Sangha Spotlight: Jyoti Stuart
An interview with Clear Light Sangha Member
Jyoti Stuart of Crestone, CO
An Interview with Clear Light Sangha member Jyoti Stuart of Crestone, CO
Jyoti Stuart, “I grew up in Buffalo, New York. I grew up Catholic and I was just rebelling the whole way. I was getting in trouble, smoking in the bathroom and all that because I didn't agree with the whole thing. And I was just rebellious by nature, I guess. I was always looking for what I intuitively felt was out there besides what I was learning."
"So, I would get that connection from climbing trees and watching the sunset. Being out in nature has always been my connection with something bigger than myself.
I didn't really believe in the whole God the Father and Jesus thing. That didn't really work for me. So, in college I studied different religions but I didn't feel compelled to go down any of those paths, though there they were interesting. I got into yoga because I was always looking for a spiritual connection. I graduated from college in1987 and attended graduate school in Utah for dance. In 1993, I moved to Philadelphia where I was dancing in a company, and was married for five years and there I found yoga. When I discovered yoga I thought, "Wow! I know this is the body but there's also the spirit here."
The first couple of yoga classes I took, I was sick, I didn't feel good, I was detoxing. But I just kept at it and I became more and more interested. That became my path for a while, for quite some time. I studied with a Yogini, Kali Ray, who lived in Malibu and she had had these Kundalini experiences. She was teaching what she was learning and so it was a very particular kind of a lineage. I liked it because I was not only learning the postures but also the breathing and meditating. I also liked that particular form because it was very flowing; it was a lot like dance. It still feels awesome in my body. I studied with her for a long time.
Day after day I was more compelled to go to yoga than dance, so that became my thing. Also, I was experiencing more and more deep states of bliss in my meditation through mantra and the use of mala beads. That became the place where I really started to segregate the spiritual from the sensual, the worldly. And I decided that this is what I really wanted to do, I wanted to know God…what That is. Everything started happening for me around that time. Meanwhile, my husband wanted to go out dinners and drink wine...he ended up wanting to have a baby. There was a number of things that split us up. I was so ill-equipped to be married! There was a lot of confusion.
Around that time, a friend of mine had said to me, “You've got to meet this guy named Christopher who's been hanging out with the Dalai Lama in the Himalayas,” blah blah blah… He walked into a shop in Buffalo where my friend worked. It was one of those moments. Our eyes met and I just started weeping. He became my teacher. He had had his big awakening while living in India with Papaji. After four years, Papaji told him to go back home to Buffalo to take care of his parents.
By this time, I had taken over my teacher’s yoga studio in Philadelphia. I had this beautiful space in this beautiful practice. I left all that just to study with Christopher, just to be with him. He really shattered all my spiritual illusions because I really thought at that time it was all about bliss. Yeah, I was just going to ascend into bliss and it was great! It worked for a little while. He said, “You know, it's not really about that.” He was kind of a hard hitter. Apparently, I really needed that - a good smashing. He taught, “It's all about accepting what is,” and I really thought that was about the worst news anyone could ever give me! I really did. I thought I was going to die when I heard that! Until that time, I didn't know how much anger I had, how much resentment, how hardened I was. He said, "You've got titanium all around you." And, of course, I still have remnants of that.
He had me completely cut all my ties to my family and with everyone so I could separate, separate everything. So, I did. After seven months, the fire was way too hot for me so I went to India. Kali Ray wanted me to teach for her all over India and I was excited. He said, "Do you want to run around India teaching or do you want to know the truth?" So, I didn't teach. I went there to the Osho Meditation Resort, did the programs, and I got some pretty amazing insights and some things fell apart. It was the first time I experienced that I'm not the body. It brought up a lot of stuff and it was a big clearing in many ways. By the time I came back, I was sick, really sick with lung issues, Giardia, other things and I was seriously depressed. I was told by Christopher that he couldn't work with me and advised me to go on antidepressants which was not the usual response for him.
I ended up going to Aspen as a private yoga instructor and then on to California. I was planning on spending more time with Kali Ray even though my teacher, Christopher, had broken the illusion around what that was all about. He just said it's probably not going to take you all the way, where you want to go, to full liberation. Yet it was very, very helpful – I still use the practices I got from her. When I was in California I ended up with a guru for a while. Which is so funny because Christopher really drilled into me, "There are no higher authorities. Go with your own experience." The whole thing was humbling.
Christopher would say, "Well, I love it this way." And I would think, “Why do you love it this way? When I am thinking it’s something horrible?” He would say, "Because it's the way it is." His devotion was to "what is." It’s 27 years later and I'm still learning about that! Ha ha!
I ended up in California for a total of 14 years. There, I had the yoga community. But I was still looking for a spiritual community that could hold a bigger container. I heard about a guy who was doing satsang and so I went. He was a therapist who had been with Gangaji and Osho. It was great but then he began to give courses, so I took the courses. Then, suddenly he started taking disciples. And then, all of a sudden, he started calling himself a guru. It became this thing that I started getting pulled into. Before you knew it, I was a disciple with a guru! He started to get more and more entangled in our personal lives. There was definitely some financial stuff that was weird and sticky. Though, even with this, I ultimately don't doubt the benefit of anything that has occurred in my life.
I started to listen to Adyashanti somewhere in there. I signed up for a retreat with him at Asilomar. I met a guy who was also into a Adyashanti and we started dating. He told me about Sharon Landrith and suggested I go to Crestone with him to spend time with her. I think I first met Sharon in December 2012.
Clear Light Sangha, “That sounds like a big shift from being with your guru to Adyashanti and Sharon. How was that for you?”
Jyoti, “There was some inner turmoil for quite a while. It was challenging to get out of all that. I think that was partially the reason why I got together with John. There was difficulty between us though from the very beginning. We had been coming back-and-forth to Crestone seeing Sharon. We had a house there where we could stay and do retreats and little mini-intensives with her. That lasted for a couple of years and we decided to move to Crestone together. And then the whole thing exploded. It was 2015 when we split up. I had quit all my clients, our lease was done, and I thought, “What the hell am I going to do?” I moved to Crestone by myself.”
CLS, “So that was 2015. How has it been since then?”
Jyoti, “It's been a trip. I don't even know how to answer that. How do I answer that? It's definitely humbling to be here, for sure, between the intentional spiritual practice and the unintentional spiritual practice of being in Crestone. It's its own thing. And right now, more than ever, I really feel like I'm in the unknown. It's OK, though.
I remember when I first felt this way and it was like, “Oh God!” Everything feels kind of tenuous and unknown. And now it's definitely OK. Everything, everything feels OK. And one of the most important teachings of Sharon's is just the constant reminders of this. She'll look at my energy field and just say it's OK. It's awesome.
One of the pointers that I had just this week was about continuing to open to the space. It's been very useful, to just keep opening up. Out of this contraction is a little self which is just trying to put it all together; trying to make an income, you know, whatever it's trying to do. It's getting clearer when that's there and when that's not there so much. She points to just this continual opening, even more. I can think of it in terms of molecules. The body and the mind has a certain density to it and you can open up into a spacious quality and turn your attention there. It seems pretty simple, still, it comes and goes. I'm still challenged on how to do that when I am at a computer. Haha!”
CLS, “So, how to simultaneously be in focus and out here where all possibilities are happening at the same time… There's a lot to play with right there!”
Jyoti, “Yeah, I like the way you say that, a lot to play with. Yes, and just the everyday things. It just feels like a lot of effort has to be put forward every day to make an income, yet ultimately, I know that this personality is not doing any of it. None of that’s really happening. Hmmm, what was I going to say about that… I just lost my train of thought.”
CLS, “Well, let's just get the next train then. There's always another train! Ha ha ha! Or, just hanging out at the station with you is fine, too!” (Both laugh)
Jyoti, “One of the things I appreciate about Sharon is that she's just very authentic, she just puts it out there. She'll share what she's going through. There is not any sense of perfection. She’s still evolving, changing, whatever you want to call it, shifting.”
CLS, “Still being a human.”
Jyoti, “Yeah! She’s still totally being a human. It's refreshing.”
CLS, “Can you tell us more about your relationship with Sharon and what has shifted or what is shifting as a dynamic effect of her teaching?”
Jyoti, “Something about the way she talks about awareness that shifted for me when I first started seeing her. And just this simple pointer that I noticed I'm now using in a different way, of shifting your focus behind your head, as opposed to the attention being in front of you projecting out there. That was a big shift.
Also, embodying in the body because for me it was a lot easier to be going up and out. And you would think (I already got that) because I teach yoga, right? But, always, some part of my being didn't want to be here and so it was easier to go up and out. And I know due to some experienced traumatic aspects, it's my tendency to disassociate in some ways. And so, I have felt with her teachings that I'm just more embodied and clearer with that.
Speaking about it in tangible ways doesn't really, fully express the value in it. Like you said, it's a big piece. It has gravitas. It's funny. I can't find the words.
I remember during one specific Zen retreat, there was something that sank in to a deeper level; that it's always just awareness doing awareness, unto itself. That became a deeper knowing. You can hear when I talk that there's been such a deep drive to know the truth, a really strong seeking energy and I don't feel like there's that anymore. I remember going into the retreat last year and thinking, “OK, now why are you here? What are you doing? What are you going to get out of this? And are you going to try to go to a deeper meditation??” And blah, blah, blah!
Something came up and it was like, “Well, what can I give instead of what can I get?” It just arose; what can I give my attention to that gives me life versus what can I get out of meditation. It's still there, this “what am I going to get” energy but I'm not trying to do anything in it.
And the second part, you know I don't even know really what's there. It's like I haven't thought about it. So now, in my life, it just feel like I don't know if anything could really surprise me; in terms of Crestone, in terms of relationship, in terms of me… everything! And it's OK!"