As a producer and partner with AOMusic, if you have not heard me say that “The Music of AO has changed my life“, I want to say it now. I have never encountered a medium that is both heart opening and able to change the lives of children in need at the same time. I am from the 60′s. The Vietnam war was my backdrop for life. The Beatles came and changed all of us and the way we saw the world. U2 opened our eyes to injustice and issues of freedom, Madonna busted the sexual revolution wide open. Music changes people. Music can also save lives and create hope and love where there has been none.
A Seed Planted
It has been one year since I sold most of what I own and drove away from Tulsa Oklahoma. I had been called there to help my mother die. Four years later, my time was done in Oklahoma and I asked a question. “Now…what makes me happy”. Then I turned the corner into my sixties. For the first time in nearly forty years I had no children at home, no husband, no clients to care for. I just had me. And my two cats Hazel and Snow.
The question of what makes me happy was new. It was asked in a new spirit with the emphasis on ME. What makes ME happy. I had spent decades organizing my answers around the ‘whole’ of my life. My happiness was always intertwined with my daughters, or the man I loved, my mother and family and the concern I had for my clients who entrusted me with their stories and their care.
There had been little time to truly know what my own seed of happiness was. So, I set out for one year to discover the answer. Not by making a list of what made me happy, but to have an experience of “being happy”. What became quickly obvious was that I was surprised by happiness. I never went out looking for it or trying to create happy moments. Happiness found me. And in unexpected ways.
And what also became a life lesson was discovering that the way happiness found me was because I slowed down every aspect of my life and made room for happiness to come in. The art of allowing my life to flow and simply following the current has been the gift of this past year. Our society is focused on doing, on making, on busily trying to get our life to look like our vision. This presupposes that we are the only one to make or break our own possible happiness. That boot-strap mentality locks us out of the experience of being part of the mystery, of the divine, of a destiny that has a design and pattern to discover. It creates isolation.
Allowing life to move us has at the center this divine mystery of a perfect design. But allowing is a relational word. Allowing does not mean I do nothing. Allowing means I hold the vision, embody the energy and move my feet and then the dance begins and my partner is Spirit, God, the Universe, and Love.
I did do one important thing before I put the carrier on top of my Nissan and drove away toward the East Coast: I set an intention. A strong intention. I sat up late into the night and wrote my vision for my life. I soaked it in, knowing that somehow I had captured on paper a glimpse of a life I would love and then I tucked the writing into my Tarot Bag. The vision was filled with joyful ideas of being closer and working with my daughters in a business, of being surrounded by music, living in nature, writing for film and seeing myself succeed with my writing. I wrote of being in a common community with like-minded people, increasing my health and prosperity and being with children in my work. Then I drove to Asheville, North Carolina.
Now, one year later I am astonished. When I arrived in North Carolina to spend a short time with my daughter I ran into a problem renewing my driver’s license. This problem still persists and even baffles congressman Perlmutter in Denver. No one seems to know how to solve my lack of ‘drivability’. The loss of easy mobility left me stranded in North Carolina longer than expected. So, I went to a workshop on manifestation and then two days later met Richard Gannaway from AOMusic through a Craigslist ad of all things. Four hours later my life rearranged.
Richard handed me two of his Grammy nominated albums. Driving home I slipped them into the CD player in my car and headed down the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was raining. My first big surprise was about to occur. I started weeping, pulled off the road and nearly one hour later had finished listening to’ And Love Rages On’, with the windows fogged and motor still idling.
The weeping was a direct message from my soul to me. Weeping with joy validates the moment I am in as sacred, as important, as inspired. In that moment something redirected in me and pointed me back to Richard and AOMusic. My mind said “this is crazy”, “this wasn’t on the agenda!”, “WHAT are you DOING?”. I kept driving. Now one year later I am a partner with Richard and AO and proceeding with a vision for a film series that is inspiring great interest. I am immeasurably happy.
That one surprise by the side of the road…of joy…love…creativity…happiness has led to me back to digging out that piece of paper I put into my Tarot Bag just a year ago. I re-read my hopes and dreams. I smile when I realize that almost everything I envisioned is in my life right now: I work with children who sing, I am surrounded by music, my daughter Jessie and I work together on a project she helped to shoot in Nepal, I write for film, have gone to film school, live part time in two amazing natural environments, Asheville and the Pacific North West. I have a community of inspired, creative, loving co-workers and friends. I have a new kind of partner of the heart with Richard Gannaway. I have been prosperous and happy and healthier. All because I opened to the possibilities, allowed for my life to move with serendipity, coincidence and intuition.
The art of navigating life this way has been the largest learning in my lifetime. And now as our holiday season begins I have a new question. Not about what makes me happy, or what’s next. But a question about where is home? Having been nomadic for over a year now it is time to find ….home. And finding home is never possible until each of us feels entirely at home in the self. This year of SELF discovery has brought me to a new way of thinking about home. Home is the space that is a sacred anchor for our soul to live out our purpose for being here. Finding home is my next adventure. Or better yet! I will let home find me.
Our AO team has finished their 12 day trek to Nepal. Karan and his attendant Baldev have returned to India, Jessie and Rob have landed in Raleigh NC after a 33 hour flight from Kathmandu. And Josh has decided to stay on and trek to the Maratika Caves for spiritual retreat. The entire trip was nothing short of miraculous.
These young people were recording Nepalese Children and filming this process that AO has gone through for over the past decade in order for world music to be created through AOMUSIC and proceeds from this music can go to benefiting the children themselves. And the team filmed…themselves as a team. Interviewing each other from the moment they met at the Kathmandu Airport for the first time, to the day they parted company just a few days ago.
On their last day together, exhausted and spent, they all decided to wake each other up at 3:30 am and trek two hours up to the Himalayas to record their last interview with one another, as the sun rose. Their dedication every step of the way was constant.
Now the footage goes to Seattle where it will be edited and a short film will be created for fundraising. The recordings are with Richard Gannaway who will continue to finalize the last songs for AO’s new album to be released in 2013.
So, after a few bumps this week in my road, I am finally introducing you to the person on the team who was indispensable. Josh Massad. I met Josh three years ago in Tulsa Oklahoma. Instantly I knew him to be a rare individual possessing a deep compassion and spirituality that filled the room the minute he entered. Josh is a musician, taught children around the world music filled with love and joy. But, I was never able to get to really know him other that first etched impression. I moved away from Tulsa and he left for India.
Then one night only weeks ago I woke up around 2 am and instantly, his face was right in front of me as if he were in the room. His radiant smile reminded me of all that I had felt on our first meeting. I sat up and knew immediately that I had to find him, that I had to tell him what was about to happen in Nepal. I had no idea why but it was clear I needed to act. But where was he? I tracked him down through friends in Tulsa and found he was in Goa, India. My email began with, “I hope you remember me…and I have no idea why I need to write you…but”.
Following this “impulse” and vision in the night has led to Josh being an integral part of our team. But his response to my email was stunning, having no idea that when I wrote to him he had a story of his own. Here is a little of that story and his first email to me back in July:
“How should I respond to such an email? And one that is found during an intuitive search thru my junk mail – on a rainy evening?
How do we react when our back hurts?
How do we react to painlessness?
And when a child cries? Or when a child laughs?
When one is born? Or when one dies gracefully in old age?
How about when God answers our prayers..?
well… here goes.
Quick response to your idea about joining AO: Yes, in my most humble manners – I too have so much to share with the world! I believe our goals are One. Count me In! Tikrami! At Your Service!
And here is the rest of my story:
Today, we are celebrating a festival for cobras here in india. I don’t know the details yet, probably Shiva’s Cobra that he often wears around his neck is honored (as a god). The cobras are said to come out and even into our homes but we are safe if respectful and by making prayer hands. All the temples are playing great music and lighting Agarbathi (incense).
I have been living in Goa for the last 6 months. I am so intrigued by Goa’s ‘Hindu Christianity’. Goa is also known as “India-lite” and for this reason: Though there is poverty and plenty of orphans and tons and tons of trash – it is nothing compared to the rest of india – save one state that I love more than Goa much due to its cleanliness, spirituality & music; Kerala.
I ruptured a disc in my lower back while mid-flight from Chicago to Delhi 6 months ago exactly. Which also means that my 6-month Visa expires in 4 days! I had been considering doing what many people do and go to Nepal for a while and then reenter India on a new visa. What timing.
After the rupture, I successfully took my train from Delhi to Mumbai on Feb 2nd where I was to record a big festival concert featuring some of the greatest percussionists and musicians in India and the world. Maybe you remember the band Shakti, who began in 1974. Anyway, times were tough for me, and eventually I had an MRI that frightened most doctors.
Continuing on, Feb 14th, I came to Goa to tour with a world music ensemble, Emam & Friends, played only one concert and then became paralyzed, spending the next 5 weeks in bed only. One daily visit to the toilet left me the rest of the day to contemplate pain. Eventually I renounced my ego-causing attachment to pain all together!
It has taken me 6 months to heal naturally. With great help from Ayurveda, I am healed! All the others told me surgery is inevitable – though I trusted them as respectable doctors, I didn’t hear that they knew me, or better – the God who resides within me – who I was and still am so determined to know and Love.
When I first came to Varanasi in 2008, I found myself among a 5,000 year old civilization. I had to be part of it, I had to learn, I had to contribute. And that is when ‘Teaching My Ancestors’ established a month of village school visits, laughing and playing with my young ancestors. The greater international project took the name, World Through Music.
Each winter I have returned to my growing student body here – last year we taught in 9 Indian states. I am learning so much from these kids, they give me the opportunity to experience love – I and the project are Empowering them! And I am hoping to master the art of ‘wordless communication’ that is peaceful and Creative! The school is a forum for sharing.
I was taught a ‘song of welcome’ from Liberia – by my teachers 15 years ago – and do they know, does anyone know that thousands and thousands of kids in India are still singing that song today, years after I shared it them, they still have the purity of welcoming in their hearts. I know this because I return to them a year later – and they sing me this song that traveled from Africa to America to them and has most likely reached the cosmos by now, within their hearts, as One Soul.
Each Spring and Autumn, (accept this Spring I was here in bed) I am in Tulsa teaching and sharing my international experiences with American students.
It became so clear to me that these students are the leaders of our future and that now is my time to do my work, but soon I will be old and they will determine the fate of the world. With all these weapons and temptations/distractions, we need to train our community in self-control (pratyahara – yoga) and appropriate action.
Then my work must be to train these kids. All around the world, it was clear to me that most kids are not receiving proper training. Even in the USA where there is some investment in education, what are we teaching? – – are we teaching life, community, and the beauty of breath, silence, sound, universality, freedom, freedom in death, healing one another? Or often just the opposite?
Like AOMUSIC, I believe these children, all of them, will influence our future world, TOGETHER. So give them something in common with their international peers, introduce them, teach them community, empower them that they know their responsibility, to family, that family need not be limited to common languages, etc.
What could be easier, more beautiful to access Truth, expression, inclusion, spontaneity, “peaceful & creative forms of communication”, than art? And music is sound, healing that everyone loves. Through Music I have learned about the world, and so thru music, I will do my work teaching Truth to the world. Yoga also, music and yoga teach me patience, control, unbounded love and forgiveness and keep me alive, connected, healthy and inspired.
How can I further this international community? In 2010, I worked with a Tulsa school for one month, teaching them all these things, yoga(union), breathing(awareness), music(expression) (determination) and then we built instruments, played them in a shared musical experience. Then our students, knowing I was off to teach in India – offered their made & blessed instruments to my Indian students which I carry everywhere with me.
Off I went to India with 24 Rainsticks on my back as an ambassador to offer these kids a chance to know themselves better, and their connection to the world, to their peers – through the gift of Music.
I began recording my classes only a few years ago. Video and audio. (more equipment to carry) but also thankfully, more people to hire and get involved with. That is what I know I need, more people, more participation. I have been forced to work alone dear Maya for most of my professional career and it is such a blessing, all my dreams are clear, I work diligently and find creative ways to succeed – but this one man trying to raise an international family is hard work. I need community that which I teach of that is family! All I have to do is what I do best, Inspire and Encourage.
But my back finally gave up supporting all my issues – and the project has been halted again – (another disadvantage of a one-man show). I haven’t anymore money. I need sponsorship. All of Tulsa supports me – but I don’t have experience asking for money. I missed $5,000 of work in april/may/june in Tulsa schools with a tour I created called ‘Beats To Bridge’ connecting the American student with our Indian students. That work took years of preparation and was crucial to my survival. Now in debt with hospital bills and haven’t any plane tickets home or even money to pay musicians here to contribute to the album now that I am healthy again. My life is just now starting over – I feel like I have been given another chance to live, to pray, to celebrate, to Inspire, to Serve!
All of the dreams remain – even have been further empowered – there is not a doubt in my mind that my ‘dreams’ or my ‘service’ need be fulfilled. I don’t feel necessarily attached, only that I need to survive to serve and I should continue with a well-conceived plan.
Since the last month or two, I have been approaching Dzogchen Monastery nearby in Karnatika and hoping I could spend a month there meditating and internalizing the Sacred Sounds of Prayer. I offered to produce recordings of their prayers if they pleased to raise money for them. I haven’t yet been formally invited, and today my visa is the biggest issue.
Then your email arrives Maya. The timing …well….perfect. Our goals are one dear Maya! And our means are quite similar. Your team has decades more experience and accomplishment than myself. I come in humble admiration.
I am willing to reserve my plans with calm or give up any attachments if my path was meant to lead us to collaborate – of course I surrender. I have not foolish or proud or selfish intentions. India and America are two of the greatest teachers especially in combination. I am forever a student. One of my most recent lessons is to protect myself and that God within me.
Whenever The Mother calls, I shall answer.
If I can assist on your project in any way, I would be most honored and appreciative. To work with you and this wonderful family of humans and musicians that you mention is obviously a great blessing which will help me fulfill my own destiny.”
Josh proved to be, as I lovingly refer to him, the Yoda of our team. He brought his suitcase of instruments for the children to play wherever the team was. He supported the team when they were exhausted with joy and patient listening, he helped Rob with all the recordings and Jessie with sound. Josh was a spiritual backbone for our project in Nepal.
My learning was simple and powerful: To listen to my dreams, to follow that inner nudge, that fleeting glimpse of something that you cannot know why it crossed your mind and to trust the process as it unfolds. To count my intuition as valuable as any asset I possess. If I had not acted on that nighttime urging, seeing Josh’s face and not knowing why, our trip to Nepal would have been quite different. Josh became the glue that held the vision together. How could I have known that?
So please tune into this next step of filmmaking. The team that has once again miraculously assembled themselves is another magical story to tell. And you know me. It is all in the story.
“Robin Tamang is arguably the biggest rock star in Nepal. Initially, he started out with Robin and Looza. Later, he formed a new band, The New Revolution, by handpicking each member. Five albums already under his belt, he is coming out with his sixth studio album Hamro Desh.” Robin has a passion for music and children and invited the AO Team to leave Chitwan and return to Kathmandu to work with children in an Orphanage that he works with there. Here is the story from one of the team: Rob Lenfesty
“We arrived back in Kathmandu after the long and bumpy bus ride. The road to Kathmandu winds perilously along the side of steep, jungled mountainsides with a cold blue river raging far below. The road is narrow and often has no protection from the thousand feet of drop. Following the somewhat morbid but expected thought of how often a vehicle goes off the side, I caught a glimpse of a tangled, twisted metal chunk of bygone bus on the rocks below. Ok, better to enjoy the stunning beauty and leave that thought behind!!
We arrived at the guesthouse that I inhabited not even two years ago on my last visit. Coming back here has felt like a true full circle. Especially when my friend and Nepali rock hero Robin Tamang came roaring in on his Royal Enfield Motorbike to meet with us. Robin had agreed to be our host to an orphanage he has been working with closely for the last 9 years. Two years ago I played an inspirational show with Robin and his band The New Revolution for the kids at this very place.
Robin has the uncanny presence of a rock star wherever he goes; he is passionately dedicated to the Nepali people and to the hearts and minds of the children. Thus this man has made children the target of his work. He believes that the key to changing the failing infrastructure of this nation is to touch the minds and hearts of the kids now. And he is doing it as well as it could be done. You can see the love and starstruck awe in the eyes of every Nepali we see as we make our way to the orphanage.
We arrive through the gate and are immediately swarmed with kids. The older ones remember me quite well, and all are enthusiastic to see Robin; not as a rockstar, as he has been a frequent uncle-like figure since many of them were in diapers. They love him with the complete child-like adoration for a beloved relative. Where the kids in Chitwan were not as touchy-feely, we quickly found the opposite here in Kathmandu. The loping game I played in Chitwan very quickly became eight or nine kids vying for real estate on my arms, shoulders and back. Thus wearing a full, squirming suit of children I would try to move in any way possible. Needless to say I got my exercise!
This orphanage, NAG, has been run by a Swiss woman named Nicole for 20 years. Her work has been remarkable; the grounds of the school are beautiful and some of her first children are now the teachers and managers of the school. She finds children with either no parents or incapacitated parents and gives them more than just a second chance, she gives them access to one of the most diverse and best educations they could hope for. With the help of Robin they even have an entire music room with keyboard, drums, guitars and more! These children are truly blessed, and have seen the darker side of what life can offer as well. This balanced experience augments the delight that shines from their eyes so that they radiate a zest and vigor that inspires.
We gathered a group of the younger kids together to teach them the two songs we were to record. Robin stepped into the performers role beautifully and guided them through the syllables that he himself had just learned. The kids took to both songs written by Richard Gannaway enthusiastically and in no time we were recording them in chorus. We recorded individuals as long as their attention spans could handle and then played with them some more. We left and promised to return the next day.
The Next day found more of the same. While I was not recording I can honestly say I had at least two kids strapped to my arms or back, minimum, at all times. I found a game that proved to be more restful with a group of around 12 boys. I would simply fall in any direction and they would push me back up to standing. I got to a point where I could trust them well and would fall rapidly in any direction, at which they would (usually) catch me before hitting the ground. Even as we loaded up into our taxi to leave I had kids clinging on to me. It was sad to leave!
We decided to go directly to Durban Square, the historic and ancient center of the city. There we were greeted by statues and pagoda like temples with intricate wooden carvings, and the white stone Royal Palace. We explored the ancient city for a while as normal people would, though I was itching to play with this place on a more creative level.. I found some lion statues and began to find ways to do yoga poses on and with them; developing quite a crowd in the process! I played with a few of the kids in the square too, some were imitating my yoga, others showing off their break dancing skills. We played at this and other games until the sun set and it was time to go.
Unconventional interactions with my environment always seem to lighten up any place I find myself. I was able to interact with an entire group of people who would have been normal passerby’s if I hadn’t stopped to turn the world on its head for a moment. I hold sacred the opportunities to imbue the creative essence of this life with the environment and people around me. If one person smiles as a result then it is a success. My hope is that others may be inspired to look at the world they live in with the imagination we were born with, sidestepping the conventions we have learned to take for granted.
We found our rest back at Tibet Guest house, another beautiful and active day in Kathmandu for AOMUSIC.”
In my hope to write every day about the trip five young people are on in Nepal, life broke in and tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Remember about making God Laugh? Throw your plans out the window and go to NYC”. So, two days later I did and I am now in NYC with my daughter Sasha. Hot. Loud. Crazy New York City. There is no other place like it…except maybe Kathmandu.
Each day I surf the moment and the time zones and field so many details of producing, from more ATM machines that are down or changes of plans, budget problems or little details that at the end of the day don’t amount to a hill of beans next to the depth of the journey for all of the Team in Nepal, representing AOMUSIC.
So, I will try to catch up and the only way to do that is to make this entry be all about the day in the life of our AO Ambassador, Rob Lenfestey who has shared a story with me. I will write more tomorrow about the last person on the Team. Our own Yoda. By now your curiosity is peeked, so look for new blog entry and a story you will not believe. It is all about navigating life by intuition and instinct, a skill we could all cultivate.
Enjoy Rob’s words:
“My dreams thus far have been potent down here in the humid Nepali Jungle: I asked in my dream “So what does happiness look like? And was shown some flashing scenes and images in my head. “What does clarity look like then?” and another image. “love?” “Friendship?” And on it went.
Then I asked “What does God look like?” and the door slammed open to my Guest House Room. “Rob”, came Josh’s voice through the glass pane, “Rhino!” And so it was; gracing the river bank below. The first wild example of its kind to grace our team with its presence. It even had the requisite black birds gracing its massive armor-like back and horn.
By 7am we had eaten our breakfast and loaded up into our transport with Raj and headed to two different impoverished villages full of kids to catch of glimpse of how they lived.
Before we even arrived in the first village, comprised of two long buildings that faced each other with a muddy courtyard in between, we were already being chased down by laughing barefooted children. The locals were amiable and smiled, clasping their hands in “namaste” to greet us. The kids, however, simply piled up on top of each other to get in front of us. Once Karan brought out the big film camera, the ensuing kid pile was hilarious to watch. Karan flipped the view-screen around and this delighted them the most; now they were watching themselves on the screen. The gestures and experiments that ensued as each kid eagerly pushed themselves within the field of the camera and watched themselves live was adorable and thoroughly entertaining.
We went to look into their living quarters, which were small rooms split from one long building that comprised an entire half of the small village. In these small 12×12 ft. rooms some 12 person families lived, cooked and slept. Each room was impeccably clean and the space outside in the courtyard, while muddy, was free of trash and filth typical to urban impoverished areas.
We went to their well where one of the mothers was cleaning cookware. This is where the ice broke between the myself and the Children. I was walking behind the well’s concrete platform and began to slip on the slick algae that grows there. I caught myself and didn’t fall, but instead turned it into a kind of gliding dance. The children laughed and so I kept dancing some more. Eventually this dance erupted from the well and culminated in me loping around chasing them through the village. As this play continued I was struck by a certain beautiful truth that brought a deeper gravity to this project and its importance.
At its roots, AOMusic is for the creation of world music. World music crosses cultures and brings them together, celebrating both our diversity and the immutable humanity we all share. And so it makes perfect sense that we should build the foundation of such work on that which binds us. And nothing exemplifies the unity of the human race than the faces, laughter and songs of the children.
It dawned on me that you can change the set and setting as drastically as you want; from Lower Manhattan to the rural jungles of Nepal and you will always find kids. Kids smiling, kids playing and chasing each other around whatever environment they find themselves in. And if you took any of those kids and transplanted them in the other place it would take barely seconds for new friendships to be forged and play to ensue. It is upon the pure essence of a child’s spirit that our “sameness” can be celebrated; and from this thread of unity we may truly celebrate that which makes us unique and different. I had known before that this was important work and for all these same reasons, yet now a deeper part of me understood. My bones understood and very muscle in my body understood. Understood and beamed in celebration of what was before me: Dozens of smiling faces and bright eyes beaming at us, still charged up and ready to flee if the loping beast decided to awaken once more. And it did.
As we prepared to leave I pulled Josh aside and whispered in his ear. We then broke out into a goofy, fun vocal improve performance for the kids, one last gesture of gratitude for the gift of their purity and the deepening awareness it had inspired inside of me.
On we ventured to the edge of Chitwan, over the river by canoe and into the government’s Elephant Breeding Center. The day was hot and muggy by this time, so we moved quickly over the open land towards the relative cover of the Breeding Center’s information booth. We read a little about elephants, the struggles of captive breeding and the economic importance to this region across generations. None of this, however prepared us for the elephants themselves. Under relatively small shade structures, tethered to a wooden post on a small mound of dirt stood each elephant. The front two feet were chained together tightly like those of a convict to prevent any kind of long strides. A brief look into these incredibly intelligent eyes was all I needed. Chained up like a convict, yet what was your crime? A dozen or so such elephants lined the center with perhaps six or seven babies in all. I felt uneasy being among the free humans walking along the railing gawking at them in their captivity. Just one look in the eyes of one of these elephants was all it took to see their depth of understanding and awareness. I turned to look at my team. Each and every one of us felt the same way. We did not linger in this place long. We made our way back out and across the river towards home.
The joy and celebration of the children was mingled with the sobering sadness and even wisps of anger around the treatment of such wise and beautiful creatures as these elephants. All of this, the full spectrum of our human experience, is beautiful. Asia brings this lesson home for me quite often. The best and the worst all mixed into one beautiful cacophony of human existence.”
No sleep for me last night. Too much to do. So much to consider. Yep, the bank froze my debit card seeing 5 people eating out in Suaraha, took care of that …again. Yep, made sure that there was a new hotel reservation for Kathmandu, that the interview with the “Bee Acupuncturist” was in fact happening (an acupuncturist that uses bee stings as his needles) and answered the inevitable emails that come in about 4am every morning. That’s before my feet swing out of bed,
I don’t care about sleeping. I think most people who find themselves at the apex of their creative center feel this way. We forget to shower, eat…take out the trash. It is like waiting for a child to be born. While the Team is in Nepal, I am simply lit up like a firecracker. It is one thing to achieve a goal: Send 5 wonderful young people to Nepal as ambassadors for AOMUSIC and come back with recordings of children singing as well as unparalleled footage of this amazing process. But it is what happens in between the goal and the outcome that defines the creative process.
Creating is the art of allowing. Allowing the picture to come into focus without pushing, allowing for interruptions to the plan to reveal the REAL plan. Allowing for magic to break in unexpectedly and change every person involved, which then immediately changes the outcome. Rain, food issues, cultural differences, language, altitude all are the ingredients for surprises, one after the other. This is why I don’t mind loosing sleep. This is why I have put my life in alignment with AO Foundation International: Because I am guaranteed to be allowed to unfold, just like the process of making this film and meeting these families, children and the country of Nepal.
So, while I was still awake at 5:30 this morning, this email came in from my daughter Jessie. Internet is difficult in Nepal and as the team writes each sentence they have to constantly re-boot, re-fresh, wait and shut down. Does not make following thoughts very easy. But it is the spirit that blazes bright in every email.
“And it is a late late night for me….Today was like breathing. It was our second and last day with the children at Shree Little Star School. As wonderful and amazing as they were, I am even more excited about the days to come and the future footage I will take, as we just got invited to come back to Kathmandu to work with a group of children in an Orphanage there, as well as with a renowned musician from Nepal. Raj took only myself over to Mushard Village to quickly meet the new children here in Suaraha and speak to them about coming in the morning to record them.
Although the streets were muddy and the village small and poverty stricken. I have never experienced such radiating light, love and laughter like that from children. I was only there maybe less then five minutes and I left with them knowing my name and chasing after me when we left on the Mo-ped. I have never felt happier and more up-lifted in my life. This was after a morning of slowly drifting down the Rapti River in a canoe with Josh and Rob doing yoga. We watched an elephant and her baby cross the river. A magical day of footage and pure excitement. Things are unfolding so fast and so beautifully, I can only assume I am walking a path that I have been searching for my whole life.”
So, the Team is working today with a new group of younger children and then packing to go to Kathmandu in the morning. This was an unexpected new offering that happens all of the time with AOMUSIC. Once people hear the music, doors open to wonderful new introductions to communities and children. It is our firm belief to follow the gifts we are given and make those contacts, take the treks and be open hearted, open handed and supportive of the families and children contributing to our albums. So a new adventure begins.
Our third Team member was also a gift. I had never met Karan Sharma, but through an introduction to Marc Pingry Production a light bulb went off in Marc’s head as we were having dinner in Seattle. “Karan…you must bring Karan Sharma with you”, said Marc.
Marc proceeded to share about this young man whose father is Romesh Sharma, an Indian actor, producer and director in Bollywood. Karan has acted, and worked on a documentary series called “Fantastic Festivals of the World”. He brings a creative eye, enthusiasm, great ideas and heart to the AO Project in Nepal and is working with a larger camera to film the team teaching children and the story of the team itself. Here is a little on Karan.
Karan currently is living in India, and has studied International Business and Management Studies at the European Business School London. He is fluent in English and Hindi, and can speak some French. Karan has also acted and we are excited to work with him in the future on our larger documentary that will trek to the Caves of Maratika and to a monastery near Everest. He is a gem!
Fantastic Festivals of the World
Season One & Now Season Two People around the world know how to have fun!The “Fantastic Festivals of the World” Series features the best, most exotic, bizarre and unique of these celebrations! This exciting and colorful HDTV series can be seen currently on the Discovery HD Theater (www.dhd.discovery.com) in the USA on Wednesdays at 8 pm and 11 pm PST. the documentary was done by Marc Pingry Productions. www.youtube.com/pingryhdtv
So, when Karan came enthusiastically onboard I thought our team was complete. Until one night I woke up and saw a picture in my mind of a young man I barely knew and somehow understood that for some reason, Josh Massad, I think that was his name, had to be part of our team also. I had no Idea why, but in the next few days I found him in Goa, India and found out why I had had a vision of him that night. Tomorrow I want to introduce you to the teams own “Yoda”. Josh Massad. Our fourth team member.
So I dream all night about elephants and mountain tops eager to get up and see if there are emails in my inbox from the Team in Nepal. Their late night musings, concerns or questions come in about 6am at my house and I am off and running.
And, as I promised, I am going to profile another member of the team who wrote a piece this morning that says it all. I need not say another word except:
Rob Lenfesty is from Asheville, North Carolina and is the person standing in for Richard Gannaway and teaching the children music. This is his first time working with AO and I am certain it will not be the last time.
Rob is part of an intentional community in Asheville, a yoga teacher, slackline teacher (get to know about this if you do not already know), a composer, musician and magic with children. Here is what he shares with you from the heart of Nepal”
“Since arriving here we have set some cultural experiential goals. One for me has been to ride an elephant; and in the spirit of fun and creativity do some yoga asana on its back. We had spoken of this often; and when an elephant came down the hill next to where Josh and I sat eating breakfast I commented;
“I wish they didn’t all have those boxes on their backs (referring to
the wooden platform adorning all elephants we have thus far seen)
because it will make it difficult to do any yoga on one.”
Half joking and yet, right in that moment, the elephant got to its knees and the owner dropped down and began removing the box off of its back. I decided to get a closer look and walked down there. “Elephant shower?,” the mahout (elephant keeper) asked me, gesturing to the elephant’s back and the river.
With a broad smile on my face I crawled up and there I was, riding bareback on an elephant mere seconds after musing about it. We went into the water and the elephant began sucking water into its trunk and drenching me on its back. The day was already hot and the water was refreshing. Another blessing barely in disguise; by standing in a couple of feet of water the elephant afforded me the opportunity to safely try fun things like headstands on his back. Elephant Yoga!
A few times I splashed down into the water but was able to get back up and try again. Afterwards I was able to just connect to the beautiful and intelligent creature before he left the river. One goal manifested, and beautifully!
I feel that the “child-like” compulsion to play and try new things is the key to refreshing and invigorating the human spirit. Such play awakens the divine inside of us; we glow with the pure joy of living and the happiness that is derived from new experiences and magical opportunities realized. It was with this playful and activated spirit that we piled up in the truck and drove to the school to meet the kids who are to be the heart of this journey.
We arrive at the school to find a group of well-behaved enthusiastic children sitting behind their tall wooden desks, eager to learn. It did not take but a few moments for us to break the ice with some perfectly goofy vocal exercises and games to establish a playful vibe for this experience.
It was now in this moment that the true alchemy of this group of AOMusic ambassadors really became apparent. While I prepared the materials to teach the kids the song we were going to record them singing, as well as confer with the principle and school officials to discuss logistics, Josh continued to engage the kids with fun games and exercises that served the multifaceted purposes of play, exercising musical awareness and exercising singing voices. We wrote the song on the whiteboard and practiced each syllable and then the song. The kids picked it up immediately.
I was astounded by how quickly they got it. After a few more games we brought them outside and got a recording of them singing as a group underneath a mango tree in the schools courtyard. I then proceeded to begin my individual recordings while Josh continued to pull engaging games out of thin air to keep the kids delighted and inspired.
When we finally stopped for lunch I decided to bring out my slackline to see how the kids enjoyed it. Slackline is a piece of flat one inch wide webbing that you place between two trees and then practice balancing on. I teach with the Yogaslackers, a group who are dedicated to bringing this wonderful practice to the world in an easy to learn format that celebrates the diversity of opportunities this simple tool provides. In a class what we establish are the basic poses of an ever-growing list of yoga asana that we have applied to the slackline and the flows that move between them.
I set up the line and the kids all gathered ‘round. I showed them the basic knee balance that we first teach and then each kid who wanted to (and some teachers too!) gave it a shot. As each approached the line everyone would cheer their name and clap enthusiastically for even small victories from each person. I did a quick demo of what is possible and then fluidly returned to recording the children individually. Josh found even more games and musical adventures to take the kids on in the mean time.
The film and photo crew of Jessie, Karan and Baldev continued to find creative ways to shoot the recordings and orchestrate shots throughout the session. The fact they have been doing so since we arrived in Kathmandu; capturing each inspired moment along the way with ease. Thus we made sure the light was perfect and recorded the kids as they sung; eyes beaming at the fancy cameras, boom stand and recording equipment surrounding them. Even for those of us familiar with all of this equipment it was surreal.
I can only imagine the wonder of it all for these kids out in the Nepalese countryside. In all we were hoping to keep the kids captivated for an hour, at most an hour and a half. After all, today was a special day of holiday and we knew they would want to get out and enjoy it. Except we were underestimating ourselves as well as the kids. For four hours we not only kept the kids captivated and entertained, but they were hungry for more. They wanted us to stay and continue to play and record. To reiterate with enthusiasm; Josh Massad stepped up in a beautiful way. He had the kids singing tabla rhythms and had brought an arsenal of fun instruments for them to play. Entertained, entrained and educated all at the same time. And wanting more to boot.
Because of how musically engaged and fun-loving the experience was for the kids, by the time they reached me for their individual session they were fully loose, activated and vocally warmed up for the experience. When we finally left the children were beaming. I beamed at my crew. I could not have been blessed with a more alchemically perfect combination of people to create this magical experience with.
Rob Lenfestey, Celebrate Life.
Tomorrow is another day, and I will finally introduce you to a young man from Mumbai who is filming in Panasonic HD for our larger documentary: Karan Sharma. And does he have a wonderful story.