What I Learned From “Russian Witches”

When I was growing up, my maternal grandmother, Esther, lived with my family. A plain-spoken, no-nonsense woman, she had been  a 10-year orphan when she immigrated in 1908 from Russia to the United States to reside with extended family. We always heard about how my grandmother taught herself to speak, read and write English without ever going to school. By the time Esther came to stay with us, she was widowed with four children and many grandchildren and content to spend her remaining years living simply.

My mother, Anne, and my grandmother had a difficult relationship.  My mom’s dreamy, artistic nature clashed with my grandmother’s pragmatism and they could rarely agree. I would watch them argue and try to understand each one’s perspective. But whatever their differences, one thing they were on the same page about was a belief in the supernatural.

Breakfast usually involved my grandmother’s stories about the latest deceased relative to pay a visit in her dreams. My mother talked about her studies of Buddhism, Hinduism, yoga and meditation and the work of the channeler and mystic Edgar Cayce. She was very interested in reincarnation and liked to try to contact the “other side” through her Ouija board. Whenever I tripped and scraped my knee, she would use her “white light of healing” to make me feel better (in addition to some anti-bacterial spray and a band-aid).

These two women accepted, as a matter of fact, that the spirit world was just a thin veil away from the natural world. I, on the other hand, was a skeptic; a serious child more interested in the tangible. Their beliefs intrigued me, but I thought they had their heads in the clouds. Ultimately, I pursued a career in law—I liked the rules and structure and the opportunity to find realistic solutions to client’s problems.

By the time I was 31, my parents and grandmother had been lost to illness in a single, difficult year. I kept to my practical ways and moved on. One day about 20 years later, at the end of a vacation yoga class, the teacher mentioned Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda. I was again intrigued and read the book, in which Yogananda said that meditation was a science (which, of course, has been confirmed by many studies since the book was written in 1946). This was just the hook that allowed my logical side to accept the deep spiritual lessons taught by Yogananda.

From there, I embarked on a journey toward self-realization, with meditation at its core, learning from many teachers about yoga philosophy and the metaphysical arts. As I explored, the memories of my experiences with my grandmother and mother rushed back, giving me a new perspective on their beliefs.

This is why the offerings at the Sattva Wisdom Center create learning experiences that blend the science and the “woo,” the practical and the inspirational, and new and the old teachings. Our first classes have started and it is my greatest pleasure to see our wisdom seeker community blossom.

It could be said that I have come full circle. Although still wanting to find the science and logic in the metaphysical, I am much more willing to take a leap of faith. This open-mindedness was a lesson learned early on from my mother and grandmother. It was just waiting for me to accept it with gratitude and appreciation!

Love and light,

Denise

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