This post is via Bhakti Fest. We’re honored to work with them—their mission is to spread love, compassion, and the spirit of community. We’re down with that. ~ ed.
“Belief is not enough. You have to experience.” ~ Sri Dharma Mittra
It’s no secret that Joshua Tree, CA has long been an inspiration and a destination for dreamers, renegades, hippies, and spiritual seekers from all walks of life.
Tucked away in the high desert, just 30 minutes from Palm Springs, they come here for silence, endless, magical landscapes, unique rock formations, star filled night skies and, of course, the quirky Joshua Trees and desert vibe.
With over 2.8 million visitors per year, this place has become a mecca for artists, musicians, hipsters, visionaries, radicals, and yogis alike. It’s also become something of a hub for alternative music events and festivals, most of which come from out of town, but a few of which have now come to call this dusty paradise home.
One of those is Bhakti Fest and its founder, Sridhar Silberfein.
Bhakti Fest is celebrating its 10 year anniversary this September (12th -17th) and features world famous yoga teachers, Kirtan (chanting) and Conscious Music stars, wisdom workshops, lectures, sound baths, vegan food, conscious vendors, an eco-friendly marketplace, and healing sanctuary.
It’s an immersive, six-day, yoga, sacred music, and meditation festival that embraces ancient and modern wisdom, traditional and non-traditional spiritual practices. Its core mission is simple:
“To provide a platform where people can gather as a heart-centric community focused in love, devotion, and conscious living.”
Sridhar has an incredible 50-plus-year-long history as one of the most instrumental figures in cultivating Eastern spirituality and yoga in the West through his study and association with many leading spiritual teachers.
In 1969, at the height of the Vietnam War, Sridhar was asked by the producers of the now legendary Woodstock music festival to incite a spiritual invocation to a crowd of half a million people. That scene is even in the director’s cut of the 1970 feature film on the seminal festival.
In the film, just after Richie Havens gives his epic opening performance, Sridhar escorts Sri Swami Satchidananda onto the stage where he leads more than 500,000 attendees chanting “Hari Om” and “Ramaramarama.” At the end of their segment, Sridhar whispered to Sri Swami Satchidananda, “Swami, wouldn’t it be great to bring this amount of people together to chant the names of the divine?” Sri Swami Satchidananda smiled and said, “Yes, it would be great if you could do that…”
But Bhakti Fest wasn’t even an idea until a long time after that. In 2009, after moving to Joshua Tree, and exactly 40 years after that auspicious invocation at Woodstock, Sridhar finally realized his lifelong dream and gathered thousands to chant the names of the divine for the first ever Bhakti Fest.
The festival’s venue from the very beginning, The Joshua Tree Desert Retreat Center is the oldest and largest retreat center in the Western U.S., located on a sacred site complete with vortices, a walking labyrinth, fountains, and a swimming pool. Its founder, Edwin John Dingle, an English journalist turned mystic and spiritual teacher, originally purchased the land in the 1941 specifically for the high frequency, electromagnetic energy found in that area. The retreat center buildings were designed and built by legendary architect, Frank Lloyd Wright and later his son, Lloyd Wright, and specifically placed on existing Earth “ley lines,” lines of energy inside the planet that connect us to it.
Fifteen years later, Bhakti Fest offers a family-friendly spiritual festival, hosting the world’s most renowned yoga teachers, Kirtan and sacred music artists, workshop leaders, and spiritual sages.
Speaking of spiritual sages, this year’s special guest is none other than Deepak Chopra!
Deepak Chopra, M.D. is the co-founder of the Chopra Center for Wellbeing in Carlsbad, CA, the founder of the Chopra Foundation and a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation. He will be doing some events and workshops at this year’s Bhakti Fest as well as leading a global meditation from the main stage.
But his is not the only big name to grace the Bhakti Fest. The line up of presenters, teachers, and artists is positively star-studded, including Krishna Das, Jai Uttal, Shiva Rea, MC Yogi, Donna De Lory, Radnor & Lee, and more.
Known to many as “The Spiritual Woodstock of the Millennium,” the festival’s tagline is, “Be in the Bhav,” so I asked Sridhar, “What does being ‘in the Bhav’ mean exactly and how can I get there?!
“We’re in it right now!” he said. “It’s being in the moment. The Bhav is the moment—the ecstasy of the moment. What else is there? We spend so much time not in the moment, because we’re afraid. The mind is not set up to deal with the moment. The mind is set up to be jabbering all the time: this and that, here and there. It’s best to get back to the moment all day long. The moment is now. It’s always now. There is no past and no future…”
And how do we get there? “We get there using the breath. It’s all we really have.”
I’m down. I’d take a one-way ticket if I could, but this is much easier said than done. In our modern day of schedules, headlines, and connectivity, we can get nomophobia (fear of being without one’s mobile device) in a matter of minutes, which is why we need mantra. Remember? Sri Swami Satchidananda demonstrated the importance of mantra at Woodstock.
Mantra is a central part of the Bhakti experience.
It is a word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation. It can be spoken aloud, whispered or said silently.
One usually gets a mantra from a teacher or guru and some popular Sanskrit ones you may recognize are: Hare Krishna, Guru Om, Sat Nam and Om Namah Shivaya.
“You can also just pick one out for yourself, one that you resonate with like, “I am peace,” “I am love” or simply, “I am.”
Mantra quiets the mind and keeps it focused so we can still our thoughts and not think about our phones, social media, or the never-ending list of to-dos.
Mantras, which can also be chanted, have many health benefits. They increase immune function, lower blood pressure, and release negative thoughts from our minds. When negative thoughts quell, the mind relaxes, restoring mental well-being and evoking peaceful, positive thoughts. This is one of the main reasons people come (and keep coming) to Bhakti Fest.
“The six-day festival is an experiential immersion of music, yoga and bliss and most people don’t want to leave! They come here to get out of their lives and into the Bhav and they love it.”
A drug and alcohol free event, Bhakti Fest is dedicated to spreading love and enlightenment to the world and bringing people together from around the globe to practice yoga, chant and dance, and learn to raise consciousness. There are three music stages and over 15 yoga classes a day. Bhakti programs are accessible to all levels and “together we celebrate the ancient tradition of Bhakti, which also means love and love is all there is!”
The festival encourages people to get involved, and there are so many ways to participate or attend. They give ticket discounts to locals, seniors, active military and veterans, plus Sunday is free for any of our current and former servicemen and women. I salute that!
Families are welcome and children under the age of 13 attend free. There is something for everyone at Kid Land in Family Village and it’s a great way to get some quality, family bonding time. Choose from Yoga classes, art & crafts, workshops, sing-alongs, puppet shows, and remember there is a pool on the property so don’t forget the floaties.
Bhakti Fest would not be possible without the help of the extensive Seva team and work exchange opportunities are available. They also accept submissions from new performers, yoga teachers and artists as well, so visit Bhakti Fest website to get in touch.
Festival passes include everything, except accommodations and pre/post Festival Intensives. Intensives take place on Wednesday, September 12th and Monday, September 17th and require a separate ticket. Festival-goers can camp at the Retreat Center for a nominal fee or stay in any of the area’s hotels or Airbnb rentals.
Not up for Intensives after the main festival? Take a day or two to decompress in Joshua Tree National Park, one of three Mojave National Land Monuments in the area (Sand to Snow, Castle Mountains, and Mojave Trails) or visit one or all of the six Joshua Tree Gateway Communities; Joshua Tree, 29 Palms, Yucca Valley, Landers, Pioneer Town and Morongo Valley, all with their own unique events and interesting attractions, including restaurants, grocery stores, and accommodations. The California Welcome Center in Yucca Valley is also great resource for free information, trip planning ideas, maps, and souvenirs!
In parting, I asked Sridhar what he hopes festival goers take away from the Bhakti Fest experience:
“I hope they take away this love, compassion, and spirit of community and share it in their lives with family, friends, and loved ones around the world.”
Well, our world could really use a bit more of that right now.
See you in the Bhav!
Bhakti Fest | September 12-17, 2018 | Joshua Tree, CA
Bhakti Fest Events would not be possible without the support of generous sponsors. This year’s sponsors include Proud Source Water, Anu Alchemy, Banyan Botanicals, Brew Dr. Kombucha Tea, Buddha Teas, Desert Essence, Elephant Journal, Jaipar Avenue Chai, La Croix, Lesser Evil, Namaste Light, Sun Warrior, White Swan, and Yoga Alliance.
For press information, please contact Susan von Seggern at [email protected] or 213-840-0077