Jeremy Frindel - the love behind the Dr Lad documentary
by Sandra Radja
My take on a lineage is not a genetically modified thing. I believe spirit can be shared by collaboration to a cause that feels greater than yourself. To be in the presence of a teacher like Dr Lad would leave a perfume that permeates those he comes into contact with. He is my guru. I didn't go looking for one, in fact J.Krishnamurti's readings were the first I did in my Indian sojourn and I avoided ashrams and anything that appeared devotee-driven like the plague.
But when it's right there is no choice. I had never had the experience of falling to the feet of a master before I even knew I would. As I was falling it surprised me and uplifted me at the same time. My practise took on a whole other level. It was no longer for myself but to add my perfume to the lineage, in my own way, motivated by a connection to the heart I can't explain.
And so when I see that expression come through another, like filmmaker Jeremy Frindel, it makes me smile. I feel an immediate kinship and for those of you that have sat at the guru's feet, you may no doubt feel the same. Jeremy Frindel is responsible for the excellent One Track Heart movie on Krishna Das, his transformative journey from drugs, rock 'n'roll and depression to a life of spirit and one of the most popular singers in Kirtan. He has a new project in documenting the life of Dr Vasant Lad, or who we endearingly refer to as the "Godfather of Ayurveda" in the US.
This is our modern day way of paying homage. These are the new mythologies. Dr Lad is part of the story line of souls brave enough to follow their Dharma.
From myself and many others out there I'm sure, thank you Jeremy for this film.
1. There are many people that have been touched by the compassion of Dr Lad. I remember seeing him for the first time at the NAMA conference in Chicago in 2007. I heard all this talk about him and wanted to find out what the fuss was about. As we settled in the lecture hall and Dr Lad arrived, I looked around the room. There was beatific smile on almost everyone's face. From that lecture on, I felt like I had found a teacher that not only inspired my interest in Ayurveda but my spiritual heart. Did you have a particular experience that brought you to want to document his life?
I first met Dr. Lad when he came to Ananda Ashram in upstate New York a few years ago. My wife had been struggling with chronic health issues and a friend of ours who Dr. Lad had helped immensely through some serious health problems recommended that she go see him. So she decided to participate in histeachings for the week and try to get a moment to see him about her condition. She wanted me to come with her, but I wasn’t really interested. I wasn’t veryfamiliar with Dr. Lad, I’d been traveling a lot, didn’t care to study Ayurveda, andjust wanted to stay home. But she really wanted me to go. It was summertime,they have a swimming pool, I figured if nothing else I’d just hang by the pool all day, walk in the woods, do my own thing, and agreed to go with her. From the first lecture I was hooked. He was just emanating sweetness,love, and this fascinating combination of childlike innocence and yet knowing everything in the universe, simultaneously. I attended every lecture and spent much less time at the pool than I’d imagined. Throughout the week I became more and more fascinated with Dr. Lad and wanted to learn more about him and spend more time with him. On the last day of the workshop a man sat next to me and we struck up a nice conversation. When he found out I had made the film about Krishna Das, we started talking about the possibility of making a film about Dr. Lad. He knew Dr. Lad and some of the people close with him. This man Sartaj reached out to Dr. Lad about making a film, connected us, and made the first investment for me to start shooting in India a few months later. The whole thing came together very quickly.
2. What's your personal practise? Did a spiritual practise come before film making or did a coincidence bring the stories of spiritual leaders to you?.
I have been working in the film business in various capacities since I graduated college in 2001. So that came long before any sort of formal spiritual practice. But the entertainment industry can be brutal, and play all kinds of games with your ego, sense of self worth, values, etc. In 2006 I read an article with Rivers Cuomo from the band Weezer about how he would do these 10 day silent meditation retreats and had been doing them for years. Something about it intrigued me, and I signed up for one never having practiced mediation before.
It was the hardest and most profound thing I’d ever done and it completely changed my life. After that a lot of my priorities shifted and I wanted to find a way to ground what I’d experienced into my body so I decided to try practicing yoga. I soon met Dharma Mittra, a beautiful yoga teacher in Manhattan whom I came to study very closely with. For a few years I traveled all over assisting Dharma, taught in his teacher training's, and my wife and I eventually opened a donation yoga center in our neighborhood. There were a few years where I really dropped out of the film world and immersed myself in yoga practice, meditation, study, etc. Dharma and Krishna Das are friends, and somewhere in there as I spent more time around KD the inspiration arose to make a film about his life, and that really brought these two threads of my life together, storytelling and spirituality.
Ever since that first vipassana meditation retreat I’ve had a regular meditation practice of some kind or another that has expanded into different yoga practices and chanting.
3. You made the film One Track Heart: The Story of Krishna Das. I liked it - he seemed like an authentic and very easygoing guy in the film and yet so determined with following his truth. How do you decide on an angle or directors viewpoint when filming these stories? Do you have a story to tell alongside these teachers?
After One Track Heart came out and I started looking at possible next projects, I wanted my next film to be very different. Not another portrait of a spiritual teacher. But I’m so drawn to mystics and love exploring the subtle and mysterious so much that when I met Dr. Lad and the idea came up I was excited and wanted to dive in. How could I pass on the opportunity? My whole life I’ve had lots of heroes and want to know everything I can about them to help find that quality in myself. For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to be a jedi. When I was younger I would read biographies of rock stars to try and figure out how to find some of the magic of people like Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix. In some ways these films about KD and now Dr. Lad are probably an extension of that. Its incredible to get to spend such intimate time with people I admire so much. The challenge and goal for me is to capture what it is that I find so compelling and inspiring about them and transmit that experience wrapped up in a film that lasts around 90 minutes. And do it in a way that is honest and real. I will have some idea going in, and it inevitably change and evolves. I read a quote by the great documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles "If you end up with the story you started with, then you weren't listening along the way." It seems every project has a life of its own that you end up dancing with. But I think the enduring human story is the struggle to realize how unique and lovely each one of us is. People who have been able to find that help inspire and show the way for the rest of us to be able to do that. If there is a story that I’m drawn to, its that each of us is capable of overcoming the many obstacles to find this love and joy.
4. Have you noticed being in the vibrational presence of Dr Lad and Krishna Das lead to your own biology going through changes? Their prana can be so strong that I feel like it's pancha karma for the soul - sometimes positive and sometimes weird things come up to be dealt with.
One of the most profound things in the last 10 years or so of my life has been getting to spend time with so many people who have devoted their lives to developing love and compassion. I can’t speak too scientifically about it, but when you’re around people like that things just look and feel different. Its hard to be an ass around someone who is bursting with love and joy. Something like how hanging out with intelligent people can make you smarter, and hanging out with angry people can make you angry and unhappy. The more time you spend in any state of consciousness, it starts to become habitual. And yes, if you’re not accustomed to that state of mind, there will be some adjustment and change that can be funky. And for me, there has certainly been some funkiness. But it has been highly transformational and I feel incredibly lucky to be able to spend so much time around people like Krishna Das, Dr. Lad and others.
5. I know Dr Lad has a wicked sense of humour. Any funny moments you can share?
One of the funniest moments for me was driving with Dr. Lad in Albuquerque. He didn’t learn to drive a car until he moved to the states and I still think is a bit hesitant behind the wheel, probably doesn’t drive very much beyond his home and the school, which are a few minutes apart.
One day I went to lunch with Dr. Lad and he was driving us back to the school, trying to get there in time to meet a patient. The traffic can be a bit funky there, its these longs roads sprawling with strip malls. To try and pull out into traffic can be a bit tricky certain times of the day. We were trying to pull out and make a left against a few lanes of traffic. Were waiting a couple minutes for an opening to turn and nothing was opening up. When there was a slight clearing, Dr. Lad yells “Jai Bhagavan” pegs the gas and blasts through traffic, making the turn. Sadly I didn’t have the camera with me that day.
Jeremy Frindel is a Brooklyn based filmmaker whose directorial debut ONE TRACK HEART: THE STORY OF KRISHNA DAS was released theatrically in the US in 2013 by Zeitgeist Films. ONE TRACK HEART was awarded Best Documentary at five film festivals, and has screened at dozens of other film festivals around the world, as well as theatrically in over 100 US cities. He earned a BA in Film Scoring from the Berklee College of Music in 2001, and has been engaged in the many aspects of filmmaking ever since. He has worked as an editor and sound editor on such films as Some Kind of Monster, Bernard & Doris, The Baxter and the Oscar nominated, Junebug.
To find out more about the Dr Lad movie and to contribute to the film please visit www.vasantladmovie.com