June 7, 2011

Dharma Brat, Zen Archery & Flower Arranging.

 How a Buddhist who Hates Yoga Became the Ambassador for the Hanuman Festival.

“Off the Cushion, Into the World.”

~ An interview with Waylon Lewis, Ambassador for
Hanuman Festival: June 16th-19.

“Boulder is one of the Manhattans of the mindful life, the Grand Central Station of the mindful life: so it’s fantastic that all of these people are not going to just touch in for a couple of hours, but be here for four days.”  – Waylon Lewis

If you’d like to participate in a meditation lecture with the ambassador himself, he’ll be teaching on Friday, June 17 at 1:00 p.m. in the ballroom of the St. Julien hotel, and that evening he’ll be emceeing the White Swan Records 20th Anniversary concert. On Saturday, see his Walk the Talk Show live at 2:00 p.m. in the Air Studio. elephant journal will have a booth set up at the festival all weekend, so be sure to stop by!

San Francisco, New York City, Stratton, Miami, Ojai, Telluride, Atlanta: these are just a few of the cities who have hosted big name yoga festivals over the years.

Boulder is not on that list. Not until now. With the inaugural Hanuman Festival taking place this month, I had a humbling opportunity to sit down with the festival’s Ambassador, and founder of Elephant Journal, everyone’s favorite online magazine for living the mindful life, Waylon Lewis.

Twenty minutes late and arriving on his bike in a blue button down and jeans, Waylon and I arranged to meet at Trident Café on historic Pearl Street in the heart of downtown Boulder.

Ironically, five years ago when I first visited Boulder on a trip to do some consulting work, it was in this yupster, bohemian hangout that I first heard the name: Waylon Lewis. I met a local at the Shambhala Center and after we got our meditation on, and he learned that I had never visited this part of the world before he took me to Lucille’s (country cooking) for breakfast (both a “must see” if you are visiting Boulder for the first time) and then to Trident.  I noticed copies of Elephant Journal (in print…you know, the olden days) available there and I mentioned that I was an avid reader of the edgy, no nonsense spiritual mag that my yoga teacher and I poured over whenever we could get our hands on a copy.  He told me that that particular coffee shop was a main hangout for Waylon and EJ gatherings.  I tried to make myself look extra “conscious” so if he did happen to pop by, I could have him sign a copy of my magazine.  I didn’t run into him that day, but fast forward to the present moment – here I am interviewing the guy behind the “print to online” cyber hangout for yogis, seekers, artists, activists, teachers and those interested in lighting up their brain at any moment of the day; and the one who has been waiting, waiting all this time for a yoga festival to show up in his town.  Well Waylon…when it rains, it pours because there is a big one headed your way.

After some chit chat and one round of coffee sitting out front on the street with Waylon greeting every other person  (he is a bit of a staple in Boulder) he goes in for another dose of the good stuff and we head out back to his favorite interview spot.  It is a picturesque Boulder morning – can’t-help-but-feel-good blue skies, birds chirping sweetly and the 65 degree temperature combined with the bright, happy sunshine – you can’t help but know exactly why this is one of Top 10 places in to live in US.

After some small talk about what his schedule is exactly for the festival (aside from Seane Corne, Waylon might just be one of the most sought after beings in the yoga world, and he lets me know that life is a little “extra” busy these days), we settle in to get our #Showmeyourhanuman Festival interview on.

Jessica Durivage: So, how did you become the “Ambassador” for the Hanuman Festival. Seems like a pretty big honor.

Waylon Lewis: I am a big fan of Hanuman existing. For years and years we (Elephant Journal) have been involved with and supporting music festivals, yoga conferences, yoga festivals and yet there has never been one in Boulder. That combined with music, it’s a natural fit.  Since we are based in Boulder, we really wanted to be involved.

After meeting the (Hanuman) team and the founders and hearing their vision—it really is a vision—it is inspired by their practice and by the community here. At the same time, it is not just about Boulder in any way.  This is a national/international event. I was brought up here in Boulder in the Buddhist community. My parents’ teacher was Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, founder of Naropa University and the Shambala Center. I was raised as a so-called “Dharma Brat” and have been trained in meditation, flower arranging, Zen archery and all kinds of interesting things.

JD: At the festival, are you going to be doing your talk show or leading any classes?

WL: I will be doing my Walk the Talk Show and interviewing Seane Corne and hopefully MC Yogi will come on and do a song…and interviewing someone else – TBD, and also teaching a meditation class.  [Elephant] will also have a booth, which will be fun. People can hang out and chill out and have a good time.  For us it’s like Christmas for four days of celebrating community. It will be a fruitional time for us.

JD: Are you going to be taking some classes during the festival?  Whose classes are you most looking forward to taking?

*ding* (sound of recorder going on on iPhone)

JD: Are you recording this, too?

WL: Yeah, I am.  I just started.  We record almost everything we do now.  Its useful.  It’s like social media 101, when you start realizing almost anything you do you should start taking notes or record it, because life—our life is the only thing we know much about. So it’s sort of the most interesting thing, in a paradoxical way.  It is more interesting than me spouting off opinions about Sarah Palin, because you know, plenty of people have opinions about her, already.

So what was the question?

JD: Classes…

WL: I am definitely a little bit spoiled in that I have already taken classes with all of the teachers I want to, at least once.  I will cherry pick someone I have been missing.  I’m not that good. I’m okay. I’m not that ambitious.  For me it just slows down my work-a-day mind and opens up my body a lot which a really need, from just working on the computer and drinking a ton of coffee, its sort of like anti-yoga. I really need yoga in a very practical way.

JD: There’s a lot of people who can probably relate to that.  You know, for many of us, we are stuck to our computers all day. Four day festivals are a great way to get away from that.  How do you find openness in your daily life?  Do you meditate or practice yoga regularly?  How do you stay connected to your practice?

WL: I do yoga once a week like clockwork. Every morning I’ll do a little calisthenics that includes some yoga.

JD: (miming the Head – Shoulders – Knees and Toes dance)

WL: (laughing) Yes, it’s sort of like that.  Growing up, I was in all of these Buddhist summer camps so there are these calisthenics practices left over from that, and I mix in a little Sun Salutations. Proper yoga, I do once a week.

JD: Where do you practice?

WL: At The Yoga Workshop

JD: Who do you practice with?

WL: I love everyone, but I study with Billy (Goldman) mostly.  Billy is super funny and really loves yoga. He really cares about every student in the class. I think a lot of guys who practice yoga, not “yoga guys” who we see at the conferences, but normal “non-yoga” guys have a lot of resistance.  Yoga is actually like the hardest thing we’ve done. Yoga is incredibly humbling and difficult compared with basketball, climbing or whatever we (non-yoga guys) enjoy. Billy’s humor really gets me through that.

JD: Who are you going to practice with at the festival?  I’m really excited to practice with Anand Mehortora and follow his classes.

WL: (Pulling up Hanuman class schedule on his Mac) There is a lot of good teachers.  One of my favorite teachers on the earth, who I would recommend everybody take a class with, is Jeanie Manchester. She is a family woman so she doesn’t really travel that much. She is a Boulder treasure.  She is one of the four teachers who I practiced with for many years [at The Yoga Workshop], so I will definitely take a class with her. Patrick Harrington from Denver is an amazing, really kind, fun guy.  Ashlee Dunn is amazing, love her. Brandon (Cox), I have never had the pleasure but he has been a good ally and friend over the years. He’s a Corepower Titan. Elizabeth Williamson, she does partner yoga, she’s great.  Valerie (D’Ambrosio), I’ve never had the pleasure, which is a shame since we are in the same town.  Kia Miller is unbelievable; a lot of people probably know her. Simon Park, I’ve never had the pleasure but we’ve hung out. He’s an awesome guy. Amy (Ippoliti), for anyone who doesn’t know her is amazing.  Kathryn (Budig), I know a little bit but I haven’t taken a class with her.  So, I’ll probably go to Jeanie and Seane.  I always go to Seane because she always makes fun of me and it’s sort of humiliating in a family sort of way. Then, I’ll probably take one with Simon and Kathryn, because I’ve never taken classes with them.  Tough to choose!

JD: It is!

WL: So many good teachers.

JD: So, what about the music aspect of the festival? Have you seen MC Yogi perform before?

WL: I’ve never seen MC Yogi perform before.  There are a lot of great musicians there and I will want to check out as many as I can. MC Yogi, Donna De Lory, the 20th anniverary of White Swan Records on Friday the 17th. Going to be great.

JD: The theme or motto for the event is “raise the vibration, share the vibration” (or, if you happen to have your twitter account handy #raisethevibration #sharethevibration).

WL: When you meet with Yoshi, Valerie and Cara they have a very grounded vision.  Raise the vibration is inspiring, and that is a “yoga” way of putting something, a “Boulder” way of putting something.

But where I am inspired by Hanuman is that it is accessible and that it’ll magnetize and draw in people who maybe don’t care about being in a yoga scene or knowing any yoga terms but really just want to open up their heart and open up their mind.  We have a tendency in any community to groove on our own language and “raise the vibration” may not connect with beer drinking, football lovin’ guys, you know?

Elephant’s mission is to spread the good word about living a mindful life beyond the choir and to the masses. The people who are most responsible for climate change are not the people who are already bicycling, they are not the people who are already trying to turn off their lights and not use AC.  The people who are most responsible for climate change are the people who don’t know why they should care yet.  I am inspired that Hanuman will reach a lot of people who didn’t know they cared about yoga, or didn’t know they cared about meditation.

JD: There is a contest about the Hanuman pose at the festival. Festival goers can submit a pic of themselves and their friends in their most “Epic and Funky” Hanuman Pose (#showmeyourhanuman is the offical hash tag for the contest).  The winner will be announced on Saturday night’s event and given a free pass to come to the festival next year. What would you want people to think about as they go off into Boulder to do splits everywhere?

WL: Richard Freeman at the Yoga Workshop always says “if you’re bad at yoga, it is actually easier for you to get to that edge where you are fully working and fully present and fully doing yoga, than if you are flexible where you can get away with a lot of things because you are very flexible.”  I would love to see the winning Hanuman post be someone who can’t even do it properly but who is trying really hard but also trying within their limits and just enjoying the moment. I would love to see that.

Yoga isn’t a sport. Yoga isn’t a competition. Yoga is, fundamentally as Patanjali said, about stilling the waves of the mind, so it’s almost counter to any sense of trying to achieve anything. There is a lot of parts of yoga that I hate and resent because it’s hard and it gets into my laziness and blows it up, ya know? I have plenty of that laziness and resistance and it really challenges me. Why I love yoga is that by the end of the class, the hamster wheel that is my discursive, ambitious, work-a-day mind has stopped spinning and I’m in the present moment, even if that only lasts for 20 minutes or an hour.

JD: There is going to be an organization at the festival called Global Glue Project, have you heard of them?

WL: Yes! I did an interview for them. They wanted me to interview couples that have been together forever, they want everyone to do that (post and share interviews with couples who doing what it takes to stick together). I interviewed my grandma. My grandpa just passed away last year. That interview was inspired by GGP, and was about what you look for in a relationship that is going to be long term and not based on projection, attraction, infatuation and stuff that feels like love – but you know, how do you get through 60 years of figuring out who is going to do the dishes or someone snoring.

JD: What was the takeaway from the interview you did with your Grandma?

WL: Wow, that is a good question.  I am pretty thick headed and forget all I know about relationships the second I walk away from my grandma.  She listed 12 qualities you should have in your relationship…you can read it on Elephant Journal (wink, wink), just search “Grandma Carol.”

JD: (laughing)

WL: There is not any one quality that is enough.  I guess the key, not from what she said, but from me being around those two, was that they really, fundamentally loved each other. They would be grumpy and pick on one another, but everyday like clockwork they would have moments of loving one another and hugging one another.  They would have so much love and tenderness.  I guess, if you are not having those moments of checking in frequently, you are not going to make it through all the craziness. My takeaways would be humor and tenderness.

JD: At the festival there is going to be two acro yogis who will perform a “Love Stunt” and vow to stay in contact for 24 hours.

WL: Jason and Chelsea…

JD: Are you going to interview them for the Walk the Talk Show while they are connected?

WL: I am a big fan of both of them, I have known them for many years and would love to interview them for the show.  You know the stunt is about challenging two people to glue themselves to one another and go through the claustrophobia and all that. But, that is not what a relationship is all about. A relationship is about offering one another space.  There is the Jerry Maguire, “You complete me”, traditional Christian idea of marriage two flames join to make one flame.

JD: Yeah, that idea is really embedded in our society.

WL: For me, fundamentally—I always come back to the Buddhist teachings—Buddhism says that any confusion is like clouds covering up a blue sky. Buddha says we are all blue sky.  It is about being present and recognizing what is happening and acting appropriately without causing unnecessary suffering.  We already all know how to do an “appropriate” relationship. We just have to have the space to see through all those clouds and see how we are reacting, and listen to that.  We should follow our intuition, and our intuition probably won’t be that we need to complete each other or we need to create one big flame from our two flames.

In the Buddhist tradition they say the ideal relationship is about two people walking in the same direction, not holding hands but being teammates with no sense of clingyness.  There is space between the two people and the space is where the longing and the love and the attraction and the passion come from.  And, yet you are not facing (toward) each other. It is really about helping one another achieve what the other wants to achieve in life and friendship with a little romance in there, a little spark.

JD: Great advice.  Do you follow it?

WL: No.

JD: Moving on then. Flash Mob! I say that like I know what it is.

WL: We have sponsored a couple meditation flash mobs lately.

JD: What is a Flash Mob?

WL: Well you can check out what a Flash Mob is on elephantjournal.com (ha ha ha). It is a group of people and they will just be milling around some public space and then at some hidden signal, like someone will put their sunglasses on and everyone will bust out meditating or doing Michael Jackson’s Thiller.

JD: So it’s like “Improv Anywhere?”

WL: Yes! It is just like that.

JD: That is super cool.

WL: Yeah, it’s super fun and it’s a way to bring whatever it is that you are bringing into a public space.  Even if it is just mediation, all of a sudden the public is witnessing this unique thing in their space. It blows peoples’ minds, and is really fun.

JD: Well, there is going to be a Flash Mob on Saturday on Pearl Street.

WL: Doing what? Yoga postures?

JD: We don’t know… (you will have to wait and see).

WL: Let me guess. It will be the Hanuman pose of something.  People, just do your best.

JD: (laugh) I love it. I am an improv comedian so I love this stuff.

WL: Wow, that’s impressive.

JD: I’m stoked. So, I met with Yoshi a couple of months ago and he told me that this whole festival is kind of like a coming out for Elephant, he was really proud of all the amazing work you have done.  For you, do you feel like (EJ) has reached a sort of tipping point and this is a coming out party?

WL: We have been around for nine years.  I feel like we have come out, a lot.  We went online three years ago and EJ has finally stabilized, we have nearly 600,000 unique readers a month now.  Our talk show is starting back up, Walk the Talk Show, and I feel like this is a fruitional time for us and especially having this amazing festival in our hometown that is really about, what we are all about. It will definitely be a really great vibe, to use their slogan. They will be “raising my vibe” all four days of the festival. We are so excited.

The caliber of people they have invited like Seane Corn, who is one of my all time heroes, and honored to say a friend. In the last nine years, I have interviewed her here twice. Kathryn Budig has never been here, most of these teachers I have never seen here.  Boulder is one of the Manhattans of the mindful life, it is the Grand Central Station of the mindful life, so it is fantastic that all of these people are not going to just touch in for a couple of hours, but really be here for four days.

JD: Are there any EJ writers that you have never met are looking forward to meeting here in Boulder?

WJ: There are definitely a couple – but our web designer Colin, who I met through Twitter and have never met in three dimensions, ever, even though he is probably, as much as anyone besides this sucker right here, “yours truly” responsible for our success, is coming and sleeping on my couch for the three days.  He is Scottish and he has threatened to buy rounds drinks for anyone who is interested.  It will fun and amazing to hang out with him.

JD: I have one last question.  Again, you are the Ambassador for the Hanuman Festival. If you could do anything (wearing your crown or your cape) or speak out for anything, what would it be? What would you do?

WL: Great question.  There is this video called Dark Side of the Lens and it’s about just scraping a living—but you are living a life worth scraping.

I am one of the lucky and unlucky ones who get to do exactly what I am good at, and I am not good at very many things. I love community and I love spreading the word about things that have been helpful to me and to my friends and to people who didn’t know about it. For me being a part of Hanuman and doing my Walk the Talk Show, interviewing Seane Corn, MC Yogi, and doing the benefit at the Boulder Theater, teaching mediation not as an esoteric or spiritual thing but as a something relevant to peoples lives is what it is all about.  There is so much suffering in our daily lives, for all of us, and also a lot of magic and wonderfulness. Meditation can really help us all be ourselves and be happier and be of benefit to others.  I think, honestly my involvement with Hanuman is exactly what I wish I could do in the greater world.  I am getting to live my dream or live my path.

What do I see as the biggest challenges in the world?  I think what we are doing to food right now is, from a genetically modified standpoint, very dangerous.  One hundred years ago there were a hundred varieties of tomato in your local market and now there are two or three.  We are really changing food for all time into mono-cultures. Food, which is the foundation for all human life, and other species, is becoming very vulnerable to disease and collapse and that concerns me a lot. It is irrevocable, unlike almost all challenges we have in life.

Seane Corn talks about taking yoga off the mat and into the world. We need to share our tremendous good fortune in having yoga to practice and having food on our plate and having some love in our life. We need to share that with the world. The world that is turning the foundation of all life into something  to patent and make a profit off of.  For future generations we need to take care of our planet and our own lives and not just worry about our boyfriend or girlfriend or husband or wife or job.  Not just our “own” world, but the greater world.  If we can’t do that whose going to do it? I love seeing the yoga community living a mindful life off the mat. In the Buddhist community we say “off the cushion.”

Into the world we go.  See you all at Hanuman Festival June 16th-19th in Boulder.

BTW – for Elephants Top Picks in Boulder, must sees, must eats, must hikes, must yoga studios and more (like shopping) check this.

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