Michael Jaidev DeNicola
Michael Jaidev DeNicola is a certified teacher, Wilderness First Responder, and Leave No Trace instructor with ten years of experience teaching. He taught middle school math and science for two years in Los Angeles, led wilderness expeditions for three years in Alaska (Alaska Crossings, SAGA, Academic Travel) and taught yoga and outdoor education in various camps, including Khalsa Youth Camp.
Michael represented Sat Nam Foundation in Greece, where he performed Search and Rescue for Syrian refugees with international rescue teams. Currently, he is supporting Sat Nam Foundation’s non-profit work, leading the Service Exchange teams for Sat Nam Fest, and teaching Kundalini Yoga in Mexico.
While traveling and teaching yoga internationally, Michael has completed Kundalini Yoga trainings with Gurmukh, Harijiwan, Tej Kaur, Gurushabd, and Karta Singh. He is also certified to teach yoga through YogaEd. He has studied yoga for over 18 years and has been teaching for 10. Michael has also studied Tai Chi, Aikido, and Kalaripayattu for 8 years, including studying under Master Gu on Wudang Mountain, China
Michael’s dream is to synthesize all he has learned from 8 years of international travel and share this wealth of wisdom with our youth in experiential and creative ways.
Chat With A Teacher: Michael Jaidev DeNicola
Join Marji and Michael Jaidev DeNicola for a talk about connecting to the world, wilderness, and wonder!
- But the reality is that we're so busy all the time, I mean, they're so busy. Busy, busy, busy, whether it's driving somewhere, or going to class, hearing the bells, on their iPhone texting this person. I mean, it's nonstop. They barely have time to eat, so you sit a kid down, and you say, “Hey, we're going to breathe for like, seven minutes.” And they're like, “What do you mean? We're just going to breathe?” “We're going to try this mudra and see how it feels.” And at least my experience is, I've seen the immediate change. The immediate relief that comes over their face. When I – when I let them know, “Man, I'm not going to have you do anything. In fact, I'd rather you do nothing. Let go, and let it happen, let it be.” They’ve done a lot of research that when you take – I think when you take a kid – if you're going to take this kid out of a public school, and put them in like a Montessori school, or something where they choose what they do. Almost every kid will arrive to school, and sleep. Sleep, and they’ll sleep for weeks, because they're so deprived, they don’t have that nourishing moment to catch up. And so when we bring them these tools of meditation, and rejuvenation through breath work, or through movement, I truly do feel that they appreciate it.
- The reality is at the end of this Robert Bly story, or the Iron John story that you come to realize that this is something that the most successful cultures in all of human history that we know of have done with their kids is put them through some rite of passage, and we just don’t have that anymore. They – at least in the western world, we do not have that, and it's very rare for – I mean, some individual cases go through it. Myself, I went through my own rites at that, because I put myself through it, and I know that I did. But I became a man after I did that, and I know a lot of my buddies who are 30 years old, and they're still boys. And so this is another opportunity with Wild Awakening, and with programs like this is to let go of your child for 21 days, or however long the program is. And to trust that he will be okay, in the – in the bosom of Mother Earth with the guide, or many guides. And let them – let them fall a bit, let them – let them rise up like the phoenix. Let them go a boy, and come back a man, that kind of thing.
Marji: Hi, Michael. It's Marji, from Basmati. How are you?
Michael: Doing great thank you. Great to connect with you, Marji.
Marji: I know – it's so exciting, I just really love what you're doing.
Michael: Thank you.
Marji: Yeah. It's perfect. I can't believe that you are like, not only living it. But get to share that with so many young people. And what that gift is for them. So can you tell me a little bit about yourself, and how you got started in this?
Michael: Sure. So I grew up in Connecticut, and I had the great fortune of being outside all the time. Mother Nature was truly my out – besides my actual mother. Mother Nature was truly my best teacher. And I had the free range of my mom to go where I chose, and take my bike, or my dog into the forest, and the islands nearby. And that's just how I grew up, and I grew up really appreciating that stillness, and that silence that many of our children now are not receiving.
And I know that – I know that it’s really shaped my character, and it's really brought a deeper sense of peace into myself. And also a motivation to help, to serve, and to help keep not only this planet in a natural harmonious biosphere, you would call it. And these experiences were deeply engrained in me. I chose the path of a teacher when I went to college. I love working with children and being with kids. And didn’t really – coming out of high school at 17, and I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do. And so I thought teaching was quite a safe bet. When I graduated college, I was 21, I moved to L.A., and I had an excellent job – an excellent job teaching middle school math and science. And it was – I was your – I guess – I guess it was like your typical public school in the heart of L.A. And I really watched my students suffer, I watched them suffer, because they were trapped in a box all day. And I tried my best, I mean, I would have a great time with them, we would do yoga, and meditation every day, in math class. And we had a lot of laughs together, and lots of parties, and I took them on as many field trips as I could -- to the rose garden or the science center. And – but beyond that, I saw this – the lack of connection. Perhaps it was the lack of understanding what is our greater purpose. You're in the concrete jungle your whole life, and these were intercity kids, right, so I had quite – I had minority kids. And they – maybe they didn’t really see the purpose beyond what the gangs were offering, or what a typical nine-to-five job would offer you. So anyways, at the end of it, my two years teaching, I received a nice friendly pink slip in my mailbox from L.A. USC along with 2000 other teachings stating that they didn’t have enough money to pay us, and we could no longer work for them.
So after going through a big process of my principal freaking out, because she was losing her five best teachers, I decided that I was going to take some time off. And I had been on the grind my whole life, the American grind. And I left – I went down to – I got invited to go babysit in the Caribbean Island, and I went for it. And I ended up staying on St. John which is a nice protected island eight miles by two miles in the Caribbean Ocean, Virgin Island. It's 87%, or more, I'm not really sure the exact number, National Park. And so I spent my time hiking, teaching yoga, snorkeling, being with the elements, petting sharks, playing with the octopus, all the things that I had dreamed of doing for a long time. And I saw that there was a different way, there was a different way of – different possibility of living like, I didn’t need to be on the grind, I didn’t need to be in the box in the cubicle. And performed bringing – creating thrones, or children that were fit completely to the system. And it inspired me. I started reading a lot of alternative education, leaders of our time, and even older people like John Dewey who is really into experiential education, and very much inspired me to create a program that brought kids back into their true essence, and back into the rhythm of themselves. And you connect it not only to the academic level, but connect it to the real life making it relevant, and making the child motivated intrinsically to learn, and to succeed, and to help, and to share, be a good human.
And I left the Caribbean, and I went on my journey, and I traveled through India, and different – I would like to call them “ancient” countries. Learning lots of things like yoga, and martial arts, and in between these times, I would go up to Alaska where I had fallen in love with when I was 21 -- I had the opportunity to go up there, and work for a few weeks. And I decided to go back there, and I ended up getting hooked up with a job where I took kids out in the woods, basically teenagers out in the woods, and I would teach them to build trails. And it was through the AmeriCorps, and it was a fantastic provision for six months where I lived in nature, and really got to connect with the kids, nature, and bring it all together. And Alaska kept calling me through my travels, and through different things that I was doing, I ended up back there again to lead Wilderness Therapy Expeditions. So I would – I work for a company called Alaska Crossings, and we would go out for 49 days with the kids at a time, in complete wilderness. There would be three guides, and nine children – or nine teenagers, and we'd be completely isolated for 49 days paddling through the – canoeing to the island of Alaska coming across big grizzly bears, and all this stuff. And I watched this program – this was for children, or teenagers that some of them had the option, they went to jail, or you come to this program. Some had the option, some were sent there by their parents. But typically, it was a child, an Alaskan resident who didn’t have access to other therapy, and so they're sent with us. So according to some it is considered sort of like the most – to refrain from using stronger words…It's really the most intense wilderness experience that's on this planet right now, because you're bringing kids out for 49 days in Alaska. And I loved it. I loved it so much, I could have continued to do it, but there was something missing. And the missing link that I saw really was that there was a lack of healthy food, so we're bringing these ADD kids, or these kids from Northern Alaska and we’re feeding them white sugar, and white bread, and white cheese which – if anyone knows Paul Chek, those are – right there. Three – those are three of the white devils right there. I mean, we're pumping our kids, or our teenagers that we're working with, full of those. And it was not helping, they were trying to detox, they were trying to detox which they were doing very well from their iPads, and the internet, and their iPhones, they were with us in nature. But they were – their bodies were constipated, and that's the reality. A lot of these kids had never even seen a tree before, because they had lived so far up north, let alone eat a piece of cheese. But here we are…
Marji: So that's like a little bit of – yeah, like a dualistic thing going on internally, right, because they're connecting to all this beautiful space, and great energy of the teachers around them but their body is being like, logged down, so…
Michael: The natural flow, and then ultimately, the other missing link in my opinion was the spiritual link, the link of the spirituality, and the other one piece of constructive criticism that I received from my – from my like, my bosses, I guess, or the people that trained me was that I was too spiritual, and they had a hard time with the idea of me teaching meditation, or pranayama, or God forbid, I did a mudra, in the shape of a heart because of course, every boy is going to laugh at you if you – if you make a heart.
Well, I listened to their advice, but I didn’t really practice their advice since – when I went out in the woods, I thought the boys the heart mudra. And I breathe with them, and I kid you not, that – in my – I mean, in my experience, those were the moments the kids remembered the most. And those were the moments that they love, and those were the tools that they brought home with them, and they still connect with me now, and say, “Man, Mike, thank you for teaching me that addiction meditation, because it's still when I feel like I want to go smoke a joint. I sit down, and I do that meditation, and man, I don’t feel like I need to smoke a joint anymore.” So I ended up leaving the program, because I still felt like I had the opportunity to really create something unique, and dynamic, and holistic if you could say. And I left, and I pondered it for a while, and somehow in the mix of this, I fell in love in Mexico, and working at a yoga festival, Sat Nam Fest. And I ended up on this journey, a different journey than I mainly had thought in the moment. And that involvement with my relationship, and also with the relationship I have with the Sat Nam Fest, the Kundalini yoga festival. I ended up – they asked me to – if I could volunteer to help with the search and rescue out in Lesbos, Greece, where the Syrian refugees were coming across from Turkey. And about 30 people a day were dying from drowning at that time. And I am an experienced outdoorsman, I was a wilderness first responders certified, and I've been lifeguard for six years. And so I said – yes, get me there.
Yeah. And my partner, and I, we went to – we went to Lesbos, Greece, for three months, and I ended up on a search and rescue boat with a few other guys, international team we had, and we were out every single night on the water saving lives, and preventing crashes, and we really watched this incredible volunteer effort come together to prevent casualty on the water. Now, when I got back from Greece, I ended up at my boss’s house, and she runs Sat Nam Fest, and also Sat Nam Spirit Voyage, and Sat Nam Foundation, which is a non-profit organization which was sponsoring us to be out in Greece. And she said to me, “What are we going to do now? Like, where – where are you going to go? Are you going to go to India, are you going to go to Nepal, and help out with our eco-village project, or help out with the orphanage in India, what do you want to do?” And I looked at her and I said, “God, I'm so tired. I need to just chill for a bit, like we did three months. I did three months of search and rescue, and it was very heavy.” I said, “Why don’t we do a program right here in the U.S.? Why don’t we do a program that serves the children, and not necessarily a disaster-based thing? Let's bring kids out in the woods, and let's reconnect them with themselves, and let's connect them with nature, and let's teach them, and bring them the technology of Kundalini yoga.”
Marji: And they're claiming it, they are. So they're craving it, I would assume that when you're working with them, you can just see them not only digesting all of the lessons. But literally – I've worked with young people. And when they're in that space, they – it's like there – there's this wanting, and eagerness to know, and to integrate even if it's challenging.
Michael: Oh, yeah. I used to – I used to make my boys, especially the boys. I mean, I tend to go a little harder on the boys, because I know what it's like to be a teenage boy. But I used to get them in a glacial river for 11 minutes up to their chin. And some of these guys, “I mean. Come on. Get – strip down to your underwear, and get in this cold river with me.” And they are looking at me like, “Dude, you're muts. No way.” But after 11 minutes of walking them through breathing techniques, and lowering their heart rate, they get – they get – would always. Every time they get out of that water screaming with enthusiasm about how much they love life, and how strong they are.
And then I have them put their hands above their head, and do some serious pranayama until they were high, literally vibrating with prana, and vibrating with the spirit of God. And they would look at me, and say, “Mike,” they would say, “bring us to the moon again, man. When can we go back to the moon?” And yeah, so it became – it definitely became a thing, I mean we're – I had kids, my L.A. kids asking me, “Mr. D? Yo, Mr. D, can we meditate right now?” “Yeah, we can – of course, we can meditate.” So I think – I definitely think it's a – I think maybe at first, kids are little wary about it. It’s just they’ve never been introduced to it. But the reality is that we're so busy all the time, I mean, they're so busy. Busy, busy, busy, whether it's driving somewhere, or going to class, hearing the bells, on their iPhone texting this person. I mean, it's nonstop. They barely have time to eat, so you sit a kid down, and you say, “Hey, we're going to breathe for like, seven minutes.” And they're like, “What do you mean? We're just going to breathe?” “We're going to try this mudra and see how it feels.” And at least my experience is, I've seen the immediate change. The immediate relief that comes over their face. When I – when I let them know, “Man, I'm not going to have you do anything. In fact, I'd rather you do nothing. Let go, and let it happen, let it be.” They’ve done a lot of research that when you take – I think when you take a kid – if you're going to take this kid out of a public school, and put them in like a Montessori school, or something where they choose what they do. Almost every kid will arrive to school, and sleep. Sleep, and they’ll sleep for weeks, because they're so deprived, they don’t have that nourishing moment to catch up. And so when we bring them these tools of meditation, and rejuvenation through breath work, or through movement, I truly do feel that they appreciate it.
Marji: And then the connection within – with Earth, and their inner strength is built, or how I envision it, I would say, is their inner strength is built with this confidence that they're not necessarily getting outside of that.
Michael: Oh, yeah. I mean…
Marji: Glacier, or wherever, and you're in this cold water, you don’t think you can do it. But when you – when you can, you can – and someone – if someone’s bullying at school, there's this reconnection of the strength where you don’t even have to participate, right?
Michael: Sure. I mean, when I'm – when I'm walking through the city, for example. Any city, it doesn’t matter which city. I'm walking through a city, and man, my problem feels so big, and I'm like this isolated being, my problems feel so big. But when I climb that top of the mountain, and I'm struggling to climb that top of the mountain, and I'm huffing, and puffing, and I get to the top of the mountain, and I see the expansion. And I look down at the city, and I look across at nature, and I realize, “Wow, my problem is not that big, it's not that big of a deal.” And this is – this is what teenagers or any children, anyone experiences when they're out in nature for a long enough period of time. It's impossible to continue to worry about your material life. I mean, it just does not matter. I mean, especially – when you're on a wilderness expedition, and you are put in positions where you're literally – I mean, yeah, you're – and maybe like to a kid, you're in like a life and death situation which is possible, or you're in a, “If I don’t do this, I'm not going to be comfortable tonight. I'm going to be wet, because it's raining out all the time.” When you're put in those kind of situations, you move into the now. And what all those great gurus are talking about, you're experiencing the power of now. You're experiencing that, and the healthy diet, and the Kundalini yoga that I'm offering with wild awakening, this wilderness program, is only meant to accelerate, and to foster, and to support that realization that we are all connected, that we all are living in a symbiotic relationship with with nature, and with each other. And if we don’t work as a team, things are going to fall apart. I mean, we have the choice, and every day, we have the choice. Do we want to work together, or do we want to fight? And in the wilderness, it never – it never works good. It never feels good when you're not working together, because either you're carrying a heavier load, or you're not eating hot food, or you're sleeping on a bumpy ground. So I mean, as harsh as it can be, nature is – nature is that “to the point” teacher. We've all seen probably movies where like, the Spartans, or these ancient cultures used to send their boys out in the – in the forest when they're 12, 13 years old, maybe younger to go kill the wolf. And they – then they say, “Don’t come back until you’ve killed the wolf, or you killed the deer, or whatever it is,” or whatever the rite of passage was. And sometimes, these kids were out there for three, four, five, six, seven days. And when they came back, they were considered a man, they're considered that they – looked inside themselves, and they found that true strength. And when you can do that kind of thing, you can conquer anything. There is no mountain too high to climb, there is no test in school that you can't put your effort in that you can't overcome. And this is why I've created Wild Awakening, it's to give – one of the reasons is to give also teenagers the opportunity to go through a rite of passage, to experience that self-reflection holding it up to the mirror, and becoming gritty, going through the grit. If you – if you never go through the grit, how are you going to – I don't know, become the butterfly, and fly.
Marji: Yeah. There's an expansion that happens when you do that, right, because there's a breaking down of these walls, and barriers that allows us not only to reconnect with our – who we are, and find that true – what I would call, like heart warrior’s strength, right? But also deep connection of really one of the reasons why we're here, right, is to find that. And then our connection with Earth, and her being an amazing teacher, in beautiful, and challenging ways, right? But isn't that – isn't that how we grow, and expand, right? So I'm just – I had tears in my eyes listening to you for the beauty of what you're sharing, and I'll share just a little bit. Yesterday, I was talking to someone, and I was – I was helping her with some physical stuff, and her daughter is a sophomore in high school, and she told me that, they have tech breaks now in classes to where the kids can get on their phone. And I was like, “What? What does that even mean?” And I thought, “But what about like, the ability to interact, and more so, they're already so focused on that.” And she said, “They don’t do that anymore.” And I said, “Oh, my goodness.” I was like floored by that, because I had not heard that yet, right? And so I thought, “Well, can't you go outside, and play like, when did – when did we lose that, right?” And so this is like, really touching to me just based on what this mom is experiencing with her daughter, right, and then…
Michael: It's interesting when you – when you talk about this, the reality is it is all of our – in Mexico, let's say like, it's, “Mea culpa,” like, it's my fault. It's – we're all in this thing together, and maybe we had this vision of what technology could bring us, but it's very obvious now. It's to see that certain aspects of it of are really creating isolation. And – but it does begin at home, I mean, that's – to set the example, and the model for our children, and what you choose to give them, or to expose them to is really where it begins. And again, this kind of plays hand-in-hand with the program, and programs, that I will be running in my lifetime. There's this guy Robert Bly which I'm sure you know is a great poet. And he writes a lot about this old grim fairytale called Iron John. And basically in Iron John, I'm not going to go through the whole thing. But it's about a boy’s story of basically self-initiation, or rite of passage. And in it, it says that the boy needs to steal in order to unlock that masculine energy in him. He needs to go into his mother’s room, and he needs to go under the pillow of her bed, and steal the key. And that's the only key that’s going to unlock the dungeon to let out this Iron John. And the point is that the moral of the story really is that – or that particular part is that really as parents, we have to learn to let go a little bit. We have to learn to have faith as well, and I'm not talking about letting go, letting your kid – your teenager be out until 2:00 in the morning every morning, it's a different story. But what I feel it means is not creating such a sterile environment, such an overprotected environment that the kid doesn’t have the space to fall down, and skin his knees.
Marji: Yeah, or security, right? Like, I'm outside – I'm outside playing with some kids last week. Three, and five years old, and we did a little dirt garden, and we're in the mud, they take their clothes off, and covered in mud everywhere, right, and playing. And I'm like, “Okay. We're going to hose off before we go in,” and it's not – it's like that they want to do that, right? They want to climb the tree, and get hurt, they want to – not necessarily get hurt. But they're willing to try if we allow that, and create the space for them. And even if you're not the parents, but you're some influence in their life. We can share just little tidbits to touch them, to give them a reminder of where we come from, right? And so I feel like, yes, it's the parent’s responsibility, but it's also ours as a community. And to get together, and share that space in any way we can with them, and with each other, right?
Michael: Totally. Totally. And then – and that's what I'm talking about, this creating this sterile environment, it does – it does reach farther than just the house. But to the entire community, and the reality is at the end of this Robert Bly story, or the Iron John story that you come to realize that this is something that the most successful cultures in all of human history that we know of have done with their kids is put them through some rite of passage, and we just don’t have that anymore. They – at least in the western world, we do not have that, and it's very rare for – I mean, some individual cases go through it. Myself, I went through my own rites at that, because I put myself through it, and I know that I did. But I became a man after I did that, and I know a lot of my buddies who are 30 years old, and they're still boys. And so this is another opportunity with Wild Awakening, and with programs like this is to let go of your child for 21 days, or however long the program is. And to trust that he will be okay, in the – in the bosom of Mother Earth with the guide, or many guides. And let them – let them fall a bit, let them – let them rise up like the phoenix. Let them go a boy, and come back a man, that kind of thing.
Marji: Well, and they grow. Like, that's the part about – when we look – and I think anyone listening, when we look back at our own lives. Some of our greatest lessons, the one we had to pick ourselves up, right? And so we have to remember that either if you’re the parents, teacher, or anyone, then when we create that space for them to just be. There's so much growth in that, and like, you're out for 21 days. There's a lot of growth that happens in that. And you, and I discussed a little bit. I mean, I had horses, animals, like my whole life before I went to school. I had the responsibility if I wanted them of taking care of them, and I'm a kid, right? And so there was like this, “Okay. I get up at 4:00, I have to take care of my horses, take care of the pigs. I have to like, my dogs. Now, I have to get ready for school.” And sure maybe at that time, that felt challenging. But it helped me as a person grow tremendously, or my parents taking us on horseback camping in the wilderness. And I didn’t think – anything of it at that time to be really honest with you, except that I really loved it. But looking back, if I took kids now, they’d probably think, “Oh, goodness. What are we doing?” Right, I mean, we're still – we take them and I – whatever, camping, hiking back. I took a three-year-old, I was at Glacier National Park. And my brother was there, yeah, beautiful. And so the space is really incredible. And we took four kids, the youngest being three, and walked in three and a half miles. Now, she walked the whole way. And we were back through the water, and doing a whole bunch of stuff, and we all walked back, and that she did about the last probably quarter mile, and a half too. And they all did fabulous, we’re doing – there were thimbleberry there and all these things that we were collecting and it was great and we were eating as we were walking and from nature, right? And she went the entire way, except about the last quarter mile she was tired. And I – and I thought that was the strength in her that no one even had to teach her. It was there, she wanted to be there and be present and do that. And yeah, there were a couple of moments she fell. And I use her because she was the youngest, right? But there was the strength. And I think she had, like, a couple of scrapes and nicks and I'm just so – I'm just really, really honored and grateful that you are doing this and – well, anyway. Okay.
Michael: Oh, thank you. Yeah. When I – when I hear you – when I hear you say that she wanted to be there and there is this inner strength that no one had ever taught her before, I think that’s a – it’s a very valid with all children and all of us really, is that if we are motivated to do something intrinsically comes from the heart kind of thing, we’ll do it. And we’ll do it with a smile on our face and we’ll find that fountain of youth, that fountain of eternal energy that’s connected to us and to the earth and we’ll go through anything. And so a program like – when we’re – when we’re in school at least in my experience, being in school and teaching in school, it’s not always necessarily the most motivating place to be. And so I think that it’s – that’s why you see a lot of kids putting their heads on the table and falling asleep. It’s because they’re not connected to that source of energy. Whereas you kick them out into a wilderness setting and, I mean, I don’t – I've never really seen a kid that’s genuinely bored. Especially when you're giving then activities, like, hey, let's make a fire out of two pieces of wood. Or let's carve this stick into a totem using these knives. And I'll teach you how to use them well. Or let's – hey, let's go gather some water from that spring over there and see how it tastes. Or pick berries like you said, I mean, come on. We – which you have most kids – I’ve seen kids carrying big backpacks that are running through the forest in joy because there might be some blueberries around that corner.
Marji: Yeah. Or that fresh water out of that glacier, right? So we’re taking our – and literally, it’s so beautiful. I also think that when we – and I'll try to frame this correctly, but when we – I don't know if the word is expectation, I don’t really want to use that. But when we allow them to find that strength and I want to say, like, maybe teach to the, like, highest common denominator instead of the lowest, right? They will rise to that occasion. So if you – if you're out in the wilderness and teaching and things that are totally foreign to them, there's a – they really want to strive to be – to do it and to know and to thrive in that. And instead of saying, oh, you don’t have to do that because of this. And it’s, like, they want – they want someone to respect and know that they can do that, even if it’s challenging.
Michael: Yeah, absolutely.
Marji: And so, there's a – there's so many lessons in what you're doing and not only about actually teaching us to be indigenous to the earth, right? Because I know in western culture I don’t know that we feel indigenous to the area, right? And we are. And so there's a responsibility in that that comes with not only taking care of it but taking care of ourselves in that. And so there's a lot of lessons in this, not just confidence in that you can do it. Well, from what I see. Like, I told you, I want to be a 14-year-old boy and go. How great it could be? Right? Yes or no?
Michael: Yeah. Of course.
Marji: So I just am really honored. What else would you like to share not only about the program but maybe about Sat Nam and the people you work with, so people get a deeper understanding of everything available that is encompassing this.
Michael: Yeah. So Sat Nam Foundation is a foundation that was started just really just a handful of years ago. And the idea was to enable yogis to serve, enable people to serve each other. And for the past five years we’ve been really helping a few different projects and then we've helped out with an orphanage out in Rishikesh, India. And we raised a bunch of money and helped them build a dormitory for the kids at an orphanage. And we sent a group of people over there on a retreat to actually get their hands active with the children. We’ve helped out with different hurricanes and disaster relief where people needed money. And we would come out with a Kirtan Aid album which was a brilliant idea. And basically it’s a compilation of donated tracks from amazing musicians like Krishna Das and Snatam Kaur and Deva Premal and all of these amazing, amazing artist that donated the tracks. We sold the album and then we used that money directly to fund certain projects. And so if you go on the website satnamfoundation.org you can see all the projects we've done successfully. And one of them was that – the search and rescue project in Greece that I talked about. And yeah, we’re connected a lot through Sat Nam Fest and Spirit Voyage. And we’re at the different events, the different Kundalini Yoga events representing us. And we did a little project with Standing Rock. And we now have a – actually a sustainable food project. We’re doing – it’s called the Lakota Food Project. That Tina Malia is sort of creating and the idea is to go to the Pine Ridge Reservation and other reservations where Native Americans are living. And creating health food stores for them in community areas, so they can have access to better food.
And yeah, so that’s currently where our focus is, it’s currently in Lakota Food Project and also on Wild Awakening. And Wild Awakening, you can again go to the website for Wild Awakening which is – www.wildawakening.org and find out a little more about the project and who’s involved as far as the guides that are going to be working. They’re all buddies of mine who I've worked with in Alaska and in other places and all very highly trained. The idea is that we’re going to go hike the hundred-mile wilderness up in Maine on the Appalachian Trail for twenty-one days with a group of nine teenage boys and three guides. And we’ll rise with the morning sun with a Kundalini Yoga set, we’ll prepare our food together, eating very high vibrational foods the entire way, we’ll not lack on that. We’ll hike every day, we’ll have reflections and journaling. We’ll be doing some kind of therapeutical circles around the fire at night where we are asking thought–provoking questions, and helping every child work through their own drama. Because in one way or the other we all have a story. And then we’ll also provide – a big part of the day will be devoted to doing primitive skills like fire making, shelter building, water gathering. Things like carve – knife – carving with knives. Different little projects like that. And the idea is after 21 days this group of teenage boys is going to go home with a toolkit to carry them through high school or college or wherever they are. They can – they’ll have a developed yoga and meditation practice which it’s almost like going to a teacher training. I mean, I'm telling you right now it’s going to be full power. And also have a toolkit of how to cook healthy foods. Whether it’s in the kitchen or they’re cooking over an open fire. They’ll also have another option because they’ll be equipped with a backpack and a bunch of gear and, hey, if they want to go backpacking for the weekend with some of their friends they’ll feel comfortable to do that. And probably their parents will too because it had this sort of expedition style experience. So it’s sort of, I mean, to use a common term it’s sort of like an Outward Bound with a twist. With healthy food, I mean, we’re not eating Snickers Bars out there I'll tell you that much.
Marji: Or MREs.
Michael: We’re going to be – well, yeah. Yeah. We’re going to be – we’re going to be drinking warrior proteins and having quinoa. And then we’re going to – yeah, we’re going to send them home with like I said a toolkit full of yoga and meditation that’s going to – we’re creating the leaders here for our future and that’s – I don’t – I'm not going to devote my life to creating factory workers and to serve the man because that’s what's happening right now. I'm here to – I'm here to help create creative thinkers and help create leaders who are going to make a positive change in this earth before further destruction happens. We need people who aren’t scared to stand up.
Marji: And we have a responsibility for that, right? We have the responsibility not only for ourselves, but also for mother earth, for community. And there's a responsibility on that for each of us to take part.
Michael: A hundred percent. I'm living in a place called San Cristobal de las Casa in Mexico. And it’s so nice to be surrounded by mountains and I have the good fortune of living on the biggest mountain which is really nice and quite out of the city. And I was talking to this mechanic this morning and he was saying how just 20 years ago when he used to live through the city he never wore shoes that there were pads – there were pads everywhere and how there was food growing every – he never had to buy food because there was so much food growing. And now 20 years later he's, like, forget about it. I'm obsessed with buying shoes because I don’t want to walk in all this garbage. And you have to buy everything. There's – people are – people are putting up brick walls everywhere and isolating themselves rather than living in this communal family environment where we understand that truly one hand washes the other. Truly we should love ourselves just like we’re loving our neighbor. This is reality.
Marji: And that we – and when working together and I would assume that when you're working with the kids just – I – and I'll use my own personal life experience. I came from a really big family. And when I say really big I mean really big, right? So we were a community, right? And so, there's some – there's growing pains with that as well, but for us to do say a camping trip, there's a lot of us or even just to make a meal. So I look back at that and go we all had to work together to create that and make that happen. Right? And so you're doing that when you're working with these kids, right? It’s, like, it’s not a competitive thing necessarily, maybe a little bit just because naturally, like, some kid wants to beat the other person up the hill or something, right? But the reality is you have – like, in working together you establish that sense of community and…
Marji: Right. And so that’s a – that’s even a – like, for me that’s a huge gift because it teaches us, like, to break down those brick walls, right? Because we are all here together. And I think that’s, like, I mean, for me that’s one of the greatest teachings of my childhood was having to work that out together.
Michael: I do – I do an interesting thing, Marji. That’s, like, I like to take a group of nine and I like to break them up into three groups of three. Because nine – doing things with nine kids is – it can be challenging. But when you have a group of three you can go cook dinner with them for example and be very successful at it. And then the other group of three can go gather water and make sure that a group shelter like a tarp is set up in case it rains. And another group can go prepare the camp in a different way and dig a toilet, a latrine, for the group to use. And take care of everyone’s packs or something like that. And when you come together at dinner and you realize, wow, this one group made the fire, this other group cooked the dinner, this other group got the water. If one of the groups decided they weren’t going to do one of the jobs, we wouldn’t have dinner. And you really do learn to appreciate each other and appreciate the six hands that you have on each group versus, yeah, competition or even trying to do things on your own or choosing to sit out from the group. The kids – the kids in this kind of – especially in the wilderness experience, right? Because I will always tell them, guys, if we don’t have a fire, which they never don’t want to build a fire, but for example, if we don’t – if we don’t have a fire – we’re not going to have warm food. Or if we don’t set up your tarp or your tent right and it rains, you're going to get wet. And I would leave it at that. And I tell you I've had kids get wet before, very wet. And they’ve – woken up to me in the middle of Alaska and they said, “Mike, my sleeping bag is all wet. Can you get me a new one?” I said, “What? Look around you, man. We are in the wilderness, bro. You are going to have to try and dry out your sleeping bag all day and if it does not dry, I'm sorry, man, but you're going to be sleeping in a wet sleeping bag tonight. Maybe tonight you’ll listen to me and you’ll tie those knots better.” And that’s all I'll say. And I kid you not that night and from the next night on that kid will always tie his knots correct. I
Marji: Do you also find that even when you split up those groups, because I had – I had something pop in, and it also teaches them that it’s not – that the equal participation, right? And so, it’s not that one job is more important than the other, it is that no matter what will you decide to participate in your community, whether – and I'll use your – the Wild Awakening as an example. Whether you're someone who can donate, that’s participating, whether you're someone who shares this with everyone that you know and let them – let them know that or tell then that’s participating, whether you're creating the fire or getting the water, that’s all participating and so all that’s needed, right? So each piece is needed, it’s not that one is more important than the other. And that’s a sense of loss that I felt in our community, right? It’s – you can't rely – that’s where we can all come together and you're fundamentally teaching that in a very practical, tangible way. But as I speak I'm – I say that only because a reminder to everyone that we can all participate in some way.
Michael: Yeah. Thank you for saying that too. It’s true because this program, Wild Awakening, truly is a community project. I mean, sure, it’s going to be a few of us that are bringing out to the – to the woods but we need kids, we need sponsors, we need donors we need people to help drive us. We need anyone that wants to donate food and things like this. All of this will only help this program to not only get off the ground but also to flourish and allow for more opportunity to – for all of us to be involved in a bigger community project or more projects down the line. So, yeah. Any help and any support is big time appreciated.
Marji: Well, and then it’s also teaching the kids to start working in community and strength. And that – and that lends itself to future generations that will share and do the same thing.
Michael: Yeah. And I rotate the jobs too, so you are the – in the kitchen for three days then you're in – the fireman for three days and you're the waterman for three days. So every child is cycled through – unbiasedly cycled through this with different teammates so they can work and have a chance to work with everyone including different guides. And they truly do see that every job is important, like you said and maybe they like some more than others. But if they don’t – they still – they still…
Marji: But that’s natural though too, right? I worked for the forest service two summers when I was young, 14, 15. And which was super cool and we – it was really hard. There were days I’d come home really dirty, like, really dirty. And then I would be too tired to take a shower, I’d take my clothes off and jump in the pool, right? Like – but the strength gained in that in working together was – I can't share how important that is in creating future generations that are open. And whether they choose a job in some corporate place they’re still going to have to work with people and work together. And I’d say that is fundamentally, like, very important to our society and in creating a community whether that’s in an office or out in the wilderness, right? And so I feel that’s a big foundation in what you're doing also, right? Not only – yeah. And so, there's a – my niece worked in the glacier this summer for 21 days, right? And so, like, she was off. Like, no contact and everything, right? And then – and she's very studious by the way. And so those are new things for her, right? And she – they’ve – they’re – they have acreage, they’re on the mountain, they have chickens and quail and there's bears that come up to their house. And so she's familiar with these things, but she would rather be reading Harry Potter, right? Until – so she did – so she did this and we went camping after that. And she's putting up the tent, she's doing all these things and I'm, like, oh, my gosh there was a huge, like, you would say rite of passage for her, right? But this huge transformation in her in just 21 days, right? And there were foods there, she didn’t – she's a little bit picky eater and guess what? They were picking berries and doing things, and guess what? She ate. Right? And so, and the – and the difference was she had a fonder appreciation of what's available to us. And, yeah...I was thinking what a beautiful thing this is for not just this program, but creating that community and giving back. And it were – that you're really teaching people to be really strong-hearted warriors and taking them out into the world.
Michael: Yeah. Yeah. Then I like what you said – I agree with what you said that she learned to appreciate things. And that’s the truth, I mean, when a kid is taken out of their comfort zone and put in a challenging situation like the wilderness or – like the wilderness, at the end of a few weeks they really, really do appreciate going back to a nice bed and having a hot shower. And a lot of – I remember a lot of my teenage boys would say, “Oh, god. When I go home I'm going to treat my mom so well. She cook – she cooks for me all the time and she does so much for me and washes my clothes and,” so, yeah.
Marji: All the things that they’re not – they’re – they take for granted only because it’s done for them, right? And so, yeah.
Michael: Exact – exactly. Exactly.
Marji: Not intentional.
Michael: When you – when we – yeah, it’s not intentional. But I think that’s just the idea of sort of this teenage years is a great opportunity to let your kid experience in a safe – a safe space because that’s what's being created with Wild Awakening is a safe space for kids to go experience what it’s like to take care of themselves. What it’s like to be – to take care of – to work together and take care of a group. What is it like to be stripped of 21st century comfort? And then when they go back they say, wow, maybe I should pitch in a little bit more at home. Maybe I'll give some gratitude, my mom, wow, she let me use her iPhone, like, on the weekends. That was pretty cool.
Marji: Yeah. She's just up and has breakfast made for me, right?
Michael: Absolutely, yeah. Exactly.
Marji: There's a – there's so many lessons in that and so many gifts.
Marji: I am – I am really honored and grateful for what you do. And you taking the time to chat with me. And, I'll look forward to – we’ll have to do it again because this is fabulous.
Michael: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah.
Marji: So, it’s wildawakening.org and his email and address is on the basmati site. And so anyone who wants to get in contact with him or on wildawakening.org please do so in any way that you want to help with this community and be a part of it, it would be an honor. So anyway, thank you, Michael, so much.
Michael: Oh, thank you so much. Thank you for everyone that’s listening. Thank you Marji, thank you basmati, it’s just truly a blessing to share.
Marji: Okay. You have a beautiful day and enjoy the mountains.
Michael: Thank you. Adios, take care.