I remember the first time I saw the Sierra Mountain Range. I was 21 and flying west on a whim to work at a camp just outside of Yosemite for the summer. As my nose pressed against the thick airplane window, I felt a tug in my navel. I had never seen anything like those mountains before, but I was sure that I had felt this same tug. It felt familiar, important, and fierce, even in the face of such unknown landscape.
And it was no different once I was down in those mountains. The glacial erratics, the scraggy, pine-lined crests, the deep, green valleys and sheer rock faces, every time I found myself there I felt that same tug; I knew myself to be looking into the face of the Divine. “None of this could be here on accident,” I thought to myself, “it’s too perfect, too great.” And yet, I also felt that I had been in this place before.
Nature itself was no stranger to me. Growing up in Indiana, my parents cultivated our homestead somewhat off the grid. Summers were barefoot feet, gravel roads, and fields with itchy, green-gold grass overhead. In the middle of that upbringing was my mother, elbow deep in the earth, pulling up weeds, earthworms, and other wonders for me to marvel at. Her nails always had dirt under them, her hands roughened by the earth, and arms strong and capable as they carried me through the flowers, trees, and hills of my home.
Hikes with my mother, through any landscape, take twice as long as they should as she marvels at fern growth off the path, identifies mosses like long-lost children, and celebrates flowers. As a child this was endlessly frustrating to me. I wanted to run fast, to climb trees, to run down dunes, and it was my mother who trailed behind me with wonder, examining everything we came across. As an adult now, there is nothing dearer to me then to go out walking with my Ma through a wilderness. My mother’s deep love for nature is something that has been encoded into my DNA, written across my heart, and I know that it was this love that tugged deep inside when I saw the face of the Sierras for the first time.
“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” – John Muir
The wilderness is now my favorite form of sanctuary. In everything I see there is the face of the Goddess Durga, the Mother of the Universe, the Ma who puts the work behind creation, preservation, and destruction of our natural world. With every step there is a flower budding, a leaf rotting, a rock face shifting, everything in constant pulse and sway. In a journal of John Muir’s he describes this divine cycle as Heimgang or “home-going.”
“So the snow-flowers go home when they melt and flow to the sea, and the rock-ferns, after unrolling their fronds to the light and beautifying the rocks, roll them up close again in the autumn and blend with the soil. Myriads of rejoicing living creatures, daily, hourly, perhaps every moment sink into death’s arms, dust to dust, spirit to spirit-waited on, watched over, noticed only by their [Mother Maker]…Trees towering in the sky, braving storms of centuries, flowers turning faces to the light for a single day or hour, having enjoyed their share of life’s feast-all alike pass on and away under the law of death and love. Yet all are our brothers and they enjoy life as we do, share Heaven’s blessings with us, die and are buried in hallowed ground, come with us out of eternity and return into eternity.”
I’ve learned much about my place in this world by going out walking; both with my physical mother and my Divine Mother. And just as it hurts me to be separated from my mother by distance, it hurts me to see the distance that we have put between ourselves as a society and our Earth Mother. We’ve taken her work and twisted it to serve our own needs. We tear down trees because we covet the land; we violently alter the lives of animals to fit our taste for them; we take from the earth without restraint, and then we lie about the hurt we are causing.
As yogis there is no practice more important than our practice off the mat. The yamas, ethical guidelines for our relationship with our external world, implore a practice of right living with nature and the creatures within it. Who can protect her child better than her mother? Why do we presume that we know better than our Earth Mother?
We must awake to our origin as children of nature. As noted by my greatly loved, and oft-quoted teacher, John Muir, “brought into right relationship with the wilderness [we] would see that [we are] not a separate entity endowed with a divine right to subdue [our] fellow creatures and destroy the common heritage, but rather an integral part of a harmonious whole. [We] would see that [our] appropriation of earth’s resources beyond [our] personal needs would only bring imbalance and beget ultimate loss and poverty for all.”
We all need our Earth Mother desperately and have an innate love for her. We must awaken to the reality of our relationship and right it. Celebrate the shapes of nature on your mat; crow, rock, eagle, firefly, tree, and then go out walking. I promise you’ll find something familiar there.
“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” – Sri John Muir
Erica is new to the Lotus teaching family is enjoying learning and growing as both student and teacher. Her classes are defined by real-talk, playful push, and groovy tunes. She teaches Friday mornings at 7:00 AM and Alignment Lab on Sundays at 11:45 AM. More information can be found at her website www.wildeheartyoga.com
I wake up to the sound of music, Mother Mary comes to me. Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.
I’ve had a secret. This was a secret that I held in my heart for a long time growing up and only told very few. Even then, I didn’t know how to articulate what exactly had happened. It was an experience beyond words, beyond worlds.
I grew up going to Catholic school, going to mass two-three times a week, attending confession once a week, having long biblical conversations with the priests and saying the rosary. I remember feeling my little body sitting in those tall, cold, uncomfortable pews. I would dangle my feet as I sat, smelling the church incense flood through the room. Even as a kid, it was easy for me to sink into that sweet space of prayer and spirit.
While sitting for countless hours over the years in the church, I would gaze at Jesus’ bloody body on the cross and the beautiful statue of the Mother Mary. So often I wondered why we never spoke of her. There was some talk about her but not very much. She appeared so full of wisdom and light, so soft and loving. It never really made sense to the little girl that I was, as to why there wasn’t more focus on the Goddess in the room.
Then the miracle happened when I was twelve. At this time I was becoming more aware of the complexities in life. It was a Saturday, I had fallen asleep and an immaculate divine white light awakened me. Yes, this is a story about a real present day apparition of the divine mother, no joke.
It was the light that you hear about. The light that they say should blind you. The Divine Mother herself had awakened me! Time stopped, space no longer existed. She was gazing at me with the sweetest radiant love you could ever imagine! She took me with her for a moment.
Think of your own mothers love times a billion and then some! The frequency of love was so high she was in me, outside of me, taking up my entire room. She was hugging all around me. As she gazed at me with the most ultimate beaming motherly grace, I could see every detail of her. I feel that she took this shape so that my human mind would be able to make sense of her forever-moving force. The crevices and folds of her were so clear, perfect, radiant, loving and peaceful; so peaceful.
She was with me for a long period of time. Though she never said a physical word, she spoke loudly through energy. She just oozed love through every pour and make up of my body and washed my soul.
I was permanently changed by this event. Being in the presence of her divine love truly affected me on a cellular level. There is never a day that I don’t think about this divine happening in my life. I am still in utter awe of it. I have never experienced anything that has come slightly close to this miracle. I have so much love for the divine mother in every way and am forever devoted. I feel she is with me at all times. I know that she is all love and loves us more than we could ever truly know.
The divine mother is omnipresent. She is the incarnation of love that takes countless shapes and forms. Not bound by religion or dogma, the divine mother is the infinite light and love that surrounds all of us, all of the time. She is the most sacred source of unconditional love.
“I am your moon and your moonlight too. I am your flower garden and your water too. I have come all this way, eager for you, without shoes or shawl. I want you to laugh, to kill your worries, to love you, to nourish you.”
Genevieve is committed to serving and helping others come into their wholeness. She is a compassionate teacher that invites all her students to live their truth and celebrate who they are as they are. She is a passionate Reiki Master/Teacher. Genevieve teaches Restorative Yoga with Reiki at Laughing Lotus on Friday from 6:45-7:45pm and Sunday from 6:15-7:3pm. Her website is www.InLightandSoul.com
As a kid I read a book about a teen who was looking for a mother figure because she felt her own mother was lacking in some “mothering departments.” She would find qualities and strengths amongst the women she was around and began to construct the mother she was looking for, she called it her “mother pie.” The idea of a “mother pie” had a profound impact on me.
My mother has always been a kind and loving soul who made sure that my sister and I always had the very best of things, but she was not much of a communicator or a homemaker. I was always searching for a mother who would dispel sage advice to me and make me a comforting meal. So, when I became a mother at age 17, I felt like I had so much to learn. While I couldn’t provide the material items my mother had, I made sure to be the “domestic mom” to my son, which I had been craving for in my own mother. When my son Tonio was going into preschool they had a potluck dinner and I remember strolling in with my homemade apple pie so proudly. What no one knows is that it took three attempts at a pie that day, it just had to be perfect because that was what a good mom did in my teenage way of thinking.
By the time my daughter was born five years later, I was already over the domestic scene and into finding some financial stability. We lived in the Marina, where restaurants were everywhere. I remember my 2-year old daughter, Audrey, telling me one evening “I’m hungry! Call somebody.” That was a shocking truth that perhaps I needed to find some balance.
I had also wanted to be the “cool mom”, the type of mom with the perfect hair and eyeliner, dressed in all black with the sleek black designer handbag. I frowned at the moms in the brightly colored comfy pants and ponytails who always had tissues and cough drops in their big floral canvas “mom bags.” I used to think they were crazy to extend their mothering skills to other kids that were in need. I made great efforts to close myself off from the outside world because it seemed like too much effort to love everyone.
A lot of times, I felt completely overwhelmed because I was so young and for the most part on my own. My mothering advice was sporadic and unpredictable because I was still just a child in so many ways. I had some severe addiction problems, which I needed to address before I could really flourish into being the mother I was knew I could be.
Once I became sober, I took a long hard look at my lifestyle and made dramatic changes. Gone are the days of expensive leather handbags and other expensive luxuries. Today I embrace a life of simplicity and colorful comfy yoga pants. I carry a large canvas bag filled with spare tissues and cough drops for everyone (now vegan cough drops, thanks to some mothering advice from our Beautiful Lotus Mother Jasmine). I have also changed my perspective on mothering.
I am not only the mother of the two I gave birth to, but also to anyone who needs a slice of “mother pie”. The Universe has provided me with many children who need some special mothering. It has been such an honor to be a part of the Laughing Lotus community, I really feel like everyone who enters the door is my family. I love to greet everyone by their names, hearing about their triumphs with inversions and encouraging them when they get discouraged with their setbacks. I especially love mothering the new Yoga School Students, seeing their faces light up with all the possibilities Yoga can provide truly warms my heart every time. I actually tear up with great pride when I attend graduations and come to their first Community Classes.
Thich Nhat Hanh wrote: “It is possible that the next Buddha will not take the form of an individual. The next Buddha may take the form of a community-a community practicing understanding and loving kindness, a community practicing mindful living. This may be the most important thing we can do for the survival of the Earth.” Such beautiful words, I am so thankful that I can be part of such a loving community that is Laughing Lotus.
Since we opened our temple doors 16 years ago in NYC, July has been the Month of Ma! With our patron Saint Amma’s annual visit to NYC, July’s theme celebrates the power of community and countless ways in which we are blessed by the creative energy in the Universe: Shakti, in her many forms and our connection to Beloved Mother Earth. Our Yoga practice allows us to explore how through our Sadhana and daily lives we can worship, serve and awaken her gifts within ourselves.
Amma’s generosity and boundless energy of service of giving hugs, love, food, shelter, education and money to all her children, including all animals and the earth itself, mirrors our Great Mother Earth who is in a constant state of creating and giving and nourishing ALL BEINGS through her bountiful offerings. The aim of all yoga practices is to feel the interconnectedness between us, our environment, nature and to all beings as our beloved family. Sangha and community are an integral part of every spiritual tradition as a practice to experience this connectedness, as Thich Nhat Hanh says so beautifully: “It is possible that the next Buddha will not take the form of an individual. The next Buddha may take the form of a community -a community practicing understanding and loving kindness, a community practicing mindful living. This may be the most important thing we can do for the survival of the Earth.”
Our asana practice certainly yokes us to nature through its infinite shapes that celebrates sacredness in all of creation as we worship every creature through celebrating its spirit and form. Putting LOVE into action through Karma Yoga, Self-less service and Bhakti Yoga’s devotional practices – all dissolve the illusion of separateness. This connection and awareness, which is the soul of Yoga, is so drastically needed right now as we are forced to look to at the racism, hatred and violence in our country and to save our beautiful blue/green home from extinction.
Let’s all rise up like Ma Durga, the great Earth Protector and inspire others by practicing activism through the powerful tools of Yoga which for thousand of years have actively transformed the human tendency towards ignorance, selfishness and aggression which cause so much suffering and destruction to compassion, healing and unity. The Yoga Sutras and Bhagavad Gita are bursting with practices to do our part and take responsibility for our environment in which we live. The Yamas, the very foundations of our practice all express the reverence for all life forms, and how to live in harmony with others. This is a time to lovingly recommit to our Maha vrattam, yogic vows of sacred union with the universe, the Yamas, which start with the practice of non-violence.
“Our task must be to free ourselves, by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty. Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances of survival for life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.”-ALBERT EINSTEIN
The practice of Asteya connects us by not taking more than we need, Aparigraha respects the rights of others to share the limited resources of our planet and creates a conscious balance between giving and taking and replenishing our planet’s recourses and Satya is not being afraid to tell the Truth.
“Look at the world through the eyes of a mother caring for her only child.” – Buddha
“In India, great rivers are named for goddesses, the ocean and the earth are considered the Mother, the Trees her arms, the mountains her breasts, the plants her nourishment, the Sky her lover. Usas, Kali, Lakshmi, Kamala, Parvati, Aditi, Saraswati, Devi, Gayatri, Shakti – all names of Mother as God. There is a goddess of the sun, the goddess of the dawn, and another of starlit nights. There is a goddess of wealth and beauty, a goddess of wisdom and aging, a goddess of learning and speech. There is a goddess of destruction and a goddess of all-devouring time. They are all the Mother.”
Chant the great names of the Divine Mother bring them to life through your healing asana ceremonies that celebrate the sacredness and love of all life. This is also great time to share your love for Ayurveda and I cannot wait to share the wisdom of my great teacher, friend and Ayurveda Master and Healer Sarah Tomlinson who will be here in August for a workshop and limited life changing consultations! Nab one while they are available.
One of the most direct ways to reconnect with Nature is by immersing yourself IN Nature! Make sure to visit parks and mountains and oceans…touch the soil, smell the flowers, hug trees, taste clean spring water and be in awe at all wild life as well as the Wild life in our urban environment.