This picture inspires me, every day. I look at the faces of these Eastern European Jewish women, these warrior women, who endured, or whose progeny endured pogroms, violence, poverty, plagues, the Shoah, and who knows what else. They not only endured it, some of them survived to pray and to make family, connections, friendships, partnerships and eventually me and my children. We are the seedlets from their wombs. I love their strong proud faces, their soft smiles and the looks of endurance, the crags carved into their faces. And, and…none of them are a size four! All of the women pictured here are zaftig, even the birthday girl/woman/crone. These were women of girth and ground. Women who stood their ground and who worked and lived hard. This is my lineage.
I have this Sephardic lineage running through me from the line of my father and his family. That lineage is more exalted and wealthy, and this line comes with art and rich stories. I know more about the men in this lineage. But I knew my grandmother Perla bat Doña Aicha Bendavid v’ Don José Barchilon, zichrona l’vracha, and her artwork is all over my home. My grandfather Chaim or Jaimé Cohen ben Don Aaron Cohen v’ Dona Sol de Ohana, z”l was the patriarch of my life and in their Moroccan home I learned to cook, to appreciate rich colors, smells and the life of warmth and passion that Morocco is. That lineage flows through my blood and I consider myself more Moroccan than any other nationality. My father’s grandfather was the head Rabbi of Tangier.
Somehow, I’m here/Hi Ney Ni. I hope I make it to 100 and have grandchildren or great grandchildren standing behind me and a giant cake full of candles, like the matriarch above. I’ll be very ready to go at that point, but my death date or pull date, as I like to call it, is in the hands of the Divine. While I’m here on this earth, there’s lots and lots to do. There is also so much information, data, waves of images and messages, emails, texts and Instagram posts, tweets, alerts, podcasts, zoom chats, protests to attend, meals to cook, medicines to make and folks to help die and folks to help heal and…..it goes on.
As Rabbi Tarfon z”l who lived and died in the first century CE says:
“You are not obliged to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it; if you have learned much Torah, great shall be your reward, for He who hires you will surely repay you for your toil; yet the requital of the pious is in the future.“
from Pirkei Avot a text written down based on oral teachings in the first century B.C.E.
So, I’m not obligated to finish this work, but I am not free to desist from it either. This is not just my mantra, it is the mantra of most of the hardworking, justice seeking, world healing folks I love and connect with. The English translation here is not reflective of the feeling that the Hebrew has or the poetry of the teaching.
The future quoted here is Olam Ha Ba in Hebrew. This translates more closely as The World to Come, which could be tomorrow or in a thousand years. It’s in the hands of the Creator or you, what the World to Come is, it’s a verb form, a world that is coming, it’s not yet here, but it’s on the way. If you are able you can feel it, or sense it. The veil between this world/Olam Ha Zeh and Olam Ha Ba is very thin for some of us.
I long for Olam Ha Ba, sometimes with such an ache in my being that the tears and sobs flow out of me for hours. There’s just too much damn suffering, ugliness, meanness and stupidity down here on this planet for me to bear sometimes. And yet, bear it I must. I cannot bear it though, if I watch the news or listen to the news or imbibe the news in any form currently available.
I’m afraid I’m going to be burned at the stake for admitting that I do not participate in the news cycle. I don’t own a television, I don’t stream CNN live or watch the Trevor Noah Show or listen to NPR or Rachel Maddow or NBC, CBS, BBC, etc… you get my point. I get plenty of news from all of the people in my life who share tidbits with me. I generally know about something big within hours of it happening. Sometimes a day will go by before whatever “news” crisis, on the planet folks are spinning about, circles around and reaches me. I do not let the currents of world events, as reported on by others, who often wish for me to be hooked by their versions of the story, dictate my direction or life.
That being said, there is a trusted source of information that I am completely involved in. That makom/source is my cellular core knowing. This knowing will literally take me down to the ground when there are mass deaths or huge traumas on the planet. I have an internal weather vane that is tuned to certain frequencies. In the last two years, I’ve gone to ground in a huge way, before the news informed the world of these horrors. When Covid hit this world in a big way, I was already in a cave of my own making. I curled up in a ball, like a fox or a bear and I hibernated. I do this when I need to replenish or when the waves of the world hit me like a tsunami.
I could barely get out of bed for months, not because I was physically sick, but because the pain of the thousands of people dying in fear and alone was a tidal wave for me. I’m very sensitive, not really the right word, to death, my internal channel is tuned to the other side. When there are mass events of death, I feel it, not because I’m watching the news coverage about it, because I don’t do that, but because I’m just wired that way. I was bone deep tired and unable to rise up. I was sheltering in place before that was actually called for.
So, I went to ground, curled up in my cave/bedroom. I emerged very infrequently to eat an apple or take a bath. My husband had to fend for himself mostly. He’s used to my weird and wild ways. He would lie down next to me and tell me he loved me and ask what he could do, if anything. Mostly, he just accepted me and loved me. He is an Agnostic and doesn’t believe in a Divine Creator and cannot comprehend 98% of what I tell him I am experiencing. Miraculously, he doesn’t need to understand me, or take me apart and make sense of me, to love me. He’s just wired that way, wired to love me and I’m wired to love him and it works, amazingly well.
When I touch my man or am held by him, all my cells align and take a kind of deep breath. It’s a truly profound experience for me and it still happens to this day, 33 years since we first kissed, I feel the current of wholeness course through my body. It makes my toes curl, my heart race. I am giddy and soothed all at the same time.
There’s nothing subtle or mild about me or how I feel, love, pray, and live. I’m a lot to handle and as the husband of a dear friend of mine once said about me. “Jeez, could you have some f—–g enthusiasm already!” Which I translated as the usual, you’re just TOO MUCH!
And, I am too much, for a lot of folks, which isn’t really important, because I’m used to that now and I’m in really good company…but back to my cave. I didn’t share the depth of what was going on for me with anyone besides my husband. A few folks were worried about me since they weren’t seeing my posts and I was generally absent from so many activities online and elsewhere. Even when I’m in my cave, I still take care of what has to be taken care of, what is mine to take care of, like my parents and my children. Or when someone’s son in my community was murdered and they needed support to get their son’s body washed and prepared for burial, according to Jewish tradition. They needed to witness and lovingly wrap their beloved in a shroud with prayers during Covid. Everybody worries about you and thinks you’re crazy for extending yourself and endangering yourself to make that happen. But, this is exactly the kind of thing that pulls me, like a magnet from underneath the covers or the depths of my sanctuary cave. The call to serve and to do what is mine, not someone else’s to do.
The other call that came in, when I was deep in the depths of the pain of the world, was when George Floyd, z”l, was murdered. It was like an electric shock to my system and I just jumped out of my bed and started cooking and making medicines and cleaning and doing everything I could, in what I like to call Full-On-Nicole fashion. Even though the pain was searing, the call to make kindness alive and to help folks feel heard and seen and loved during this time of trauma and exposition of the true nature of our society, was stronger than the need to be curled up feeling the anguish. For me, the call came in and it came in loud and strong and clear.
I didn’t see the death of this man on the news. I felt it in my bones. I am a woman awash with the world’s doings. Life on this planet, the life of this planet is not something I am separated from, none of us are. When there is harm or grace, we all feel it. Whether it is a slight blip in our heart-beat or it takes us down to the ground, or out to our studios, or into the streets, we are all part of the same story.
In my tradition we say a prayer called the Shema, we say it three times a day. It cannot be completely translated. It’s a call to being and a chant and a reminder. The prayer itself is just a few words, but it is followed by a few paragraphs of prayers reminding us that if we adhere to this teaching the rain will fall in its season and the cattle will be happy and all will align, but if we fail to head this call and we worship idols (like the television, entertainment industry, sports games, the stock market or the Kardashians) the rain won’t fall in its season and there will be famine, plague and basically consequences to our NOT taking care of each other and the planet. This is not the Holy One cursing us, this is us cursing ourselves, causing the damage by not heeding the call of the Shema.
Listen, Hear, All you tribe of Israel, all you who wrestle with the Divine, the idea of the Divine, Hear this, all of you who struggle to make the world a place of decency and kindness, who stumble and fall down, who make mistakes, but get back up again, and again, listen you tribe of humans of all colors and religions and creeds and genders,
WE ARE ALL ONE!
We are all One, the Divinity is All One, is all encompassing, is everywhere at all times, holding us, watching us, shepherding us, rooting for us, wailing for us and with us as we stumble and fumble about. The Creator is with us and is through us and is us.
This call to Listen, to Hear, which implies you are directing yourself towards something perhaps not always loud or obvious, something that requires your active attention; this is something that I cannot ignore. I’ve always been a being who feels the blood trickle down my leg when the person next to me falls down and the skin on their leg cracks open, I get this in my body, it’s not an idea in my head, it literally fills my head and body like a gong sounding through my whole being.
I am awash in the feelings of this world and often of the next world as well. Sometimes folks who’ve crossed over are looking for support or help, especially if they died suddenly or violently, or they just have something they need to communicate before they move on to their next bathing of light, where they can be awash in the Creator’s love for them. Sometimes folks here on this earth are in so much pain it leaps out of their bodies and finds its way to me.
So, crazy as this makes me look and sound to those of you in the world who cannot see the dead moving through the room, like a waft of steam rising from a tea cup, or who don’t recognize the connections between things as being all part of some giant and unwinding narrative we are players in, I am very much affirming, again and again, that I am a woman awash in all of this.
Why do I need to assert this? There are many reasons, but the strongest call right now has to do with wanting to witness for folks that you can be fully awake, aware, and open, and also closed, quiet and taking care of yourself. There is no one way to serve. Maybe you need to go to ground, take a sabbatical or a break or just crawl under the covers for a week or months. It doesn’t necessarily mean you are depressed or mentally ill. It might just mean you are a human feeling the throbbing heart of our times and needing to be with all of what that is. Or maybe you do better going to a rally or a protest or writing hundreds of postcards or keeping track of all the lies and stories on the screens so that you can be a witness to what is actually being said. As long as it doesn’t poison you and make you forget how to enjoy the buds on the trees or the way the Holy One paints the sky each night, or the smile of your beloved, or just that we’re all in this together, imbibe away.
We’re most of us in good, good, really good company. We all have work to do that is uniquely ours. I hope you find your way through and into the places you need to be in and that you notice when your engagement with the “news” takes you away from loving, living and giving.
The real news is this, we are here on this earth for an eye-blink, even if we live to be a hundred years old, and while we are here, we have a task to continue working on, the work of making the world a better reflection of the love, kindness, intelligence, justice, harmony and Oneness it was meant to be and it is becoming, even if we cannot see its emergence yet.
Serving with joy feels good. Serving with resentment, fatigue, frustration, irritation, wondering if it will ever be over, trying hard but still making folks you care about feel bad, and other not so nice feelings, none of that feels good at all.
This is the territory I’m in. It’s the territory I’m in by choice. So, as I write these words, I have left my Bayside home and am now back in Colorado to be the primary care-giver for my father in his final journey. Since March of this year I’ve flown back and forth to Colorado more times than I can count. I’m done with the back and forth; I’ve finally surrendered.
I just need to be there, give up my life here, for a time, and serve the man who has served me, my brother, my children, his students and his wives so deeply. It’s his turn to just be the recipient. He’s asked for me, which is fairly radical, in the story of our family. He’s also surrendered and recognized that my care makes a difference and he wants what I have to offer.
If my life was about achieving success, having a career or being perfectly sculpted, what would I have to bring to my father or anyone in their time of need? This is not a judgement of folks who strive for those things. I am commenting on our society’s over-valuing of these kinds of achievements. I don’t want or need accolades of any kind. That may seem specious, given that I’m writing about my process, my “selfless” process.
Perhaps, it will be seen that way. I share here, and wherever I find an audience, what is true for me. I know I am not alone in these feelings or experiences and that folks feel isolated way too often when they are care-giving. I choose to be present for my parents, my mother-in-law, my children, my friends, my community and those who I have made covenants with. My spiritual and personal commitments are as real and binding to me as the ones that are linked to my biology, my blood, my ancestry.
This is lifetime work. It is not something I will ever complete or finish. Perhaps it will be lifetimes of work. I hope not. I’m tired. I am looking forward to the promise of singing with the Angels and not having to serve in a body ever again. When I cross over, if I get a choice, that’s the one I want. I have no desire to come back and do any more living over. I may feel differently when I’m 90, if I’m around then, you can be sure I’ll let you all know if this has changed.
My life has been so full and joyful. It’s also included extremely hard times and situations. I’m just like every other human, on our spinning planet, in this way.
The difficulties in my life aren’t comparable to the hardships of most folks’ lives. I live a life of privilege in many regards. Difficulty, is a relative thing though. If you string the events in my life up by the tragedies and failures or by the joys and wonders, you get different pictures. It’s often felt like a pendulum swinging wildly between the two poles.
I do not believe that you can create the life you want and that if you just attune and align with the perfect philosophy or diet or get things right personally all your problems, fears, complications and debts will go away, or the president you want will be in power, or folks will do what you want, and all will be perfect and polished. I am not interested in my life being polished or shiny or perfect. I’m not interested in weighing the right amount or looking the right way or doing things according to someone’s current ideal of what is fashionable or healthy.
I am interested in mastering, to whatever extent I can, what the Holy One sets before me, not what I set before me.
And, I fail every day, over and over. I fall down all the time and sometimes, even with all my personal padding, I am bruised all over. The reality of suffering is so damn intense, it’s not mild, it’s not pleasant, it’s not calm, quiet or easy. It’s a full-on completely body-slamming story.
I live it in my body. My empathic nature is not something I am dimming or turning the volume down on. I’ve already done a volume shift to walk around and look semi-normal my entire life. I’ve learned to have a boundary between myself and others. Sometimes, though, I will still be brought up short, if another person is having trouble breathing, I also will start choking. I’ve said this all before, and I’m restating it for the following reason. Being empathic and devoted to easing the suffering of others is a full-time experience.
It is not a seamless process. Sometimes what I experience is a tsunami, sometimes it’s a slow flow of energy, like air leaking from a balloon, and other times it’s just in the background. Sometimes, I feel as if the life is being sucked out of me, Other times I feel as if I am being gifted with tremendous energy and all the gears are working properly; I’m loving, I’m being loved and I’m serving with joy.
These are the moments I live for, when it all aligns and the warm honey liquid healing/Tikkununfolds like a lotus opening. That’s what I want and it’s a palpable real experience that I have had and hopefully will have again.
It’s the true goal of my soul. S.O.S traditionally stands for Save Our Souls, and indeed, that’s what we are called upon to do, when we care for children, elderly parents, otherwise-abled children, family, friends or spouses. We are being asked to surrender our own time-frames, needs, and lives over to the care of another.
This is not something we do as a sacrifice. The word sacrifice is one I do not resonate with. In Hebrew, we make offerings. They are called Korbanot/Offerings. You can make a korban that is for wrongs you have done, or in gratitude or in praise, or for a holiday or special life event. A korban is brought forth willingly and given with intention.
If you have never surrendered yourself over to another person, then this will seem completely foreign to you. In our society, there are more opportunities to give than you can possibly imagine. And, when the world feels insane, there is no better feeling than knowing you have made a difference in the suffering quotient of another human being or the planet. When we offer willingly of our time, our hearts, our bodies, there is a return offering that comes our way and it is one that cannot be measured or calculated. It can feel like a river of life-blood, a continuous flow of manna, heavenly nourishment and goodness.
It may take some time to recognize this, due to the stress of continuously extending for another, but when you do feel the flow, it is a game-changer. Simply Offering Simply that’s my goal.
I’m not going to list the mistakes, the all too common ones, most folks and I have made when offering self. I do want to share four basic keys that make a difference for me and enable me to give myself over and over in this and other situations.
Shabbatover Serving: Make sure you take one or two days off a week, figure it out, find friends or others to give you a break. If you cannot manage a day, manage for as long as you can. Make your time off regular, same day, same times. This will mean your body and heart and mind will adjust and know they are getting a break and it will train the person you are caring for to not expect your presence at that time.
Self-Care on Start: Don’t try to take care of someone else if you aren’t attending to the care of yourself as well. Get regular massages, work-outs, walks, acupuncture or whatever it is that nourishes you. It is not optional or secondary, it needs to happen before you help others, if you can, and consistently.
Start out Slow: Take your time getting to know the rhythms of the person and place where you are. Folks who are sick or elderly are moving at a very different pace from the one that you are. It is more of a service to them for less to happen, than for everything to get done, and it’s impossible to get everything done, so give up on that.
Stay Engaged over Signing Out or Off: When things get edgy, with other family members or there is a problem or grumpiness from a care-giver or the person you are caring for, or anyone in the situation, don’t give up or resign. Just give it some space, take a break, a day or a few hours, and come back to the situation. It’s a given that there will be rough patches. Expect these moments and work to prevent them, but remember that if you stay centered and apply the other three suggestions here, a solution will be found.
On that note, of solutions to be found, I’ll close.
Nicole Barchilon Frank writes to you, from her home in California, and in the future or the past, she writes to you from the home her heart calls her to—wherever that might be…
Originally published in the Mad River Union on December 13th, 2017. Changes have been made in this online version.
My bones are cozy and waking up at the moment. It’s 7:00 a.m. in Ireland at Holy Hill Hermitage on February 16, 2016 as I write these words. The wind is swooshing and whooshing at 22 mph, which is about average for the last few months of storms. My bones don’t go walking when the wind is that fierce, but the view of the trees and the ivy dancing and shaking fiercely is quite inspiring. Because I’m in my sabbatical hermitage time, I do not have to battle the wind or go anywhere physically. In my cabin, named after St. Clare, I am dry, warm and safe. I’ve been here since July of 2015 and will be finished with my sabbatical by May of 2016. I am 51 years old, a Jewish Lay-Leader, Mother, Writer, Cook and Healer (all in capitals with intention). My hard-working bones and body needed a year-off between raising family, being very active in my community, and moving into the second half of my life. My body was exhausted, which is quite common for anyone who cares about others or the planet, even if you are not a parent. I was literally limping when I made it here and in constant pain.
By the time you reach 50, which is young, really, but as a woman it marks the transition years of menopause; everything gets drier, bonier, your emotions, your whole physical reality shifts massively and you feel it in your bones. Not everyone works their systems as hard as I’ve worked my body, but all of us need respite and time to contemplate and allow for bone time. Time that is slower, time that is not rushing and that is deep and structural, bone time.
It’s a common fallacy, propagated by the media and society everywhere, that speed is better, youth is better and all of our technology and systems are designed for the opposite of bone time. Youthful healthy happy bodies are great, and often as the old saying goes “wasted on the young.” But, trying to perpetuate a young, speedy body is not great and actually exactly the wrong direction to go in. Our bodies are Holy vessels, gifts from the Divine, sacred vases to hold our souls.
It’s lovely to inhabit a healthy one, even an aching one, but they aren’t our permanent homes. They are our transitional dwellings. If we are only body, pleasure seeking and speed focused we never engage with our souls and their needs. Not connecting with our souls is wreaking havoc on the structure of life on our planet. If the earth had a skeleton, her bones would be broken, from our lack of regard, from fracking, from ignoring the call of her rivers, all her creatures (including human suffering) and all the messages being sent from her soul and her bones.
When we stop and listen to the wind, or to the silence, or the birds, something magnificent unfolds within us and within the larger home of all our bodies. All of a sudden we get to hear the music of the Divine, and the lament, however we name that. You cannot hear that music as easily if you are rushing or just focused on looking good and feeling good personally. You hear and experience your soul and your bone-marrow knowing, when you are quiet, when you are engaged in loving or helping others, when you are in contemplation, prayer, communion.
I’m not saying that the way one feels after moving in an aerobic or physically strenuous way isn’t also important or can’t get you to a feeling of connection. For some folks that is where they experience their only sense of communion. I do not think that we can ever, at this point in human history, say it’s possible to have enough folks seeking communion. All of us need to listen more to the call of our bones, to the marrow of the matter. We have to SLOWWWWWW way down and hear our beating hearts and watch the birds or the river or the clouds, or listen to the symphony with our whole beings and offer thanks to the Holy One.
We all have to search for the link connecting us one to the other, where I am part of this earth’s structure, her pinky finger or one tiny filament of bone in her being and you are another. We’ve been gifted with bodies and a home for them to live on, not attending to the WHOLE being of that gift, the gifts of our souls and of our interconnection and need for each other wounds us all and is literally bone-crushingly wrong.
I’m in a state of perpetual tear-filled gratitude for my bone-time, my down time, my slow time to be with the earth, with folks in gentle prayer and song. I’m also grateful for the long walks in the hills and the help of Healers and Holy Wells and all the ways being engaged with the earth in my body and bones is working to ease my pain. I try to walk gently on the earth and hope that my time here is a gift to her and to those few folks I have and do encounter on retreat. I pray with the wind and the frost, the sunshine and rainbows between storms and all the birds of the skies here for all beings to be well, to find each other and to be engaged in deep communion, bones, bodies, hearts, minds and souls all together in reverence, service and joy.
This piece was originally published in the Spiritual Life Institute’s Fall 2016 publication: Desert Call
**I will be writing extensively about Mikveh, my practice with Living Water, streams, Lagoons, the Ocean and other bodies of water that are living in the near future.
“On the Fourth Day of Hanukkah my true heart said to me, get thee out of thy cabin and go to the Holy Well of St. Patrick.” All of you know the tune to sing that alternative lyric to. Part of this time of year is always endless loops of Christmas music, so that even if you aren’t Christian and you don’t celebrate Christmas, you will still KNOW every possible Christmas song there is. That’s okay, most of them are really beautiful and my anger around this has completely dissipated over the years.
I am in a very Christian, truly Christian place, where folks practice their religion whether they are Catholic or Church of Ireland or Celtic/Pagan. All three of those forms of worship are part of my adventure here. I hope to be able to celebrate Solstice with a woman who follows the Gaelic calendar and rituals. Whether I manage to gather with her or not, I will definitely be engaging with the night, with Solstice, with the stars and offering thanks for this time of year, this time of turning.
It gets dark around 4p.m. and the sun or light doesn’t appear until around 8:45 a.m. So, that’s over sixteen hours of black, dark night. I am loathe to turn the lights on and find myself very averse to them. I use candles or low wattage lamps if I want light after dark. The darkness is bliss for me and mutes all my pains and my anxieties. That may sound counter-intuitive, but it is what is true for me. I often feel like going to bed around six or seven in the evening.
I still don’t sleep more than several hours at a time, but it is lengthening. I’ll get four hours in a row now, then two or three more. Brother Thomas has started praying for me to be able to sleep. His shining prayers are working, and the long hours of darkness as well. I so long to dance and dream with the Holy One in that place of deep slumber, which I am only barely doing here. Deep sleep will be a gift if and when it comes.
So, back to the getting out the door and walking to St. Patrick’s Holy Well. We just had Storm Desmond here and a great deal of Ireland is under water, folks have rivers running through their homes and the winds and rain were fierce. Many, many folks have lost everything. My little cabin Clare has been a solid haven from all storms outside. I am warm, dry and protected in this very solid stone cabin. My experience of the storm is just one of delight and awe and wonder at the power of the Holy One and the Elements in their constant dance on this Holy Spinning Mother Earth. I am also aware of all those not in joy or delight about this storming and I pray for them within my space of hope and warmth.
On this morning a few days after the wild storming, the sun was shining. I used my iphone to see if there was going to be rain and storms coming or if I might hazard a longer walk. I have not yet completely let go of time and technology. I use them way less, but they are still part of my life and learning to use them and have them enrich my experience, not detract from it, is part of my work here. So, my phone said, no rain expected until later in the afternoon.
The down side to sixteen hours of darkness and loads of rain and 30mph winds, is that you don’t really get much walking or venturing out done. It’s just much nicer inside. So, moving my body out of doors, even in 38 degree weather felt like a MUST.
I had seen signs to St. Patrick’s Holy Well along the small lane that is just near where we are and one of the work-study young women had mentioned that it was truly spectacular and even “more special” than the other Holy Well we had been to. Well that Holy Well, took my breath away so, I was thinking hmmmm, let’s see if I can walk to this one. It didn’t seem too far away.
I packed my bag and started my journey at 9:23 a.m. I knew it would take me at least an hour or two, so I put some nuts and cheese and filled my thermos with hot tea. I took birdseed to offer the birds when I got there and packed my outdoor wool blanket so I could sit at the well comfortably. I layered up and with my trusty walking stick went out the door.
I met Rachel, my neighbor in her red car, at the crossroads near my cabin shortly after leaving. She had her three lovely daughters (all under the age of five) with her and they were on their way to Tessa’s playschool. She asked me where I was off to and I told her. She expressed concern. “That’s pretty far away.” I said “a mile or two?” She said “more like three.” I reassured her that I had many hours to do the walk and that I would go slowly and was up to it and she drove on.
In my mind I was thinking maybe she meant kilometers and it’s not really that far away. I was determined and it was a gorgeous cold day. So, on I walked along the small, wet country lane between stone walls and ivy covered hedges. Streams and rivulets of water, birds and sheep as my companions. I went up and down and up and down the hills and my feet started to really ache. I have plantar fasciitis and bone spurs as well as being a woman of girth. So, my feet take a beating when I walk or dance and I feel it, I feel it acutely.
Pain is not something that stops me though, it just slows me down. I saw two more people on my walk, one elderly man tending to something in his yard came over and said hello. I asked him how far it was to the Holy Well and he said two miles or more. I’d already been walking for an hour at this point, but again, in my mind I went, he means kilometers, it’s just not that far away. He asked me to say a prayer for him when I got there and I shook his hand and continued on my way.
About half an hour later I encountered another elderly man walking towards me on the lane. He was looking for Holly with red berries still attached to use for his Christmas decorating. There is tons of Holly everywhere here, but the winds have taken a lot of the berries. I asked him “how much further to the well?” He said it was quite a ways, perhaps another two more miles.
In my mind I thought, I’ve entered a fairy tale. It’s always going to be two more miles away and I will NEVER get to the Holy Well. He gave me his advice about how to get there and directions and wished me well (all puns intended) and he continued on his quest and I continued on mine.
It started to rain, which wasn’t supposed to happen, according to my iphone weather report. I was an hour and a half or more into my journey at this point. I put my jacket on, the one I’d had around my waist, and hoped it wouldn’t be a torrential rain. It turned out to just be a slight drizzle for a little bit. I stopped by a rusted iron gate and tried doing my foot exercises to relieve my pain and kept hoping the crossroads with the sign for the well would be just around the next bend or over the next hill.
Alas, this was not the case. I just kept walking. I saw a lovely horse in a field and decided to take a moment by that particular field and fence. I made some friendly horse sounds and said hello. She came over to me. She was coal black with a white star on her forehead and a streak of white running down from it. I reached into my pack and took out my apple, thinking horses like apples right?
Two other majestic horses with thick winter fur came up at this point. The alpha female, of this group of three, was white and rust colored. She nudged the other horses away as if to say, “I’m in charge here.” She looked at me and I cut my apple into three sections and explained that I would be giving something to each of them, even if she was the “alpha.”
I offered the apple sections to each of them and none of them were interested. They were interested in me. They put their heads down for me to touch. I spent a good ten minutes or so communing with these horse beings and was grateful for them. They didn’t want my apple, but since I’d gotten it out, I took one of the sections and eventually continued on my way.
I walked on and finally after two and a half hours came to the crossroads with the signs for the Holy Well. At this point the sun was shining in my eyes and it was hard for me to see too far down the road. I had taken my sunglasses out of my pack before I left the cabin, thinking “sunglasses, who needs those in this weather?” Silly me. I turned down the road that said Cemetery and Holy Well, but I couldn’t see either of them. I kept walking and thought I must be close. I was in great pain and in tears at this point, but I took heart that I was too close to give up and besides the walk home wasn’t going to be any better if I never made it to the Well, so, I should just keep going.
And I walked another fifteen minutes or more and there was another sign pointing me to the left, so I took that road. Then I saw the cemetery and thought that the well was in the cemetery at the back or something. I went into the old, old cemetery and walked around looking for this Holy Well that seemed impossible to locate. It wasn’t in the cemetery, or it was hidden from me.
I walked all around the cemetery and saw a gate and a road and what perhaps was a statue down that way. I thought, hmmm, perhaps that’s the well. AND IT WAS! YAY, HOORAH, HIP, HIP HOORAY, I made it. Three hours and 3.6 miles from when I started I found what I was en route to. It wasn’t no two mile walk!
There were three gates, all of which I opened and went through, before I got to the actual Holy Well. The final gate was to the walled in area that surrounds the Holy Well of St. Patrick. There was a large statue of him and another with Mary. I took off my boots and my wool socks and walked down the steps to the well. I sat on the cold wet stone and cried and gave thanks and put my feet briefly in the Holy Well waters and asked for their healing. I then laid down on the stone next to and over the Holy Well, which is supposed to heal your back.
The Well was in shadow and it was chilly, but I was in my layers. I laid myself down on the stone and cried and said prayers for the man who had asked me to and for all beings in pain, myself included. I chanted the Shecheheyanu prayer and just laid there looking up at the trees and being grateful beyond belief for having arrived.
I took out my cheese and my nuts and drank my hot tea. I’m not sure if I’ve ever been more grateful for a hot beverage. It was magnificent. I offered some tea to the trees and scattered some birdseed, apple slices and cheese for whatever animal beings or Fey Folk might want or need those things.
Then, because I had my trusty technology with me, I got out my phone and texted Brother Thomas, who I knew was out doing the weekly shopping. I asked him if he could pick me up on his way home and told him I’d be walking along the road. He and I managed to communicate via text and he said he’d be along in about a half an hour. I prepared myself to leave the Holy Well.
I’d wanted to stay longer and had packed my paints and my prayer shawl and my prayer book. But I didn’t want to walk another three hours home and I knew the rains were coming, and I was getting chilled. I said my goodbyes to the trees and the Well and as I closed the third gate Brother Thomas drove up. I cannot tell you how grateful I was to see him, to see that car, to know that I had made the effort and gotten there, but that an angel would carry me home and one did. By angel/Brother Thomas flight, it only took seven minutes to get home.
I’ll return to this place and spend long hours there, but I’ll know the way and plan accordingly. My feet are not hurting and neither is my back. The miracle of this place continues to unfold in me right now in this season of miracles, Jewish and Christian.
May you find your way and continue to walk on against pain and obstacles to all the miracles waiting to unfold for you.
The following sharing was written by my God-daughter Roxy Greenspan. She sent me two of her college papers a few months ago and I asked her permission to use them on my website. She agreed. I am extremely proud of Roxy for being a truly extraordinary woman, for rising out of the ashes and trauma of her childhood and becoming the kind, intelligent and phenomenal woman she is today. You will see all of this in her writing and sharing here.
I am including Roxy’s work on my blog for several reasons, first of all because she is a clear voice for healing and hope even after tremendous difficulty and childhood distress, and secondly because Roxy is also describing her process and her growth through trauma into wellness. No matter what hardships we encounter, her example and her ideas and her victories can help all of us move forward and into hope, healing and wholeness.
Developmental Theory Paper for Pacific Oaks College:
As an adult, and after some personal work and reflection, I am able to better understand my current patterns of communication, coping mechanisms, and the way I operate in the world as a result of the cumulative experiences that have made up my life. I have always struggled with how I identify in the world and with whom. Born into a family of alcoholism, mental illness, and homelessness, my support systems were often lacking, and when present, inconsistent and insecure. My mother’s inabilities to care for me as a child and her wish for me to have experiences in life that she could not give me, such as emotional love and support, resulted in me living in the homes of various people throughout my childhood.
My mother’s history of relationships with homeless, abusive addicts led her to being a single mother of four children, one with severe disabilities. Her own mental illness and debilitating depression resulted in her often being unable to care for her children. My lifestyle was my norm and I didn’t know any other, it was just my life—utter chaos. I knew that it was different from other people’s lives, but I didn’t know how people judged my family. Later I gained an understanding of how societal biases and systems of oppression only worsened my family’s situation, furthering the chances of generational disadvantage. There was a lack of knowledge and services for my severely autistic brother, lack of support for my mother, lack of money and an overall lack of equal opportunity to life.
My brother, Jake, is severely autistic and non-verbal along with various other diagnosis. I have experienced the gut wrenching pain of witnessing my brother in pain and suffering and feeling completely powerless. With very limited means of communication, he was unable to express himself or make decisions for himself about his life. My brother has had the most terrifying life experiences that I could imagine. Not only did he experience the dysfunction of our home life and being institutionalized, but he was unable to express himself, be understood, and suffered greatly. Having a brother with severe disabilities has contributed to my development of empathy, compassion, and accepting differences among people. My mother fought with every tooth and nail to get support for him, but at the same time, she was miserable and desperate, taking out her anger and sadness on her children.
Beginning from infancy, I was moved around to live with different families who would care for me for periods of time when my mother could not. There were so many families that I cannot account for who or where I was living for many years of my childhood and cannot access memories for those times. This pattern of living with various different people made it extremely difficult for me to foster a strong sense of self-identity. I was not a part of their family. I had not experienced their family culture and could not relate to it. I was only observing it and playing the part to fit in temporarily.
I became consumed with needing to fit into other people’s lives, having them accept me and like me, so they would let me stay. As a result, I became a “people-pleaser” who put all others’ needs and desires first before even considering my own. I would often agree to things that made me feel uncomfortable and sacrificed my own needs. In fact, I could not even identify my own needs. I think some of this behavior developed from guilt that I had from inconveniencing these people’s lives by entering them. I felt more content in having other people’s needs met even if it made me feel bad than hurting someone’s feelings or upsetting someone by saying “no.” No matter what I did, I was never an equal in these homes. I was just a visitor from a broken home.
While I was provided for in the form of shelter, physical safety, and attention, I lacked in emotional connectedness. I remember an incident in which my heart broke. It was Mother’s Day. I had been living with a family who had another daughter the same age as me. I was living six hours away from my birth mother and wanted desperately to express my gratitude and love for the mother who I lived with at the time. I picked her a bouquet of flowers and created a handmade card that I displayed lovingly on the living room mantle that morning because I was too nervous to give them directly to her. Later that day, I remember seeing the flowers and card in the trash can. She never said anything to me about the incident, nor did I. Yearning for the love of a mother, I cried privately.
At times when I did live with my birth mother, I often experienced physical and verbal abuse. She was inconsistent in her moods and behaviors. She was often screaming at us children, crying hysterically, and cooking in a manic fashion into the wee hours of the morning. Food was a big theme in my mother’s house. While we lived off of welfare and food stamps, she was extremely quality oriented with food. She shopped for only local, organic groceries and was knowledgeable in areas of health and nutrition. She often put me down for being chubby and fat as a child and adolescent. I would feel worthless because I was needing acceptance and acknowledgement that I was good enough and loved in the world in order to develop a healthy sense of self and esteem. I later learned of her own struggles with bulimia and self-image. She modeled a dysfunctional relationship with body image and food that I would carry with me for my entire life.
Where my home was, it’s hard to say. I do not have many memories of my younger years and there are times throughout my life that I cannot recall with whom or where I was living. From these experiences, I struggled in developing self-identity from my family culture. I was not given the time or space to appreciate and develop what was special and unique about myself. As a result of this, I am indecisive and need to be reassured often. I often doubt myself and look to others for confirmation and approval. I feel inadequate and un-confident in my abilities instead. I am often questioning my actions and experiencing high levels of anxiety over seemingly minute issues.
Later in life, I did not identify myself as being an equal member of society. I became aware of the discrimination, judgments, and biases people, who did not fit societal expectations, experience, people who are labeled not “normal” and who have experienced life and early years of development differently. I felt that I did not belong and developed low self-worth. I was very depressed for many years and had difficulty being comfortable in my own body and experiencing life. I did not want to be alive to continue enduring such emotional pain and suffering. While not all of the depression, pain, and anxiety has gone away, I have learned new coping skills and ways of processing emotional pain in order to lead a healthier life. While I have developed resilience and strength, it is not without the experiences that have positively impacted my development.
When I was in the first grade, I was living with my mother, sister, and two younger brothers in Arcata, California. I attended public school where I made friends with a young girl, Shira. It is from that friendship that I met my God-Mother, Nicole. I call her my Fairy God-Mother. I look like I could be straight from her womb with our shared brown freckles, round features, and luscious red hair. We even share the same birthday. She has always been my one constant, unconditionally loving presence in my life. She has taught me everything about compassion, love, and acceptance of others. She has dedicated her life to serving others. She has modeled the most honorable way to live life; by healing others with love. I don’t know how it happened, just as any other family who I lived with, but she recognized my needs and sought to fulfill them in some way. Nicole had two children of her own and a husband. She had a family, but she invited me into their lives and enriched mine in the most abundant way.
Nicole was the first person who helped me understand that my mother did love me, she just didn’t know how to take care of children or show that love. She helped me understand that my mother’s anger and abuse came from her own hurt and it was not my fault. She provided me with safety and emotional support, encouraging me to express my own sadness and hurt. She couldn’t save me from all the hurt, but she acknowledged me for being the special, lovable person I am. For those living in darkness, the impact of one shining star to light up your life is sometimes all it takes. For me, Nicole was that shining star.
Another important experience in my development has been in my relationship with my boyfriend of eleven years, Elaeth. I have not only found unconditional love, but also the one thing I had lacked my entire youth; stability. I have found the person I can rely on, who keeps me safe, who I can give and receive love and attention from. I have often felt that he is my whole family: my mom, dad, siblings, everything. He has contributed to my ability to develop through his constant presence and love.
From being a part of Elaeth’s family, I have been involved in a big family with nieces, nephews, cousins, grandparents, and parents; the glue of the family. He is one of seven siblings, living in close proximity, that often celebrate events together. While his family experienced their own challenges and adversities, they demonstrated to me the ultimate power of love for one another and involved me in being a part of that. Two years ago, Elaeth’s older sister Clare died of alcoholism. It was in the last three months of her life that I witnessed and became a part of the dedication of family and the strength that can occur from this relationship. The entire family provided 24-hour care, in shifts, for Clare, throughout the last three months of her life, providing all of her medical and daily needs as she was confined to a bed. Our shift was Saturday and Sunday. The family communicated, shared grief and joy, and ultimately surrounded her with the most intentional love possible.
I reflected on how this family was able to completely surround her with their love and attention for three straight months. During this time, I was working full-time and taking fifteen units of college courses. I was physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted, and yet there was not a question as to whether or not we could do this. Everyone’s lives were simultaneously occurring while they took on their role as hospice caretakers, providing the most attentive, loving care. I reflected on my family, being only my mother, two brothers and sister. I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen to one of us in a similar situation and who would be there, who would care enough.
Currently, my mother and youngest brother are homeless and I live in fear that it could easily be me. I do not have an accurate concept of my achievements or stability in my environment, and constantly fear that it could all be taken away in a moment. From this fear, I have developed a need to control my environment in ways that protect me and what I have created for in my life.
While my physical, emotional, and cognitive development has been permanently altered from living in chaos, I have also gained super-hero strength. Living with adversity has given me a reason to build up resilience. Being an advocate for people with intellectual disabilities, mental illness, and people living in poverty has given me fulfillment in relating to various types of people. My life experiences have substantially increased my intrinsic motivation to create my own physical safety and stability. I have gained an ability to withstand periods of intense stress throughout my life, and persevere. I am sensitive and empathize with various types of people, especially those in need. My experiences have brought me to where I am today and my work with children. Studying Early Childhood Education for the past ten years, has not only contributed greatly to my own personal development and understanding of myself, but has given me the tools and knowledge so that I can impact other people’s lives in positive ways and contribute to the healthy development of children.
All people are born into the world with a baseline of their temperament and personality traits. They will have tendencies to be more or less susceptible to certain ailments than others. Internal wiring is uniquely designed, affecting an individual’s pattern of thoughts. The process of maturation is abundantly clear. We can only scaffold knowledge onto previously known information, keeping in mind our cognitive safety. We cannot truly learn something we are not ready to learn. This is the aspect of nature in our development.
As soon as we enter the world, we begin processing, interacting and responding to the people and stimuli in our environment. Areas of development are strongly influenced by the conditions in which we grow and learn from. We are influenced by the most important adults in our lives who shape our young minds. It can make the difference for a developing mind and heart to have one ally. One person who fully nurtures his or her sense of worth and encourages them through the difficulties they face. We are always growing, learning, changing.
My personal experiences have contributed to my knowledge and understanding of developmental theory. From my childhood, I developed patterns in response to my constantly changing environment. I have since become aware of my behaviors and tendencies in the world as a result of my life experiences. While I have always been a sensitive, caring, and generous person, my behaviors and patterns have evolved over time. In my early years, the lack of attachment to my mother led me searching for attachment and acceptance. In my adolescent and teen years, I became completely disengaged from my family for a period of time. I could not confront or process any of the pain I had experienced and turned to very unhealthy patterns of coping, such as self-harm, alcohol, and drugs. In my adulthood, I have developed healthier patterns of creating my own space to continue developing healthy behaviors, thus being more available to help others. Every stage of my development has been vital in contributing to where I am now and the knowledge I have gained.
Having an unstable living environment has resulted in me being very focused on creating stability for myself as an adult. I often try to maintain control over my environment and outcomes of events in my life. I become very anxious, over-anticipating events and unknown situations. In general, I have developed a desire to be in control of many areas of my life. My pattern of creating stability is also seen in my relationship with my boyfriend of eleven years. While I have been successful in creating stability for myself, the fear that it could vanish remains as I nurse my relationship with my homeless mother and brother. Understanding their lifestyle and struggles, because of their homelessness, makes it too much of a reality, and I am unable to dismiss the possibility of it happening to me.
My experiences as a child and adolescent that were painful, emotionally, physically, and cognitively, have given me perspective and empathy for others who live in high risk environments or who are experiencing challenges in their lives. I am instinctively drawn to people who are in need, who require tender love and care. I am deeply sensitive to people’s feelings and because I have experienced such pain, I do not want others to have to endure their pain alone. I have, also, had the amazing experience of a loving presence in my life; my God Mother, Nicole. Understanding the impact of her love and nurturing has resulted in my pattern of providing that for others. I feel most adequate when I am helping others or when I can positively influence another person’s life.
Another pattern that I have developed is my ability to find immense strength during times of stress. I have lived most of my life with sympathetic nervous system detecting threat. My emotional and physical being has remained in a protective state of constant stress. Because this is my reality and will continue to be, I have adapted to the state of being under extreme stress. As a result, I have noticed the pattern of elevating my stress levels consistently. It has become my normal state. I believe that I function more productively and am more connected to the world when I have many commitments and responsibilities, often involving the care of others. While many of the stress inducing situations that occur are a result of my family dynamic, I also have become aware of my actions that contribute to maintaining this state.
I believe that in order to excuse myself from dealing with some of the more challenging situations that occur within my family, I become extremely busy to fill my time and energy. If I am focused on all of these other responsibilities, it is more understandable that I would not have energy to put towards processing the hard stuff. It is more acceptable for me to avoid responsibilities, such as becoming my brother’s conservator, when I am completely occupied by my current responsibilities. Although I am conscious of this pattern of justifying my actions, I continue to feel immensely guilty for not doing more for others.
I have worked very hard to consciously change negative patterns that became a regular part of myself. One of my earliest formed patterns of people pleasing behavior has taken me many years to shift. It was not until I became confident in my abilities as an early educator and received mentorship from many important co-workers who affirmed my abilities that I could begin to believe it. In finally identifying my strength, what is special and unique about me, and gaining support in my professional experiences, I was able to develop more direct communication with others, specifically regarding my needs or situations that could be uncomfortable.
In school, I was so disconnected for many years because I could not focus on the irrelevant information being fed to me. I attended a prestigious preparatory high school my senior year because the family who I was living with at the time had ties to the school. I had no intention of going to college upon graduation. I had no motivation to excel. I was very depressed and using alcohol heavily. For many years I continued this pattern in an effort to push away pent-up emotions and trauma that I wasn’t ready to face. While it seemed like a way to not deal at the time, it only intensified my depression.
I have been able to build upon positive patterns in my life through years of growth, processing, working on my relationships, and positive reinforcement. I have consciously made a decision to lead a healthy life where I can positively influence others. I know now that I can only do that if I take care of myself first. I have become a dedicated student. I have worked on replacing negative self-thoughts with positive statements and affirmations. I am applying myself in life and believing that I am capable and competent. I have gotten a degree in Early Childhood Education and I am continuing my education to be an effective leader in my field. I have been reaching beyond my comfort zone and applying for other positions in leadership in education. Most importantly, I am recognizing how to meet my own needs.
In my relationship with my birth mother, I have had tremendous growth and development. With a deeper understanding of myself and of her mental illness, I have replaced old patterns, which maintained our hurtful relationship, with healthier ones. I have developed patterns to protect my safety while maintaining and building a loving relationship with her. I have developed clear boundaries, such as her not knowing where I live, saying “no,” and standing up for myself. I see her in the most humane way. I understand her behaviors are strongly influenced by her life experiences, which have been excruciating. While it is not an excuse for the way she treated her children, I do not hold hatred or anger towards her. I believe only love can heal. I have developed deep empathy and love for my mother. I see her strengths and the ways that she has contributed, and continues to contribute to who I am today, and for that I am thankful.
I have taken my fears and shifted them into motivation and determination to create a life for myself that involves comfort, affection, joy, and security. I have worked full-time and gone to school to be able to provide for myself and to break cycles of generational disadvantage. I am breaking cycles of abuse, addiction, and homelessness. In order to do so, I have built on many positive patterns and created new patterns in my life. I continue to work on balancing my energies, being present in the moment, and doing what I love each day. I believe my patterns will continue to change as I learn from further experiences and as my needs change.
From my educational and personal experiences of human development, I recognize how aspects of Erick Erickson’s Psychosocial Development Theory is apparent. Erickson’s theory is based on the idea of maturation spanning a lifetime. Through eight essential stages, he demonstrates how it is necessary for people to develop in specific areas before they are ready to learn in other areas. According to Erickson’s theory, the crisis presented in these stages will foster the development of specific patterns in life, resulting in different personality traits and tendencies.
I honestly believe that I wouldn’t be able to make the positive choices in my life without the strife and struggles that I encountered. The type of support a person receives through these stages and crisis, will influence their behavior. Without having the opportunity to learn from my mistakes and difficulties I would not have come upon the conclusions that I have. The epigenetic principal, which states that we need to establish certain foundations before we can move on to other developmental stages, supports this belief. Every experience I have had up to this point has contributed to my development and thought processes.
Erickson’s theory is inclusive of variation and acknowledges that multiple areas of development can be present at any stage, although certain values are dominant. This theory acknowledges the conditions in which people build resilience and adapt. I adapted to various situations throughout my life. From my personal and professional experiences in human development, it is crucial to acknowledge that development is unique for an individual and does not always fit one model precisely.
I believe people grow and mature over time as long as they are interactive with their environment and are stimulated. I believe that different areas of development can be delayed due to traumatic experiences. I believe people have strengths in certain areas of development over others due to their experiences and genetic make-up. I also believe that it is our nature to adapt to almost any situation due to our survival instinct. People will seek out ways to meet their needs, in whatever ways they know how. Without the positive influences in my life, I could have very easily sought out my need for attachment and identity in unhealthy places or continued to build on my own negative patterns.
My feelings throughout my life of being anxious, fearful, and trying to maintain control in situations, relate to the ideas of Attachment Theory as described by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. The idea that a person will develop specific patterns relating to relationships as a result of their attachment, or lack thereof, with their mother. Because of the lack of attachment that I experienced with my mother and the lack of stability in my life, I aim to fill that void in the ways that I can. I have seen the impact in some of my preferences, such as how I do not like to travel, I get homesick very easily, crave stability and being able to predict an outcome in all areas of my life. I have developed the belief that I can only depend on myself.
My theory of child development is strongly influenced by Jean Piaget, with the belief that children must be actively engaged in their environment to construct their own knowledge and understanding of the world. As they develop, their ideas will change and expand as their experiences do. I have supported play based learning throughout my work with children, acknowledging where children are developmentally and their beliefs. This type of support contributes to the development of a healthy self-esteem and worth.
From studying early childhood education, I have learned of the importance of the early years of development and how much information young minds are susceptible to. When children are stimulated in positive ways, through talking, reading, movement, imagination, and self-expression children continue to grow and develop. Development is stimulated through a safe, secure environment where one can explore in, delight in, and construct their own knowledge through the experiences they have. There will be trial and error, cause and effect, challenges and victories. These struggles and successes aid children in coming to conclusions or theories about how the world operates and what are successful ways of operating in the world.
Just as there are ways to foster healthy development in children, there are ways that can hinder development in certain areas. Emotional, psychological, and physical abuse affects cognitive functioning and impedes the ability to learn other skills. When a developing mind is focused on getting its needs met, it is less able to develop in other areas. When children are experiencing stress in their lives, it can also appear in unexpected ways. A child who is exhibiting challenging behaviors at school or with adults may be experiencing some kind of emotional pain and needs help processing it. Adults can support children in processing their thoughts and feelings and scaffold knowledge. When a child’s needs are met and nurtured, development flourishes.
While there are many beliefs of human development, I continue to find myself drawn to theories that demonstrate how development is not solely linear. There is room for individuality and unique circumstances. There is room for progression and regression. There will be unresolved issues in our lives that will present themselves later and areas of development that we will rapidly catch up on over time. As a living, human organism, we are born into the world with every cell in our body working diligently to not only survive, but adapt to various situations and challenges.