A Month of Sundays: New Meditation Series at DiviniTree

By Steven Libowitz   |   December 27, 2018

DiviniTree Santa Barbara, which is entering its first New Year since undergoing a change in ownership, is launching right into 2019 with a new meditation sampler series. “A Year of Centering,” which takes place over four consecutive Sundays, January 6-27, is designed to offer a wide-ranging set of essential tools and insights to integrate into a new or existing practice over the new year. The series covers three different approaches to meditation, plus a wrap-up final session to review and digest the material.

The course was the brainchild of Immanuel Otto in consultation with DiviniTree’s Jill Agonias, and was developed to cover a broad spectrum of choices in creating or modifying a daily practice. It’s meant to be suitable for all ranges of experiences, from beginners to devoted practitioners. Over the first two weeks, the series will cover the two major approaches: connecting to the causal body (which includes mindfulness, insight meditation, Zen and Vipassana, among others) and is geared toward finding space between thoughts, and subtle body (working with auras, chi, Kundalini, etc.), focused more on the energy in and around the body. Those will lead into “Creativi•Tao,” a practice developed by Otto, who said the approach is geared toward amplifying creativity and enhancing intuition.

“Creativi•Tao is about creating a conduit to your creative wisdom,” said Otto, who recently joined the Santa Barbara community after half a dozen years in Ojai and a bunch before that in Denver, during which he studied mythology, religion, spirituality, and mysticism as well as various forms of meditation. “It’s Taoist, Chinese-medicine based, but focused on cracking open a creative person’s ability to be a ‘mystic with a craft.’”

After largely working mostly with artists, Otto is expanding his teachings to a larger field, incorporating scientists looking for breakthroughs, entrepreneurs, engineers – “Anyone dealing with creative challenges and needing to think outside of the box and be more adaptable,” he said. “These are people who shape the culture and the minds and souls of other individuals who experience their art. It’s almost like a permaculturist, who doesn’t work on the vegetables so much as the soil to provide all the nutrients the plant needs to be what it already is intended to be and is growing into.”

All transformative artists, Otto said, have gone through a process that leads to creative breakthroughs, but most merely stumbled upon it. “What I bring is a training program that can help artists who are just starting out to work with these principles that every successful or impactful artist – from Avatar’s James Cameron to Led Zeppelin and Van Gogh – has practiced to tap into the creative genius, get to the insights, and become who they are.”

“Flow Practice 1,” Otto’s session on January 20 – which follows MarQ Taylor’s “Mindfulness Meditation” on January 6 and Mitsuko Conner-Newlan’s “Kundalini Subtle Body Activation” on January 13 – is an intro to the larger Creativi•Tao program. “It’s meant to get people immersed in a very simple practice you can do without knowing all the background and rhetoric.”

The January 27 Team Sit will feature all the facilitators in a closing panel, meditation, discussion, and recap of the program, including strategies for staying with a practice over the coming year, and information about deeper programs with the instructors. Course participants will also receive print and multimedia materials plus a meditation calendar/tracker.

“The program is put together to get people into meditation, get a well-rounded experience of a practice and have a local community experience of meditating together.” Otto said. “Maybe you will want to focus more on the others, whatever lands best for you. Hopefully your higher self, your soul, wants you to pay attention.”

Divinitree Santa Barbara is located at 25 East De La Guerra Street. Visit www.divinitreesantabarbara.com/meditation, email ill@divinitree.com, or call (805) 897-3354. 

Jumping into Journeys, with Cacao and Kirtan 

Barely two months since moving to Santa Barbara after 10 years in Los Angeles followed by eight in New York City, Darren Marc has leapt into the local spiritual community via leading kirtan, cacao ceremonies, and other healing modalities in two events surrounding New Year’s Eve. But what seems like a fast first foray actually feels like a long time to Marc, who has spent many years studying and practicing various forms of Bahhti Yoga and leading kirtans and other approaches on the path of love and devotion, both musical and otherwise.

“I came here with a strong intention to continue to do what I was doing Back East without a big time gap,” he said. “For me, two months seems like a long time.”

Either way, the wait is over, as Darren will be hosting two sessions of Journey of The Heart: Cacao Ceremony and Sacred Song Circle at his Oak Park area home on successive Saturdays, December 29 (1-3 pm) and January 5 (3-5 pm). Both events will combine Kirtan (call-and-response singing), japa (mantra recitation), prayer, meditation, and other art forms to awaken the heart along with a ceremony to connect with cacao, a spirit plant that serves as a gateway and support for the heart-opening practices.

“As a singer-songwriter who is also on spiritual path, kirtan really spoke to me,” said Darren, who released an album called Let It Shine back in 2016. “The kirtan I lead has more Western influences than most because of my background, and I think that makes it more accessible. It’s about sixty percent Sanskrit mantras and forty percent in English, with the sacred chants being put to my own music.”

Darren, who leads on acoustic guitar rather than harmonium, will be joined for some of the four-chant set by Santa Barbara singer-songwriter Zoe Guess. The other hour will be anchored by the cacao ceremony, a personal path Marc has recently favored. 

“The plant has been my teacher,” he said. “Cacao supports us in awakening to the truth that we’re all connected as humans and with the planet, which occurs in the heart center. My path is about opening up to experiencing true unconditional love, more joy and oneness. The plant helps facilitate that.”

Marc, who has already connected with a number of local acoustic and kirtan musicians, will also be performing his music at the Santa Barbara Night Market at 5 pm on December 27-28, and he and Guess will co-lead a full two-hour kirtan during early February.

Admission to the Cacao Ceremony and Sacred Song Circle is $10 per session. Visit www.meetup.com/Cacao-Ceremony-Sacred-Song-Circle or www.awakenwithdarren.com.

Goodbye 2018

Two spiritual centers are holding December 31 events that are early enough in the evening to still connect with others in a different way before the clock strikes 12. Mahakankala Buddhist Center hosts a 6:30-7:45 pm program that includes a guided meditation and prayers to Avalokiteshvara, Buddha of Compassion, with a goal of helping to create a healthy world with a shift in the way we think and perceive, through contemplation, prayer, and meditation.

At 7 pm, Unity of Santa Barbara offers its popular annual Burning Bowl Ceremony, an ancient fire ritual that helps people to release old, unwanted conditions, events, or limiting beliefs in their lives. The ritual honors one’s intention to release ideas, thoughts, and habits that no longer serve one’s highest good. Through contemplative music (from longtime local stalwarts Shawn Thies and Woody Demarco), spoken words and meditation, participants are guided to put to flash paper those unwanted thoughts and feelings from the past and drop them into the bowl of fire, where they are completed, consumed, and released, making room for something new as the new year dawns. Both events are free of charge; donations are welcome.

Over at Yoga Soup, owner Eddie Ellner hosts a special Ecstatic New Year’s Eve Breathing class, where participants basically lay on the floor and “breathe deep and fast.” The 8-10 pm session also includes finger foods and beverages, and, in Ellner’s post, “meditation, music, and dancing highly likely.” Check out http://www.yogasoup.com/ecstatic-breathing for more details and an essay about Ellner’s introduction to the technique. Admission is $40 in advance, $50 on December 31.

Hello 2019 

Cheri Clampett’s 24th annual New Year’s Day Visioning Workshop includes yin yoga, gentle flowing yoga, and a special visioning meditation to release the past year and step into the new one. Also featured is essential oils and hands-on adjustments plus live yoga music and DJ sounds by Avahara. Admission to the 3-7 pm event at Santa Barbara Yoga Center is $40.

Yoga Dance Magic isn’t wasting any time in its mission to bring the message and method of movement to the great outdoors around town, holding its next session at East Beach (1118 East Cabrillo Boulevard) from 3-5 pm on January 1. The classes, an “adventure into awakening your true self,” begins with invigorating yet gentle yoga, activating the breath with intuitive postures and moves into free form, non-choreographed movement to awesome music that eventually transforms into an epic dance party. The class closes with cool down stretches, restorative poses, and a sweet savasana in which participants will set positive intentions for the new year. No previous yoga or dance experience necessary; all levels welcome. Admission is $22. Visit www.yogadancemagic.com. 

Get a Move on in ‘19

Movement Lab – an experience combining guided movement meditations, structured improvisation, dynamic exploration, simple choreographed exercises, and the exhilarating experience of moving in unison with others – is returning to Yoga Soup on a regular basis. After a successful three-week workshop in the fall, facilitators Melissa Lowenstein and Lamara Heartwell, along with guest instructors, are back to lead the gatherings, described as “body-as-playground, expand-your-movement-vocabulary” sessions, a moment to stop being a floating head and re-enter our kinetic, somatic selves; to breathe hard, to swing free, to sweat, to laugh. The ongoing weekly classes begin Wednesday, January 2, 7-8:30 pm.

“Hello Awakening!”

Resident teacher Dawa Tarchin Phillips returns to the Santa Barbara Bodhi Path Buddhist Center on Thursday, January 3, for the launching of a new six-week teaching for the New Year called “Hello Awakening! An introduction to Buddha’s teachings and authentic spiritual practice in modern times.” Phillips will lead the class that provides a solid foundation in understanding the meaning and aim of the path of awakening in the present day. Students, seekers, scholars, practitioners, the simply curious, and especially newcomers are welcome to learn how to take joyful first steps toward reducing your own and others’ suffering, once and for all.

In a new format, Phillips’ teachings will alternate with discussions led by Sangha members, providing an opportunity to reflect on and integrate the material through sharing of questions and insights with the community. There is no set fee, although donations are appreciated.

Raising our Light

On the one-year anniversary of the Montecito mudslide/debris flow, everyone is invited to a walk of remembrance starting at Lower Manning Park with a short program leading into a candlelight processional down San Ysidro Road and ending at All Saints-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church with a bell ceremony and a cup of soup. People will start assembling at the Montecito park at 6 pm on Wednesday, January 9, for the 6:30-8:30 pm event to honor our collective experiences, with the desire that the community will share a night of healing, hope, and light with one another. Flameless candles will be available prior to the event at designated locations and at the park prior to the walk.

Coming together in Montecito 

Montecito Spiritual Life Coach Ragan Thomson, who specializes in helping men and women manifest their ideal match in romance and business, hosts another “Manifest Your Spiritual Partner” party at her family’s East Valley Road sanctuary estate on Wednesday, January 9. All are invited to resolve what’s blocking you from having the relationship of your dreams by healing wounds of the past that are ready to be released in order to create meaningful and fulfilling relationships. Admission to the 6:30-9 pm event is $45-$50. Visit https://raganthomson.com/spiritual-partner.


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