Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Art of Shiva. And My Decade as a WASH.

Upon checking my email during a welcome pause (art overload!) halfway through the epic show at the Met “Wonder of the Age: Master Painters of India, 1100 – 1900” I learned from my friend Susannah that this week marked 10 years of dedicated study with our favorite teacher of tantric yoga, Douglas Brooks. She reflected on it so beautifully. Thank goodness I have clever women in my life reminding me of important anniversaries. Do my wife and I count our elopement in Las Vegas at a drive-thru wedding chapel – or the private ceremony officiated by Douglas a few weeks later – as our wedding anniversary? Lucky for me it’s NEVER NOT a question. (That is to say… Always.) And so I start to pay attention to the dates well in advance.

Now this show at the Met was huge. And the works of art small. Any show where you get a magnifying glass with the audio tour is gonna be a compelling commitment. Towards the end of my experience it was all starting to wear on me. Another vision of Vishnu. Ho hum.

Then in one of the last galleries I saw the image above, “Shiva Descending Mount Kailash.” ca. 1800, attributed to Khushala. Shazaam. Wide awake. Mesmerized. Drawn in to this miniature world in ways that I hadn’t yet experienced with any other piece in the exhibit. The artist is from a long family line of great painters. His generation captured “masterly detail, dreamy lyricism and raw emotion” better than anyone according to the gallery guide.

Who are these strange celestial beings leading the way? Half men, half beast. Seeing them in person, they literally seemed to sing from the canvas. Actually, I did hear singing. Another moment of unexpected and wonderful insanity in the life of a yogi. Dreamlike lyricism indeed!

Thus enraptured, I observed Shiva, here as a very pale, ethereal and tender fellow. And I realized that this is a night scene. Forget Radha and Krishna in the luscious flowered forests by day, this couple clearly create magic by moonlight. Though impossible to see in this small image I lifted from the Met website, Parvati is done up in fine, luxurious detail: makeup, nail polish, furs. The fetching little leopard skin hat with orange tassels reminded me of the well-groomed ladies in head to toe mink one sees on the crosstown bus along 57th street in the winter here in New York City.  Here is a lady who belongs in fur pelts as her birthright.

They just look so comfortable in their roles, leading a motley caravan of strange and extraordinary beings down the mountain. Though the central and largest figure is a man honoring them with a humble bow to their feet, the experience of seeing this picture live doesn’t create any clear focus on him. It’s almost instead like he’s a quiet void in the middle of the work. The artist is saying, sure, you can do that (Shiva and Parvati’s expression toward him are more bemused than anything) but truly, it’s more fun to participate in this circus with eyes wide open. I for one wanted to get into the conga line in the foreground.

If YOU want to join the conga line with me, and enter a richly beautiful lineage of yoga, join me for my Tantric Yoga Vision Quest. We’re gonna have an amazing time. The gods of yoga welcome you to see all the world as art when you learn to see the world through their eyes.

PS – A WASH is a White Anglo Saxon Hindu. “We’re a happy little cult.”

Mor Mor’s SECRET Pepparkakor Recipe

My great-grandma arrived to the States when she was about 18. I remember interviewing her during the centennial celebration for the Statue of Liberty in the late 80s. The media at the time was brimming over with sentimental hoopla, and I thought I could channel Barbara Walters and get her to cry during my own VHS camcorder moment.

Me: “Mummo (a version of great gram invented by an older cousin) what did you feel when you came into New York Harbor and saw the Statue of Liberty when you immigrated to the US?”

Mummo: “Not much. I was only interested in seeing American boys.”

Classic. My great gram Ellen Nordin was not only a maneater, but also an AMAZING baker. She died at age 98. From what I can tell, Swedish cookies and a gin martini every night before dinner were the keys to her longevity. Here’s her secret recipe for Pepparkakor.

In my Tantric lineage called Rajanaka Yoga we like to say, “Secrets are only as good as they are shared.” In fact, the shareability is what MAKES a secret a secret. So enjoy. And oh yeah, Ikea, eat your heart out.

Ellen Nordin’s Secret Pepparkakor Recipe

1 c butter

3/4 c dark brown sugar

3/4 c white sugar

1 egg

2 T dark corn syrup

1 T water

3 1/4 c flour

2 t baking soda

2 t ground cardamom

2 t ground clove

2 t ground ginger

3 t ground cinnamon

1 1/2 T fresh grated orange zest

Cream sugar & butter

Beat in egg til fluffy

Stir in orange peel, syrup & water

Combine dry ingredients in bowl and stir in gradually

Refridgerate overnight

Roll out dough to about 1/4″ thick. Use SMALL cookie cutters, not more than 2″ diameter. The SECRET to amazing Swedish cookies of any kind is that they’re SMALL. Pop in your mouth in 1 bite. 2 max. The store bought kind are like doorknob sized. No. No. No. Don’t do it.

Bake 350 degrees F for 10 – 15 minutes. They should be crispy, not chewy, when cool. It’s a fine line to burnt. Careful.

I love these especially with my morning coffee. Their subtle flavor hits you after a 2 second pause…

…and it’s WONDROUS.

Santaland Diaries

My first job in New York City was at Macy’s. That was 1997.  I had just moved here. A good friend of mine from college was working in HR. She got me placed at the Chanel counter. I made more money in that 8 week stint than I ever have in a 2 month period before or since. Thousands of little old ladies fresh off the tour bus bought their No. 5 from me and I made a 20% commission. If I can make it here, I’ll make it anywhere.

Our Chanel district manager would sweep in every few days in yet another full length fur. I don’t remember her name, something Eastern European, but she made an enduring impression. She was 5 feet tall. And the most perfectly groomed human I’d ever met. In a cloud of perfume, flawless makeup and a french twist she’d inspect my fingernails. “A gentleman who sells Chanel must never bite his nails.” And I never did again. Another bonus of that job: I know my way around the World’s Largest Store like the back of my hand. I know where the hidden express elevators are. And more importantly, I know the location of the cleanest, untrafficked toilets.

Since Jasper was born, we’ve been taking him to Macy’s Santaland on the 8th floor every year. The photo above comes from 2008, the year Obama took the White House. And the year we saw black Santa. Amazing.

My 3 year old became obsessed with Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas. I know some 9 year olds who can’t even watch that film. Too scary. But, like his Papa, Jasper admires the strange and creepy. To date, his favorite ornaments for our Christmas tree are from that film. I’m pretty sure his repeated viewings inspired the cute little skull and crossbones cardigan he was wearing in 2009. We liked it so much apparently that he wore it again in 2010.

Over the course of my evolving life as a yogi and WASH  (White Anglo Saxon Hindu) I’ve come to appreciate, to reconcile and to reimagine a great number of my socio-religious customs. Especially at those places where spirituality and family traditions cross. To be a Tantrica is to take the best of what’s come before and to weave it into the fabric of one’s body, heart and mind: Tan (to extend) tra (to cross)

Since Santa Claus is a manifest form of prosperity and magic, I’ve made it my own new tradition and practice to give him, every year, a letter. In this letter I write down all of the things, people, experiences I’ve been grateful for that year. He always slips it in his boot and tells me he’ll take a look at it later. Anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours later, I get a huge hit of bliss. And I know, Santa has read my letter. Try it. You’ll like it.

Happy Solstice 2011!


I just got off the phone with Tal Rachleff with a free preview of the VISIONQUEST I’m offering in 2012. You can listen to the download of our conversation anytime. I hope it enriches your interest in yoga. And we’re offering a special holiday discount on continued studies with me in 2012. Perhaps Santa will give you the gift of Tantra??


Embolden 2012 · Enrich your life · Encounter the gods

A Rajanaka Yoga Telecourse Series with Eric Stoneberg

Whether you are a yoga teacher or an inquisitive seeker, this course will arouse your curiosity and refine your knowledge by creating a valuable connection to a living, breathing and ever-evolving lineage of Tantric Yoga. You’ll discover how Tantra relates to you, your life experience, your choices and your story. You’ll enter into a very special conversation with other seekers who, like you, yearn to cultivate their gifts for a more fulfilling life. A course for Aquarian Age yogis who long for valuable contemplations and a more prosperous world, Eric will lead a lively discussion plus share visionary meditative technology each week to draw you into your heart’s creativity. No previous experience is expected or required. All you need is an open mind and a willing heart.




Telling Secrets: Goddess Wisdom

January 16, 23, 30

7p – 8.30p EST

Lalita Tripura Sundari (She Who is Lovely in Three Worlds) and Akhilandeshwari (She Who is Never Not Broken) are breathtaking energies of the Divine Feminine who invite us to receive the challenges of the modern world as a radical opportunity. So instead of lamenting our rapidly expanding universe, we wear complexity as a playful adornment. Receptive and generative, these great Goddesses are none other than you.


Desire at Your Door: Ganesha

February 13, 20, 27

7p – 8.30p EST

While Ganesh is known by sight to almost every human on the planet, it is the adventurous and curious yogi who seeks to recognize why he’s called everything from the Giver of Gifts to the Lord of the Mob. We will cross the threshold of the great Elephant-headed yogi to meet and revel in his power as he invites us – with lightness and compassion – to savor the depth of our humanity.



Subversive Activities: Subrahmanya

March 12, 19, 26

7p – 8.30p EST

Hidden deep in south India lurks a little known character that takes his seat on the back of a peacock and commands a Celestial Army. A shaman Prince among the gods, Subrahmanya is the son of Shiva… his father’s only teacher. To align with his resonance is to manifest wonder and vibrancy into your life in ways that eclipse ordinary expectations.

There’s more!

Participants who register for all three sessions will receive the special gift of a recording of Eric’s Master Class on the topic of Saptatandava, the Seven Dances of Nataraja, recorded live in New York City at Laughing Lotus Yoga Center. The Saptatandava is a secret and profound vision of Nataraja, the Dancing Lord of Yoga, distinctive to his lineage of Rajanaka Tantra.



Eric Stoneberg’s studies of yoga have run deep for a very long time now. His is a voice filled with the empowerments of experience, serious practice, and the commitment to understanding the great traditions in all their complexity.  Eric brings Tantric teachings home. He has taken matters to heart and he can express himself with clarity, depth, and personal insight.  Time spent studying with Eric is that rarest of commodities: great company, worth the effort, and an experience of value that is well more than its cost.  He is a gift of Rajanaka Yoga’s legacy, a soul willing to bare himself to share values of good conversation. Here is the invitation: be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.

Douglas Brooks, founder of Srividyalaya

What I love most about Eric’s classes: he seamlessly weaves together myth, practicality and pure ritual, passing the teachings from his own deepest Heart, directly into ours.

Elena Brower, founder of Virayoga NYC

I have been studying Tantric philosophy with Eric Stoneberg for two years. The teachings and mantra meditation practices we are learning have opened many doors for me, bringing more richness, expansion and clarity into my life.  I am very grateful to have found a teacher like Eric.  He brings directness and authenticity to what could feel like out-of-reach, esoteric teachings.  I marvel at how he is able to preserve this lineage in all its beauty, power and mystery while his humor and ease keeps his students grounded and the teachings practical and approachable.

Anita K, New York City

Eric is an inspiring, creative and consummate storyteller. My life has been enriched and profoundly touched by these teachings, and I am so grateful to Eric for these transforming gifts.

Maria K, New York City

Gonzo the Great

After attending the Jim Henson exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image this Fall and then seeing their comeback film with my 4 year old  last week, I am in a muppety frame of mind. Jim Henson and his colleagues created a kula of characters whose zaniness is so whack-a-doodle-good. I’ve always loved them. I’m in the throes of putting together my own remote Rajanaka Yoga telecourse for early 2012. (STAY TUNED!) And this is just the inspiration I needed as I was taking myself a little bit too seriously. Can’t wait to share my offering with the world. But before I do, I must get some inflatable undies.


Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? Tra la la la laah.

Several of my close students have been asking me for a while now to lead them into some of the teachings and practices of Hanuman. It’s been two years since I’ve been teaching these weekly tantric philosophy and meditation classes and frankly I’ve avoided this character. He’s slippery. A shapeshifter. Just when I sort of think I grasp his essence it washes away again. He’s an easy enough character to get with in very simple terms, or even just devotionally. But my years of study have showed me that there’s way more there with this monkey than appears at first glance. So I’ve been hunkering down with Hanuman. Pouring myself into his teachings and stories and practices as I winnow my notebooks filled with weeks of Hanuman studies in the company of my favorite teacher Douglas Brooks.

My lineage of Rajanaka Yoga has a particular favorite Hanuman named Panchamukha Anjaneya. This 5 Faced Son of Anjaneya is quite something because unlike so many deities with more than 1 head, these faces are all different. He’s a shapeshifter. I’ve really been enjoying getting to know these faces more over the past weeks and I look forward to sharing them at Virayoga starting this Thursday.

I’ve also been embracing my inner shape shifter. Or just bringing him to the surface. Now of all the cool supernatural characters on True Blood, (please tell me you’re a fan!) my fave – my absolute fave – is Sam Merlotte. He’s sexy and charismatic and conflicted and dangerous. I know that describes all the characters on the show but Sam just has a special place in my heart and always has. And I’m starting to figure out why.

On Halloween I went out trick or treating with my son Jasper dressed up as the Big Bad Wolf in granny’s nightdress. (An inspired moment at Kmart with all costumes 50% off.) I think it was the first time I’ve ever worn a full mask on Halloween, one that totally concealed my “true identity” from the world.  I always wanted one of those drugstore costumes with the paper mask and plastic apron-y thing but my mom was always more into handcrafted Halloween attire. This costume was an absolute thrill.

We went out to Convent Avenue and Hamilton Terrace, legendary trick or treating blocks in Harlem. My wife had a red cape and looked gorgeous as ever. Jasper was a dear little mummy. And chose to go sans mask. Too scary. Next year we’ll try to do a full family ensemble. The night was crisp this year. Even so, there were hundreds of kids and so many of the townhouses were done up full tilt. Trick or treating in NYC is such a wild experience, even on a Monday evening. In general New Yorkers are way more generous than I remember from my suburbanite childhood. Jasper gets fistfuls of candy at every house, not just one snack size Twix. There’s an authentic generosity that goes with NYC on Halloween, and it’s not just the candy. You can really let your freak flag fly here. Anything goes. More than ever. And you can fill a whole pillowcase in just a few blocks. But I digress…

What was most interesting to me was the ways in which I was RECEIVED in full mask. Many adults literally did not even see me. Literally. Their kids had to point me out when they were right on top of me. What kind of person doesn’t see a 6 foot wolf standing in front of them? (In yoga terms we call just such a person Pashu, or a cow. One who chews his cud without looking much into the world around him.) There were a lot of these! Or maybe some people just aren’t willing to see a big bad wolf? We only see what we’re prepared to see after all.

Then there were the grownups who saw me  – and avoided me. Better to not make contact with a threat. There were a couple of small toddlers who I made cry. That was kinda fun, kinda sad. And there were more than a few 3 year old superheroes who were ready to do battle, one little Spiderman in particular could’ve totally taken me down.

A number of teenage boys asked me if I ate the 3 pigs yet – wrong story. But perhaps THAT wolf story resonates in male consciousness more powerfully. I’m sure it does actually. The 3 Little Pigs was once told to me once by a male gym teacher who wanted to program us with a sense of industry and hard work (the good pig) over laziness and play (the bad pigs who got eaten.)

And perhaps most interesting were the tween girls who hung on me, “Hey Big Bad Wolf, can I take a picture with you?”  Or the mother who said, “Can you sneak into my bedroom tonight?” Or, “My, my what broad shoulders you have. The better to embrace me with?” I haven’t had so much flirtatious attention directed my way in years. Maybe ever. There was a 13 year old girl dressed as a Little Red – perhaps a bit too sexy for her age – who told me she had prayed she would encounter me on the street that evening. She and her girlfriend took a dozen photos in various coy poses while I stood with my head cocked jauntily to one side.

Wearing a mask is the invitation to be received by the world in new terms, in ways that expand us and invite us to know more of ourselves. In many models of yoga, masks or guises are the problem with our humanity. “We need to get to the truth beneath all that.” In my lineage, the truth of our humanity only knows itself through its various guises. Instead of taking them off, yoga is the opportunity to create them. Better. No wonder I love Sam Merlotte. Hanuman, with his 5 different faces, is a role model for this kind of creativity. He is willing to leap to those rare places in ourselves where our identity becomes pliable. Are you willing to make that leap? If you are, it could very well look something like this:

Harvest Moon

This morning after working with several private clients I took a gorgeous walk along the Hudson River in Hamilton Heights. The riverbank this morning, like most weekday mornings uptown, was sparsely  populated. I did see several sets of discrete witches making offerings to the water – and then I remembered that tonight must be the Harvest Moon. God she’s gorgeous tonight. Have you looked at the moon yet?

My Facebook Wall is a veritible smorgasbord of discontent the past few days. Occupy Wall Street has me and so many others very deeply considering all of the many, many things that are wrong in our world. That’s why when I saw the witches this morning I took a breath of relief and had sit by the river and began to write down all the things that are so GOOD in my world. The things I want to harvest as nourishment for my future. The seeds I want to pull out and save for re-planting.

At the top of my list was my meditation practice. As the Shiva Sutra says, “The world’s of yoga are astonishing.” Nothing has been more astonishing to me than the worlds that have opened up for me as I’ve turned my attention inward over the years. My first proper meditation instruction came during a college course about the Religions of India. It was an early morning class and my attendance was spotty and I did a meditation workshop for bonus points. What a boon that professor gave me. I’ve had so many brilliant teachers over the years – another set reflections to harvest tonight.

When I picked up my son from school today I offered to start teaching meditation to his class. I was nervous. Would Ms Familia (every child’s first teacher should be named so well) think I was a freak? But no, I was received with so much enthusiasm and love. I don’t have the slightest idea what this is gonna look like – whenever I invite Jasper to close his eyes and have a “grace break” with me on the daybed he often says, “When I close my eyes there’s just too much color and music in there!” I think little kids are first taught to meditate with their eye open for just this reason. I’ll find out soon. And I’m excited to enter the worlds of meditation with brand new beginner’s eyes. Here’s a script I found for kids that I think would be valuable practice for all human walking on our planet to start cultivating. Thank you, thank you, thank you to the beautiful folks at Learning Meditation for making this resource available to us. And may this new seed become visionary nourishment.

The Rainbow Connection

On Sept 24, 2011 I swam 10k down the Hudson River

to raise funds for Million Trees NYC.

It’s not too late to make a contribution by clicking right here

The city of Cusco in Peru is decked out in rainbow flags, so much so that upon our arrival we joked that it looks like an over the top gay pride extravaganza. Turns out that the Peruvians consider the rainbow one of their most important totems and every day is a rainbow celebration. This rainbow totem has become very dear to me too, especially as it saved my ass during an epic 10k swim down the Hudson River last weekend. More on that in a bit.

On one of our first day trips from our homebase of Pisac in the Sacred Valley our teachers brought us to Wallkai Willka, a sacred waterfall whose name means “The Rainbow Waterfall.” It was a dramatic drive through the Sacred Valley and and then up and over the serpentine Andean ridge. During this drive we saw what was basically an Incan travel plaza. The long distance runners paused there for fresh water – and also to deposit their fatigue into an enormous stone called a Wakka. Yeah, I think we should put some giant Wakkas in strategic places all over Manhattan. A place for us to deposit our grumpy exhaustion sounds like a most excellent idea.

After a nice picnic lunch and about half a dozen cups of coca tea, we made our way up to the waterfall. Our teachers told us that this particular waterfall had called them there as a place from which to explore the source energy of the mountains nearby. The water flowing down holds the wisdom from the surrounding glacial mountaintops. And in the celestial tradition, mountain peaks are like accupuncture points on the human body. Except these points connect to the greater body of the universe – and to distant star systems and supernatural worlds in other galaxies. Let’s just say their worldview is REALLY expansive. This particular place had given them quite a charge – for days after their discovery of it they couldn’t sleep – and it took them some time to understand how to hold the vibrant energy of the place. They talked about this place as a generative spot for creativity as well as spiritual cleansing. They described the earth – Pachamama – as an infinitely creative power that holds us and gives us life just like our own mother. And that this spot was a perfect place to initiate ourselves more deeply into the inherent creativity of the Andean Cosmology. A place of birth. Interestingly, after visiting this waterfall and connecting to its energy, at least two women in our group who hadn’t had their period in many years started to menstruate.

We cleansed our hands and faces in the icy cold waters of the falls and those in our group who already carried a mesa, or a medicine bag of sacred stones called cuyas, ritually cleansed that as well. We meditated next to the falls for what seemed like hours but was probably about 45 minutes. The misty wind off the edge of the falls was so freakin’ cold as it dove into the folds of my wool garments and scraped against my nerves. I think it was here that we learned one should turn inward to meditate with an open mouth, breathing through both the mouth and nose simultaneously. That was so different than anything I’d learned in the yogic context it was a challenge at first. Plus as a kid my dad used to tell me “Close your mouth! No one likes a mouth breather, makes ya look dumb!” Probably in the Indian landscape it’s generally best not to breathe the fecal air of the temple through one’s mouth, whereas the Peruvian vibe is like so CLEAN it’s practically stamped USDA Organic. Sitting there with a slack jaw and and open mouth seemed to create a deeper opening inside me. Like my loose jaw opened something subtle low in my gut. During a lot of this meditation I kept my eyes open and as I stared at the black, wet rock behind the waterfall I could see the stones shapeshifting into faces and jaguars and birds and all kinds of wonderous forms. The animistic totems of the Andean Cosmology spun before me like a kid who turns clouds into animals and other shapes. Trippin!

We were called out of this meditation and brought into a circle with the rest of our group. At some point we did another hug ritual as I described in one of my last posts, embracing every member in our group. Our group was becoming really cohesive by this point and all the ritual embraces worked to fuel the love we were starting to have for the Andean Cosmology. Then we sat on the earth again for more open-eyed meditation and were given the instruction to look up at the horizon, where the jagged mountains met the sky. Something curious happened to me and I figured out why this waterfall was called the Rainbow Falls. As I looked at the place where the earth met the sky, the entire sky started to fill with an intricate matrix of rainbows. Hundreds and thousands of interconnected rainbows weaving through the sky then touching the earth then creating a complex web of light between every object in front of me, including all the members of our group. Oh my god. And I’m not even on drugs. Breathless, I started singing along with Kermit the Frog in my own mind as I recognized profoundly that the whole world really IS a rainbow connection for the lovers, the dreamers and me. This vision lasted for just a few minutes but made an indelible impression of my heart, mind and body.

Last weekend I participated in America’s largest open water swim. A 10k race down the Hudson River organized by NYCSwim. I trained for it by just swimming, like a whole lot, during August and September. I wanted to do this swim for the same reason we went to Wallkai Willka, to connect literally and spiritually to the source energy that flows from the north towards NYC through the Hudson River Valley. I thought it’d also take my urban shaman profile up a notch in ways I couldn’t yet imagine.  Since coming home from Peru I’ve also been more intrigued to connect on a subtle level to my ancestors. And I know that the Swedes and Norweigans who are my lineage must’ve been masters of the water. As I jumped into that 67 degree Hudson in my black and gold Speedo (another nod to my childhood roots of the 3 Rivers of Pittsburgh, Pa) I was like holy shit, I’m never gonna finish this. I’m going to die. Today.

Then I just swam and swam and warmed up and I felt amazing. At times during my swim I felt more powerful and more free than I’ve ever experienced. And then I reached Sputen Duyvil, the southernmost section of Riverdale where the island of Manhattan comes to a head in Inwood. “The Devil’s Whirlpool.” Suddenly the water became very, very cold again and I became aware of a powerful cross-current. I started gagging. Hard. Pausing to tread water I lifted my head up and couldn’t see the next marker, nor could I see another damn swimmer. No helpful guardian kayakers anywhere nearby. And that police rescue boat was really, really, REALLY far away. Gagging and coughing like a maniac I realized that this could easily be the end of me. Here I am, floating along all by myself, gagging and wheezing. I told myself this must be part of the cleansing process, don’t freak out, just find your breath. As I regained composure the sun came out and several hawks flew right over my head. Close. A gift of strength. Keep going. As I swam again I started to see in the brown salty water ahead of me the same scene I saw at the Rainbow Waterfall in Peru. A matrix of color – spinning and crescenting and interlacing in front of me. Just a momentary flash of fear, “oh god I’m about to have a seizure.” But no, I knew it was another gift from the Andes. A reminder that this swim is giving birth to something new in me, a courage and conviction I didn’t know I had before. At the same time, Akhilandeshwari’s root mantra entered my mind and breath and body like that goddess herself was screaming her power into every cell in my body.

The whole swim took me 2 hours, 10 minutes and 51 seconds. That’s a long fucking time to swim continuously. Not only did I have a potent connection to my Andean experience, but the whole swim was an epic practice of mantra. I’ve been steadily collecting and initiating the powers of the gods through meditation for more than 10 years, learning most of them through the heart of my tantric lineage as elucidated by Douglas Brooks. As I swam, I invited these old friends to come to me. I tried not to initiate them myself but rather listen for them, receive them as they wanted to come. It was surprising at times who showed up. Baby Ganapati, the first and most simple practice I ever learned, brought me so much joy, laughter even, as I swam. The practice of mantra is said to give us access to non-linear time, eternal time. That 2 hour swim felt like 20 minutes. And also like 2 days. I’m still remembering little moments of it all these days later. To swim the river like this is to experience the full spectrum life’s essential flavors. I highly recommend it. So who’s in with me next Fall?

We are all great rivers flowing to their end

Swirling inside us is the silt of ages and creatures and lands

and rain that has fallen for millions of years. 

All this makes us cloudy with mud

Unable to see ourselves.

As we reach for clarity and the open sky 

A voice keeps saying the same thing:

Come now and be blessed. 


Hafiz (1325-1389)

Crocodile Love : Makara Sammelena

The first day of our studies in Peru this past summer our group visited the workplace and healing center (Casa de los Apus) of our primary teacher Adolfo near his home in Cusco. Cusco is situated at a little over 11,000 feet and some in our group were having a challenging time acclimatizing. Me, I kinda felt like I was subtly rolling on MDMA those first couple days. A not so unpleasant pulsation of lightheadedness that was also pretty euphoric. Cusco is a very hilly city. On a flat map your hotel might only be a kilometer from a nearby attraction you wanna visit. But the process of getting there might require quite a breathless trek up and down a steep grade.

When we showed up to Casa de los Apus on the outskirts of town, it was an epic climb up several hundred stairs. No railing. And then we all had to pee. That was another couple hundred feet up to a lean-to structure with a hole cut in the middle for a squat. The views of Cusco were breathtaking and so I wasn’t bothered to much by our bathroom situation. (Though that breathless gasp for air upon enetring this lean-to after the climb was one I’ll never forget.) Cusco is a city that was built by the Incas in the shape of a jaguar. Seriously. The teeth of that jaguar are a cool zig-zagging fortress of  Incan construction you can still visit called Sacsayhuaman. The name Cusco means navel, and it was the belly button of the Inca Empire. Today it is the main center of tourism in Peru.

On that first day of study we learned so many fundamental teachings that would carry us through our week together. We learned a ceremony called HALPAI, sharing coca leaves for harmony and connection with others. Our teachers told us that the thing we all came to Peru looking for was the one thing we could not buy because it wasn’t ever for sale : Love. Love, they said, opens all doors in the Peruvian Cosmology. Never easy to find, love they said, must be cultivated and learned.

In our ritual coca leaf exchange we literally got a demonstration from our teachers in the art of the hug. Most of us I think learn affection by example from our families as we grow up and I had certainly never had a “hug demo” before. My own family was pretty affectionate and I always thought I knew how to give and receive an excellent embrace. Two of our teachers, Climaco and Adolfo, showed us the art of the brotherly (or sisterly) embrace. It was profoundly moving. As one who teaches a yoga style that’s particularly touchy-feely – where hugs are passed as freely as handshakes are in some business circles – I realized that most of those embraces barely skim the surface of connection. In the Peruvian Cosmology, among ones clan, the hug is never superficial. Its purpose is to transmit and create power. Hug your fellow journeyers, the told us, with the intention to connect to all of your heart’s desires as well as all of the elemental forces of nature. That’s a tall order, but one our group practiced and became more comfortable with as our studies progressed.

“Sincerity,” Adolfo told us, “is the 1st principle of the Andean Cosmology.” To speak what you genuinely feel or believe, without shame, is the first step to opening “fountains of power and light” within you. Since coming home from Peru I’ve been training for a 10K open water swim down the Hudson River. There have been moments along the way when I’ve thought I was crazy to try such a thing. Though I was a swimmer in high school and probably swam 10 times that distance every week I could barely complete 20 laps when I first started up again. I went to the river several times and shared my doubts. I meditated next to the Hudson and expressed my fears. Out loud. Every time I did this I leaped forward exponentially in my progress on the next swim. Even the elite guards at my fave summer spot, High Bridge Pool (apparently only the best city guards get placed there because it’s the deepest pool in Manhattan) were impressed. And I was proud of my advancement. Speaking my doubt to a source of power as profound as the Hudson River, empowered me to complete my qualifying swim last week. 3 miles without stopping in a pool. That was 98 laps in a 50 meter pool. Maybe not for Michael Phelps but for me, EPIC. Took me an hour and a half.

Speaking my fear, confronting it rather than ignoring it, was huge. I also got big juice for that qualifying swim from the heart of my Indian tradition. During Hurricane Irene I happened upon a mythical creature I had always assumed was a crocodile. The Makara. Makarasana usually has been translated to me as “crocodile pose.” I never questioned it or explored further. I don’t know how I chanced upon the Makara during the hurricane, but I was thrilled to learn that this mythical creature replaces my own astrological sign of Capricorn in the Indian calendar. I always thought I was the earthiest of earth signs as a Cap. But no. The Makara is a sea monster! Often with the body of a croc, the nose of an elephant, the tail of a peacock and the feet of a tiger or jaguar. Wo. What a sammelena. Sammelena is a word that describes combinatory mixing, often of deities in the realm of mantra meditation practice. Sammelena is a visionary way of describing a world that’s all mixed up, where different pieces comingle to create something more than the sum of their parts.

The makara combines the animistic elements of all of my most favorite deities. Akhiandeshwari’s crocodile, Ganapati’s elephant, Subrahmanya’s peacock, Vyagarapada’s tiger feet – and a little Peruvian jaguar from Cusco flavor thrown in to the mix. In addition to sincerity, a foundational belief in the Andean Cosmology is that in order to plug in to the power or healing you crave, all you have to do is believe that you are worthy, and that you CAN plug in. The morning of my qualifying swim I asked the makara to embody as me, to give me the strength and forbearance through an epic swim. It worked. I swam that day whirling a potent combination of mantras dedicated to my favorite deities and that 90 minute straight swim passed in a flash. Well, maybe not a flash. But it as a great swim.   I am so excited – and scared – for the September 24 swim I’ll make on the Hudson. But I will ask the Hudson River to embrace me lovingly like I pacticed in Peru. And I will also call upon the great Makara to give me strength.

I’m completing this swim to benefit Million Trees NYC. They plant trees on the streets of New York, particuarly in places where there aren’t many or where there are high rates of childhood asthma. If love is something we must cultivate and learn to do better, then this is one way I’m expressing my love for the City. I always considered myself a tree-hugger. But like a lot of my previous hugs, I think I was a pretty superficial one. It takes time and patience to cultivate a city, to cultivate a tree. On Sept 24 I’ll swim for a profound connection to the waters near NYC which flow with subtle wisdom drawn down from the great northern forests. And I’ll swim for the trees. And I’ll swim for all of the monsters of the Sea. We are a combination of everything we’ve already been, and all that we long to become. I’d love for you to support me here.

Peruvian Cosmology meets The Big Apple

In July I spent two weeks in Peru leading a yoga & shamanism adventure with my dear friend on the spiritual path, Kay Dougherty. This was Kay’s 6th trip to South America to study and work with her mentors who are Celestial Shamans of the Andes. Most folks hear “Peruvian Shamans” and immediately conjure an image of botanical wizards from the Amazon with their healing plants like Ayahuasca and San Pedro. (If you have no idea what I’m talking about check out this brilliant travelogue by Kira Salak.) The Celestial Shamans are another breed within the Andean Cosmology and tend to source their medicine not from herbs and plants – though they do that too – but more from supernatural mountain spirits and distant stars. Intrigued?

More and more spiritual seekers in North America are looking south for experiential wisdom from the indigenous cultures of Central and South America. The Dalai Lama’s recent visit to Peru cemented this trend. Many of us who study yoga have long looked to the esoteric traditions of India to inform our spiritual vision. While I continue to study and practice and teach the Goddess lineages of Hindu tantra, I also see deep curiousity in the faces of my students every time I teach a yoga class and bring up the subject of Peruvian Shamanism.  Kay and I were blessed to take 21 visionaries with us on this sojourn, and we met countless more on our travels. Folks are looking for more than an exotic vacation, they are looking for the wisdom & power & a profound spiritual connection to the planet we call home. The Celestial Shamans with whom we lived and worked over the course of our travels gave us just that. I’m sure that I’ll be processing and downloading the experience for many months to come. This summer I haven’t been blogging much because frankly, I’ve been meditating more than ever in my free time. My experience with the Shamans blew open worlds of beauty inside me that I’m just starting to understand. I’m ready to emerge now and write down some of my thoughts from Peru.

Today more than any other day in recent memory, the Earth is reminding us just how powerful she is. The entire City of New York is going on lockdown as Hurricane Irene approaches. Tomorrow at 12p the MTA will suspend all rail, bus and subway lines. Shit. Close down the city that never sleeps? This is monumental. Some of my FB friends are inviting me to 60 hour underground dance parties at fortified locales deep in Brooklyn for the weekend. In another life, without a kid… hell yeah. Have fun, ya’ll. I’ll be thinking of you fondly. There’s a swell of adventure in the air. And also dread. With the big anniversary of 9/11 fast approaching and the earthquake 3 days ago that sent my Harlem townhouse apartment rocking and rolling like a giant ship at sea, folks here are anxious. Many of my most advanced students fell out of tree pose this week, laughing uneasily at their own lack of ease in what they consider an easy balancing pose.

For all the power that flows through this vibrant city, nothing and no one is more powerful than the ground we stand on. Though we’ve civilized this land by enshrouding it in cement, the land below our sidewalks holds the memory of what it once was – the most biodiverse nook on the eastern seaboard. Manhattan island is situated in a pleasant vortex in which the flora and fauna from the great northern as well as southern forests converged. It was once a brilliantly diverse natural environment.

I’m not necessarily bemoaning the loss of that. I love culture. I love urban life. And I like to think that that myriad diversity, though thoroughly built up, still exists here. It lives not in the landscape of trees and plants but in the radical diversity of the people who call NYC their home. Of COURSE the diversity of humanity would make a home on the most biologically diverse launchpad in the New World. Consciousness always aligns with itself. Just last night I met a young fellow from Los Angeles, the new boyfriend of a dear old friend, who had never visited New York before. When I  asked him his impression he said, “The coolest thing about New York is how you’re all in it together. In LA I avoid certain neighborhoods because the people there are different, not just racially or economically mind you, but just different. Here you might see someone totally different than you and engage them in a meaningful converation. I’ve done just that a few times today already.” [glee in his eyes as he registers that reflection] “It’s exhilirating! It’s just really, really beautiful.”

I couldn’t agree more. Anytime you crack your own shell and receive a shared experience with someone who’s so totally different than you – well, it just feels good. It feels good because, as I would say to my yoga students, it’s the source of you really are. And we humans have a profound desire to connect with our source energy. Your life after all is the fruit of loveplay. I’m not gonna go explain the birds and the bees now, I’m sure you get it. Desire isn’t just something you have, it’s literally who you are at the source of your life. And you know what’s crazy? A lot popular yoga traditions run around spouting a fundamental belief that desire is the cause of suffering, that desire is a big old problem, a “bad” thing you need to solve or get past. I wouldn’t go there if I were you. Desire is the thing that’s going to heal you and heal this planet. Let’s all get better at our desires, not expunge them.

The Shamans I studied with in Peru said that in order to heal yourself, the first thing you need is a desire to do so. Add to that a belief that you CAN heal yourself and you’re well on your way. The brand of Shamanism I studied is “Celestial” – that is, unlike their Amazonian counterparts who source “Botanical” wisdom from the healing plants of the soil, these guys draw source wisdom from a mountain cosmology that plugs into other planets in distant parts of the Universe. Trippy? Hell yeah. Add to that, all of these guys (and ladies) BECOME powerful Shamans by getting struck by lightning. That’s right. They don’t necessarily go LOOKING to get struck by lighning, but when it happens they get a download of information into their subtle bodies that can takes years to unpack and learn from. This is like their initiation. And it takes the whole Indian notion of Shaktipat, the power of the Universe that “crashes” into you and steers you toward higher level of consciousness, to a whole new level. A literal one. These Shamans also liked to tell us that we deliberately CHOSE planet Earth as our home on which to embody because she is such a wonderful place to evolve and heal. These people were the absolute most grounded and earthy beings I’ve ever known, each of them living very close to their agrarian roots, and not nearly as Nu-Agey as I may be making them out to be here.

Every morning they encouraged us to cultivate a subtle connection with that day’s particular landscape – by simply asking. Out loud. Arms outstreched. It went like this: “Good Morning, Pachamama. [Mother Earth] It is I, your son, Eric Andrew Stoneberg. Please receive me. Good Morning, Father Sun. It is I, your son, Eric Andrew Stoneberg. Please receive me. Good morning local spirits of this land. It is I, your brother, Eric Andrew Stoneberg. Please receive me.” I felt kind of hokey the first day, but then I realized that the landscapes actually WERE receiving me, opening me to deeper spaces in meditation than I’d ever experienced – teaching me about my fears and foibles, embracing me so spaciously that some of my old thought patterns seemed to dissolve as if by magic. I’ve kept up this daily practice here in NYC, and though it’s hard to quantify the result in tangible day to day results, the practice – asking to be received – daily – full name – has shifted my feeling for the local landscape. I love it more than ever.

Here’s my meditation journal entry from Aug 10, 2011 : Today I saw NYC and the counties north of the City from like a Google Earth, bird’s eye perspective. Very cool. Felt like I was flying above the Earth! Amazing feeling. Saw all of the reservoirs that supply our drinking water. Then suddenly it was like the first layer of the earth got lifted off and I got to see all the intricate underground water systems that flow south toward NYC. Millions of branching currents, twisting and winding south. The Hudson River. A voice (a woman’s?) entered my mind and explained the magnitude & beauty & complexity & scope of these systems, more to awe and inspire me I think than anything. It seemed pretty sophisticated, her explanation, but I don’t remember any of it. It was like a total download from my cuya. [more on cuyas, sacred stones from Peru, in another post] Then my bird’s eye view honed in on my immediate neighborhood in Sugar Hill. The voice said, “There’s great stress on all of these water systems right now, especially near your own home.” Bang. Eyes opened. Fuck. I hate when meditations end so abruptly.

Two days later, on Aug 12, there was a massive water main break 2 blocks south of me. The original Croton reservoir line runs straight down St Nicholas Ave (my street) from the Bronx and further up, the Catskills, and it basically blew up and made a HUGE sinkhole. Folks south of me have been without gas pretty much ever since. Several blocks are closed down and the holes in the streets are EPIC. I’ve peered down them. Ancient infrastructure. Literally hundreds of men have been working on it round the clock. Including lots of engineers in suits and ties and grave faces. Tents and catering for the workers (I stole an apple) and men with blueprints shaking their heads. Then the earthquake this week. That day I asked a worker how it was going. “Between me and you bro? This town’s held together by one giant fucking bandaid and it’s about to fuckin’ tear. But fuck. Where the fuck else you gonna live, bro? Right? Tea Party’s ruining this country. At least we’re safe from those fuckin’ loonies here. Look at us, bud. Two white guys in Harlem. Safer here than fuckin’ Tea Party Land. Fuck that.” He smiled a big Irish grin and I laughed my ass off (the Queens accent killed me). And I thrilled in a very human connection with someone whose life is so very different than mine.

“Good evening, Mother Earth. It is I, your son, Eric Andrew Stoneberg. Please receive me. Please protect my family from the approaching storm.” The greatest healer on this planet is the planet herself. All we have to do is desire to love her more and better. And she will continue to give us everything we are, and everything we need.

Irene is a name derived from the Greek word εἰρήνη (eiréné) meaning “peace.”