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July 14, 2014

A Quick Chat with Jayadeva

SAGE offers hundreds of programs every month, throughout the country. Our monthly “Quick Chats” with SAGE participants offer a first-person perspective on these programs, and a little more insight into the remarkable folks who make up our community. This month, we spoke with Jayadeva (also known as Jay) a 60 year-old dancer, yoga teacher, and SAGE participant whose travels have taken him all the way to India.  

Thanks for speaking with me Jay! How long have you been in New York?

I’ve been in New York City for 40 years, but I’m originally from Wisconsin -- I suppose that makes me a Dairy Queen (groan).

  Jay2

That’s great! And what brought you to the city?

I went to NYU for theater. I was a production assistant at the Circle in the Square theater—It was quite a time; I got to work every day with legends like Maureen Stapleton, Vanessa Redgrave, and Syliva Miles ("you like my wardrobe with a view, honey?") … my method acting teacher was the marvelous Madeleine Sherwood -- "Sister Woman" in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.  Paul Newman would drop by, Al Pacino would drop by, Tony Randall -- they were all super nice, super generous of spirit -- magical people.  I remember my first week there George C. Scott walked into the lobby -- a formidable superstar at that time, a tough guy anti-hero leading man -- and I blurted out, "Oh my god it's George C. Scott!"  He walked right over to me and growled, “What the $#@% is wrong with you, you little $#@%?!” I cringed in adolescent terror.  Then he laughed and said, “Just kidding, kid -- I'm George.  Nice to meet you!” He shook my hand, and offered much encouragement. 

I worked as an actor for a few years but left early on.  I studied dance and started getting asked to appear with small companies, supporting myself with freelance computer work.  I ended up running a database at the United Nations in the late 1980s and mid 1990s. The UN is an interesting show every day!  I tried to start an LGBT organization there.  It was clear I was gay as I never hid the fact -- I mean my boyfriend would pick me up at work.  I was perceived to have AIDS after an extreme weight loss -- hysteria ensued, then a garden variety yet effective cover-up.  The old story.  

Were there many out gay people there in those days?

Not that I know of!  It was very “don’t ask, don’t tell" before that phrase was coined.  Lots of old school, quaint creeping around though, of course.  Oh yeah, and death threats.  Lots of intrigue and dysfunction at the United Nations.  A tale for another time perhaps ... 

And what did you do after the UN?

I lived in yoga ashrams and became a teacher. I had practiced yoga since I was a little kid -- a wonderful guru named Richard Hittleman had a TV show on NET (before there even was a PBS) in the early 1960s, and from the time I was six or seven years old my little boyfriend and I would watch him and practice the poses. 

Wow, that’s impressive! I do yoga too.

You can say ‘I do yoga’, or you could say ‘I seek yoga’, since it’s a practice of moving toward communion with the Divine, a realization of your own true divine nature.  All are divine, some just don't know it yet. 

That makes perfect sense.

Yes! I’ve gone deeply into Hindu philosophy since my awakening to the enormity of confusion among the powerful in the material world. I've had several extended stays in India and have actually thought of relocating there— my Indian friends keep urging me on Facebook to "come home." But it’s a matter of where I can be most useful. For several years in the late 1990s and early 2000s I led a group of yoga practitioners in Chelsea we called "Midnight Yoga for Men”— a transcendent little tribe. As an important part of our practice we met naked in the style of the Sadhu monks, the original yogis, renouncing all material attachments.  After we got public attention several entrepreneurs imitated the idea, and emphasized the nudity aspect as a commercial lure.  Oh well.  I’d love to be able to do something like that again, but in the context of a Hindu temple among truly spiritual practitioners.  The "yoga industry" is a pernicious thing.  Cultural hijacking, cultural disrespect -- these things create confusion, obstacles to Self-realization. 

The literature of yoga is written in Sanskrit.  I recently fulfilled a long-held dream and did graduate study in Sanskrit at Harvard.  All part of my path toward truth. 

And what brought you to SAGE?

Well, first I just came for dinner and community. I’ve had some health problems in the last couple of years and was feeling a little isolated, in spite of cherishing the solitude of my spiritual practice. Then I saw there were all these workshops! I've written a proverbial show tune in 2/4 for the musical theater workshop and I’m going to present it tomorrow night!  Hey, never forget where you came from! 

That sounds fantastic! Good luck—or break a leg!

Thank you, dear!  Bless you!  Om Namah Shivaya! 

Oh and one last question--What's that design painted on your hand?

The Indian henna tattoo, mendhi, is a tradition observed by a Hindu bride on her wedding day.  It has filtered into general fashion, and boys in the West can have one too these days without much eyebrow raising.  This lovely example on my hand I got on the weekend at the Javitz Center.  Amma -- the famous "hugging mother" from Kerala state, India -- had her annual NYC love fest marathon there as she does every July.  Hugged thousands of people and showered us with flower petals.  Amma is regarded by her devotees as the embodiment of the goddess -- Devi.  But also her charities have done extraordinary humanitarian work, particularly for widows in rural India, who traditionally have been cast off.  She has hugged tens of millions of people around the world -- it's a powerful thing -- I strongly recommend!

-- Posted by Kira Garcia

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