Category Archives: Jewish Holy Days

Shabbat Structure: Simply Sublime Spiritual Technology

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Solo Shabbat in Eire, Holy Hill Hermitage, Ireland, in my cabin named Clare in the Fall of 2016

Simple Shabbat, the basic structure is a phenomenal series of steps and prayers and practices to elevate the soul and align us with the essence of creation. I am writing this piece because a young woman, who was also on retreat, three years ago at the same hermitage as myself in Ireland, asked me about the order of the prayers. I led a few Shabbat ceremonies, both in my cabin and at the main house, for the other people on retreat. I was mostly alone, but there were moments of connection with the other hermits, clerics, and other folks taking sacred space in solitude.

I remember once being told by a dear friend of mine, Stephen Jenkins, professor Emeritus at Humboldt State University, who was getting ready to teach a three-day session on Judaism in his World Religions class, “Wish me luck, Nicole.” I responded with: “I don’t want to wish you luck, I need to come in and teach this part of your class.” I’m not sure those were my exact words, but this was the beginning of my lecturing in his World Religions Class. I have guest-lectured, during the Judaism portion of his classes, for over fifteen years now.

Some things cannot be put simply and survive the stripping down, especially when we are talking about Shabbat or Judaism in a three-day period of time. The mere idea of three days in a class on campus, to cover the topic, made me a little sick to my stomach. It felt kind of like asking me to describe the magnificence of the sunrise or my love for my children or any other sublime and mysterious, historical and elemental quality of the universe. It’s just not a three day or a one minute text or email kind of thing.

So, thank you Chelsea Smith, for asking me this question about the order of the prayers and why we cover the challah. I’m going to try to be brief, completely contradicting myself from the previous sentences. Of course, me being brief, is an oxymoron in and of itself.

When I lead a service I have a basic structure that I follow, which is not my invention and which has changed over the thousands of years that Jewish folks have been observing the Sabbath. I choose from various prayer books I like or I incorporate elements into my practice from those prayers when I am being a little looser in my observance.

You really begin by preparing for the time and setting the space. I clean my home, cook special foods, make challah (a braided Jewish egg bread).  I’ll get my recipe up here one of these days. You then create an altar. When the Beit Ha Midkash/Holy Temples were destroyed, Judaism did not die for many reasons. One of the main reasons is that we took the elements of our sacred service and rites that were observed in the Holy Temple and brought them into our homes and into our dining rooms.

As long as you have light (candles or oil lamps), wine, salt, bread, water, and prayers offered from your heart, you have the elements of the basic service. This means every Jewish home becomes a sacred temple in time and space. No one can say it better than Abraham Joshua Heschel, who wrote a simple short book called The Sabbath. I won’t begin to go where he has, but he describes Shabbat/the Sabbath as  both a Sanctuary and as a Palace in Time.

So, we begin by clearing and cleaning as if to welcome a sacred guest. That guest is the Sabbath Queen or the Shechinah or the Seventh Day. She is likened to a bride, she is always referred to in the feminine. We make special foods. For folks with little time or money, even during the Shoah and times of tremendous ugliness and torture, Jewish folks would hide a crust of bread or save one olive so they’d have two on Shabbat instead of one. Folks keep their best cheeses, oils, foods of any kind, for the three meals that occur beginning 18 minutes before the sun sets every Friday evening and ending when there are three stars in the sky the following night, Saturday. It’s roughly twenty-five hours or so, a little longer than one rotation of our spinning planet.

In Ireland, I couldn’t go buy a challah or get bread from Josh Fox, my favorite local baker, here in Arcata. I needed to make it. My little kitchen in my cabin, didn’t have an oven, so I had to make sure I could use the communal kitchen and arrange a time to be taking it over for many hours. I didn’t always do this, for many reasons, but here’s a picture of two small challahs I made for one of my blissful solo Shabbats.

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Small challahs, one in a traditional three braid form and one shaped like a Jewish Star of David, there’s also that key element SALT!

These Challahs are uncovered here, but they are traditionally covered with a cloth when we recite all the blessings before eating our Friday evening meal. This was the original question from Chelsea, “Why do you cover the bread again?”

We cover the bread because it is the final blessing we say before beginning our festive meal and we don’t want to hurt its feelings. This tiny piece of spiritual technology teaches us that if we are concerned about the feelings of our bread, so much so that we cover it, so it doesn’t know its the last in a long line of blessings, we better be that concerned about the feelings of all those we encounter. The bread thinks it’s the only blessing or the best blessing or the special blessing, because it somehow hasn’t heard or experienced all the previous ones. This seems a little comical, but it’s essential to Judaism. We physicalise our practices in small and large ways to make it not a mental exercise, but to embody the essence of what we are reaching for.

So, once the bread is made, I prepare the other foods and make my home and body ready to receive my guest. I take a bath or a shower, or I do a Mikveh (ritual immersion in living water, see Mikveh Movement and Me). Then I lay the table. I put the candles or oil wicks I am going to light out, I get the wine ready, open it and let it breathe so it is at its best. I make sure I have my prayer books or other readings I want to use, I pick fresh flowers and set the table more beautifully than I do for the rest of the week. It’s truly a special time.

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My Shabbat altar from my window seat in Clare.

Once all is ready, and usually this is minutes before you are required to kindle the lights of Shabbat, if I have time I meditate or center myself and let the week’s events play through my mind and release them. My beloved teacher, May his memory always be a Blessing, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi sometimes used a small cardboard box that he passed around and asked folks to deposit their weeks’ cares, worries, and experiences into. He would then he take it and put it outside the room or the house. I sometimes do this with children. It’s a great way to physically demonstrate the practice of letting go.

Then I cover my head with a shawl (creating a sacred space in my body) and light the candles and move my hands over them to bring the light of Shabbat into my whole being, I move my hands over them in a circular motion and bring their essence over my head, eyes and body three times. I then recite the first of many blessings. This blessing is thanking the Divine for instructing us to kindle the lights of the day and to observe the practice of it by resting deeply.

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Photo by Temple Beth El’s President Joseph Hale, from one of my Lay-led Shabbat Services

It’s very hard to talk about even one of these blessings in a short way, but that’s my assignment right now. Arrrggghhhh! Each one of these practices have books and teachings about them that deserve attention. Simple structure, okay, after the blessing for the Sabbath light (remember how light was the first thing created in the Universe?), we welcome the Angels of the Most High (the special Shabbat-only angels). These angels only come down to this earthly realm if they are invited and your space is ready for them. Did you set a space for the sacred guest, did you create a place of beauty for Holiness to hover? We welcome them and ask them to bless us with peace and then we let them depart. They have to go everywhere they are invited, so, they can’t linger. Their blessing though is so magnificent that it imbues the rest of the evening. As angels they can and do move through space and time differently than we do.

This is my favorite blessing, and even if I’m not doing more than just the basic layout, I almost never skip this one. I close my eyes and feel their presence and I am uplifted to the realm of the Holy One, for just a second or a moment, but that’s simply sublime!

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Detail with Angel, sculpture in glass, given to me by a lovely woman who was at Holy Hill for a few days and who was part of a discussion about angels that miraculously occurred and which connected me with the incredible Irish mystic Lorna Byrne who sees and speaks with the angels.

Next we bless the children. This blessing is not just for folks with children, in my way of doing things, but a moment to name all the children in our lives or that we are thinking about. In a traditional setting the parents place their hands over the heads of their children and recite three blessings. One for boys, one for girls, and one for all of the above. I just generally do the all of the above since there are many folks who aren’t identified as one or the other. The prayer said over everyone is the priestly blessing originally offered by the Kohanim, (of which I am one). I like the male and female blessings as well, so sometimes I do all of them and just ask folks to align on the gender spectrum, however they wish, male, female, somewhere in between, or inclusive of it all.

Next is the blessing over wine. This is the VERY modified order of blessings at the table. There are many, many more, but if you do these blessings you are basically covered. The blessing over the wine isn’t just about giving thanks for the wine or grape juice. It’s the blessing that recounts the order of the Holy One’s creating of the universe and ending with the day of rest. It’s a blessing you do while holding a glass of wine, but it’s about acknowledging, thanking and sanctifying the DAY of rest. It’s longer than the other blessings and it’s beautiful!

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Shabbat Table, chez moi in Bayside, wine open and breathing, Challahs covered, salt on the table and right before candle-lighting. Artwork by Thao Le Khac, Joy Dellas, my grandmother Perla Barchilon and some Italian tile maker from a hundred years ago.

After the wine blessing, we do a ritual hand washing with a special two-handled cup. We aren’t cleaning our hands, we are purifying them. It’s a mikveh for our hands. We recite the blessing with our hands raised above our heads after having poured water three times over our right hand and then three times over our left hand and drying them with a clean cloth. The blessing basically says, Blessed are You, Holy One, who has instructed us concerning the raising/lifting/immersing of our hands.

This is crucial. Before we actually eat our meal, we’re almost there (I promise), we raise our hands towards the heavens. I think of this as dipping my hands in holiness and sanctifying them so that they only do good. I want to bring down the honey and love and goodness of the Divine realms and only have my hands be the vessels of that. I never want my hands to be hitting or hurting or tearing or harming others or the earth. No small task, which is why, we need reminding, hence the blessing!

Then we uncover that poor challah, who now is the most rich indeed. We’re hungry and excited, the challah is golden and the light of the sun is gone. We have the glow of the candles and the light reflected off the windows and each other’s eyes and now we give thanks for the miracle of bread. Bread is a miracle. The play of water, salt, yeast, grain and magic that makes it rise is how we too are made. Like the bread, we need to rise. We need time, rest, the right ingredients and balance of earthly elements, sugars and salts and magic to create pockets of air, or lightness so that we are magnificent.

Then we break the bread and dip it in the salt, which represents the promise of the Divine. Salt is a preservative, the original one, way back in the day. It reminds us of the value of commitment, of time moving across millenia, it’s the taste of the moon and stars and the ocean and our sweat and it connects us to our ancestors and life.

Then we eat and share stories and talk for hours. There’s another whole bunch of blessings after the meal….. but I’ll leave those for another day!

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My Papa Jacques Barchilon, enjoying his Shabbat dinner, over a year ago. He’s in Heaven now, where the food and the company far exceed anything I can create here. I miss him so!

A Wedding, Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, Some Serious Earthshaking and a Moving Memorial~Welcome to Elul 2017!

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Stunning and kind and and beautiful soul, the bride Beth Weissbart Wasik, my God-daughter and her new handsome, strong, kind and good husband Dr. Kraig Wasik Photo by: Studio B. Benton photography

Sandwiched between times and trips to take care of my father, I had the tremendous honor and privilege of officiating at the wedding of one of my God-daughters. I’ve only done this a few other times. It’s a very intense thing to be the person spiritually responsible in a setting like this. The folks getting married are the important ones and honoring their needs and wishes takes a fair amount of time, insight, and emotional and spiritual presence of mind.

I was quite anxious about whether I would be able to pull it off. In addition to my fears about doing something wrong or looking bad, in comparison to the absolutely gorgeous bride and groom, holding this kind of energy and being the person who represents the energy of Holiness is a calling I take very seriously. We all carry Holiness and no one is more or less Divine. Not everyone recognizes this and when you are the designated driver for any event that is a Life-Cycle, one like a wedding or a funeral, it takes preparation, incredible control, no small amount of guts and some kind of crazy. I’m pretty good at most of these, but the incredible control part is something I have to really work at.

So, I asked my husband to help me monitor certain behaviors of mine that I didn’t want to bring to the fore. This meant I needed to be extremely sober and to make sure I didn’t drink more than two glasses of wine at any of the events. I was on duty and having a relaxing fun time was not what this wedding was about for me. Did I mention the wedding was at a vineyard? Did I mention that I love good wine? Did I mention that I’ve been working extremely hard emotionally, physically and spiritually to navigate the territory of my father’s health, the death of my belle-mère and spending about five minutes with my husband in the last six months? Oh well, wine is just some grapes that have fermented, NOT!

It went really well, better than I could have expected. I managed to do what I wanted to do and to serve the bride, groom and their families. I had a good time once all the pieces I was responsible for were executed properly. Folks were generous in their praise of my service. That felt really good and validated that my preparation and presence of mind, heart, body and spirit were in attunement.

I always and only want to be the vessel for the Divine.

This means clearing out my ego and my version of what is supposed to happen. This can be a little dangerous. I can’t get so plugged into the flow of Holiness that I’m tripping out (this happens for me a great deal of the time). It’s a balance of walking with what is at hand, holding my heart and hands out and up to Heaven and asking for the Shefa/Sweet Holy flow of energy to dance into my words and actions. It means grounding myself deeply into our Holy Mother Earth and feeling the pulse of the planet.

Feeling the pulse of the planet!

Eclipse 2017
Photo by NASA from Total Solar Eclipse in August 2017

Tuning into the pulse of the planet is not any kind of walk in the park ever, but especially right now, it’s a truly earth-shattering time. At this particular moment, in our collective history, Our Mother is speaking a very specific kind of language. She’s amplifying the message and giving us hurricanes, fires (I normally live in Northern California which has been on fire and smokey for weeks), earthquakes and flooding. Our planet is not just talking right now, she’s keening and wailing and doing everything she can to help us wake up and correct our behaviors.

In Elul, we blow the Shofar to crack open our hearts to literally break through the carapace-like hard shell we call Klippot that has covered up our tenderness and our heart. It’s the most ancient warning device, call to battle, earthquake alert system. It’s piercing, you cannot ignore it, it cuts through all illusions and it’s loud.

I saw a very powerful piece of footage from Mexico City during the earthquake there. It was late in the night, because I was unable to sleep. Often, this is because, I am attuning to the planet when I’m not attending to someone. It’s just not easy to sleep when there are hurricanes and earthquakes and folks all suffering as a result. My prayer practice is about feeling the hurt and crying and breaking open more and more. It’s about asking the angels to go, to go quickly to anyone in need. It’s about just using every possible strategy I can think of to help ease the suffering on this planet.

In the footage, a man from the news was reporting on some sports event when all of a sudden this piercing and very different kind of siren started blaring. He was calm and explained, in Spanish, that this was their early warning system, that an earthquake was immanent. As the footage continued things got more shaky and eventually he got up from his seat and instructed folks to get to safety and the camera crew went to the window with him and looked out on the city. This was, of course, not a safe place to be, but these were news reporters. It was night and you could see the shaking from the camera movements and the lights of Mexico City went out in huge swaths. It was terrifying and impressive and amazing and horrifying and the sound of the electronic shofar was blaring for the whole time.

So, this is the time we are living in and it’s a privilege to be alive. We get to have opportunities to serve those in need and to work on mending what is broken. It’s not a task, or a burden. It’s a calling and a hunger that comes from our collective shared body, the body human, the planet body and our shared common heart, split and shattered into 9 billion people, but still all part of the same organ.

And, we’ve been in worse situations. I mean a few billion years ago, when the stuff of creation was zooming around our universe somewhere, in our relative spatial neighborhood, one large something hit this planet and almost broke it in half. Luckily for us, that huge hit generated a big chunk that became our moon.

We weren’t in human bodies, at that time, but talk about seriously intense climate change. This was the mother of all events for our planet. Mammoth, magnificent and tremendously destructive forces have always been part of the story of this universe. It might feel like we aren’t spinning around an axis in an orbit around the sun in our galaxy, which is a tiny grain of sand in the Holy One’s hand full of billions of other grains of sand, but we are indeed doing just that.

We are star-dust, billion year old star-dust:

Joni sings this better than I could ever say it. It’s as true now as it was then. What is our duty, our obligation, our responsibility at this time of tumult and disaster? The “same as it’s ever been, same as it ever was.” It’s our job to do the work, to take care of each other, to take care of the planet, to pursue justice, to love with hurricane force winds, to storm surge the forces of violence, injustice and cruelty and to eliminate them with acts of loving kindness and imagination and art so deep and so connective that all that’s left of the landscape of hate is some tiny debris that is no longer toxic.

This is also the work of Elul, the month in our Jewish calendar when we really examine ourselves and our actions and we make amends and corrections. The time is now and the urgency of our collective engagement, across all the false divides that separate us or make us think we are anything other than one being sharing one heart, cannot be emphasized enough. And, believe it or not, it’s really not that hard. It’s exhausting to do this work and it’s humbling, in an often devastating way, but it isn’t across the ocean or in the heavens, it’s in our hearts and our mouths and we can do it.

Lo Vashamayim Hi ~ It is not in Heaven

Wisdom, joy and hope are not in some distant time; they are not in Heaven or across a great stream. We have access to the best in life and we indeed are responsible for infusing the world with joy, wisdom and hope or misery, greed and violence. It is our actions that make the world a Holy Place or not. Those actions, if they are to be connected to Heaven or to Holiness, must be generated in our hearts and then manifested in our mouths “Ki Karov Elecha, Ha D’Var Me Od, B’ficha U’vilvavecha La’soto.” “Rather, the matter is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart-to perform it.” ~Deuteronomy 30:14

None of us wants to see our ugly sides, our broken parts, our lack of generosity, our lack of calm, our indifference, our resistance to what we know needs to be done. None of us like being informed that we’ve messed up, missed the mark. None of us wants to learn that we failed to protect those we love or that we are addicted or that we’ve hurt another person or the planet just by being alive and human and a person who is fallible. Nevertheless, it’s a very simple turning; T’shuvah (to return/to turn/to pirouette) that can make all the difference. When we turn, the rabbis say, the Holy One and all the forces of goodness and all the Angels rush, they rush, like a blast of strong wind to push us and assist us and to help us in our work. So, all we have to do is turn/return.

On that note, I’ll end with a very powerful and personal moment of profound healing and mending a true Tikkun from the memorial for my belle-mère, Judy Barchilon, May her memory be for a Blessing. My mother Helen Redman and I haven’t been able to engage with each other very much since I’ve been on back and forth duty between California and Colorado. My carbon footprint has been huge, in order to be present for my family. This means that, eco-groovy, organic-only, always trying to use my own bags and water bottle me is actually a big part of the link of the problem in the climate change chain. I am as responsible for climate degradation as someone who actively pollutes or dumps toxins into a watershed. My actual carbon footprint is very large.

I’ve traveled between my current home and my former home, by air, more times than I can count since March of this year. Doing so has been the only way I could be part of taking care of my father, my brother, and my heart, and it’s a mitzvah /commandment/obligation/Holy request that I have no problem doing. Honoring my mother and my father is not optional or problematic. It’s work, but it’s like breathing, I cannot fathom doing anything differently. On the other hand, doing so in the way I am means that I’m contributing to the very problem I’m trying to help eliminate. Arrrgggh it’s so hard being human!

So, to honor my mother, I asked if her if she could re-arrange her travel to Boulder to overlap with my current stay with my father. In this way, we could see one another and I could connect with and love on, and be loved by her. She also felt a call to come to the memorial for Judy and to support my brother and I. She asked me to ask my father if he would be okay with her coming and he said “of-course.” This is really all due to Judy.

I’m not going to go into the history here. You can read my beau-père Kenny Weissberg‘s book Off My Rocker, for one version of the story.  My parents separated when I was seven years old and it’s been a long and very painful journey for me and for my father and my mother and brother also. A lot of time and therapy have been involved, on my end. Their divorce also brought and brings profound gifts, like my belle-mère Judy and my beau-père Kenny. My mother and Kenny have now been together for 46 years. They just celebrated their anniversary at the end of July.

I hate the word step-anything. My relationship is a step different with Kenny than it is with my biological father, but Kenny Weissberg is and has been an amazing father to me and grandfather to my children. He’s every bit as much my family as my biological father is. Judy, also, while not as close or long a relationship was had with her was family. She made my father whole and for that she will always be beloved by me. This is why I prefer the French terms, which mean handsome-father and beautiful-mother, instead of step-father or step-mother.

So, my mother came to the memorial for her ex-husband’s wife. At the end of the evening, which was incredible, I noticed my mother and father talking and I could see the care and love flowing between them. This was something I have not ever witnessed. I was six years old and truly have zero actual memory of them being together. Somewhere, in my cells, I remember, but I don’t have any memories of my parents together. There are lots of photos, but the memories are not there. So, this was and continues to be a ripple of healing, goodness and love for me and for them and for my brother and my children and all those who are connected to any of us.

The beauty of any and all tikkuns/healings/mendings is that they are not of this world, or time alone. They transcend time, and space. They transform the past, present and future. A true Tikkun is a movement in time, dropped into the river of Light of the Divine, which accesses the flow of Shefa into all places of wounding, it can literally change everything.

May you trust that the gates of Heaven are truly open and that the flow of Divine Love is strong and continuous and there for you, so much so, that you can take the risk of doing what is most hard for you to do, of being brave and facing what needs facing and making the corrections and changes that need making so that there is more good going into our world than brokenness.

L’Shana Tova u Metuka/A Good and Sweet New Year to you, and Big, Big, Big Mama Nicole Love to all of you reading this and all of you who are part of my support system of likes, loves, emails, and prayer, as well as all the health practitioners who work with me and on me to keep this body of mine moving through space and time so I can take care of those I love. You are part of why I am who I am and can do what I do so thank you!

Mom. Dad. Judy Memorial
My mother Helen Redman and my father Jacques Barchilon taking care of each other at the memorial for Judy Barchilon, Wow, wow, wow!

 

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.

Nicole Clare Red dress pre.final 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.

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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.

Take Heart

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Purple Poppy with Frilly/Frayed Edges from my deck in California
There is no way to tell this story without lots of tears, mine, yours and the world’s. It’s an old story and one that repeats all the time and is going on now. It’s my story and it, unfortunately, may be yours as well. I begin to unfold it, here and now, breaking years of silence, on my part. I do this for my healing and hopefully for the healing of someone I love, in the spirit of Elul, and because it is time. There will be much more about this in the future….this is just a beginning.

I failed my prime directive as a mother. I did not keep my children safe from harm.

I was young, single, on welfare and living with charlatans, who I trusted. I cannot justify my failure and indeed it is against Jewish understanding to ask forgiveness or try to explain or justify a wrong action when asking for forgiveness. I’m not asking for forgiveness here. Forgiveness, if it is granted, is a private personal process between my children and myself.

Nevertheless, Here, I am/ Hi Ney Ni, turning in the harsh and cold wind of my pain and regret. One of my beloved sisters, by Love, Terret, recently gave me a piece that has helped me understand this territory more. She has been part of this particular story from its beginning, in terms of being present for my children, and being with me since we met when I was eighteen. I became pregnant with my first child when I was nineteen. Terret reminded me that I would willingly have cut off both my arms, if it had meant I could stop the suffering of my child. Cutting off my arms will not stop the suffering, nor will wishing I had been smarter, wiser, seen what was happening or prevented harm from happening.

If there was a sacrifice, of any kind, that I could make so that the pain in my child’s life would lessen, I would have made it a thousand times over. We cannot go back in time and erase what was done to us or those we love. Hindsight is always 20/20. I can and will continue to support healing and hope for there to be a Refuah Shelemah (Complete Healing of Body, Mind, Heart and Soul). I will do whatever I can to make amends, but I cannot change the past.

Just a few days ago, I met with my child’s therapist, with permission. My children are all adults now, but I am wanting to respect their privacy, so I’m not naming them. This man told me to “take heart.” He said that the fact that I was allowed to speak to him meant that there was an inclination, on the part of my child, for reconciliation.

Taking Heart, for anyone who knows me, seems like a no brainer. I’m all about that, I’m all over it, I’m a poster child for it. Nevertheless, it’s not something I have done or can easily do in this situation. So, it was nice to hear those words.

In two weeks I will stand before the Holy One, with my congregation, with my friends and with my teachers. I will hope for renewal and to be granted a new vessel to hold my soul in. I’m definitely due for some renewal!

Rabbi Tirzah Firestone of Boulder, Colorado, passed on this image in a teaching she gave. I don’t remember who gave it to her, but it’s an ancient idea about the vessel our souls inhabit. On Rosh Hashanah, the Holy One grants us a new vessel, clean and vibrant to hold our self in and to pour ourselves out of. If, we have worked on our stuff, looked at our faults and made an effort to turn back to who we truly are in our hearts than we will not only notice this new vessel, but be enlivened by it. Every mistake we make during the year creates a crack in this vessel, big errors, like hurting other people makes for big holes. This means that by the time Rosh Hashanah rolls around, all that might be left of our vessels could be a shard or two; nothing that can hold water or light or love or laughter. In my tradition, if I do the work between myself and others, on Yom Kippur, the Holy One forgives me for the mistakes I’ve made between myself and myself, between myself and the Divine. Only those I wrong can forgive me for the wrongs I’ve done them.

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Vase/Vessel by Paul Barchilon, Table by Shullie Steinfeld, Flowers by Ha-Shem, arrangement by ME! This is the kind of vessel I inhabit, a very colorful, Moroccan one made with love and of EARTH.

Tikkun Olam/Mending the World, and Refuah/Healing are continual processes. Every year of my life, until I leave this world, I will have to look at myself, my mistakes, my leaks and holes. There is no free ride or free lunch when it comes to personal spiritual growth or practice. If you want to serve the Divine and to serve Goodness, you do not ever rest on your laurels. When all people on earth are fed, when all children are safe from harm, when all those whose lives have been broken by hurt are healed, when the planet is free from wanton and grievous pillaging and rape, when we honor and treasure each other in our differences of shape, size, religious inclination, age, gender identity, sexual preference, pigmentation of our skin, income bracket or whether we are human, animal, plant or river, THEN and ONLY THEN can we rest.

This doesn’t mean you can’t take a break. I take a break every Shabbat, and on every Holy Day. We have days for mourning and feeling all the hurt in my tradition. Those are important for me. Most of the time, I live in a state of constant gratitude to the Divine. I am lucky enough to be able to hear the song of the flowers and the planet. I have tremendous support from family and friends. I have a phenomenal husband who has my back in every way imaginable and who has been with me on this journey for a long time.

I will never regret having my children young and alone. This was how they came to me and I chose to keep them and have them, even without support. I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world. Their unique genetic blends, their deliciousness and magnificence is something I will forever delight in. Being their mother has been and is the greatest gift the Holy One has ever given me. And then, I was blessed, to have a third child, finally, with a man who loved me. A man who, not only has stayed the course through very difficult territory, but who has held, supported and nurtured all of us.

I am profoundly and painfully remorseful and sorry that I did not protect my children. I am working all the time to make amends for that harm. My husband was our rescuer, the person who brought us all into his heart and under the protecting shelter of his arms. He came into our lives when my children were three and one. Because of him, healing for all of us is possible.

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This photo was taken by my husband, our rescuer. I was 24.
Since starting this post, I’ve broken down and cried several times. This territory is so terribly hard and I feel such shame, pain and grief. I’m listening to Berel Alexander’s music right now, it’s helping me. He’s singing a gorgeous song called “Giving Thanks,” from his album Hooked, and because of him, his mother  Rabbi Naomi Steinberg, my family, my friends, my community, my prayer practice, and my teachers, I am able to hold this much pain and grief. Because I am not alone, I can and will keep trying to make Tikkun in the world and in my family.

I cannot know if there will be a Refuah Shelemah in our lives, but I won’t stop working for it and praying for it. A wound cannot heal if it is kept in the dark and never tended to. Wounds need to be seen and to have the pus drained out. There is no way to do that without pain and without addressing the root causes of the wound. 

The great South African Archbishop, Desmond Mpilo Tutu, gave us the Truth and Reconciliation process/model. With that in mind, I am hopeful. How can anyone think that it isn’t possible to “take heart,” when we have this amazing example of South Africa and their courageous efforts towards healing from the most heinous crimes?

So, I will Take Heart. I hope you will as well, and together, with our very broken hearts, we can come together, each of us, being honest, taking chances, crossing hard territory and trusting that the only way to be whole is if we all are holding hands and working hard to speak truth, being kind, endeavoring to forgive those who have hurt us (if they are genuine in their efforts towards reparations), and even if they aren’t. Forgiveness is healing for us as well as for those we forgive. We still and always must take responsibility for the wrongs we have done and hope and pray to be forgiven.

May you find yourself held and supported as you navigate your own hard territory. You are not Alone!

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Rose and Dew drops by the Holy One, reminding us all that there is more Beauty and Grace in the universe than we can ever fathom. I grew this Rose and she returns every year to remind me of this and she smells like Heaven!