Just prior to my Thursday 10 AM yoga class at NOLA’s, I always take a few moments for alternate nostril breath which balances the nervous system, pranayama mudras, and a little loving kindness meditation. It helps bring me to center and be the kind of yoga teacher I aspire to be. There are always “a-ha” moments during, or as a result of, meditation—especially if I’m pondering something.
Today as I finished my meditation I looked around the beautiful space where I’m honored to teach yoga in NOLA’S corporate event center. The owner, Kavita Mehta, has an eye for art. She has several paintings adorning the walls. Although my eyes have landed on these walls several times, today I noticed just how many of them contain birch trees.
I grew up with a birch tree outside my bedroom window. My dad loved trees, as I’ve written many times before. Because a birch tree was just outside my childhood window, I’ve always felt a connection to birch trees. How did I not notice the abundance of birch trees in my new yoga space?
I started to snap photos of them with my iPhone to capture their beauty, knowing all the while they would be the subject of this blog. Once an idea hits me, I can’t contain myself. These are only a few of the ones containing birch trees. It was hard to decide which to include here.
Birch has often been associated with renewal, awakening the energy of new beginnings and a cleansing of the past. The birch tree has been called the “White Lady of the Woods” owing to her beautiful white bark. The bark of the birch tree, hence the spirit of the birch tree, was often used to instill courage and protection. It is even suggested we meditate on birch for resilience during hard times.
We can also invoke the birch spirit energy for an auspicious start to new ventures (lucky me!). Birch brings the promise of what is to come, new dawns, hope and regeneration. Isn’t that also what yoga brings with its promise of mind/body connection? Bringing our bodies into the rest and relax/parasympathetic nervous system mode is the only time your body is able to regenerate and heal. This, too, is the promise, the gift of yoga. For me it is the promise of a “better day”. (Read about how I came up with the name of my business here.)
As a guardian, birch provides solace and safety from the madness of the world. Okay, full disclosure, the “madness” referred to in the folklore I was reading was referring to the tricks of the Faery. Don’t laugh, it won’t make the faeries happy! Faeries are part of folklore worldwide, by the way. I always say I judge by experience. If the whole world’s ancient stories include the wee folk, who am I to argue of their existence? And, for that matter, who are you to? And somehow labeling the “madness of the world” as faery/fairy trickery, makes this madness seem somehow lighter and more manageable for me. Yes, in case you’re wondering, I believe in faeries and all things magical. I’ve written about this many times, but this one is my favorite here.
Now, that we’ve got that out of the way….moving on.)
“If you do not believe in magic, your life will not be magical. Magic, like the power of Stonehenge, is part of the unknowable—that which you cannot describe, but which exists and makes your life extraordinary.” –The Power Deck, The Cards of Wisdom, by Lynn V. Andrews.
Like most women I know, birch appears fragile but is extremely strong. We’re all stronger than we think we are, aren’t we? What a beautiful message birch brings us: to appear how we may to the world but harbor our inner strength inside. The birch tree carries ancient wisdom and yet appears forever young. Yoga, too, carries ancient wisdom and will enable you to age gracefully, appearing younger than your years.
Some have used birch as a meditation tool, sitting with their back to the birch tree to calm down so they can channel their anxiety into “wise ways”. This is what meditation and yoga, which is a meditation in motion, does for me. There have been studies on the effects of meditation helping us to pause before we react so we react with wisdom and calmness. (See the Tibetan prayer flags in this painting? Prayer flags are used to promote peace, compassion, strength and wisdom. It is believed the prayers are blown by the wind to spread good will and compassion to all.)
Birch’s vibration is said to increase tolerance of ourselves and others. This speaks to me of patience. We can all be so hard on ourselves sometimes. Sometimes that short fuse gets taken out on others. Yoga is my solace and increases my patience level with each practice. My mat instills a deep breath every time I step upon it. It contains the energy of all my previous prayers and meditative moments. On the sacred space of my yoga mat I can start over each day—it’s my restart button, my “do over”. Here I am able to forget the past and be here now, “just for today.” Remember I opened with birch’s ability to cleanse the past. (I wrote at depth about my mat as sacred space here.)
“Now, with the essence of Birch, you come into the rhythm of life, the empowerment of dreams, and the ability to vision your possibilities.” ~ The Faces of Womanspirit; a Celtic oracle of Avalon (thegoddesstree.com)
It is said that a good beginning leads to a good conclusion. So as I ponder our new beginnings here at NOLA’S surrounded by the energy of the Birch tree’s wisdom permeating our yoga space, I am humbled by the symbolism of a fresh start, courage, determination and spiritual growth. And I am honored to be the conduit for those students joining me as we learn the lessons of the birch tree together—that hidden within there is often found great strength.
Won’t you join me?
For details on dates, rates, and specials, please click here. Thank you! Hope to see you soon!
A couple of days ago, one of my mentors, Indu Arora, posted about “Nava-Ratri”. She started her post saying that “In Vedic Texts, the feminine is celebrated in many divine forms and one of them is Durga. Four times a year there are nine days and nights which are considered to be filled with nine forms of divine energy each of them symbolizing a form of Durga.”
So I’ve been dwelling on “Divine forms of energy”. Along with the Blessed Virgin Mary (my mantra in my morning meditation is the “Hail Mary”/ “Ave Maria” salutation), I believe Quan Yin, Tara, Athena, White Buffalo Woman, Lakshmi, and yes Isis, among others, all embody the “Divine Mother”—the loving, nurturing, magical healing energy. I believe they are different representations of the same energy and embody different forms so they’ll appear in the correct form for you to accept. We are only open to that which we believe in—yes? So why wouldn’t “Divine Mother” energy embody many forms for all the world to appreciate?
Today I realized these many forms of Divine Energy are not that unfamiliar to this Catholic girl. They have roots in my history. Marion apparitions have influenced the Catholic Church and the lives of millions of Roman Catholics for thousands of years. These supernatural appearances sometimes appear to an individual or a few people a majority of the time, and sometimes to thousands of people over a period of time. Some of the apparitions have even received a “Canonical coronation” from the Pope, crowning the holy image. These Divine apparitions of Mary are often named after the town where it is reported, such as Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Guadalupe; and my Polish heritage Madonna, Our Lady of Czestochowa. Other times, the Divine image is given a “nickname” of sorts calling out what her appearance is most noted for in that instance, like Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal.
I grew up with a childhood book about Saint Bernadette Soubirous and Our Lady of Lourdes. Sadly, I didn’t take it with me as an adult on my own. So it’s lost (but I just ordered what I hope to be an old copy of the same book!). I read that book over and over and over. I was enamored with Saint Bernadette and Our Lady of Lourdes. This is a prayer card I own:
I’ve written about Quan Yin and The Virgin Mary before (reposted in the post below this one). Fairly recently I realized that not only do I consider Quan Yin and Mary of the same Divine Energy, but Our Lady of Lourdes is the version of Divine Energy I associate with Quan Yin because they both have a water element. As I pray my Hail Mary’s and the mantra associated with Quan Yin, “Om Mani Padme Hum” (which means “Hail to the Jewel in the Lotus”), I envision them both pouring their water over me as well as my husband when I share Reiki with him. We had a wedding day photo taken at the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes at the University of Notre Dame in my home town. As my regular readers know, this grotto has a special place in my heart because my dad worked at Notre Dame when he first immigrated to America after WWII. He helped with the stonework on the grotto. So I find my visualization of water pouring over us very protective and comforting.
I also had two Miraculous Medals growing up. One of which I still have—I gifted the other to a friend in need. Catherine Labouré and the story of the Miraculous Medal became another one of my favorite stories. Another prayer card is pictured here:
We visited the Jasna Góra Monastery in Czestochowa when we went to Poland on our first trip there and purchased the framed picture below. The image of the “Black Madonna” also known as Our Lady of Czestochowa, is considered to have miraculous powers and is shrouded in numerous legends which trace the icon’s origin to St. Luke who painted it on a cedar table top from the house of the Holy Family.
During our wedding ceremony we were gifted a framed picutre of another artist’s version of Our Lady of Czestochowa by the priest that married us, Father Steven Avella. At our wedding, he said he felt like the Pope at the time, Pope John Paul II. The Pope was Polish and surrounded by Italians. He was Italian and surrounded by Poles at our wedding. (My husband and I are both 100% Polish as were many of our guests!)
As we celebrate the first day of spring and Easter approaches, I’m reminded of the many flowers associated with the appearances of the Blessed Virgin. The rose has symbolized Mary since the earliest times of the Church. Our Lady of Guadalupe is associated with the “Miracle of Roses”.
Another flower associated with Mary is the lily, sometimes called the “Madonna Lilly”, which is often depicted in paintings of the Madonna and often seen during the Easter season when they represent the Resurrection of Christ. For those who may be unsure of my “Goddess” association the Catholic religion and Mary, let me remind that the name for “Easter”, Christianity’s most important holiday, comes from the pre-Christian Goddess Eostre, Ostara or “Eastre” who was celebrated at the beginning of spring.
How do you connect with the Divine? What are your rituals? How do you make your beliefs come alive and meaningful? This is my meditation. This is my way.
Each week I write about what the Universe brings to my attention. This morning as I awoke, my gaze landed on one of my favorite photos of a Quan Yin statue taken just outside Andrea Smith Gallery in Sedona, AZ. The photo is nestled in the mirror of my bedroom dresser and appears just behind one of my favorite statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary—a statue given to me by my mom. Their close proximity to each other is no accident. Their similar coloring (See photo below) practically screamed that I position them near each other. Also, I consider Quan Yin the “Asian equivalent of the Blessed Virgin Mary”.
Quan Yin is a bodhisattva, meaning she is eligible for Buddhahood. Yet she’s vowed to stay near Earth until all beings are enlightened. In Sanskrit, her name is Padma-pâni, or “Born of the Lotus. Many think of her as the Buddahist Madonna. She is known as the Goddess of Compassion who hears the cries of the world—a trait also associated with the Blessed Virgin Mary.
I was dwelling on this topic, among others, as I was preparing lunch today. I thought perhaps I should save this topic for my newsletter and turn it into a whole focus—adding crystals, colors and wild life associated with Quan Yin.
While eating lunch, I tuned into a favorite television show that happened to be on and in the background was a statue of Quan Yin in a park area. That was my sign! Then as I was in the middle of writing this I received an e-zine that contained a story entitled “Crystals and healing in the Buddhist Tradition“. It mentions the mantra associated with Quan Yin: “Om Mani Padme Hum”, which means “Hail to the jewel in the lotus flower”—a prayer I have on my desk next to a Quan Yin statue—and also mentions Jade as a stone considered sacred to Quan Yin. Second sign!
I’ve written about Quan Yin before. Simply looking at her image has always made me feel peaceful and protected, even as a child before I knew more about her. I’d never questioned the beginnings of my Quan Yin attraction. It was just “there”, until I made the connection…
A kind lady in Shakti’s Books & Gifts in Madison, WI asked me if I knew who the beautiful Asian lady was on the necklace she was contemplating and I started to share with her what I knew. It was when I mentioned that I’d read Quan Yin was considered the Asian equivalent of the Blessed Virgin Mary, both embodying “Divine Mother” energy, that a childhood memory hit me like a ton of bricks.
I remembered we had an Asian lady statue/lamp in my childhood home. Looking back, I’m fairly certain it was Quan Yin, but I didn’t know that at the time. I made the connection as I spoke to the kind lady in Shakti’s Books & Gifts. I was in awe of this statue. My siblings, ever ready to tease me incessantly, knew this and instilled a smidgen of anticipation in me by suggesting that if I watched her intently enough (which I always did), she’d open her eyes. I felt as though she was watching over our whole household. Finding out she was probably the Goddess of Mercy and Compassion was simply an added bonus.
I connect with the “Divine Mother” each morning through my morning meditation mantra—the “Hail Mary”/ “Ave Maria” salutation. Along with the Blessed Virgin Mary, I believe Quan Yin, Tara, Athena, White Buffalo Woman, Lakshmi, and Isis, among others, all embody the “Divine Mother”—the loving, nurturing, magical healing energy. I believe they are different representations of the same energy and embody different forms so they’ll appear in the correct form for you to accept. We are only open to that which we believe in—yes? So why wouldn’t “Divine Mother” energy embody many forms for all the world to appreciate? “Hail to the jewel in the lotus flower” resonates “Hail Mary full of grace” and both prayers bring me peace.
This post was originally posted March 6, 2013 on a Prana Pages blog I shared with a colleague. That blog has been discontinued so I am reposting some of them as I have time.
This past Sunday, I had the pleasure of listening to a presentation from “The Power of Shamanism” presented by Sounds True®. The speaker was Julie Kramer and her topic was “Sacred Stewardship: Tending to Your Home in Partnership with the Unseen World”. There were many points that made me smile about this presentation, not the least of which was one of her meditations focusing on the more subtle energies such as “sprites” or wee folk in or near your household. I had decided upon this webinar over a couple others presented for the day strictly because of the “unseen world” element (see my last post referencing my own fairy sighting some years ago involving a house fairy.)
During my Level 1 Yoga Nidra training with Indu Arora last month, I learned that “Yoga Nidra”, in addition to being the practice, is also a goddess represented by the night or lunar energy. Ancient texts used poetry to honor the beauty, strength and power of the nourishing, protecting Goddess that is Yoga Nidra. We literally complete the Yoga Nidra practice with a moon shower. We visualize the moon shining down over us, filling us so full that the moon energy shoots out of our fingers and our toes.
Yoga Nidra puts you in a highly regenerative meditative state. This state helps to support your immune system and increases your resilience and emotional balance. In Yoga Nidra we create a “sankalpa” or intention that is directly in line with what we would like to manifest over a lifetime.
In Julie’s “Sacred Stewardship” webinar, she led us through a visualization dropping down into the earth far enough to where no human being had been and then sensing how the energy of that depth and place felt. We were then to imagine infusing this earth energy into our being, sensing how it made us feel—how it affected our energy and well-being. We then visualized infusing this earth energy up into our home via a hose, filling up every nook and cranny of our home with this healing earth energy and noticing how this energy made us feel and made our house feel—how “animated” this energy made us feel.
The next meditation complimented the earth energy meditation and focused on the moon. We imagined pulling the energy of the moon down into our bodies, filling us up. Then we visualized infusing the moon energy into our homes as we did with the earth energy, filling every nook and cranny. Only this time the energy was meant to cleanse away the unnecessary energy not needed or wanted in the home. Again we were to notice how “animated” this energy wash made us feel—how alive.
I couldn’t help but notice the similarities in using the moon shower in our Yoga Nidra practice to the Shaman practice. The ancients used the energy of the Universe in similar ways. There is only one moon—yet these two practices from different histories and philosophies chose to use a moon shower ritual.
I often use new moons to empower a time of growth in my chosen affirmations and intentions—as did our forefathers before. My in-laws used the new moon to plant potatoes. It is considered a time of new beginnings. The full moon is a time of completion and fulfillment. So I ask my yoga students, “What are you done with?” The moon affects the tides of the ocean. Why would it not affect the energy in our bodies which contain a large percentage of water? Why not use the energy of the moon to magnify your chosen purpose and resilience?
There are numerous spiritual beliefs and practices that use the moon. Many depictions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, for example, show her standing on a crescent moon. Easter’s date is determined by the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the vernal equinox. Noticing the similarities in the use of moon energy left me with a sense of connectedness to a spirituality with no labels, only the moon energy being used for our greater good.
“I see the moon and the moon sees me. God bless the moon and God bless me.”
(Photo of the art on my pullover purchased over 20 years ago now at an art show in Wayzata, MN)
My husband and I went to see Mamma Mia at the Orpheum this past weekend as an early Valentine’s Day celebration. We really had a great time!
It’s such a fun, uplifting show! You can’t help but feel good tapping your feet and singing along with all the ABBA songs. The storyline reminds you that while the choices you make earlier in life affect your future, it’s never too late to have your dreams come true. Age doesn’t matter when you’re heart’s in the right place.
I couldn’t help but recall the first time we saw the play in Las Vegas several years ago. My company had awarded me a trip because I’d had an exceptionally good sales year. Their outward approval meant so much to me then.
I’ve been teaching yoga since 2008 and when I left the corporate world in 2009 to pursue Yoga as my career, it was more than a little scary. I knew there’d be less income, but the reasons to leave were more compelling than the reasons to stay.
As I sat in the theater this past weekend, tears came to my eyes as I remembered how confirming it was to be given that trip as a sales award. I’d felt like I’d “arrived”. Since 2009, I’ve steadily grown my yoga career and progressed to having in-home private residence and on-site corporate classes. My old corporate boss used to say “nobody ever went out of business because of low overhead.” I’ve been working “lean”—perhaps too lean at times. I realize that maybe I need to take a few more risks going forward. Risk-taking has never been my strong suit, especially as I’ve gotten older!
Recently I achieved certification as a yoga therapist through the International Association of Yoga Therapists. I’ve been working toward that goal for a long time. So the Mamma Mia play was a two-fold celebration. Again, there’s that outward “nod of approval” that I still must need.
I realized the tears that came to my eyes in the theater this past weekend were not so much for remembering “then” as it was affirming “now”. “NOW” I was at this play because I chose to, because we wanted to reward ourselves, because we deserved it. So we did it. No outward approval required. It came from within this time. And being with my husband of almost 34 years having a blast was, as always, priceless!
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When I was in 7th grade, my teacher was a Catholic nun named Sister Roberta. She was a bit of a rebel in that she played the guitar and started “guitar masses” at our church. She also introduced weekly “prayer meetings” in our class where we each had a copy of the Bible to refer to. She encouraged us to share random readings and our thoughts about those readings.
I was not with the popular “in” crowd. I was more the quiet, goody-two-shoes-type gal. So it was more in my nature to be the wallflower when it came to sharing things in class. Looking back upon the story I’m about to share, it surprises the adult me even more that I shared the readings I found. It was as though the story could not be kept quiet. The synchronicity had to be shared. It had to have some sort of meaning, some sort of explanation.
I wished I’d written down the biblical references I randomly opened to, but there were several; and the prayer meeting was for voicing our thoughts, not taking notes. It started innocently enough with one reference to “wisdom”. I shared it, some classmates commented, and we moved on. My very next random opening of the Bible brought yet another “wisdom” reference, so I shared this as well with a touch of inner awe at the second reading involving “wisdom”. Two readings shared turned into several—many, many readings all randomly appeared when I’d close and reopen the Bible. It got to the point that I didn’t even need to raise my hand any more. I just started to speak out loud when I’d find the next one and the next one. Even my classmates were beginning to wonder. In retrospect, I know that “wisdom” is a central topic in many of the books of the Bible, but the sheer number of references I found in such a short time span still gives me reason to pause.
My best friend sat nearby and whispered something encouraging to me. I forget what it was. Right about then, I started to notice cold shivers in my body and I remember sharing this with my friend. My mom always overdressed me—but that’s for another story. The point being, I was not cold due to lack of clothing. My friend shared this out loud before I could say anything—not that I minded. I was caught in the wonder of it all. I remember Sister Roberta suggesting that perhaps the readings and the physical manifestation of cold shivers was a visit from the Holy Spirit since “wisdom” is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. I was thoroughly humbled by the idea.
It was from this auspicious beginning that my relationship with “wisdom” as a personal “gift” started. After that, any reference to “wisdom” was like an inside “wink and a nod” from God—an understanding between us. Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t feel like I was this newly wisened, holier-than-thou human being. On the contrary, I still felt like I always felt—nothing special—no more, no less. It was just that the whole incident made a huge impression on me. It’s something I’ll never forget.
Fast forward several years. As I matured, my interests in all things magical and mystical grew. I was intensely curious about historical figures, metaphysical subjects, psychic phenomena, angels, fairies (see the opening section to this newsletter), and yes–goddesses. I started to have an attraction to various goddesses. I’m not the only one enamored with the “Asian-equivalent of the Virgin Mary”—Quan Yin. Click here to read about Quan Yin’s presence in my life.
My regular readers know that I am intensely proud of my Polish heritage. My grandmother on my mother’s side is Sophia. So of course I was drawn to studying the goddess Sophia—the divine embodiment of female wisdom. Her name translates literally as “wisdom” in Greek and is often represented in art as a dove. “Later history associated Sophia with the Holy Spirit in Gnosticism. Interestingly, Christianity depicted the Holy Spirit as a dove, imparting divine energy to its recipients.
Gnosticism—derived from gnosis, the Greek word for knowledge—grew alongside early Christianity….Later the Greek Orthodox church named her Saint Sophia.” ~ The Book of Goddesses. A Celebration of the Divine Feminine.” ~ by Kris Waldherr. “In Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christianity, Sophia, or rather Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom), is an expression of understanding for the second person of the Holy Trinity.”
In my readings and research I found a connection with Sophia to “Athena”, the goddess of wisdom, and one of the most powerful of ancient Greek goddesses. Athena “was the daughter of Zeus, the Greek ruling god, and his first wife, Metis, whose name meant ‘wisdom’.” ~ The Book of Goddesses. A Celebration of the Divine Feminine.” ~ by Kris Waldherr.
“The word “sofia” was an epithet of Athena in ancient Greek philosophy, namely this word meant the wisdom and divine superiority of Athena in comparison with other Olympic gods.
…in ancient Greece Athena was the personification of wisdom and was the most esteemed goddess before birth of the Christ, but the image of Athena was rethought in understanding of the first Christians and was named Sophia the Wisdom of God, and also the name of Sofia was separated from pagan gods and compared to wisdom…” Source: http://www.numeralgame.64g.ru/num/num6en.htm
Athena became another very personal goddess connection in my life—we were practically related, after all. Athena is often accompanied by an owl—the bird associated with wisdom. Whenever an owl finds its way into my life, I smile. I’m drawn to owl photos, drawings, and sounds. I notice their presence. How about you?
These personal connections to the Divine Feminine are archetypes we all carry deep inside. You need only to acknowledge their existence and suddenly you’ll have your own “aha moment”. I promise. Do you recognize your “goddess within”? I’m sure there are several. Acknowledge and uncover your own personal history—your life stories, and let your inner goddesses evolve into a very personal, unique connection. You won’t regret it. It will be a constant source of inspiration and comfort.
A good friend of mine, Flo Schell, is also a very gifted artist. She has created the most beautiful, stunning goddess paintings and was kind enough to let me post a depiction and link here. I have, of course, chosen the goddess Athena. She’s absolutely beautiful, don’t you think?