different.
While backstage, Ashley Wynn, bhakti Goddess of Las Vegas, gave me a little on-camera tour of all the favorite products provided for the musical artists including KIND Healthy Snacks, Food Should Taste Good, Go Raw, La Croix, Mamma Chia, Pukka Tea, Sambazon, Tumeric Alive, and more. Her personal favorites were the Nib Mor.
Ashley followed Kiyoshi on stage to shower us with her original songs from her new album, Love is the Answer - Jai Ma. Ashley is beautiful. There is a quality in her voice that you know is rooted in truth, so you believe her when she sings.
In my eyes, Tymi Howard is the ultimate example of acknowledging one’s embodiment of Shakti - she is powerful, she is joyful, she is full of kindness. What was meant to be a five minute interview turned into an hour and a half conversation that took us from discussing dogs and three yoga studios in Florida to love for family and how to properly “bounce the booty.” If you are looking to practice devotion through powerful asana, see Tymi.
I enjoyed samples of HealthForce Nutritionals, a 20 year-old raw and vegan superfood company specializing in cleansing and detoxifying, and continued cookin’ in the bhakti while Jivatma shared storytelling and music through what they called their version of a pop song, Release and Let Go. The song facilitated the act of throwing what we don’t need into the fire, adding more light and continuing to do so even after we leave Joshua Tree.
Girish’s voice is soothing to us all for many different reasons. Everyone I spoke to seemed to have their own story of connecting to his music. Mine is that he is the first conscious music album I ever bought. Listening to his tender serenade from the Main Stage brought me back to when I first started teaching yoga 11 years ago in New York City. I’m glad he’s been with me on that journey.
There are staples at Bhakti Fest that one should never miss. Seeing them every festival builds on their teachings which makes each experience more enlightened than the last. A few of my Bhakti Fest loves (besides what I’ve already mentioned) are Felicia Tomasko’s mindful and cooling yin, Govind Das and Radha’s primal dynamic sound and deep devotion, and Michael Brian Baker tapping into our deep souls through breathwork that goes beyond words. Of course, there is Krishna Das. Probably the world’s best known kirtan artist, full of wisdom, sharing his light humor, and awakening deep devotional vibes with his unique sound. I always stay on my game during the festival with a nightly warm cup of Herbal Zap, and I take something home with me to remember my weekend from my friend Susan at Yoga Styles. All of these and more nestle themselves perfectly in the sweet spots of the festival.
The weekend wonderfully culminated in the always energetic All Star Jam where devotees and artists alike pack the stage and dance in celebration. It’s a nice change to let out joy right when our hearts are feeling the weight of leaving this sacred place.
Via Skype, our beloved Ram Dass received the Spiritual Humanitarian Award. Seeing his face shines the light of love straight out of your heart. This man’s smile is the highest representation of kindness. To learn from Ram Dass through the comfort of conversation, a series of interviews have been published between Ram Dass and Bhakti Fest founder Sridhar Silberfein. There are many gems you can find in Bhakti Fest's Conversations with Ram Dass.
As I mentioned, the biggest concepts I’ve taken away from the weekend are kindness and appreciation as expressions of love. I’d like to thank Shakina from Shakina Goddess Wear for offering me a pair of the beautiful sandals she sells after I misplaced mine post-desert dancing. The whole meaning behind this festival was summed up by her offering.
I’ve attended and documented my experiences of these festivals alone and with a friend. These friends have been my extra eyes and ears to point out little pieces of beauty I may have missed and served as a confidant to contemplate concepts and intentions that came up during the journey.
If I am to take on the practice of appreciation as being one of the highest expressions of love, as Radhanath Swami says, I’d like to start with my deep appreciation of these friends who have been by my side: The sweet spirit of Noelle Portland who helped me at Shakti Fest and experienced my first pilgrimage as the Bhakti Fest Blogger.
For this festival, Melissa Brooke was by my side. She helped me see and hear things this weekend in a different way. She is an admirable writer and yoga teacher who takes the practice very seriously but with a sense of humor. Because of our Bhakti Fest journey, we have become better friends. Here is what she says about the workshop that was her personal game-changer: “I experienced a transformation throughout the class and felt deeply moved. Ed Harrold of My Zen Home's facilitation and work is acutely rooted in direct knowledge of the body's anatomy as it relates to the flow of the breath. He has a powerful passion to share his understandings and apply them to each distinct person in the room.” Melissa and I both felt contentment and ease as the day's activities started to wind down.
My appreciation continues for all those who put up the festival from the actual posts, platforms, and sound systems to those attending meetings, sending emails, and going to great lengths to get as many gifted and conscious artists, teachers, and Swamis in the same place at the same time.
Thank you, Bhakti Fest. I left differently than when I came. With setting my intention to follow the flow, I realized I was here for different reasons than I had assumed. It’s when our hearts and minds are open that we can be pleasantly surprised by life; Bhakti Fest reminds me of this.
See you next year. Haribol!
Olivia Kvitne is serving as Bhakti Fest’s blogger and social media Goddess for all three festivals this year. She is Assistant Editor for LA Yoga Magazine and specializes in teaching trauma-sensitive yoga to veterans/military and first responders in addition to teaching hatha, yin, hot yoga and more. Twitter: @LoisLaneofYoga
Photographs by Mitchell Manz Photography