We are thrilled to be hosting the bhakti yoga and kirtan retreat “A Journey of Reconnection” with Kevin Tobar Pesántez and Doyal Gauranga this summer. We wanted to illuminate ourselves and find out more about their work. Here, Doyal shares some of his inspiring story.
What is Bhakti yoga?
The word Bhakti refers to devotional spiritual consciousness. It’s featured in sacred texts like the Bhagavad-gita as the highest stage of yoga and the true nature of the soul.
Bhakti-yoga relates to spiritual practices designed to bring you to devotional spiritual consciousness.
It’s a way of connecting the soul with its Divine source.
What is the role of kirtan? How did you discover it?
Kirtan is an opportunity to express our hearts in a devotional manner through music and mantra. It is a call-and-response process where we chant the names of the divine, connecting ourselves to a higher spiritual power. As both a meditation and a prayer, we can experience healing and transformation on a profound level. When we sing, we are calling out from the deepest place within. When we listen, we are inviting divinity into our hearts. Thus, by approaching kirtan with a mood of humble sincerity, we can unlock its deep potential. The mantras we chant are sacred callings for the divine to appear in our hearts and infuse us with love and compassion for others.
Can you tell us more about your journey and any significant personal transformations?
I personally discovered kirtan when I was 18 years old while attending college in California at U.C. Irvine. I had always been drawn to music my entire life, playing the guitar, banjo, harmonica and keyboard in high school. At a certain point, I began to see music as a means of spiritual expression, and I gradually developed a strong urge to discover myself spiritually and learn more about spiritual traditions around the world.
I then happened to cross baths with a Bhakti monk, when he was traveling through the area of my school. The idea of living a simple life dedicated to pure spiritual principles, completely captivated me. I decided to take a break from school and move into an ashram, where I became a monk and dove into a serious spiritual practice. It was there that I discovered kirtan, as it was interwoven into the fabric of our lives. Our morning routine of meditation, song and prayer started at 4:30am each day. I lived as a monk for 10 years, practicing Kirtan every day along the way. Since then, I have moved out of the monastery and am now married. I find tremendous joy in sharing kirtan with others, and I still practice myself every day.
How do you manage your spirituality and way of life within a busy, noisy world?
It’s not easy. It’s not necessarily a steady line either. There are ups and downs, peaks and valleys, and everything in between. The main thing is to not lose enthusiasm when we struggle and know that ultimately we are making progress if we stay committed to our principles and our practice, each little step at a time. Do what you can and celebrate the small victories. Sometimes a daily routine isn’t possible, so we need to them take time on weekends or even full retreats to regroups ourselves and charge our batteries.
How did you meet each other?
Kevin and I met at the Bhakti Center in New York. We would see each other frequently, but mostly in passing. We wound up in a community group together that met each week, over the course of a few months and discussed spiritual truth and how it intersects with our daily lives. But it wasn’t until we taught our first Kirtan training together in the Fall of 2018 that our friendship and personal connection really took off. Kevin also became a full time staff member of the Bhakti center, where I had also been working, and we served and continue to closely serve together. We have similar personalities that mesh well and enjoy hanging out as friends, teaching together, playing games, and most importantly, laughing.
How would someone know if the Journey of Reconnection retreat was for them?
I usually think that people know in their heart when something is right for them.
So I think people should pause and ask themselves if they’re in need of a space to reconnect, refocus and refresh in their life. Also, if anyone is looking to connect deeper to themselves and others, and has a love for yoga, Kirtan or would like to explore those things, this will be a great retreat for them.
What might be going on in their life?
Someone may be going through a challenging time and need support, or someone may be experiencing peace and joy and simply want to dive deeper into that. It is a open and welcoming retreat.
What kind of person would they be?
What are they seeking?
Connection, depth, self-discovery and rejuvenation
How do we transition from simply ‘seekers’ to a more defined feeling or contentment? Is that possible?
It’s definitely possible. What we have found is that in order to feel grounded in or spiritual values, we have to incorporate them into our life and connect with a community that lifts us to a higher standard of life and consciousness. We need some sort of spiritual practice that is firmly rooted, whether it be daily reflection or meditation. We may also need to make certain changes in our life in regards to health habits, the company we keep, and the hobbies we pursue.
“Transition doesn’t come without transformation. A change in how we feel comes from a change in how we live. That’s why we offer these retreats. To give people a chance to reflect, reset and refocus in a supportive environment. “
How do you feel we can manage continuous personal learning?
How do we ever feel like we are ‘done’ with certain challenges in our lives?
I don’t think we are ever “done” in life. Even when the hard part of certain challenges are over, we carry the lessons with us forever. I think that’s a good thing. We are continuously growing and shaping into a deeper more realized people, if we live consciously. Spiritual life is like any relationship: it can be hard and takes a lot of work, but as you invest over time, you start to feel the deep benefits of your commitment.
What motivates you to share your work through group work?
We learn well when supported by others. Fear is an inhibitor to learning, and often times we feel rejection, humiliation, etc. When we can create a sacred container for a group of people to support each other and learn together, it can be very dynamic and powerful.
How do you feel qualified to share your teaching with others?
More than feeling qualified, we feel very grateful to have the opportunity to grow alongside other people. We are on our own journey ourselves, and simply trying to encourage and facilitate others on their journey. Divine spirit is guiding each of us, and we’re just helpers along the way.
Why and how does a group environment support people in overcoming personal challenges and taking on big changes? As opposed to say, 1:1 sessions.
Both are needed. We need 1:1 time to go deep in our own reflection and group sessions to process. Groups sessions also give us the opportunity to hear from others and relate to their stories, which helps us not feel alone and encourages our own continued self exploration.
Why is the physical retreat environment important?
What’s going on the outside naturally effects what’s going on inside, and vice versa. Our physical environment can be crucial to facilitate our inner journeys. We can’t always control the outside environment, but retreats are an opportunity to put ourself in a physical environment conducive for spiritual growth.
Tips to reboot and reconnect in a busy, noisy world?
Keep space for quiet reflection.
How do you interpret “spiritual bypassing”?
People can use anything as a means of escape or avoiding personal issues, even the guise of spirituality. But that is obviously not true spiritual practice. It’s quite the opposite actually. Spiritual practice is to confront our own issues and discover who we really are. And that’s why we need strong, healthy community and supportive peers and guides to hold us accountable when we need it, because we all have our blind spots.
Who and what inspires you?
There’s a lot of people who inspire us. On person in particular though, is our spiritual teacher, Radhanath Swami. He inspires us to live our values and strive to serve others with humility and sincerity.