Category Archives: Jubilee

Gevurah, Grounding and Getting To It

The Tree Bark, Beautiful and Boundaried

This is the week of Gevurah/Din, which I cannot easily translate. Here are some ways to think about Gevurah: Judgement, Severity, Boundaries, Strength, Discipline, and the Angel Gavriel/Gabriel, whose name shares the same root. Gavriel is the angel on the left side of our bodies, who girds us with strength and protects us.

When I say this is the week of Gevurah, that needs explaining as well. Starting on the second day of Pesach/Passover, observant Jewish folks count the Omer. We count seven cycles of seven, which = 49 and then in the evening of that last day, it’s another day, the 50th day and this is the holiday of Shavuot. Shavuot is about the first grain (Wheat) offering, it’s a pilgrimage festival, like Pesach and Sukkot. It’s also considered to be the anniversary of when the Torah was given on Mt. Sinai and so we stay up all night studying Torah, specifically the Book of Ruth, but all of this is weeks away.

Right now, we are in the second week of the seven and each week is linked to the lower seven Sephirot/Energies/Attributes of the Divine, on the Tree of Life. Last week was Hesed/Loving-Kindness, this week is Gevurah. Gevurah and I have been connecting only in the last few years of my life. Prior to a conscious choice on my part to get into balance and make serious changes in my life and the way I engage with the world, most folks who knew me in the past would laugh and say: “Boundaries and Nicole, in the same sentence or space, that’s an Oxymoron”

Tree of Life

The Panoply of Symbols for the Sefirot

The Kabbalah assigns every symbol to one or more of the Sefirot. Here is a list of some of the many symbols and correspondences one can find. It comes from Dr. Eliezer Siegel in Calgary. Each of the following lists for each Sefirah is found on Jewish Virtual Library under the name of the Sefirah. Nava Shoham ( collated all of these entries onto one page, which I’ve reproduced here (using some of her font colors) with some corrections. This image of the Sefirot here is found all over the web. I’ve added directions and some alternate names in yellow to the image. If anyone knows the source or artist please let me know….Rabbi David Seidenberg


Please visit for a fuller description of all of these teachings. I cannot do the Sefirot justice here. I do want to talk about the work of Gevurah and my engagement with it. Fundamentally, we have all these energies in us, available to us and truly we can find and move into balance. It is not beyond us. This task, this work of counting the Omer is always complex, but it allows me daily engagement with specific energies. By paying attention and counting, literally and also figuratively, I attune myself to the Divine, to the world and to my deeper and truest self.

So, onto the Gevurah, Grounding and Getting to it! As an Empath (see Isn’t It Always Love) I feel it all and I have struggled to have any kind of boundary. I’m extremely grateful for this Omer practice and for the teachings of the Tree of Life, because they have enabled me to seek out and gain some semblance of relationship to the boundaries I needed to cultivate. For me, implicit, in the idea of a boundary, is that I am not creating a hard wall to keep anyone or anything out. I am engaged in creating a porous, but still strong web or fluid that surrounds me, or whatever needs surrounding. It is not a hard boundary.

I have very few hard boundaries, I’m not a hard person.

Nicole Clare Red dress mikveh
Me, in Ireland, surrounded by my companions, the trees and the river and the fire. This is right before my last Irish Mikveh/Immersion in Living Waters in the very cold water just behind me.

My Gevurah practice is about getting grounded in the earth, recognizing that all of creation has structure of some sort and that this structure is necessary and good. The tree is surrounded by bark, the stem of the flower is a tube carrying nutrients from ground to flower, the seed has a hard shell around it until conditions are right for it to break open. All of these are examples of Gevurah in the world. A boundary that allows life and bounty to unfold.

My own boundaries are like these, I have had to create a boundary circle around certain areas of my life in order to live my life. For my Jubilee year, I took a nine month retreat, this was a boundary circle around interaction with other people, with caring for others and with feeling and doing for others. (You can read all about this is the Jubilee section of this blog)

The majority of people in my life, my children, my family, my friends, my colleagues were outside of my circle, I was inside of it with the Holy One and Creation. I was isolated, in a cabin in Western Ireland, at a Carmelite Hermitage called Holy Hill. I was not alone. The birds, the Angels, the Divine and I were in communion. The ivy on the trees, the flowing river outside my window, the stars and the wind, these were my companions. They were great companions.

I was also blessed with fellow hermits and retreatants who were on similar journeys of contemplation, stillness and engagement with what emerges when you aren’t on the treadmill of the world. We prayed in silence together and shared a common meal once a week, when and if we wanted to be with others. Sometimes, I felt called to being with others, sometimes not. My boundaries are always flexible, this is how I do Gevurah.

My friend Arieh David Scharnberg asked this question on FB:

Looking for advice:

This is the week of Gevurah in the Omer Counting, usually associated with ‘discipline.’

How do you practice self-discipline in ways you can commit to and in ways that don’t induce stress?

What I mean is, every time I think about ‘ok, I need to get more organized’ or ‘I need to be more focused at work’ or ‘I need to do x or y once a day,’ even if it is taking things one step at a time and breaking things into smaller increments, any time I think of a change in my behavior that requires a commitment to that change, I either feel incredible anxiety in trying to commence (a fear of failure) or at best resigned if not despair when I find I have an inability to maintain that change.

Thank you in advance for your wisdom and insights!

This post is my answer to him. Gevurah requires grounding, earth-based practice that is rooted and  attended to, in order for it to be lasting. This doesn’t mean all my boundaries now stay in a permanent fixed place or that my discipline is perfect. It means that I get better all the time at walking this walk and engaging with this energy. It’s a practice, not a goal that I will reach and cross the finish line where a throng of folks will be cheering. It’s subtle and continuous and small sometimes, even just one small action will create a shift in my direction that allows the boundary to get stronger.

And, here’s the thing about all of this, right now we have to pair each of these energies/sefirot with others. We take the week we are in, this week it is Gevurah and align it with each of the other seven, so today, as I write this, I am in the week of Gevurah paired with the Sefira of Tiferet (glory, beauty, harmony). So, how do I relate to these two qualities? Here, in Jamestown at the home of my sister by Love, I am secluded, boundaried. I have taken myself away from the hustle and bustle of my family’s current crisis. I am not needed in this moment, my brother and others are doing the work that needs doing. I am preparing for Shabbat, which is a boundary I observe EVERY week, a time of stillness and honoring of Tiferet in my life, when I actively court the Divine and rest in many, many ways. But, I couldn’t do this if I didn’t create the boundary. Many folks now understand this about me. People no longer expect anything from me on Saturdays or Friday night. I don’t get phone calls or even many emails and I don’t respond to them either as I mostly turn off my technologies that are external and focus on my spiritual relationships.

My Shabbat practice is a Gevurah practice linked with Tiferet and all the other elements on the tree, but it starts with creating the boundary circle around this day, every week and I get better and better at it. I can go outside the boundary, when I need to, or choose to, again, the boundaries are never going to be hard and brittle for me, that’s not who I am. This Gevurah gate in my life has allowed me to create others because there has been and continues to be so much value generated and present for me as a result.

So, whether you practice this very intense and complicated counting or you are just looking at ways to feel protected, boundaried, held in by a structure that is healthy and supportive, I encourage you to go outside, meditate on the bark of a tree or the stem of a flower. Take the time you need to create spaciousness for yourself in any area that you need to by creating a boundary that is real and healing and healthy between yourself and the forces that love to pull you and all of us off our center.

Heart at the bottom of a tree. Photo taken by my husband while we were on a walk together in Humboldt County, where we live, love, find and hopefully create harmony and balance, for ourselves and for all those we encounter.




Bone Time


2015-11-19 16.56.27
Dunmoran Strand at sunset between storms in Skreen, County Sligo Fall of 2015

My bones are cozy and waking up at the moment. It’s 7:00 a.m. in Ireland at Holy Hill Hermitage on February 16, 2016 as I write these words. The wind is swooshing and whooshing at 22 mph, which is about average for the last few months of storms. My bones don’t go walking when the wind is that fierce, but the view of the trees and the ivy dancing and shaking fiercely is quite inspiring. Because I’m in my sabbatical hermitage time, I do not have to battle the wind or go anywhere physically. In my cabin, named after St. Clare, I am dry, warm and safe. I’ve been here since July of 2015 and will be finished with my sabbatical by May of 2016. I am 51 years old, a Jewish Lay-Leader, Mother, Writer, Cook and Healer (all in capitals with intention). My hard-working bones and body needed a year-off between raising family, being very active in my community, and moving into the second half of my life. My body was exhausted, which is quite common for anyone who cares about others or the planet, even if you are not a parent. I was literally limping when I made it here and in constant pain.

By the time you reach 50, which is young, really, but as a woman it marks the transition years of menopause; everything gets drier, bonier, your emotions, your whole physical reality shifts massively and you feel it in your bones. Not everyone works their systems as hard as I’ve worked my body, but all of us need respite and time to contemplate and allow for bone time. Time that is slower, time that is not rushing and that is deep and structural, bone time.

2014-07-13 11.50.54
Detail of Nicole from Branches of the Trees, mixed media on board, 2014 by Helen Redman

It’s a common fallacy, propagated by the media and society everywhere, that speed is better, youth is better and all of our technology and systems are designed for the opposite of bone time. Youthful healthy happy bodies are great, and often as the old saying goes “wasted on the young.” But, trying to perpetuate a young, speedy body is not great and actually exactly the wrong direction to go in. Our bodies are Holy vessels, gifts from the Divine, sacred vases to hold our souls.

It’s lovely to inhabit a healthy one, even an aching one, but they aren’t our permanent homes. They are our transitional dwellings. If we are only body, pleasure seeking and speed focused we never engage with our souls and their needs. Not connecting with our souls is wreaking havoc on the structure of life on our planet. If the earth had a skeleton, her bones would be broken, from our lack of regard, from fracking, from ignoring the call of her rivers, all her creatures (including human suffering) and all the messages being sent from her soul and her bones.

When we stop and listen to the wind, or to the silence, or the birds, something magnificent unfolds within us and within the larger home of all our bodies. All of a sudden we get to hear the music of the Divine, and the lament, however we name that. You cannot hear that music as easily if you are rushing or just focused on looking good and feeling good personally. You hear and experience your soul and your bone-marrow knowing, when you are quiet, when you are engaged in loving or helping others, when you are in contemplation, prayer, communion.

Nicole Edit in Stream Ireland
Last ** mikveh in the small cold stream outside my cabin, in prayer, communion and bone- chilling cold April of 2016 at Holy Hill

I’m not saying that the way one feels after moving in an aerobic or physically strenuous way isn’t also important or can’t get you to a feeling of connection. For some folks that is where they experience their only sense of communion. I do not think that we can ever, at this point in human history, say it’s possible to have enough folks seeking communion. All of us need to listen more to the call of our bones, to the marrow of the matter. We have to SLOWWWWWW way down and hear our beating hearts and watch the birds or the river or the clouds, or listen to the symphony with our whole beings and offer thanks to the Holy One.

We all have to search for the link connecting us one to the other, where I am part of this earth’s structure, her pinky finger or one tiny filament of bone in her being and you are another. We’ve been gifted with bodies and a home for them to live on, not attending to the WHOLE being of that gift, the gifts of our souls and of our interconnection and need for each other wounds us all and is literally bone-crushingly wrong.

I’m in a state of perpetual tear-filled gratitude for my bone-time, my down time, my slow time to be with the earth, with folks in gentle prayer and song. I’m also grateful for the long walks in the hills and the help of Healers and Holy Wells and all the ways being engaged with the earth in my body and bones is working to ease my pain. I try to walk gently on the earth and hope that my time here is a gift to her and to those few folks I have and do encounter on retreat. I pray with the wind and the frost, the sunshine and rainbows between storms and all the birds of the skies here for all beings to be well, to find each other and to be engaged in deep communion, bones, bodies, hearts, minds and souls all together in reverence, service and joy.

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Trinidad Beach, in California, 5:30 a.m-ish, looking for quiet bone time back home in May of 2016


This piece was originally published in the Spiritual Life Institute’s Fall 2016 publication: Desert Call

**I will be writing extensively about Mikveh, my practice with Living Water, streams, Lagoons, the Ocean and other bodies of water that are living in the near future.

Hanukkah and the Holy Well

Holy Well with Steps
One of the Holy Wells of St. Patrick on December 10, 2015, the 28th of Kislev, Fourth Day of Hanukkah

“On the Fourth Day of Hanukkah my true heart said to me, get thee out of thy cabin and go to the Holy Well of St. Patrick.” All of you know the tune to sing that alternative lyric to. Part of this time of year is always endless loops of Christmas music, so that even if you aren’t Christian and you don’t celebrate Christmas, you will still KNOW every possible Christmas song there is. That’s okay, most of them are really beautiful and my anger around this has completely dissipated over the years.

I am in a very Christian, truly Christian place, where folks practice their religion whether they are Catholic or Church of Ireland or Celtic/Pagan. All three of those forms of worship are part of my adventure here. I hope to be able to celebrate Solstice with a woman who follows the Gaelic calendar and rituals. Whether I manage to gather with her or not, I will definitely be engaging with the night, with Solstice, with the stars and offering thanks for this time of year, this time of turning.

It gets dark around 4p.m. and the sun or light doesn’t appear until around 8:45 a.m. So, that’s over sixteen hours of black, dark night. I am loathe to turn the lights on and find myself very averse to them. I use candles or low wattage lamps if I want light after dark. The darkness is bliss for me and mutes all my pains and my anxieties. That may sound counter-intuitive, but it is what is true for me. I often feel like going to bed around six or seven in the evening.

I still don’t sleep more than several hours at a time, but it is lengthening. I’ll get four hours in a row now, then two or three more. Brother Thomas has started praying for me to be able to sleep. His shining prayers are working, and the long hours of darkness as well. I so long to dance and dream with the Holy One in that place of deep slumber, which I am only barely doing here. Deep sleep will be a gift if and when it comes.

So, back to the getting out the door and walking to St. Patrick’s Holy Well. We just had Storm Desmond here and a great deal of Ireland is under water, folks have rivers running through their homes and the winds and rain were fierce. Many, many folks have lost everything. My little cabin Clare has been a solid haven from all storms outside. I am warm, dry and protected in this very solid stone cabin. My experience of the storm is just one of delight and awe and wonder at the power of the Holy One and the Elements in their constant dance on this Holy Spinning Mother Earth. I am also aware of all those not in joy or delight about this storming and I pray for them within my space of hope and warmth.

On this morning a few days after the wild storming, the sun was shining. I used my iphone to see if there was going to be rain and storms coming or if I might hazard a longer walk. I have not yet completely let go of time and technology. I use them way less, but they are still part of my life and learning to use them and have them enrich my experience, not detract from it, is part of my work here. So, my phone said, no rain expected until later in the afternoon.

The down side to sixteen hours of darkness and loads of rain and 30mph winds, is that you don’t really get much walking or venturing out done. It’s just much nicer inside. So, moving my body out of doors, even in 38 degree weather felt like a MUST.

I had seen signs to St. Patrick’s Holy Well along the small lane that is just near where we are and one of the work-study young women had mentioned that it was truly spectacular and even “more special” than the other Holy Well we had been to. Well that Holy Well, took my breath away so, I was thinking hmmmm, let’s see if I can walk to this one. It didn’t seem too far away.

I packed my bag and started my journey at 9:23 a.m. I knew it would take me at least an hour or two, so I put some nuts and cheese and filled my thermos with hot tea. I took birdseed to offer the birds when I got there and packed my outdoor wool blanket so I could sit at the well comfortably. I layered up and with my trusty walking stick went out the door.

I met Rachel, my neighbor in her red car, at the crossroads near my cabin shortly after leaving. She had her three lovely daughters (all under the age of five) with her and they were on their way to Tessa’s playschool. She asked me where I was off to and I told her.  She expressed concern. “That’s pretty far away.” I said “a mile or two?” She said “more like three.” I reassured her that I had many hours to do the walk and that I would go slowly and was up to it and she drove on.

In my mind I was thinking maybe she meant kilometers and it’s not really that far away. I was determined and it was a gorgeous cold day. So, on I walked along the small, wet country lane between stone walls and ivy covered hedges. Streams and rivulets of water, birds and sheep as my companions. I went up and down and up and down the hills and my feet started to really ache. I have plantar fasciitis and bone spurs as well as being a woman of girth. So, my feet take a beating when I walk or dance and I feel it, I feel it acutely.

Pain is not something that stops me though, it just slows me down. I saw two more people on my walk, one elderly man tending to something in his yard came over and said hello. I asked him how far it was to the Holy Well and he said two miles or more. I’d already been walking for an hour at this point, but again, in my mind I went, he means kilometers, it’s just not that far away. He asked me to say a prayer for him when I got there and I shook his hand and continued on my way.

About half an hour later I encountered another elderly man walking towards me on the lane. He was looking for Holly with red berries still attached to use for his Christmas decorating. There is tons of Holly everywhere here, but the winds have taken a lot of the berries. I asked him “how much further to the well?” He said it was quite a ways, perhaps another two more miles.

In my mind I thought, I’ve entered a fairy tale. It’s always going to be two more miles away and I will NEVER get to the Holy Well. He gave me his advice about how to get there and directions and wished me well (all puns intended) and he continued on his quest and I continued on mine.

It started to rain, which wasn’t supposed to happen, according to my iphone weather report. I was an hour and a half or more into my journey at this point. I put my jacket on, the one I’d had around my waist, and hoped it wouldn’t be a torrential rain. It turned out to just be a slight drizzle for a little bit. I stopped by a rusted iron gate and tried doing my foot exercises to relieve my pain and kept hoping the crossroads with the sign for the well would be just around the next bend or over the next hill.

Alas, this was not the case. I just kept walking. I saw a lovely horse in a field and decided to take a moment by that particular field and fence. I made some friendly horse sounds and said hello. She came over to me. She was coal black with a white star on her forehead and a streak of white running down from it. I reached into my pack and took out my apple, thinking horses like apples right?

Two other majestic horses with thick winter fur came up at this point. The alpha female, of this group of three, was white and rust colored. She nudged the other horses away as if to say, “I’m in charge here.” She looked at me and I cut my apple into three sections and explained that I would be giving something to each of them, even if she was the “alpha.”

I offered the apple sections to each of them and none of them were interested. They were interested in me. They put their heads down for me to touch. I spent a good ten minutes or so communing with these horse beings and was grateful for them. They didn’t want my apple, but since I’d gotten it out, I took one of the sections and eventually continued on my way.

I walked on and finally after two and a half hours came to the crossroads with the signs for the Holy Well. At this point the sun was shining in my eyes and it was hard for me to see too far down the road. I had taken my sunglasses out of my pack before I left the cabin, thinking “sunglasses, who needs those in this weather?” Silly me. I turned down the road that said Cemetery and Holy Well, but I couldn’t see either of them. I kept walking and thought I must be close. I was in great pain and in tears at this point, but I took heart that I was too close to give up and besides the walk home wasn’t going to be any better if I never made it to the Well, so, I should just keep going.

And I walked another fifteen minutes or more and there was another sign pointing me to the left, so I took that road. Then I saw the cemetery and thought that the well was in the cemetery at the back or something. I went into the old, old cemetery and walked around looking for this Holy Well that seemed impossible to locate. It wasn’t in the cemetery, or it was hidden from me.

I walked all around the cemetery and saw a gate and a road and what perhaps was a statue down that way. I thought, hmmm, perhaps that’s the well. AND IT WAS! YAY, HOORAH, HIP, HIP HOORAY, I made it. Three hours and 3.6 miles from when I started I found what I was en route to. It wasn’t no two mile walk!

Gate into Holy Well
The Third Gate

There were three gates, all of which I opened and went through, before I got to the actual Holy Well. The final gate was to the walled in area that surrounds the Holy Well of St. Patrick. There was a large statue of him and another with Mary. I took off my boots and my wool socks and walked down the steps to the well. I sat on the cold wet stone and cried and gave thanks and put my feet briefly in the Holy Well waters and asked for their healing. I then laid down on the stone next to and over the Holy Well, which is supposed to heal your back.

Holy Well with Rock
The view from the Rock that heals your back. I am laying on it.

The Well was in shadow and it was chilly, but I was in my layers. I laid myself down on the stone and cried and said prayers for the man who had asked me to and for all beings in pain, myself included. I chanted the Shecheheyanu prayer and just laid there looking up at the trees and being grateful beyond belief for having arrived.

Skewed View from rock Patric and tree
My view from the rock looking up at St. Patrick above me with the Well beneath me.

I took out my cheese and my nuts and drank my hot tea. I’m not sure if I’ve ever been more grateful for a hot beverage. It was magnificent. I offered some tea to the trees and scattered some birdseed, apple slices and cheese for whatever animal beings or Fey Folk might want or need those things.

Then, because I had my trusty technology with me, I got out my phone and texted Brother Thomas, who I knew was out doing the weekly shopping. I asked him if he could pick me up on his way home and told him I’d be walking along the road. He and I managed to communicate via text and he said he’d be along in about a half an hour. I prepared myself to leave the Holy Well.

I’d wanted to stay longer and had packed my paints and my prayer shawl and my prayer book. But I didn’t want to walk another three hours home and I knew the rains were coming, and I was getting chilled. I said my goodbyes to the trees and the Well and as I closed the third gate Brother Thomas drove up. I cannot tell you how grateful I was to see him, to see that car, to know that I had made the effort and gotten there, but that an angel would carry me home and one did. By angel/Brother Thomas flight, it only took seven minutes to get home.

I’ll return to this place and spend long hours there, but I’ll know the way and plan accordingly. My feet are not hurting and neither is my back. The miracle of this place continues to unfold in me right now in this season of miracles, Jewish and Christian.

May  you find your way and continue to walk on against pain and obstacles to all the miracles waiting to unfold for you.

Fifth night Hannukah with Orchid
Six oil filled cups: five for the fifth night and one worker/Shammes candle. The deep dark night, the rain drops on the window, the orchid blooming in the Dark on this fifth night of Hanukkah, one day before the new moon and the new month of Tevet, after my long, long walk and the miracles of the Holy Well of St. Patrick and Brother Thomas.



Seeing Crows, Sitting Still and the Second Night of Hanukkah

crows orchid
The view from my window, Western Ireland, on a winter afternoon

The crows outside my window, on the barren twisted tree branches, sentries that come and go, inhabiting silence and stillness until something makes them all take flight. There are four of them now, watching the sky, resting or marking time for me, actually I can only see three now in the tree, where before there were twenty or more.

I have no idea what makes them come at this particular time of day, it changes from day to day. Sometimes it is noon, right now it is 3:15. If I were moving about in my cabin, they wouldn’t come and rest still on the tree. It is only because I am sitting in stillness so my movements don’t startle. There is no movement on my part, other than the beating of my heart, the tapping of my fingers on the keyboard and the wiggling of my toes under the wool blanket. My breath too is moving, but its movement is quiet and I am learning to still myself from these birds, these crows outside my window.

The other birds that come to visit are the tits and the robins. I’ve left food for them all around my cabin and they alight on my windowsills and peck away at the seeds and grains. The tits are the opposite of still and fly away if I exhale too deeply. They are very colorful and chatter. The robins are braver and will sit and watch me from behind the window, or even if I’m outside, they’ll come and watch me, wondering what I am up to and if there is food connected to my presence, which, of course, there is.

I’m grateful for these bird beings, in ways I cannot express. They make me feel happy, alive, connected and protected in some way, as if the Holy One is sending messengers to keep an eye on me and to remind me of the vast wild world around me. Every time the birds take flight, I delight. Just now a hundred or so wheeled about in the field above my cabin. Some more are now resting on the tree outside my window seat and I, the lucky one, get to sit and watch them as they preen, as they align on the moving wind-swept branches, balancing themselves and then taking off to their next rendez-vous with the tree down the steam or in the fields nearby.

Crows window

I’d like to be one of these birds, even if only for just a day. Whoosh, some signal just was transmitted and now they’ve all flown away, not a one is left on the tree for me. But, still, I wait for them and know they will be back, when it is right for them, it will be right for me.

I will sit here and wait for them to come again to “my” tree. I am waiting and waiting here in this cold dark time, when the daylight hours are from 8:30a.m-4:00pm. It’s 3:26 pm right now and it’s already getting dark. I’ll light the second night of Hanukkah candles here in my window. If the birds were coming at night, they would see three small lights in the night. I won’t turn on the lights. I like the long hours of dark and the small amount of light. It makes me go inward and turns me towards the crows and the wind within my heart and soul. I like the not knowing where all the edges are and the muted blending of  darkness that covers me like a blanket, obscuring my details and leaving me as only a body, here, born of flesh, but made mostly of soul. A lump of stuff just resting and waiting for the next message or messenger to arrive, and I’m in no hurry, no hurry at all.

Crows on ivy covered small tree

Wild, Wondering, Wandering, Wacky, Witchy Me!

Singing to the Ocean, the Cliffs and the Wind in County Donegal, Ireland
Singing to the North Atlantic Ocean, the Cliffs and the Wind in County Donegal, Ireland. Photo courtesy of Steve Smith

Not doing, not buying, not writing, not eating, not consuming, not pushing for things to happen, not having seconds, not watching a movie, not getting up, not being quiet, not praying, not being still, not, not, naught.

I’m struggling with the nots or the knots of what my “time off” is supposed to be or look like. In the beginning I found myself responding to questions about what I am doing here with hyperbolic statements about all the books I plan to write and all the study of Torah I need to do or am doing, and the hours of prayer I am engaging in.

The reality of this time right now is actually very complex and nothing like what I anticipated. My new friend Paddy Rolleston (a local potter who comes monthly to help folks learn to work with clay) very wisely said to me, when I shared my current difficulties and self-doubts:

“What we anticipate is never what ends up happening.”

This is proving to be true. While much of my time is unfolding as I’d imagined it to or anticipated, most of it is not. The layers and strands of who I am and what is happening here is very much like the unwinding of a large spool of yarn, except I’m not some neatly woven non-sticky polyester blend on a spool. I’m this massively complex and wooly skein that has gotten all twisted and worn over the 51 years of my moving about on this planet. I am here trying to unravel myself and find the center again.

It is NOT easy. It is easy to fall back into patterns and just give up on the untying of any particular knot in this massive mess of me. So, the old, comfortable ways of being and doing is something I fall into. Then I have to unwind or climb back out  again.

I do not want to behave as I have. This is not because there is anything intrinsically wrong with who I am or how I am or have been. It is because I am trying to experience something luminous, liminal and clean.

Perhaps that is hubris and ridiculous. But, there are so many hours and moments of just that kind of time here, that I know I can actually, if I unravel some more of me, get to walk in the Divine Mist and Mystery and let the Holy One help me re-make myself.

Perhaps it is just a refinement that will be asked of me, but perhaps it is a complete transformation. The problem with going into this territory is that it is not something I can control or know. It is, by its very nature, like going into a deep pool or a misty valley that I have never had the time to just be in. It is a maze and I have a hunger, in the core of my being, that is like a fierce magnet pulling from my heart begging me to keep going.

But, it’s easier to drive into town once a week and buy the groceries I want, than it is to continue moving through the maze or unraveling this ball of yarn. I find myself not sleeping, this is not new territory. So, I move between getting up and doing some kind of project, craft or cleaning, or I play solitaire for an hour on my iPad or I read or I watch a movie on my computer. In the middle of the night I also go out for walks in the rain and wind. I sing to the stars and give thanks to the Divine for the glory of night. I write in my journal or on my blog. I eat.

I do not meditate or get still as much as I think I should, another not/ knot. Here, the biggest knot is the self-judgement. This knot is fueled by all the little comments of friends and family, like a hyper sensitive piece of microfiber cloth every tiny thing clings to me, all the little completely not harmful or intended to be harmful things that people have said or say enters me like a piercing needle.

I’m sensitive again, way beyond what I anticipated. What is scary about this is that I actually expected to be completely raw and vulnerable and cried rivers about my fear around this before leaving for retreat. I’m already way tooooooooo sensitive.

When I say I’m an Empath, it doesn’t really make sense to people, I see the fear and confusion on their faces. “That’s just Nicole beings whimsical and romantic and exaggerating again.” Some folks understand, but feeling all that I feel has always been overwhelming and something both fearful and extraordinary for me.

From a very early age I realized that how I was experiencing the world was not how others were and this made me so lonely, but also afraid. I read a lot. I always have. I resembled, as a child, and now as a woman, I still do, all the stories of the fey and the witches. I could feel and see and do things that others didn’t seem to be feeling. Besides all the literature about witch trials and all the women put away in mental institutions for the crime of being  wild and female, I am Jewish to boot. The fear of revealing who I am has been with me my entire life. Will I be put away, labeled as crazy, disregarded because I am so clearly other or seen as delusional?

Once I became a mother, these fears grew. I knew that I had to really tamp down, and hard on who I was. I needed to endeavor to look somewhat normal. It was okay to be a loud, vivacious woman. It wasn’t okay to talk about my dreams or how I feel the pain in people. It is and was okay for me to feed folks and cook for them and make soup, but it wasn’t okay to say I was weaving a spell of love and healing into every cut of my knife or stirring of my spoon. It was okay to be an environmentalist, but it wasn’t okay to lie naked on the ground and talk to the earth and cry with her and feel her heart-beat.

I talk to the stars and the blades of grass. I sing with the birds and I talk to the cows in the field. I not only hug trees but I commune with them. I feel the pain in those around me like a constant throbbing that I am dancing with at all times and searching, searching constantly for ways to ease.

No wonder I can’t sleep. So, all of this is going on and more, much, much more. In Rabbi Gershon Winkler’s book The Magic of the Ordinary, he talks about Jewish Shamanism. I am not sure I am comfortable with that term for myself. I’m searching for the right word to describe who I am, when that is, of course, an impossibility.

“Jewish Shamanism involves engaging various spirit beings, either through meditative trances or through the invocation of any variety of Sacred Names that serve to call into being specific changes in the external environment. Jewish shamanism is also about a way of thinking, a way of being in the world, a way of consciousness that perceives magic in the ordinary, miracle in the ‘natural course of events.’ Where most people will be awestruck at the sight of a passing comet, the Jewish shaman will be awestruck at the sight of a fallen leaf.” Rabbi Gershon Winkler , Magic of the Ordinary, Recovering the Shamanic in Judaism

I read this piece the other day and cried and laughed. The falling leaves have been making me cry and revel and move me beyond belief. So, when Gershon says a “Jewish Shaman will be awestruck at the sight of a fallen leaf.” I crack up, because this is EXACTLY the territory I am in right now. I don’t need to pray for five hours, every second here is a kind of prayer. As I clean my space, I am cleaning the detritus of my internal space. My body is my home, my home is my body, my body is my home, my home is my body and if you are in my home, your are in my body. This is just how it is for me.

I sometimes call myself a Wild Woman or a Jewish Witch. I’m not afraid anymore of being burned at the stake, although my memory, my soul memory, recalls those flames.  Wild Woman comes closest because it expresses my relationship to nature, my engagement with it and there is the quality of the untamed and uncontrollable or manageable to the word and world of Wildness. So, Hiney Ni/Here I am, in this rural and somewhat tame, while at the at the same time, Wildish Magic Island of Ireland.

You only have to leave a plot of earth alone for a few weeks or months for it to start to return to its wild nature. If we don’t cut the grass or plow the field or fix the cracks in the concrete or maintain the road, nature will invariably re-claim her space. Grass will grow and bugs will come and the movement of wind, water, creatures and growth will shape the landscape according to the whim or desire of the Creator. We have to constantly hew out our place here, when we are trying to control our environment.

I have no desire to control the earth. I much prefer to walk on wobbly earth, to navigate the brambles and weeds, to garden gently with the earth. And yet, I like going to the store and buying the avocados that were grown in Mexico. Did I mention,  I’m in Ireland, so to get that avocado to my cabin here, if I trace the path back, I’ve used up thousands of hours of resources, time, energy, fuel, and participated in a cycle of destruction of our planet, just because that avocado appealed to me and I wanted to make beans and rice and guacamole. That’s another one of my messy knots. I can buy the local beans and Irish rice, but I want my avocado flavor. Simple and I, moderation and I, doing less and I, just are NOT related.

Nevertheless  I am continuing to unravel and unwind here. The leaves on this tree, being whipped by the winds and the rains and the cold frost, are whittling away who I am. As the new moon of Kislev appears in my window, I call out to her cold sliver. I am moving inward, hibernating and lessening the activities, curling inward and slowing, slowing.

And, this is my Shabbat year, my Jubilee Year, my Shabbat of Shabbats and if I just roll around on the floor or want to read 300 books and ignore whatever agenda I think I need to adhere to, or someone else thinks I do, then that is what this Wild, Wacky, Witchy Woman will do or NOT do!

At a Holy Well, meditating in Awe of the wind, the water, the wide, wide Atlantic Ocean I am facing. Photo by Eddie Vega
At a Holy Well, meditating in Awe of the wind, the water, and the wide, wide fierce and cold magnificent North Atlantic Ocean that is my home water now. Photo courtesy of  Eddie Vega