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Celebrating Buddha’s teachings on Dharma Day

The full moon in July (Sunday, July 5th) is Dharma Day, one of Theravada Buddhism’s most important festivals because it marks Buddah’s first sermon, when he gave five of his closest followers the doctrine that had come to him following enlightenment. This sermon was known as, “setting into motion the wheel of dhamma,” and it encapsulated the four noble truths. You will often see Buddha pictured with deer while he gives his teachings, because this sermon took place in the Deer Park at Sarnath.

The Four Noble Truths

  1. There is suffering
  2. Suffering is caused by craving
  3. There is a state beyond suffering
  4. The way to nirvana is via the eightfold path

The eightfold path centers around the right way to practice moral conduct, mental discipline, and wisdom in order to reach the end of suffering and the state beyond it.

Today, Dharma day is seen as a chance to express gratitude that the Buddah and other enlightened teachers have shared their knowledge with others. You can celebrate by reading from the Buddhist scriptures and reflecting deeply on their content.

My trip to Ajanta Caves, UNECSO World Heritage Site

On my pilgrimage to India earlier this year, I had the privilege of visiting The Ellora Caves and the Ajanta caves. Both caves had breathtaking architecture dedicated to Buddah; the Ellora Caves had a particularly rich history of Hindu religion, whereas Ajanta was focused solely on Buddhism. So, I’m sharing the Ajanta Caves story in honor of my connection with Buddah.

When I booked this pilgrimage to India, I was traveling alone and, to save a little money, I was going to share a room with someone who would be assigned to me on arrival. Of course I was nervous about sharing a room with a stranger in a foreign country, but I consulted my tarot deck and the reading reassured me that I had nothing to worry about. The deck was right, as always, and I had the best room mate ever! She is a healer, an elder, and a strong amazing woman from Belgium. We got along very well. And, on this day in particular, we split off from the larger group, we hired a driver, and we went off to explore Ajanta Caves all by ourselves. I was not so familiar with it, but my roomie had this on her bucket list for quite some time, and her excitement was contagious.

Stops on the way

On the way to the caves, about a three hour drive on mostly dirt roads, our driver gave us a tour and pointed out different places of worship, different types of farms, and he stopped for chai and a bathroom break. While we sipped our chai, the restaurant owner gave us tips for the best ways to see all the caves had to offer.

Back on the road, we passed by a cotton manufacturing site, and we were able to pull over and explore the scene! Hills of cotton, piled ten feet over my head, dotted the warehouses as far as I could see. It was fluffy, just like a cotton ball that you have a home, but it was damp and dirty, fresh picked from the elements. The employees and their families were all working together, piling the cotton high in big baskets, and putting them on their heads. They were quite heavy! I was laughed off for trying to pick one up by myself. It took three people to lift a basket, and one man to carry it, balanced on his head. We also had good fun flopping down into the piles for a rest.

Thirty Caves of Wonder

Arriving at Ajanta, you have to walk from the parking lot through a tent market and up to a shuttle bus, which drives you to the caves. Our driver was very popular for bringing tourists like us to the site every day. His friends shuffled us to the shuttle stop, and one gave me a piece of quartz, in the hope that I would bring my business to his shop for a souvenir after I was done exploring.

The shuttle climbs up and up, and then you purchase your ticket, and you climb up some more stairs. But, when you get to the top – oh what a site to see! Hand carved, ancient caves are built into the mountain side. Excavated between the 2nd century BCE and 480 CE in Aurangabad, the caves were carved into monasteries, where monks worshiped, studied, lived and worked. We explored every cave, all thirty of them. some of them were closed for maintenance, but my roomie talked us in. The men who worked on the temples were so proud to show us the preservation efforts, and so humble about their sacred work.

There was an educational display showing how the caves were restored. At the end of the 7th century, Buddhism began to decline and many shires fell into desolation and were abandoned. In 1819, the Ajanta site was accidentally discovered by British Army Officers while hunting for a tiger in the valley of Ajanta, named after an ancient village that was nestled nearby. The name Ajanta is actually a mystery. Some think the name was unearthed from a piece of pottery in the village. Others believe that Ajanta ws named after Ajitha, which in Buddhist philosophy, is the name of the future Buddah.

The caves are numbered 1 through 30 from east to west. Thanks to the advice from our new friend, we explored them in backwards order, from west to east so that we avoided long lines. Many tour groups and field trips were there. The children were so curious about us, and asked us many questions about where we lived. Their teacher promised to find our home towns on a map when they got back to the classroom.

I got to lay down where a Buddhist monk would sleep. A small room carved into the rock, with two slabs carved out at about knee height was all that they slept on, two to a room. During the dry months, they would often sleep outside sometimes traveling, but during the monsoon the caves kept them dry.

The carvings and the paintings in these caves were so breathtaking. Photos are never going to do it justice. There were fully preserved motifs across the ceilings and murals on every wall. Gorgeous statues and temples carved into solid rock with the finest details you can imagine. I am not sure if I blinked more than twice the whole day, just trying to take it all in.

In this place I felt so connected to Buddah’s teachings and his spirit. I did pick up a sleeping buddah and some crystals in the market on our way out to remember it by. On the long ride home, we stopped for aloo ghobi, saag paneer, and more chai of course from our new friend. We were sure to thank him for his insight. We had a full day!

Now, back home, during a pandemic, witnessing awful things happening in my country, I’m so blessed to hold this experience in my heart. I will celebrate Dharma day by meditating today, and taking a restful restorative yoga class. I’m planning to visit a local Buddhist Temple for Sunday service.

Astrology and Tarot

Shine On, Summer Solstice

The word “solstice” is from the Latin word Sol for ‘Sun’ and Sistere ‘to stand still’. June 21st is not only a new moon (learn more about the Buck Moon), but it’s also the summer solstice, the mid point of the year. It’s the longest day of the year; the latest sunset before the days start getting shorter again.

For us in the Northern Hemisphere, our land is bathed in light and warmth. It’s a time of joy and celebration. Yet, within this climax of the season, there’s a whisper that the darkness will return once again. So live it up! Enjoy it now.

Litha

In neo-pagan related traditions, this day is called Litha. God, as the Oak King, is bathed in abundance, as he surrenders his reign to his twin brother, the Holly King. So, before we welcome the return to the dark time of the year, we celebrate. Traditionally, people stayed up all night on Midsummer’s Eve to hail the sunrise. Bonfires were light on hill tops and at sacred places to honor the fullness of the sun all night. Trees near wells and fountains, where people would gather, were decorated with colored cloth.

Herbs, flowers and honey are flowing in abundance during this time of year. Any sort of tonics, new recipes or natural remedies you want to make will be potent. Summer Solstice is a time to fully open your heart. Experiment with nature by gardening, cooking, exploring. You can make a dandelion flower crown (directions here on Pinterest). I just invested in a new mortar and pestle and I am excited to break it in!

Litha blessings to you and yours. May your heart shine as bright as the sun.

Astrology and Tarot

Connection to the Midsummer Buck Moon

What a powerful time of year. You’ve fully defrosted from the Winter now, and perhaps your flaunting some sun kissed skin. Spring gave you abundance, fresh foods, and a time of new growth. You’ve grown in some ways, and you have a better sense of how this year is going to go.

It’s time to revisit your goals and update your intentions. Like a young buck stepping out into the field, your antlers have grown from stubs to almost full grown. But, they’re still fuzzy, soft and easily damaged. During this time of the year, bucks form bachelor groups for the summer, much like our quarantine social bubbles.

Bathe in the energy of the new moon on June 21st

The Buck Moon represents your abilities, and your comprehension of how those advantages can help you navigate the world. It’s a time of fine tuning sills and taking a chance with your talents. If you’ve never shared your art or your dream with anyone before, it’s time to put it out there! For this reason, I’m going to work with this affirmation for this moon cycle:

I face challenges with grace; my courage rises up with ease.

The crystal of the month, to put a little zing in my affirmation meditations, is… Amazonite! Amazonite is good during times of stress, it can help you chill out. It helps you hear the truth, even if it hurts. Its a powerful throat chakra stone, and can help you move beyond fear of confrontation or judgment so you can express yourself fully.

I’ve been trying to examine myself is some tough ways lately. I’m learning about anti-racism, which requires some serious introspection. I’m balancing that with a new gratitude practice to help me find more happiness on the daily.

My jam for this moon in my yoga practice is chair pose (Utkatasana)! This pose is so much harder than it looks, right? It lights a fire in the thighs and the shoulders, and it requires you to keep reaching up, no matter what. Striking this pose takes some courage, too because you need to stick your but out there and feel the shake.

I invite you to adopt these practices and make them your own. How will you rock this new moon?What is opening to you?

Astrology and Tarot

The Three of Cups

For the June 2020 card of the month, I chose the three of cups! The month of June was named after the ancient Roman goddess Juno, goddess of childbirth and savior of women. Juno was connected to all aspects of the life of a woman, especially married life. She was often depicted with a peacock.

The Three of Cups shows three lovely ladies dancing in an abundant harvest, their cups raised high in a toast.

Tarot cards have both light sides and dark sides, they do represent the human experience after all. You might resonate with one side or to both.

The light side of the Three of Cups represents celebration, friendship, creativity, collaborations. The three women in the card are comrades. I think of Monica, Rachel and Phoebe. The card is about lifting each other up, and celebrating each and everyone’s contributions to society as a whole. The card represents abundant harvest and the good life.

The three women in the card can also represent the maiden, the mother and the crone. These are the three different stages of a woman’s life, and a phase of the moon. You may be familiar with the triple goddess symbol, which represents these phases of life, the phases of the moon, and the realms of heaven, earth and underworld.

I have to take this opportunity to relate the Three of Cups to the goddess Parvati in the Hindu tradition. She is the gentle and nurturing incarnation of the Supreme Goddess Adi Parashakti and wife to Shiva. She has two sons with Shiva, Ganesha (learn more about Ganesha) and Kartikeya. Parvati symbolises many different virtues esteemed by Hindu tradition: fertility, marital felicity, devotion to the spouse, asceticism, and power. I can feel Parvati’s energy through this card, and I call upon her this month to help me feel connected and abundant in such a time of loneliness and fear.

So this card has some serious symbolism and feminine power! When this card comes up in a reading, it means you need to let you hair down and forget about your obligations for awhile. Spend time with your good friends. Collaborate with others on a spirited project. Be with your tribe.

Three of Cups Reversed

To the contrary, you might get this card in reverse if you really prefer to be alone right now. Maybe you’re in between groups of friends, or your usual tribe’s vibe is not matching yours at the moment.

Honor your feelings to take time alone and recharge. Work on creative projects alone. Maybe you’re over indulging more than usual, just be careful not to over do it. Just because you’re social circle is more selective, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stay connected with the people that you care most about.

How to call on the Three of Cups

If you want to invite more happiness, creativity and friendship into your life, here are some mini-ritual, spells, activities you could try:

  • Start a small book club (seriously, so fun!)
  • Take yourself out for a picnic, alone or camp out in a friend’s yard
  • Create something!
  • Make a toast before dinner each night, raising your glass to the things you are grateful for
  • Slowly and sensually eat a juicy piece of fruit
  • Ecstatic dance – put on some jams and ance around your house like no one is watching
  • Host a virtual gathering, there are lots of video rooms out there (you can book me to host a tarot party for your friends)
  • MEDITATE! The number one way to connect with any energy it to meditate with it. check out my guided meditation for the Three of Cups right here!
Astrology and Tarot

The Strawberry Moon

Nothing connects me to my childhood quite like strawberry season. I loved strawberry everything – strawberry ice cream, strawberry milk, strawberry shortcake. I remember those frozen strawberry shortcake ice cream bars they sold at the convenience store at the top of my block, which combined all of my favorite things on a stick. But fresh strawberries were the best, and when Grandma took me strawberry picking, I would get caught putting more in my mouth than in my basket.

Friday, May 22nd, we welcome a new moon in Gemini, called the Strawberry Moon. It will be full on June 5th. This month is also known as the Rose Moon, the Hot Moon and the Mead Moon. The new moon in Gemini is a good time to commit to personal goals that express positive energy. It’s a time to explore relationships by taking on new roles, communicating openly, and being brave enough to be vulnerable with your partner. This leads to a sweeter outlook on life, like looking through rose colored glasses.

The strawberry is a symbol for Venus, the Goddess of Love because of it’s heart shape and red color. It’s a member of the rose family, and it is unique because the seeds grow on the outside rather than the inside. The ancient Romans used strawberries to alleviate melancholy, fainting, inflammation, fevers, sore throats, kidney stones, gout and diseases of the blood. Strawberries are rich in antioxidants, high in vitamin C and potassium.

Strawberry Quartz

For the strawberry moon, it was clear the that crystal of the month should be strawberry quartz. This crystal strengthens and balances the connection between the physical body and the aura with a gentle vibration. It brings blockages and hidden intentions to the surface to help you overcome problematic situations. It’s a great crystal for your meditation practice because it can stabilize unbalanced energy and bring guidance to your heart. Strawberry quartz is used for uncovering past lives, and for astral travel because it it expands consciousness and grants wisdom.

I am fruitful

I invite you to adopt this new moon affirmation, “I am made for more. I am fruitful. I am special.” Breathe it into your day. You can write it on a few sticky notes and place them where they will remind you. The new moon is the ideal time to start fresh and set an intention for this new phase.

If you have a regular yoga practice, you might start your session with a few minutes in staff pose (dandasana). Here’s a good video about how to do staff pose from my girl, Yoga with Adriene on youtube. This one is super simple, you can also use it for meditation.

Just sit on the floor with you legs straight out in front of you and your hands on the floor by your hips. Lift your chin up just slightly, and sit up straight so that your chest opens. Close your eyes and repeat the affirmation, “I am made for more. I am fruitful. I am special.” It’s so important to say it out loud so the universe can hear you!