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Quan Yin: Goddess of Compassion & Mercy

Updated: Aug 18, 2022

Most of us study mythology at some point in our younger years, but when predominantly raised in a Christian community, we are presented this history and belief system as sort of a ludicrous imaginary story, maybe even somewhat laughable. Very little was retained from my own studies as a child, or even that which I offered my children when they were homeschooled. Zeus, Apollo, and Poseidon were similar to nursery rhymes; that is until I attended a workshop on supporting the breastfeeding mother early in my career and we were asked to take a quiz on which goddess we most identify which would then parallel our strengths and weaknesses as a breastfeeding counselor.

While I remember little of this quiz, beyond my apparently aligning most closely with Aphrodite, I do remember how this quiz sort of helped me dig into who I was and how I presented myself to the world. The Myers Briggs test followed, required by my employer; then the Enneagram and so on and so forth. These made me consider where I sort of fit, and what I might embrace about myself, good and bad.

Aphrodite is the Greek goddess of love, passion, pleasure, female beauty, and procreation. No surprise then that I am a healer, midwife, and breastfeeding supporter, right? She is also very maternal, spirited, wholehearted, relationship-oriented, nourishing, kind, and affectionate.

Aphrodite is also known for her more indulgent side, her alluring, amorous, and sensual side. Talking about this with my clients comes easy for me. I see it as an integral aspect of one's health and wellness. A specific physician group who oppose advance practice nurses, particularly those with doctorates, have poked fun at my having created a workshop to address sexual issues among my clients, but why exactly is that unprofessional? In my mind, this speaks to their own character and a potential belief that women haven't the right to also enjoy their sexual experience. I am not apologetic about embracing these matters even though evidence is clear, just about no other clinician will talk about these matters in wellness visits, in spite of intimacy be exceedingly dissatisfying for most women and significantly impacts their overall happiness. Men are in this boat too, with increasing dissatisfaction with their own performance. The aphrodite in me says, "Let's talk about this!!"

As I began my training as a yoga instructor and we dove into the history of yoga, various Hindu gods were introduced. #Buddhist principles were explored. The yamas and niyamas were practiced. Throughout, the individual beliefs of each student were well respected as the underlying teaching is to grow spiritually, wherever you fall in that realm. Always eager to learn more about how others think and live, I was quite open to the belief systems of those in these groups, each new to me having been surrounded almost exclusively by my Christian friends and clients through the years. I became to understand how these goddesses were often more of a reminder, an affirmation, inspiration, even part of their inner circle. They were similar to the smoked quartz I carry in my pocket which reminds me to remain authentic to myself even when challenged.

A few weeks ago then, as I explore one of my favorite places, TJ Maxx, looking for items to fill our new practice space, I come across the clearance aisles and discover a variety of goddess heads, none of which I was at all familiar. They were deeply discounted, gorgeous, and I was quite drawn to them, but cognizant enough that I wanted to fully understand their representation and not fall into cultural appropriation, I reached out to a few friends who I thought might enlighten me. While they could only speculate, they did share advice that to have only the head of a goddess can be somewhat disrespectful because these goddesses have a history of being tortured and beheaded. Placing them on the floor, as many studios do is even further disgraceful. Add to that, many lay in savasana with their feet to these #goddesses and our Indian natives would be completely mortified.

While this isn't my belief system, I have respect for these people, their culture and beliefs, and even their gods, and have no desire to offend. However, I do adore educating my family, even my clientele on other worldly beliefs, as I think it builds empathy, wisdom, and helps us better understand ourselves. I couldn't get these statues off my mind so I went ahead and returned to TJ Maxx, purchased them, placed them on plant stands, and then dug into google - who are these intriguing goddesses and do I want them in my space. Do I identify with what they represent? Why do I feel joy when I see either of them? What might they offer my journey?

Enter the Divine

Quan Yin is the Goddess of Compassion and the Bodhisattva of Mercy. She is unconditional love. She helps individuals through both internal and external battles, specifically with emotional healing. Get this: she works with #healers to bring wellness to the emotional body. Her divine quality is mercy, forgiveness, and compassion. Is it no wonder I couldn't get her off my mind and felt a strong need to return and invite her into my space at the new clinic!?

Her story is such that before she was to enter heaven, she stood at the edge and heard humankind crying. This made her come back to earth to give help to those who were suffering, and continue to be today. In Asia, she is trusted to help those who faithfully call on her while in trouble. She gets rid of obstacles for those who seem perpetually challenged. She meets our inner needs and makes our feelings of unworthiness disappear.

Interestingly, the story is also told that Kuan Yin was first born a male named Avalokitesvara, who sought to help poor lost souls be reborn to a better life on their journey to enlightenment, but he was overwhelmed and anguished when more lost souls kept coming in becoming what seemed like an endless cycle. In his despair he shattered into a thousand pieces and his remains were shaped into a woman, a goddess - more suitable for bringing compassion and mercy to the world.

Quan Yin chose to forgo full liberation and higher realms so she could help those still struggling here on earth. Many of us do struggle in spite of bowing at the knees of our own God and in spite of recognizing we have been blessed. Master Quan Yin is revered as a Buddhist deity and a #Taoist god. She is known as the goddess Tara in the Himalayas and Mazu in her incarnation as the goddess of the Southern seas, but she is best known for her Chinese name, Kuan Yin (also spelled Quan Yin and Kwan Yin), the goddess of compassion.

Goddess Kuan Yin often appears in statues and paintings as a calm, gentle woman of middle-age who radiates serenity. She is sometimes referred to as an Asian madonna. She is for those who struggle to feel God's love in their lives no matter what they do. She is for those who have been really hurt, who have lost their faith. She is now an inspiration for me in my new practice and a reminder for me of who I am and what I seek to offer in this practice. Find your own inspiration and your own authentic journey, and embrace it fully.

Kuan Yin is associated with the color white, with precious stones such as pearls, rose quartz, pink tourmaline, jade and emeralds. In the plant world she is symbolized with lotus blossoms and willow branches.

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