Category Archives: Practice

Gevurah, Grounding and Getting To It

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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 (1-800-ketubah.com) 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 Neohasid.org 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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

Pointed, Prickly and Profound Pesach/Passover

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This is where I spent the first night of Pesach up Sugarloaf road in Boulder, Colorado. I had planned to be with my dear friends in Oregon, but life intervened. My 94-year-old father fell and broke his hip and then two days after his hip-replacement surgery had a minor heart-attack. I flew out here to help my brother and family navigate all of this.

My father, never at ease, with care or emotions, was very upset to see me when I first got here. He requested that I not come into his room alone. He said that I was “too emotional” and my presence distressed him. I was actually expecting this, because this is his default around me and emotions. I refrain from all emotional expressions around him and have for years. But, he was so uncomfortable and unhappy already, my presence served as a reminder that things were dire or difficult.

I am the person folks usually want around them when they are sick, 99% of the time. Folks love when I bring food to them, help them navigate tests, hospital staff, doctors, end of life care issues and everything in between. I am regularly consulted, and in the company of folks who are not well in hospital and home situations. It’s something I do from my heart with confidence and skill. The fact that my father denies me the opportunity to give to him, in the ways I am most able to, is one more opportunity for me to grow.

My Mussar/Jewish Ethical practices and teachings ask us to look at whatever is present in our world as our “spiritual homework.” This idea works for me because I am someone who tries to address whatever is difficult as an opportunity. I am not always successful in this, but I do use this concept as a framework for my life.

So, my brother, his partner, my daughter, various other family members and I have been trying to do a very complex dance. There are lots of steps behind the scenes and various curtains opening and closing, in sync hopefully, and lots of improvisation. I have respected my father’s wishes, for the most part. I found that he was open to good soups and foods, which I could make for him and send with my brother. This worked for a little while and then it was “too much fuss” and “too much foods,” even though it was a small box in the hospital patient refrigerator with some cheese, yogurt, olives and soup.

My father asked where I was several times when my brother came to spend time with him and my brother reminded him that he had told me not to come. I spent my pre-Passover time cleaning my brother and my daughter’s homes and kitchens and cooking for them and my father to support all of them, behind the scenes. I drive my brother into Denver frequently, and stay in the waiting area, and try to make it easier for my brother to handle all he is handling. It’s a family affair with one person on center stage looking like he is doing it all, my brother, but there are lots of things going on in the background.

This element of caring for folks, whether they are old, or not, is critical to understand. It is often the case that only one member of a family or friend grouping will be the one the person who is not well feels the most comfortable with. It’s important to not take it personally when you aren’t the person wanted. I know this intellectually, emotionally it’s another story.

So, I have cried, done a phone session with my therapist, gone to multiple services at Bonai Shalom and been on the phone with my husband and sisters and others and processed. I’ve gotten massaged at Siam Sensation, my favorite place in town and gone swimming and taken walks in the woods. I don’t swallow poison or hurt, when I am awake and aware. I take my pain to the Holy One, to my support crew of friends and family and to my sister’s grave as well. I lay it all out and down and work on trusting that my love and care will be of help and that someday it will all make sense or improve.

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My brother and I at our sister’s grave. It’s a place of healing and calm for me always. See More than One, for more thoughts on my sister and I and grave-side practices.

Everyone is unique in how they navigate illness and stress and difficulty. There is no cookie-cutter form that works every time. Patience and calm and trust are always great tools to have if you can figure out how to have them in a crisis, no small task. Even though my father was reticent initially to my arriving and my involvement, he has warmed up to me and to my help. My presence makes a difference for the other folks in this situation. It’s not what I thought I’d be doing, on the other hand, this is what is.

How this relates to Pesach and Passover is also relevant. We look at all the ways we enslave others and are enslaved at this time of year. We look at all the things that are leaven in our lives, all that puffs us up and that is not necessary. Our pride, our lack of awareness about the suffering of others, our over-consumption, our fear and our lack of faith are all examples of things we need to look at deeply. We always tell the story in the present tense and we are not only reminded once, but repeatedly, over and over and over, that the Exodus is not something that happened once. Our story is something that is currently happening and that is happening for us and for refugees and folks in bondage everywhere right now.

We live the story in this moment.

So, in my now, having to traverse the territory of my pride around my ability to care for folks in need, I can see it as one more form of leaven in my life. Ceding the care-giving to my brother and taking a back-seat, that’s not my normal setting, nor is it easy for me, but I can and am doing it. Letting go of my childhood pain and sense of rejection around my Papa is also a way to liberate myself further from things that I no longer need to be tied up in knots about.

My father loves me, he has never, and will never understand me. Big deal, what’s new? This is the story for so many people. While it is painful, I am not alone, I am not three or twelve. I’m fifty-two years old. I have a plethora of folks who do understand me and don’t reject me. My father is actually not rejecting me, he’s rejecting having to feel things that he doesn’t have the energy or ability to handle. I represent emotions and feelings to him, I hold that space in his mind and in his experience. Just being around me stimulates him in ways that are not comfortable for him. He still thinks I should be a lawyer, which is just beyond laughable.

Soup, I can send him, through another person, that works. Yesterday, I felt a strong call, on the second day of Pesach, about ten days into my visit here, to go see him. So, I called him, he is now at a rehabilitation facility.  I asked him if I could come for a brief visit and bring him some maztoh ball soup that my friend, a former student of his, had made. He said, come visit, but no soup, and only if I was already in Denver. I lied and said I was, but that it would be a few hours before I arrived. I drove in, during rush hour to see him. It took an hour and a half to get there and an hour to get home. When I got to his room he said: “I’m going to make you very happy and let you rub my feet.” This is something I’ve offered before, when visiting with him, but that he’d always refused.

So, I washed and massaged Papa’s feet, which felt good for both of us. While I was there, the Executive Director came in and asked how things were going. My father said “fine,” but then started to complain about the food. He then he raved about the tomato basil soup he’d had at the hospital and said they should hire away the cook at the hospital. This was funny to me, since he’d complained about the food there to my brother. I told the director to just have the kitchen always put some lemon on my father’s tray and that would help him enjoy whatever he was eating.

A little later, dinner was served and the cook came up. My father apologized profusely for complaining to the director and the cook assured my father, that he wanted to provide the best meal possible for him and that it was his job to do so. He asked my father where he was from originally and my father said: “France, we are French, from Morocco originally.” The cook said: “I’m from Palestine, I’m Palestinian.”

I immediately said “Salaam Aleicum,” and he shook my hand and said Aleicum Salaam and smiled. Jews and Muslims share this form of greeting. We say Shalom Aleichem, they say Salaam Aleicum, both of these things mean the same thing, Peace To You, and the response is Alecheim Shalom or Aleicum Salaam, which means To You Peace.

My father then said it was a “bloody ridiculous mess” in Israel and Palestine and that all the bloodshed and arguing was wrong. The cook didn’t say anything more to this. I shook his hand again and thanked him in Arabic, “shukran, shukran.” He smiled and departed. There was lemon on the tray they brought my Papa for dinner. And, of course, he would have preferred the soup my friend had made, but he’d told me not to bring it, so I hadn’t, trés typique, as we say en français.

We attend to the details of Passover more intensely than any other holiday. It is considered of benefit to go longer, go deeper, do more, make things sparkle or have more meaning, discuss it differently, cook more dishes, clean more, and in general go a little crazy in your preparations and expressions for this holiday. So, likewise, with my father in his situation, the details are maddening, complex and continuously shifting and challenging. It requires great attention to detail and flexibility.

I’m blessed to have a family that has consummate skills in this area. So, as we wander in this new wilderness, this place that is wholly different from what we are comfortable and familiar with, we look around us and see we are not alone. We are helping each other along, we are laughing, we are crying and we are falling down and picking each other up. We are finding ways to do what needs doing in the face of complex emotions and situations.

Let me be very clear as well, it’s horrifying to me, when I think about how hard and how much work we are doing for my father, who has health-insurance, who is in clean and calm facilities, who has children who can afford to drive or fly in to help. What is horrifying about this, is that so many folks don’t have this kind of support or care. The vast majority of people in the world, who are suffering all over this world, don’t have the resources or the facilities that my father does. My father is an American but he wasn’t born here. He emigrated here after World War II. He got his college education here in the 1950s and became a French professor at CU Boulder. He worked for over thirty years there and planned intelligently for his retirement. He found his truest love at the age of 75 and has been happily married to her for almost twenty years now.

  1. How can my situation, which is challenging, but not horrific help me to be a better person?
  2. What can I do differently so that the suffering of others is lessened?
  3. Where are there places in my life that I can explore further that will enable me to be freer to give with my whole heart and serve the Divine more fully?
  4. How can I release what constricts and binds me so that I am truly free to show up for exactly what needs showing up for?

These are my four questions for this holiday, not the typical ones, but they are the ones I’m wrestling with. May your forays into this Holy Spring Time, whether you are Jewish, Christian, Pagan, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist or any other stripe or way of connecting to this Wholly and Holy Amazing world, be full of joy and thoughtful contemplation. May you find your way out of whatever binds you, into full-on service to what needs doing and what is for the good.

You are not alone!

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The altar I made for my father the day I learned about his hip fracture. The wine, in the center, is for us to drink to his health, the photos are of my father and my daughter, my father and his mother, my father and his wife and two of my favorite angel images. The bowl holding the candle is the bottom of a Moroccan couscoussier and one of my brother Paul Barchilon’s ceramic coasters is holding the light.

Praying in my Pink Pajamas

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One of my favorite books, by Ellen Frankel, to study when I’m wanting to engage in Torah. This book is essential if you want to have an engaged relationship with the stories in the Torah.

So, yesterday was Shabbat. It was also January 21, 2017 and almost everyone I know and members of my family were at protest marches all over the country. Friends in France, England, Ireland and all over the world were protesting. I stayed home and put on my pink fuzzy pajamas (in solidarity with all the pink pussy hats) and said some prayers and studied Torah.

I watched the protests unfolding on my phone and on Facebook. I felt the energy and the hope and exuberance and the anger as well. I am in a counter-current to almost everyone I know. My internal river is moving very slowly in a circular mellow eddy, where I am gathering leaves, moss, rocks, and sticks. I’m crafting something entirely other and different from what has been. I’m not at all in the main stream right now. I’m in the inbetween, in limnal, milky and birthing something different waters.

When I started reading the Torah portion, I was not surprised to see that the story for this day of protest and this week of intense complexity was the story of a wicked ruler/Pharoah who ordered the killing of all Jewish boys upon birth. It’s the story of resistance, of Miriam (the Prophetess sister of Moses) and Yochaved (mother of Moses) and Zipporah (wife of Moses) and Batya (daughter of Pharoah) and Shifrah and Puah (midwives). All Biblically powerful women who did not follow orders, who resisted the violent, crazy powers. They did so with cunning, with solidarity, with creativity and with courage. I encourage you to read this piece of Torah, it’s pretty powerful stuff.

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Pink on Pink with Torah portion open to Shemot which corresponds to Exodus 1:1-6:1

So, the story of today, for me feels like the story of thousands of years ago. And while there were signs saying “It’s not 2017 B.C.E” all over the protests going on. Part of me is thinking, yes, actually it is. We are still navigating very similar territory and history is cyclical, circular, complex and has an intensely long arc. I believe there has been and is movement towards goodness and caring and kindness that is huge, but I don’t think we are ever free from certain dynamics.

This is why the Torah is still as alive for me today as it was thousands of years ago for my ancestors. It’s still telling the story of how to navigate life and all the challenges we will certainly encounter while we spin on this planet. It’s still advocating resistance to injustice, solidarity with those who are innocent, vulnerable, different or endangered. It’s still asking us to lead with kindness and goodness and to believe in goodness not just in our minds but in our actions. This is a radical thing to do.

What does active goodness look like? It involves a deep engagement with hope, with trust, with caring, with service, with soup-making and helping others in whatever ways one can. It involves extending our circles of love beyond ourselves and holding the suffering of those near and far in our hearts. It’s not a mental activity, it’s a full-bodied, full hearted, whole self involvement.

I try not to watch the news or participate in the cycle of crazy information that will pull me out of this internal eddy I’m currently in. If you want to understand this practice and my reasons for this read: Open Hearted Elections..

There is something here in the non-news zone to explore that is not angry or fast or stimulating. It’s the slow steady turning of life and love and the knowledge in my bones that I am here to serve and that this is a life-journey, not a sometimes-when-I-feel-like-it-journey. My children are adults now, my youngest just turned 20 on January 20th. I’m shifting my current and looking for how to best honor the Holy One in the coming years. I’m exploring how to flow into my best aware service in consistently trying, even more complex, and intensely challenging times.

Climate change is real, anger, sexism, racism, bigotry of all kinds, belligerence and violence are real forces on this planet. They are not the only forces though. I cannot battle these forces, I have no battle energy currently moving through me. I have tenderness, I have vulnerability, I have clean the kitchen and make soup energy, I have love my friends and family and community energy. I have pray in pink fuzzy pajama and study energy. I have dreaming energy and hoping energy and writing energy.

I have a strong desire to listen to the elders of all wisdom traditions and try to do what is wise to do. I’m very grateful to cede the territory of battle, protest and shifting, on a larger scale, to those who are called to do that kind of work. I don’t think we all serve in the same ways and I don’t think we need to. I’ve been on the front lines and this is not my time for that. I also trust and have Bitahon (absolute trust) in the Holy One, whose plans are not knowable or known to me. This teaching below is an hour long, and crucial because it informs how I understand this period of time we are living in. My teacher, Reb Zalman, May his memory continue to be a blessing, talks about this time as being a time of Axial turning, not a paradigm or quick shifting. A turning towards goodness and change that is several hundred years long, not one or two generations. This resonates for me right now.

 

The closest I can come to understanding what is impossible to understand is to fall back on what I know is true. What is true for me is that I feel more bound to the effort, than the outcome and to the means and not the ends. So, I will continue to pray in pink, swirl slowly, make medicine, listen to folks in need, help when and where I can, honor the Sabbath, and send out messages when something surfaces that may be of value to others.

 

Lost in Bed

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Winter Full Moon, Holy Hill, County Sligo Ireland, January 2016

Under the covers, under the stars, under the radar,  under, under, under, snowed completely under.

Lost in blankets, wholly surrounded. How the hell to emerge? I don’t seem to have an answer and have had to push myself physically and mentally to move outside of my bedroom. The death of a beloved community member and the grief around this also got me up and out to attend to the details that are mine, as Chair of the Hevra Kadisha, to do when someone dies. Being surrounded, in this process, by good people and community, sharing the tasks, holding each other in our pain and sorrow. This, then, becoming the new blanket I want to be folded into.

The blanket of community and shared carrying of the load. My friend, the grieving widow was expressing, on one of the nights of Shiv’ah, how special it was to have people in her home and how she was so terribly sad that it had to happen as a result of her husband’s death. She was expressing her anguish and loneliness and it was raw. We all know this, we don’t go visit folks or make the time, feel too overwhelmed or just have too much going on, we make excuses or just cannot get ourselves to the homes of others.

When there is a death, that drops away and we get there. This, by itself, is a correct and good thing. The stark contrast though between having your house full of folks for seven days after your husband dies and the fact that prior to that and after that your home will again be pretty empty, that is not a correct or a good thing. But it is the territory we are all in. We push ourselves when the need is great, the grief is current. We slide back into old patterns and ways of being as soon as we can.

There is no judgement here. It’s just something I’m living and experiencing and noticing. The cycle of connection and effort and how that unfolds in my community and life. I remember many years ago, when I was very sick and my husband was as well. We were very contagious with MRSA. We were hoping our young son wouldn’t get infected and he didn’t thanks to the help we got. There was a crew of folks coming to my home washing all the sheets every day, bleaching bathroom and kitchen counters, basically disinfecting my home daily. This enabled us to recover and allowed me to navigate my allergic reactions to various antibiotics. I only had to let folks in my community know I needed help and what I needed and BOOM it was there.

Now, I don’t ask for help that often. I’ve done it a few times in the over twenty years I’ve been a member of my congregation. This time, I’ve mentioned above, was one and more recently when my son got hit by a car, which crushed his right foot, last April. I had too much to navigate and needed meals delivered so I didn’t have to cook on top of everything else. My community was there for me, is there for me.

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My cozy bed. Artworks by Alice McClelland and a student of my father’s named Simone. This flower has been over my bed since I was a little girl.

 

 

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Simone, my father’s student who painted the flower above my bed. Simone is painted  here by my mother Helen Redman. My mother’s portraits and colors surrounded me as a child and they inform my life still and always are waking me up.

I attend to my community as I would to my family. I try to be there as much as I can and I also work with my boundaries and knowing that it’s a shared home. This works if everyone in the community is part of the work-force. Not everyone in our congregation or the world is functional or able though, so those folks who need constant help or more help than we can actually provide makes the work a little heavier and harder, because it’s just impossible to actually “fix-it.”

This is where it gets sticky and hard. The feeling of failing, of just not being able to fix or provide enough comfort or help for all the broken things in this world right now, the hopelessness of having someone I cannot bear to look at, or name, be elected President and all the problems I anticipate this will cause. I’ve been telling everyone I know, it’s not going to get easier folks. And, I’m tired, very, very tired of fighting all the battles and extending myself continuously, but the work is not done.

As our beloved prophet Leonard Cohen, may his memory continue to be a profound blessing, says on his last album: “You want it darker, we kill the flame…” It seems extremely dark to me right now, and this song has been a clarion call for me because in the middle of all the darkness there’s the line in this song when Leonard chants “Hineyni/Here I Am.” and then says “I’m ready my Lord.”

These are the words of Abraham and Issac and they are the words of those drawn to service, to the willing offering of everything, absolutely everything, in service to the work in service to the Holy One, even when the territory is full of fog. My hineyni has been whispered lately. It’s been really hard to actually stand up and be heard and loudly proclaim that I am ready to continue serving. I’ve just wanted to be under the covers.

Several things are helping me emerge:

  1. knowing that my hiding will not make anything better
  2. knowing that I am not alone in my feelings
  3. knowing and working always to remember this teaching by Rabbi Tarfonrabbi-tarfon-quote
  4. a recent teaching shared with me by Rabbi Tirzah Firestone that has to do with us being the food for others and not knowing the end of our story, having to trust and serve without knowing outcomes.
  5. This post by Rebelle Society about these times being dark Goddess Kali times
  6. finding comfort in small-scale victories locally, globally or personally
  7. the patience and kindness of my beloveds

I’m a very lucky and resourced person, in the privileged category. This doesn’t mean I don’t have troubles or concerns, but they are manageable. This is not the case for so many other folks. So, I venture out to be food and nourishment to offer these things as well as be these things for those near me. It’s all I can do. I’ve made a new vow to not get into my bed before 9pm at night. So, between 9 and 9, I’ll offer and navigate my world. On Shabbat and during the night, I’ll re-connect to the Divine and get the nourishment that will enable me to emerge.

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My bedroom door with the new “Not before Nine sign” underneath the beautiful Klimt poster that reminds me of my husband and I.

My Mussar assignment this month has to do with creating a fence in front of one activity that takes me over a cliff I don’t want to go over. I identified that getting under the covers wasn’t where I wanted to be, it’s wasteful and not helping anyone as well as causing concern for my husband and friends. It was necessary for me to be in bed for the time I was.

 

I’m not sorry I’ve spent a large amount of time in bed trying to recover—RE-COVER— I just noticed that this word is extremely apt for where I’ve been, lost in bed recovering myself, like re-wombing myself going into a safe warm place to grow into the next phase.

I’m no newborn though, which is good. I’ve got the tools, the friends, the community, the time and the wherewithal to engage more fully, so it’s time to get out of bed!

“Whatever we are doing, however great or small the act, may we remember to take the wisdom of Joseph with us, and the shamanic medicine of  the Baal Shem Tov to help us align ourselves to a Will greater than our own, to become  michyah, life-giving food for the great unfolding.”  —Rabbi Tirzah Firestone

 

 

 

Open Hearted Elections or How To Get into the Nicole Zen Zone

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Queen of Open Hearts and a Rosey Witch of Good Repute who found herself travelling on Halloween, so she gave out organic candy to all travellers she encountered on the path between San Francisco and Denver and she also offered Blessings to anyone who wanted one.

On my perpetually long and expanding “to do list” is….write a piece about my feelings and perspective on the upcoming elections. So, here goes. Welcome to my world:

The Nicole Zen Zone

I do not consume or participate much in the mainstream media realm. I do not own a television. I do not watch any kind of news. I do not listen to any kind of news. I no longer listen to NPR, the BBC, or any other program when news is on. It is not really news. It is the information streamed and filtered through the extremely flawed and fractured lenses of whomever is in charge of that particular stream of information. I am not a conspiracy theorist who believes everyone is evil and has a plan to take over the government or brainwash all of us. Nevertheless, I do think that what we listen to, watch and consume visually and auditorily impacts us as much as what we eat.

Folks who would NEVER eat a Twinkie or a huge plate of really deep-fried weird ugly food that looks stale and smells bad, somehow have no problem consuming huge amounts of vile information and imagery. You cannot watch, listen to, or engage with ugliness and fear without it impacting you. It has the same effect on our systems as if we ate poison. But somehow folks feel that they have to “be informed,” “be educated,” “be aware” and be “on top of it.” It’s unlikely we can ever fully be any of these things.

There’s also the intense addiction and thrill that violent television, gaming and movies engender. The thrill seeking, fear-inducing, sexually stimulating survival based urges which drive much of the hunger for this kind of entertainment is part of the tainted stream that makes folks numb to violence. It gets to children early and hooks them on violent, angry stimuli. It encourages a complete lack of consequences related to aggression and violence. Poison, Poison, Poison.

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Dragon I found in a bag of garbage along Cherry Creek in Denver. I took a small walk near my parent’s place along the creek bed. I put my feet in the cool water and then picked up garbage under the foot bridge and on the banks. I took this small walk in between writing this blog post and publishing it. When I was emptying out the bag of garbage and sorting out the recycling I had collected, at the bottom of a pile of stuff was this dragon. I couldn’t throw him out, figured he was a gift for me. I turned him over and it said Nintendo. This, is how the Holy One plays with me. I have just been writing about violent games and media and went for a walk. I can’t stand garbage in nature so I chose to pick up what was on hand near where I was. I found this dragon. I had no idea this image was related to a Nintendo computer game. It’s a really quirky and immediate sense of humor the Universe has!

The idea that we are informed by soundbites is strange to me. Anyone educated knows that all information we receive online, on television, on the airwaves is coming through massive filters. We don’t see the streams and rivers of those filters, but we know many folks with massive educations and degrees and money have made very clear decisions about colors, sounds, visual displays, timing, the color of skin of the folks presenting, which particular story gets to go first, second, third, etc…. The amount of stuff going on behind the scenes of all news or film is truly massive. Yet, folks forget this and are just drawn in, which is exactly what the folks in charge of all these streams of information want. If you are drawn in, you are hooked. If you are hooked you are stimulated. If you are stimulated, you are committed to whatever energetic activity or action the information you just swallowed has created inside of your mind and heart.

When we listen to music we love, or see folks we love, or participate in some activity that gives us joy, we feel good. I do not understand why folks think consuming or watching ugliness is any different. It is like eating poison. If we choose to watch repetitively and deceptive polls and statistics, that are touted as the most important critical piece of information, while they incrementally shift second by second by second, we are ingesting fear. The  information being collected by huge systems and organizations that are behind the curtains have very strong agendas and desires that are not about informing us, but are about generating more of our engagement and stimulating us. The collective media engines and the powers behind them need us to be hooked in order to ensure their ongoing existence. It’s not news, it’s statistics.

 “There’s lies, damn lies and statistics.” -Mark Twain

I have no issue with reading the news in a visual format or in watching an in-depth program addressing something relevant cogently and with accuracy. Indeed, as long as the story is not a sound-bite, I do actually consume news this way. I have written for The Arcata Eye and the Mad River Union. I love the newspaper. It is vitally necessary to be informed. I am not advocating a blithe naive attitude or that we shouldn’t care or know what is going on. We absolutely must engage with the information that is relevant to our lives. How we do that though is up to us and we can be more choiceful than we are.

I endeavor to have a boundary around my consumption of all that is flawed, broken, unfolding in crisis or ugly. I don’t automatically have those streams of information coming in. I choose when and where I am going to engage based on my energy level, how many folks I am taking care of on any particular day, and what is actually happening for me. If there is an emergency, of course, I would listen to the radio to know where to go and what to do.

Barring an emergency though, I avoid ugliness in the media and stories about murders and violations of any kind. I am extremely sensitive and if I read about or see an image of something gruesome or someone raped or murdered, it enters me physically. I literally feel it in my body. So, I cannot just blithely consume what others do without hesitation. The thing is, just because other folks don’t have my hyper-sensitivity doesn’t mean they aren’t being impacted.

There are no actions in the universe that we can take or do that do not have consequences. Every action has a ripple. Every choice we make has an outcome. Everything we eat, see, hear, touch, breathe, and experience imprints on us and continues to impact us sometimes invisibly.

So, instead of consuming poison and anger and fear and stupidity visually and auditorily, I choose to use the same time to pray for a good outcome for our country. I choose to surround all the players with light and love. I choose to hope and trust that the right outcome will unfold. AND if the person I don’t want to be President becomes president, I will have to trust that this is because the Holy One has a plan I cannot comprehend. This is actually always the situation.

I am not advocating just doing nothing. I am a firm believer in always voting and always contributing to the campaigns and organizations that we believe in and support. But the OUTCOME of huge and even tiny things has very little to do with my participating in this flawed cycle of massive information guzzling and grinding through all of our lives. There are forces at work, that are so much greater than my ability to comprehend them. I have to cede all finally large and strange outcomes, to The Holy Maker of this amazingly perplexing universe, this Olam Ha Ze/This World Here.

Once I do this, I move from scared to, sacred.

I recognize that I not in charge or in control. This is huge for me. I have agency and power to make a difference, but I am not responsible for the end result. I also refuse to let the negative energy and fear that others live in or experience take up residence in my mind. The only way I can prevent the fears and flaws from influencing me in corrupted and insidious ways is if I fill my heart and mind with something loving, kind, mindful, good or prayerful.

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Post my Big Lagoon Swim, where I pray while I swim for, all those in need of healing, our country, the Lagoon, the Native Ancestors whose presence I am in when I am here, and for all the waters of the world to be clean enough to safely swim in.

I don’t want subtle and subversive streams of junk in my heart and mind. I will be fearful when I am standing before the abyss, when my family members or friends are in danger, when someone I love is crossing the street and a truck is heading for them. I will be afraid when I think about how fracking is destroying the blood-streams of our mother earth and how our rivers and streams are still full of toxins. I will be angry every time a person is violated, tortured, beaten, disrespected and treated as less than a Holy Vessel by anyone anywhere on this planet, but I will not spend all of my time thinking about all this horror. I will swim in the stream of pain when it is required of me. When I can make a difference in an outcome and my physical and emotional presence is required, then I will be right in the middle of the ugliest, scariest and worst stuff, no hesitation whatsoever.

The rest of the time, I will be making salves to heal broken skin, or syrups to soothe angry throats. I will be making soups for my friends with cancer or who are feeling unwell. I will sew heart-shaped pillows and fill them with lavender and rose petals from my garden. I will offer prayers of healing to all those who are unwell on my prayer-list. I will pray for our country and the world. Instead of listening to the angry voices and hating the players, I will imagine them, yes even the one I don’t want to be President, and surround them with love and light and ask the Angels and the Holy One to keep them safe and help their hearts to soften or be strong. I will pray for whomever is in a position of power to listen to their hearts and to the voice of Holiness that speaks for kindness and correction of flawed behavior. I will pray for Tikkun Olam/Mending the World, for folks to heal and mend what they have broken or what is torn asunder.

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Jars of Henry’s Olive Oil stuffed with French Lavender or Calendula petals from my garden. These jars sit in the sun and absorb the moon’s changes for one to two months in the summer. They are infused with bird-song, moon-glow, sunshine and bee blessings. This is the base with which I make the lavender-infused oil or the calendula-infused oil that I use in the salves I make.

On Tuesday, November 8th, 2016 instead of being glued to a TV screen in fear, anticipation or giddiness, I will sit in meditation for several hours, with one of my teachers and friends. I will be with others, who like me, choose to use our prayers. our mindfulness and our connection to Holiness be the way we navigate our fears and our desires. We will chant and pray and sit in stillness. I will ask for Loving-Kindness to be a permanent president in residence in the heart of whomever gets elected.

Then, when I emerge, if things go the way I wish for them to go, I will be relieved, but not done caring or praying for all the people in this crazy story. If, when I emerge, things don’t go the way I wish, then I will know that my understanding of the universe and the Divine is once again inadequate.

And on the note of disastrous outcomes, let’s be honest. Most of us do not change our behaviors or habits until the last-minute, when it’s so bad that we have to make a shift. How many folks actively seek out personal growth and correction before there is a problem? How many folks have time for this when they are working full-time jobs for miserable wages and cannot feed their families?

So, if things get horrible here, which is my fear, it will be the catalyst for a greater change than we can imagine. Change is never easy. It is always dangerous and fraught. So, there will be a lot of turmoil and difficulty, kind of like a hard labor, one with complications. I’ve had two of those. I have two beautiful sons as a result of that kind of labor. We don’t know what more labor pains our country and the world have to go through before EVERYONE on this planet and all the BEINGS on this planet are honored and loved. I believe in that Olam Ha Bah/World to Come . The distance between here and there is the thinnest of veils. This world here, where we live, walk, eat and dream can be Heaven, a Heaven here on Earth. It’s a place we create and make real. It isn’t just a destination post our deaths. It’s a garden we have to cultivate and tend to now and everyday.

Holy One, please help us remove the veils from our eyes, get rid of the film over our vision. Help us to create the world we want and to work for justice and goodness all the days of our lives.

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Rainbows in Ireland, off the Western Coast in County Sligo

May your fears be allayed, may your hearts be open, may your mind be calm.

Love,

Nicole