Amar and I first met in New Delhi, India. He is an Emmy Award-winning director with Neverending Light Productions, and one of the masterminds behind the Yoga4Change project. Under his leadership, he led our group of 15 Yogis plus our camera crew through India to create an experience every one of us will remember for the rest of our lives.
A world traveler, experienced meditator, and outstanding leader, there is much to be learned from Amar Singh Kaleka.
What book(s), audiobook(s) or podcast(s) do you find yourself recommending most often?
I’m a fanatic for all things education. I guess that’s why I love documentaries so much. Both, making them and watching them. However, nothing beats a great book because we’re able to sit with the subject for more hours, reading it telepathically through an authority’s perspective. I just finished Danny Sheehan’s book, “People’s Advocate: The Life and Legal History of America’s Most Fearless Public Interest Lawyer“. This book took me through the inside workings of major political moments in the not so distant past which shaped our nation today. The Iran-Contra affair. The killing of Karen Silkwood. The Pentagon Papers on Vietnam. The Wounded Knee occupation. Each of these was pivotal to what is taking place now.
In terms of audiobooks, I give many away as a gift to prepare people who are going to work with me. One of my favorites to gift is Malcolm Gladwell’s, “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants“. This book takes us through the often misunderstood journey of defeating larger than life foes, fears, and tyrants.
I’m also still a sucker for podcasts. On my phone right now, I’m subscribed to over a dozen great ones. The best of which are TED and Freakonomics. Each has their place. One for working out, another for doing house chores.
What mental and/or physical training do you practice to keep your mind and body sharp?
As almost a 40-year-old man, it’s hard to find the time, but I usually stick to a meditation routine that I’m trying to master. Here’s one: https://medium.com/@ArmKaleka/hypnagogic-meditation-lucid-dreaming-f6a71fdef98d
I also love to still play basketball and roll around in Brazilian Jiujitsu. Yoga is still there in my psyche, but I don’t nearly practice it as much as I’d like to. I used to get mad at myself for not being as disciplined, but then I realized life has an ebb and flow. If you keep it around you, then there will be a time for you to pick it up and get going to build the habit. However, there are those other times that work takes over, or family, or community obligations. Thus, I don’t get too chapped with myself anymore. I just try my best to make the time when I can. Hopefully, in the future, I’ll have more.
How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success?
Many people think of failure and success as dualistic. Either, you are one or the other. However, I believe there are some failures in success and some success in failure. It’s our job to do post-game wrap-ups and figure out how we can be stronger or better, and in which way we can be more humble and soft. There have been some films which sucked the life out of me, and others which were easy to finish. It’s still hard to gauge which is going to be which because life is complex, and it meanders at the will of the collective consciousness.
My biggest failure was jumping into politics too early, after the murder of my father at the hands of a Neo-Nazi. It cost me some dear relationships because people are naive to your intentions, though they are clear. It cost me some time because both parties ran smear campaigns and lied multiple times through their teeth about me. But what I learned from it was priceless. I saw, for the first time, the underbelly of the monster in all its weakness and ineptitudes. I saw how politics could be a great thing to bring communities together, or one of the worst things, the division of like-minded kin. Yet, I know why I ultimately made the choice to take up the challenge. And for most people, I believe we get to a point where we must be willing to do something uncomfortable when we require and desire change. Sometimes, the change is internal growth. At other times, the change is external. Almost always, it’s both.
Does cannabis play a role in your life? Why?
Cannabis used to play a role in my life. For 33 years, I nearly never touched it, alcohol, or even Tylenol for that matter. I was a teetotaler on many levels. Then, after suffering quite a few traumatic blows back to back, a Doctor in California offered it to me as a way to cope with my insomnia and sudden loss of appetite. For the five years following, it helped me gain energy, slowed my mind down enough to relax and sleep, and of course, it made me hungry again. Not just for food, but for life.
The predicament with my use is simple. I come from one of the most conservative backgrounds on the planet – Sikhism. Thus, any mention of my use was followed by judgment and downright rage with ill intent. Conservative cultures believe in heavy-handed punishment. This is why these cultures remain plagued by misogyny, mistrust, and self-hate.
In my situation, the non-stop deliverance of these punishments came in many forms: ridicule, betrayal, ignorance, and material loss. In fact, when I ran for Congress, I mentioned the Cannabis issue, and most likely, I was one of the first ones in Wisconsin to ever bring this war on drugs up as an immoral fight with losers on all sides. For that, I was harpooned by many. Yet, I know morally and correctly, that Cannabis was the cash crop that founded America. Hemp can be used to make many things including lotions, plastics, paper, energy sources, and textiles.
I know that Cannabis can be used for many medicines. The major reason for its relentless opposition is a racist agenda, and one cemented in corporate greed. Thus, I stand firmly on moral grounds for why the prohibition should end.
How would you describe Yoga4Change to someone who has never heard of it?
Y4C is the ultimate Yoga travel trip for masterminding a great tribe around you. We bring the best of the best to bucket list spots around the globe where we have intimate access by the local governments in exchange for diplomatic work and peacebuilding. While we are on the trip, we document the whole process, and the story of Yoga to be made into a feature film for distributors like Netflix. We edit one shorter version of the trip to give to the participants, while we also give them priceless photos, and some of the best training. Most of the time, they are learning from each other, and of course, all these hours go towards Yoga certifications. For coaches, we also hold a seminar to discuss advanced tribe building and community keeping.
Could you share one of your favorite stories from the Yoga4Change trip to India?
One of my favorite moments of the whole trip was spending a few days in Varanasi (Benares). This is one of the oldest and longest running cities in the world. It dates back to over 5,000 BCE and was founded by Lord Shiva on the banks of the Ganges. It was here that we worked with an orphanage, the Chandramauli Trust, and we spent many days on the banks of the Ganges. We also were privy to one of the oldest Brahman Hindu religious ceremonies. My camera was in love. I was enchanted. The group was electrified. The memories will stay with me for many lifetimes.
Why is this whole project important to you?
This project is vital to the growth of Yoga worldwide. I often see that Yoga coaches are hesitant to use modern forms of tribe building. Yet, in an increasingly complex and competitive world, it’s necessary to stay relevant. Thus, we created this for those who want a once in a lifetime experience, while also building the curriculum around different Yoga lineages, and the ultimate good: service to others. I believe our model is one of a kind around the world. Our film, which is still unnamed, focuses on the first ever encyclopedia of Yoga, past, present, and future. I pride myself on being able to take large complex subjects and summarizing them well for the average and astute audience member in cinematic form.
What qualities separate a good yoga teacher from a truly outstanding one?
I’m biased. I think all yoga teachers are outstanding in the fact that they’ve taken up such a great challenge. They are truly bringing the water to the people. Mind, body, and soul. What I’ve witnessed from some of the most memorable ones is that they know how to make each person in the room feel special. They remember each name, their background, and what brought them to Yoga. In their very swift language, they are able to connect to each of these people on a deep level. Thus, maybe the truly outstanding ones have the gift of fellowship and love. In fact, they give the gift of fellowship and love through modeling, through their relentless pursuit of the wisdom, ancient and new.
You’ve written and talked about your father’s tragic death in 2012. How has this experience contributed to shaping the person you see in the mirror today?
Life is already hard to comprehend or navigate, and death, whether untimely or not, launches you into an existential spin like no other. I have many people, who are older come up to me and share the news of their mother or father passing. I can see it in their eyes: the hurt, the loss, the pain. They’ve always had this person in their life holding the umbrella, and now, they’re gone. My father’s tragic passing was, of course, horrible on many levels. The fact that six other beautiful people were also gunned down on that Sunday morning at their temple of worship shattered the community around me. Thus, it was hard to find a ground to stand on with all of this. It was almost as if the bottom fell out, and many hundreds of people were in free fall, trying to cling together and find meaning in this. However, given that it was a race-based hate crime, there was no meaning except to frighten, traumatize, and stigmatize us as immigrants and outsiders. Hopefully, with our work, peacebuilding, and community focus, we transcended that as a team. Yet, on the personal level, I’m still dealing with it. I cry more often now for other people’s losses. I see more often through their hardship.
My father, tough as nails, was bleeding out after he fought with the former Army sergeant from Psych Ops. Two little kids, shocked at the sight of their own father’s head blown wide open, noticed my father bleeding. He was whispering a mantra they said. It’s an ancient one, “waheguru”. It’s the way we express God. “Wahe” translates to “wow”. Like when you have a brilliant idea, “wa”. Guru means “teacher”, of course. Together, waheguru means the “wow teacher”. God, to us, is the living experience. It’s without form, genderless, and eternally teaching the way through ups and downs, lefts and rights, in and out.
When, our Sikh family, the fifth largest religion in the world, passes, we all say the same mantra, “wahe-guru” repeatedly. We do this in order to ascend closer to the Divine source, or the Creator, in our next lives. Thus, throughout time, we climb the harmonic frequency to be reborn knowing all the lessons of the past. At least, we try to. My father did this, and he fought until the end, saving several people in that room, including a Priest. Thus, I must accept that which has happened and carry out the legacy of service he and his forefathers began.
What is the greatest change you’d like to see in the world over the next 10 years, and how do you embody that change?
I think the greatest change we must embody is a simple one. We must throw off the yoke of dualism. Dualistic thinking is wrongly taught in quite a few philosophies and religions. Heaven, hell, good, bad, male, female, etc. Yet, this is where the problems lie. Dualism leads to duel-ism. Mine, yours. Competition for resources. It leads to us versus them. I believe that this single concept is the invention of the simple mind. In fact, in many basic science courses, they teach us that the body has either a fight or flight system. Binary, right? Dualism. Yet, all scientists and health practitioners know there is at least a third option, “unite”. When we are sick, we don’t just fight or flight the flu. At times, we bury ourselves deep into the bosom of our mother – we unite. At times when we are panicked out of fear with three strange and maniacal men walking our way, we don’t choose one of these two, but rather, we choose to unite. We nod our head.
Dualism is also the source of many other conflicts within ourselves. Instead of finding a compromise, we chastise ourselves for being good or bad. Yet, rarely, is any human trying to be “bad”. I have often chuckled when Western religions tell me that humans are born with sin, or “bad”. In the East, we’re taught that every child is to be cherished, and they are born like Krishna, extremely “good”. Maybe this is why both systems treat humanity differently.
However, instead of being dualistic about it, I can also offer a third option as to how we are born. We are born “blank”, like blank slates with potentials given to us by our ancestors, handed down in the beautiful ceremony of lovemaking. In that way, our blank slates are filled up with the seven senses – sight, smell, hearing, taste, touch, mental, and group consciousness. The eighth can be argued to be the infinite One – the God consciousness. Each of these chisels and mark us up in a complex format to make us who we are. We do our best to make those decisions on what experiences we want to have. Hopefully, after reading this, many more people will want to join our little tribe of enlightenment seekers. And as they do, we will film together, write books together, and teach the world together.