Karuna: Hi, I’m Karuna, and I’m the founder and Executive Director of Mind Oasis and with me here today on Meditation, Happy Hour: Tea, Talk, Truth with Karuna is my friend and teacher Michael Hewett. Michael, how are you?
Michael: I’m fantastic.Hi.
Karuna: So, Michael, where in the world are you these days?
Michael: I live in a Elizaville, which is in upstate New York, just to the right of the Hudson and about 100 miles from the city. We live in a healing arts sanctuary, it’s beautiful here. We have retreat cabins that we’re building for people who want to come and practice and stay. The house is filled with musical instruments and all kinds of magical items to support people in their path. And I think this space will be fully activated within this year.
Karuna: Very cool. Can you give us a little bit of your background around the yogic healing arts and such?
Michael: Sure. I got into yoga back in 1996, as a way of dealing with the stress of being an artist in the city. I’m a musician for 35 years and I wasn’t looking to teach this stuff. I was just fascinated by it, and having so many powerful awakening experiences, less stress, more positivity, more curiosity, more energy, all these benefits, that my teachers invited me to to teach shortly after getting into practice. And, at that point, all of my work as a creative musician collided with putting my hands on bodies in yoga class and adjustments and I had a synesthetic experience where contact and my ability to listen as a musician fused together, and then I was completely addicted after that. Ever since then, I’ve studied meditation, the subtle body, which is this frontier between our animal body and our consciousness, Tantra for over 14 years, the philosophy and I think my my superpower is taking all of this stuff, which could be like really out there and making it very applicable and understandable.
Karuna: Yeah, so, Michael, our history is around, I think it would have been 2012 or 2013, I encountered you teaching yoga asana during my own teacher training at Dharma Yoga down in Austin, Texas, and we became fast friends. And then I think it was that fall that I joined you with Sarva Academy, which is now Vessel Academy.
Karuna: Can you talk a little bit about Vessel and what you teach or what you share through your Academy?
Michael: Absolutely, the Academy was founded back in 2009 at the request of the community that I was teaching daily yoga classes to in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. At the time, I would sit down, we would have a minute of silence together to arrive, and then I would introduce an idea or Dharma. Dharma is like a wisdom that you share with a group. And my talks would be a bit more robust than the other teachers. And the students said, hey, would you please take what you’re studying and codify it; put it into a curriculum that we can engage with as practitioners rather than having a teacher training where you have to go and learn a bunch of stuff to guide others. We just want to learn how to guide ourselves. So I created it. And in 2010, I launched the first training and have done that every year, except for last year because I needed a break, a sabbatical. And the spirit of Vessel is to be a a worthy vessel for presence, and all the magic that happens when we are present, meaning I…here, I’ll use my new favorite cup.
Karuna: For people listening and Michael has a Yoda cup.
Michael: Yeah, with a big brass spoon sticking straight up out of his his crown. So in a in a cup, there’s three qualities to make it a worthy vessel to make it a worthy tool. One is it has its lid off. So there’s a quality of open mindedness. We’re not we don’t feel like, hey, I know everything. I don’t need to listen. It is it open mindedness? Second, there’s no hole in the base, meaning there’s retention. So when we hear an idea, we can hold it. It’s not like we’re having such attention problems that we can’t recall what we heard and think about it. The third quality is that it’s clean on the inside so that whatever you pour in isn’t getting muddied or stained by something else. So there’s a healthy motivation to listen. So these qualities describe a good student, you know, which is everybod hopefully. YOu know, everyone is open minded and is paying attention so that we can have a more intimate connection with what reality is dishing up around this. Another quality of vessel is it’s a vehicle that brings you from where you are to where you want to be, like a spaceship or a ship on the ocean or a car. It’s called the vessel, right? And so it takes us from one place to another. So here we’re looking at healing, growth and evolution as our path. The third aspect of the vessel is like our blood vessels; I call it the jungle galaxy, our inner cellular community that swarms together to make our heart and make our lungs, our liver, bones. Most of that cellular community is non-human, which is mind blowing. Bacteria colonies, and, you know, an ecosystem that is not at all how we think of ourselves, but we heavily depend upon them to be healthy, at least in an animal way. Within each of those blood vessels, within each one of those cells is our DNA inside the nuclei. So this is our spiral staircase to ancestry and perhaps even Star Nation families, where much of our DNA, we don’t know where it came from or what it is or what its function is. So we are living libraries of mystery. So when we braid all these things together, this is what the training empowers, how do we understand who we are, who we’re not and what we’re here to do?
Karuna: I love it, so one of the reasons that Mind Oasis is so excited to partner with you and with Vessel for this upcoming yoga immersion is because it’s not a teacher training. It is for anyone who wants to understand themselves and their world through a yogic and Buddhist lens and to go more deeply into their practice. So, from your perspective as the the teacher who’s going to guide us in our asana and in our philosophy around yoga and especially around the astral anatomy of our subtle body, can you just share with us what lights you up? And maybe when you think of this, these vessels, like what kind of students do you think would enjoy their time with you and with me and others?
Michael: Yes. What lights me up is curiosity. And literally, I love to use that phrase “lights me up”, like what brings more lightness to my form and also more luminosity into my mind, into my energy, right? We say what turns me on? What are we passionate about? And it’s been music forever. And that as a vibratory language, I think probably the most powerful language that I know of, the ability to connect to others with these incredible ideas that are electrifying and empowering to use more, you know, nervous system, electrical vocabulary, so that people become more curious and more connected to why they choose to do what they do, how they choose, how they do what they do, and giving it full attention so they can enter into flow states. And that, by definition, makes us an instrument of the universe, of the divine. The shamans would say we become lot like a hollow bone. For the universe to work through us in the most pure, empowered, effective way. And part of what we agreed upon, you and I, for our taglines is that we need more Jedi out there, not more teachers. There’s enough teachers. We need people to be a light unto themselves and in all of their respective fields, bring these principles of love, compassion, skillful means, wisdom, immediacy, like part of being a self-empowered person is understanding we don’t have a lot of time. Our heartbeat, we don’t know if it will continue beating for another beat. So there’s death meditation in our awareness, which is inseparable from pricelessness, our time is priceless. So what are we giving our time to? What is the quality of our presence around the people that we surround ourselves with? So in my mind, there’s no downside to this training at all, it’s an enhancing training and it also requires bravery of looking inward to see where these capacities have been arrested for a while or blocked. And then having the support of this community to believe in ourselves and reflect that beautiful, awakened presence in a group that’s studying alongside one another.
Karuna: One of the things that I talk about in the Mind Oasis Meditation Immersion, where we really are learning more about the base of Shamatha practice, single pointed awareness and attention to the object and things like that is that we use those practices to amplify and align our life. And it sounds like the yoga immersion will be offering something similar in the sense that we can do this self exploration in a supportive community. It’s been interesting for me listening to you speak, Michael, I’ve been really struggling personally over the past year, probably in part because of I don’t know, some isolation and stuff from the pandemic, right?
Karuna: And it reminded me that when we have a mirror, someone to listen and to teach and then to have that reflection and vibe going back and forth, how useful it can be no matter how many years you’ve been studying something. So I guess my question to you is, do you feel like you have to be an advanced practitioner to join this immersion with you? Do you feel it’s for anyone? What are your thoughts on that?
Michael: Great question. It’s for the curious. And the beautiful thing about how the training is structured is the choose your own adventure aspect to it. For someone who want to do the whole thing, yeah, they can do the whole thing and have an integrated series of diverse practices, meaning body, heart, mind, spirit, that are going to support their presence and curiosity because they’re not just going about it one way. On the other side, there is the choose your own adventure aspect was, oh, if I only want to take the physical part, if I really want to dive into the energetic part. I can do that, too, based on my curiosity. And that’s really how this works, is no one knows what’s going to turn us on and activate us better than us. We know what we’re curious about, what we’re interested in, and that power is the force that we put into a guide or a teacher who then yields and listens, hopefully, and goes, yeah, you’ve empowered me to share something. A teaching, a practice, an idea. And so in this interactive virtual environment, we’re not limited by time space, we can come together through our cameras. The courses are also recorded. And, for me personally, as a guide, I have a lot of conversation and open inquiry time during the lessons so that I can know that I’m offering what’s most relevant, what’s most exciting, what’s most useful based on where the group is at. And then on top of it, this is all subjective science. This is not religion. This is not blind faith. This is again, no one has access to your mind but you. So does this stuff work to bring down the stress and tension and raise up the feeling of inspiration and curiosity and energy? Only each practitioner knows that, so it is a subjective science of self inquiry that these teachings, I really don’t know too many other technologies that are so effective in the self empowerment process. Last thing I say is when we have groups of people coming together to do this, it’s like you can break one pencil very easily, but you can’t break 10. And something happens when beings cluster together to form something just like our hearts are not made, could not be made of one cell, we’re made of a swarm of cells. And in that heart, my lungs and my liver, everything else is swarming together to make an animal call to Michael. And so why would we think there would be a ceiling on that? What happens when groups of practitioners get together? What arises based upon that, to change the world?
Karuna: I know from my experience with you going on retreats and and being a student in a Vessel that you will end up with the group, we will end up with a group that is made up from people of all different walks of life, which is really interesting. So sometimes the yogic path might appear as if everyone’s, you know, similarly practicing physical asana, similarly practicing the philosophical aspects or in Buddhism that we’re practicing similar meditations. But the truth of the matter is that whether you’re a teacher, a nurse, in the local government, if you are a yoga teacher, etc., my experience is that these practices are boundless, they’re designed to be able to come into any situation and to be at your fingertips, whether you are going along in your doldrum life, day to day, or if there is an emergency that arises the ability to calm, to connect with the breath, to be able to be present to whatever is necessary etc.So I kind of feel like it’s a training for life. What do you have any thoughts on that?
Michael: A thousand percent Yes. Some of the people who have worked with me are entrepreneurs, one whose company just is going public within the next few weeks. He started his company by himself in the Starbucks. And now it’s a multibillion dollar endeavor. And what it takes to do that is so intense. He’s also a family man and we’ve worked together for over 20 years now and he said time and time again that if it weren’t for these ideas and techniques he’s not sure he would have had the successes or the the fortitude to cross these finish lines. And now be like completely financially independent, creating other companies and thriving as a human and a business person. He didn’t sell his soul to create his business. And so what is that worth? This morning, I worked with an anesthesiologist who also is a leader. He’s the leader inside the E.R. So if he loses his cool, his team sees that. So he must keep it together and he’s understanding how to do that. You stay on task and at the same time, you understand what awareness is. The global quality of mind is vigilant and sphere-like in relationship to the single pointedness of what he needs to do at that moment, right, being intentional, purposeful, task oriented. Being able to do that and transmit that to his team is invaluable. I work with commodities traders who are working in vertical markets now, in volatile markets now. I’m able to show them how to use their intuition, their electrical intelligence to pull the trigger or not on a trade. And have increasing wins because they don’t get stuck in analysis paralysis, even as that part of the mind that crunches the data is extremely important, it’s not good for everything. So showing people how, I like to call it, they have alloyed intelligences, powerful physical intelligence, emotional intelligence, cognitive intelligence, static intelligence, social intelligence, the ability to behold and just take everything in. As we develop these we’re getting back to the word sarva. Sarva is a Sanskrit word that means all. And it’s an invitation to cultivate all of these different curiosities, powers, intelligence is that a human contains so that we are more multifaceted, less likely to get in ruts because we’re not going about the same groove over and over. I see this all the time, a physical practitioner loves physical asana. And guess what, they get hurt and then they’re bereft. I can do my yoga anymore and it’s like, no, no, no, you can’t do a split for a few months. It doesn’t mean your yoga, your passion, your love, your deep flow state has been cut off from all the other aspects in your life. Who said that? That’s another aspect of our partnership that I’m so bloody proud of, is that we do not frame yoga as a bunch of postures on a piece of plastic. That’s asana. To think that yoga is asana is like thinking the rainbow is blue. Entry point to flow state is absolutely infinite. It’s constantly changing and everybody’s a snowflake. Everybody’s unique and different and deserves to be seen as such. I’m passionate.
Karuna: I’m cracking up because I must say once a day, wow, everybody really is a snowflake. Maybe I need to embrace it a little bit more because you just were like everybody’s a snowflake. I usually say it in a much different tone.
Michael: Well, don’t forget, avalanches depend upon snowflakes. If we’re going to create a sea change, there’s no such thing as a small effort.
Karuna: Mm hmm. You talked a little bit about flow state, and I’m going to guess there are people who don’t exactly know what that means. What does flow state mean to you as a musician, as a yogi?
Michael: It means I’m out of my own way. That feeling of being at a red light where you got your foot on the brake and lets say you had your foot on the gas too, what would that do to the car? You would be stopped, but lurching, grinding your gears, and if you’re driving, you’re on the autobahn, you’re going a hundred and twenty miles an hour. If you drive with a foot on the brake and the gas is going to mess you up there too. There is no flow, there can be flow in being paused as much as there can be a flow in being in motion. They say that 90 percent of the work of yoga, regardless of if you’re training your mind or training your body or training your nervous system, 90 percent of that work is waste removal. Seeing what’s been in the way like a dam in a river, like I didn’t realize I didn’t have any flow because there was this thing in the way; a limiting belief, an ancestral trauma, an injury that I didn’t know how to ask for help to alleviate. So having the compassion for oneself to get familiar with where we have arrested development. Understand that we are not nouns. We are verbal. We are made of vibration at every level. There’s no part of us that is holding still. That’s an illusion, that’s like a fantasy delusion of culture. We are verbal beings. So. Getting familiar with what’s been in the way and then learning to open ourselves to release what’s been the way to flow to new pathways that we can approach our life, our perception of reality differently than before. This is the rebirth process. This is like the baptism in each moment where what the ego used to believe that maybe worked for us when we were eight years old, it might be outdated now that we’re 40. And so from a place of dignity, a place of curiosity, a place of staying on the field, like with our uniform on engaging, charging, being active, being our best, making actions as if they were our last. This is what flow state empowers. And if it doesn’t look like someone’s in downdog, fine, who cares. What good is that really going to do anybody to make a freakin handstand? It has some benefits, but very limited to someone who is actively in their best self out of their own way in an emergency room or helping their kid on the bus. You know, this is where our desire to create Jedi, to create empowered present miraculous beings in the world is critical, and that’s available to every form of person, whether they’re in a female body an androgenous body, a male body, a Republican mind, a Democrat mind, this doesn’t care about any of those qualities or characteristics. This is transcending all time, all culture, all belief systems. But I think as a bomb against the… what’s the word batshit crazy extremism that I’m seeing in the world on the left and the right, this cuts through all that. Yoga is about the center through the merging of the sides, the merging of the left and the right, the merging of the male and the feminine. And people feel better. They say, you know, the only people that cause trouble are people who are in pain.
Karuna: Well, I think I’m going to sign up for the immersion based on what we just talked about, because I feel better than I’ve felt in about I don’t know how many months, just hearing you remind me of everything I know. And isn’t that the beauty of yoga and meditation, is that it’s just a reminder. We’ve just forgotten who we are and why we’re here. And we need these mirrors to remind us, to remind us why we’re here and what matters.
Michael: Yes, and the loving community that are created through these and you know this because you’re a community leader and you’ve seen the change of over 20 plus years, of how a more conscious, compassionate community supports itself as a whole and the individuals.
Karuna: Yeah, and we need that feedback loop. It’s really easy to forget to follow other people in the…um….my way or the highway attitude. It’s very easy to slip back. It’s much easier to be the Jedi when you’re reminded by the community. There’s a reason that there are three pillars to Buddhism, right? The Buddha, the Dharma and the sangha. And the sangha, Tic Nhat Hanh is known for saying that he feels the the sangha is the new Buddha.Right, because we we need each other. Going back to even talking about the vessels in your body and how our body is such a wonderful demonstration of our own interdependence that’s happening at all times. You have to have the spiritual, the physical and the the heart. You know, we need all of it. We need all the different facets to be able to show up in potent ways for ourselves and for others.
Michael: One other thing I’m very excited about, and I saw you post on was supporting the love of learning. And to me, that’s a very simple way of describing flow state. The love of learning, the love of being curious, we don’t have to know everything. We don’t have to be perfect. Just the love of doing things in a new way, without that feeling like a lot of self-judgment in the way heals the psyche so much. And for those of us who believe that humanity’s healing, growth and evolution is essential for the survival of our species on this planet, like the planet’s going to be OK, the planet’s tough. Our little fragile, biosphere is another matter, particularly humans. And we could see, just like a small change in the covid virus is not the first one. A small change in it rocks us. We’re fragile. So the ability to adapt and love learning and know that that’s never ending, we never are not a student, even when we were awakened. And we share this and that principle, I think, is is so healing for not only adults, their children and everyone that comes into the field of someone who is on this path.
Karuna: I’m in um…I’ve been seeing a therapist recently, and she was talking a bit about ancestral trauma and as I’ve engaged and the writing process, talking about kind of the years of my life between 8, 10 and 12, where I had sort of three whammies happen. My parents got a divorce, I started menstruating, and we moved. We moved from the country to the city, which was exciting. But there’s a lot of implications to all of that.And one of the things that we’ve been talking about is the sorts of traumas that can be passed down in utero from your family and when you think about your genetic makeup, you know, it isn’t like you’re just this singular Michael or Karuna. You are a part of your parents and your parent’s parents. That’s how family works. And so I think another possibility for those of us who are interested in doing healing work for ourselves and for the larger community is how do we tap into these really potent practices to help us be present enough and courageous enough, and to your point, I like the word, curious enough, to see what else is here that isn’t our own stuff, but the stuff of others that we have the power not just to heal; that sounds very serious, but what about to play with? What about, again, using your word to get curious with? So that’s what kind of gets me all excited about working with you again and and about the yoga immersion. So thank you so much, Michael, for leading the helm here. It’s going to be absolutely rad. I feel like I have to ask if you would play just a little something on one of your beautiful guitars behind you. This is such a Michael Hewitt….um… it would feel remiss if we don’t get to hear at least a bar or two from you, Michael.
Michael: So this is an original piece. (playing)
Karuna: As you were playing, I was remembering how your music has been with me at the top of Kilimanjaro, to the border of Nepal and Tibet, your music was with me on my wedding day. Your music has been such a touchstone for my life, Michael. Thank you for sharing your flow state with us.
Michael: Thank you, Karuna. I’m very honored and beyond excited to spin the wheel of the Dharma together again.
Karuna: It’s going to be awesome, so thanks for joining me on Meditation, Happy Hour. You can find out all about the yoga immersion and more about Michael and the other aspects of this Jedi training that we’re offering at MindOasis.org. Michael Hewett, always a blessing. Thank you.
Michael: Thank you. Have a beautiful day.
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