Tag Archives: Elul

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

Beth and Kraig
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!

 

Mikveh, Movement and Me

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Big Lagoon, where Mikveh and I Meet

I have broken ice on a small stream to immerse myself, I have soaked in a steaming warm hot-tub to immerse myself, I have and do slip off my clothes and immerse fully into the Big Lagoon, or the Pacific Ocean, regularly. I do Mikveh, Mikveh does me, we meet in the

מּים חיים   Mayim Chayim/Living Waters

 

A mikveh is a Jewish ritual immersion in living waters that transforms you from one state to another. From ritually unclear or ready to clear and ready, from the everyday weekday to the Holy Sabbath Day, from non-Jewish to Jewish, from single to married, from married to single, from broken to whole, from old year full of mess to new year full of hopes and promise. Women and men are supposed to immerse whenever they come in contact with their own blood or seminal fluids before they are intimate. Often people think it is only women who are required to immerse, but men are required to as well. We also do mikveh after caring for and preparing the dead for burial, as a transition from death back to life. The Mikveh is Magic and transformative. Many folks do not understand real Magic, which flows from the Divine and the creations of the Divine: waters, winds, earth, plant beings, animal, stone and human beings all hold sparks of this magic.

 

Because Mikveh is a gift from the Holy One and involves immersion in Mayim Chayim, which are waters that are alive and flowing (streams, creeks, seas, rivers, lakes, lagoons, rain-fed cisterns that fill a pool and move through those pools back out into the ground, stream-fed ponds, and of course, large bodies of water like oceans), it is connected to the origins of creation and to our origins. We swam in living waters in the wombs of our mothers, all of us did. When we return to living waters, we get to be reborn, re-watered, renewed and reimagined. Mikveh is critical to my life and has been for over thirty years, when I first learned about it and started engaging in it consciously.

 

I’ve always been drawn to living water and used to jump into any creek or stream I encountered while walking in the Rocky Mountains as a young girl and woman. Because my Jewish education began when I started dipping my own feet into it, at the age of 18, I had not encountered this tradition until then. I still was doing it though, just not knowing why and what I was doing. This has to do with my tribal cellular connection. The part of me that is my bloodline and core connected across eons to a specific lineage and way of engaging with the planet and the Divine.

 

I try to always do a mikveh on Rosh Chodesh Elul,/the new moon that begins the month of Elul. I always do a deep 40 day process connected to the beginning of the month of Elul, which just began, and which ushers in a time of contemplation and preparation and work before the release and rejoicing of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I invite other women to join me at the lagoon where I swim, I have done this for several years. There were five of us this year. I’m not attached to how other folks interpret or engage with the particulars of a ritual action. I lay out what is traditonal, give folks a chance to orient themselves around that and make their own decisions about how much or what they can or are comfortable with doing.  I’m all in, when I do it, most of the time I go full-throttle traditional.

 

What is traditional? One is supposed to be naked, free of all jewelry, make-up, nail-polish or other kinds of body make-up. Scrubbed clean of all dirt. The mikveh is not a bath or a shower to get clean in. You come to it clean, with all your knots combed through, if you have long hair, like me, and with nothing but your clean body, as if you were a baby in the womb. Just as free and innocent as a child swimming in a healthy womb enviornment, you completely immerse yourself three times or seven. You offer a prayer of thanks to the Holy One for the immersion and for the Living Water. There is always someone there who witnesses you to verify that you were fully immersed, no fingertips or toes were above the water line, for at least one full second, you were totally surrounded by living water. You spread your legs and open your arms, you fully allow the water to find and enfold all of you. You are transformed.

 

I’ve done mikveh without a human witness, when I’ve asked the angels to witness me and I’ve done mikveh with many women present to witness me. The witnessing is an important part of the process. The acknowledging of your shifting, or your intention, of your immersion and transformation are part of the bond to it and confirm that you are indeed engaging in sacred action.

 

When I am in water, I pray.

As I move through whatever waters I find myself in, I am engaging in deep prayer for all, including our planet, our rivers, and all who depend on this earth. I surround all of those I pray for with love, light, warmth, healing, whatever hopes they have shared with me or pains I try to focus on those when I pray for others.On Sunday, September 4th, I turned 52, this is my Gregorian Calendar birthday. My Hebrew birthday is always two days before Rosh Hashanah, so the 27th of Elul and the piece of Torah I was born with while swimming in the living waters of my mother’s womb was and is always Nitzavim.

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Big Lagoon on a sunny day, where I swim and pray.

I am trying to be on a mini-silent retreat right now, only talking or engaging with others when necessary. This is a new part of my Elul practice and for my own well-being. I really need to minimize contact with everyone for my own internal process. It feels necessary to be on retreat after the last few whirlwind months of my life. It is common to fast from various things during Elul. My choices for this month are to work on more silence, fasting from chatter of all kinds and I am also fasting from wheat and meat and entertainment and using my kindle/ipad for books or movies.

I am working on dealing with ESSENTIALS and the PRESENT moment as much as I can.

My mother’s older sister, Aunt Jean, in Florida, is in Hospice care and is not feeling good as she moves closer to the other side. I have friends going through extremely difficult and life-saving/changing surgeries and navigating hard, hard challenges and transitions. I am pretty sure this is always the case for people on this planet, my circle of care is just large, and I’m an empath so I feel these realities deeply in my cells and bones and core.

I am needing a great deal more space and quiet than ever before. I have made a sea-change since being away on my retreat in Ireland. I want to be present for folks, but can only really do so, from my prayer practice and from my own center of quiet and calm, at this time. It’s been an extremely intense adventure for our family over the last four months. Having space alone with Kevin, with my prayer practice, and with myself is what I need right now.

I hope this month of Elul will be noursishing, healing and calming for me and for those of you engaging in whatever journeys or transitions you are in. I will connect with folks and activities, as I am able, from within my cocoon.

nicole-11-black-and-white
In my eleven year old self, cocooning. This photo was taken by Francesca Woodman, 40 years ago, but it expresses my mood right now.
I’m wrapped up in my home, re-making it into a space for Kevin and I, who have never been alone without children, since we got together 28 years ago.
In Stillness and Light,
Nicole

Most Secret

The View from my Most Secret cabin at Sunset
The View from my Most Secret cabin deck September 2012

Breaking down, broken down, into the pieces of self, the shards of who I am. These remnants that I need to explore here and now. My process very personal, but somehow still needing to unwind and offer some of it here in this public space. This place here is pretty perfect ground. I am at the Vajrapani Institute about an hour outside of Santa Cruz. My cabin is named “most secret.” I love it for many reasons, not least of which, is that very little about me has ever been “most secret.” To prove the point, here I am sharing from “most secret.”

 

I hope you enjoy the humor in this as much as I do. There isn’t much else about this process that is funny. It’s actually been pretty brutal, which feels right. This kind of self-examination and introspection, that anyone on a spiritual path has to engage in, is a fundamental step. It precedes and follows all progression. For me, it is a yearly cycle tied to my community and the religious calendar I am aligned with. I do the work alone, but I do it with several million other Jewishly engaged folks. So, I’m alone, but not really.

 

All of my faults are faults others have, but they are my unique shards of self. Each one of them has some sharp edges and while looking at them I am pierced and I bleed. I am breathing heavy and crying and working, working and my heart is pumping fast and I feel it pounding against my chest. There is such pain here, especially around the wounds I’ve generated in those I most love. I can’t talk about that here. That content is most secret because it isn’t just mine to share. I can only talk about the things that don’t involve someone else or that someone else has given me specific permission to share.

 

Or I can talk about this process. I want to scream from the mountain tops and howl and shout and rant and rage: “Figure your mess out, do it now! What are you waiting for? Can the planet take anymore of our obtuseness? Can those we love put up with more of our obliviousness and take one more hit to the heart? Have all the homeless and hungry been fed? Are the wars over? Can’t someone please make it all stop?”

 

The suffering on this planet, right NOW is so immense, black hole size large. What is one small drop of my self-examination and correction in the face of this? It’s a small offering against the tide of a very large current. Especially, if it is just me making the effort. But, it isn’t just me. Everywhere I go there are people making this effort. Every person who wakes up a little more, who extends a little more, who tries a little harder and who grows their heart muscle a little more is making this journey with me, and we are making a difference.

 

Even in the random novels I read, the not religious ones, the ones just for pleasure, there are offerings and reminders that link me to this time of truth seeking. This little bit came to me while taking a break from self-examination (as if the Holy One will ever let me off the hook): “Truth is everything. We do not know it, we do not know how to get it, we do not have it in our possession, God will zap it on us like a police warrant as we arrive breathless at the gates, it is entirely beyond us, truth, bloody truth, but it is everything.”¬­on Canaan’s side by Sebastian Barry; Penguin Books 2011. This wonderful novel is one of the “advance uncorrected proofs—not for sale” books that I get from Northtown Books. I highly recommend it. It was very lyric, topical, painful, lovely and so moving. It’s been on my shelf for a year and came out last August, so it should even be in paperback by now and I am grateful I read it.

 

Then I also read this text: “Our tradition regards regret for past wrongdoing as an essential step on the road to t’shuvah and self improvement. This is why Elul, the month preceding the Days of Awe, is regarded as one of introspection or cheshbon ha-nefesh literally, “an accounting of the soul.” It is this inner examination that leads to regret for those shortcomings that have prevented us from achieving our God-given potentials. This regret, in turn, propels us to make restitution for the wrong we have done, to effectively turn to our higher selves and, hence, behave in improved fashion in the New Year.” A Faithful Heart—Preparing for the High Holy Days: A Study Text based on the Midrash Maaseh Avraham Avinu by Benjamin Levy: UAHC Press 2001

 

Shards spread out before me, they make a pretty mosaic mess. I have lots of mending to do. The hardest work will require profound changes in how I live my life. It isn’t enough to do this haphazardly or partially, at least not for me, not as I approach fifty, not with the suffering on this earth as it is. I just don’t have a sense of endless time to work with. I know I can’t save the world, despite my always having wanted to. I’m no longer twenty and thinking I can do everything that needs doing. I’m coming up to fifty and looking at what is left for me to do that is doable. I want to be effective, not just effusive.

 

I’m listening right this second to one of my favorite songs, by Rabbi Jack Gabriel. It just came through my headphones as I typed the previous sentence: “These are the desires of my heart, have compassion, do not disappear, Eyla hamda libi, hosana vi’alna titaleyv.” In the song, the lines are repeated multiple times and it has a quality of longing. This saying is from our prayerbook, and in the original it is a plea for the Holy One to grant us pardon. I love this rendering though.

 

So, before I disappear, my heart desires compassion.

Compassion writ large!

Another funny moment among the shattered and piercing ones here is that, for the last few years, I have been signing my letters and emails not just “Love, Nicole,” but “Big Love, Nicole.” As I walked in the door to the Vajrapani institute, for the first time, I neglected to notice the sign on the other side of the door. My daughter, who was with me for the first two days of my retreat, pointed it out to me. It was a picture of their founder Lama Yeshe with the words “Big Love” in cursive written across his chest. It is the saying of this place and one of the Lama’s teachings. So, everywhere here, there is the feeling of Big Love.

 

I can definitely get behind that!!!!

 

Gathering up the final remnants and making a neat little pile to examine further, there is one last crucial piece. All the rabbis I’ve read agree that it is important to say what you’ve done wrong, to name your mess/your shards out loud. It is not enough to just put them in a journal. Posting them on facebook won’t count either! I am not talking about confessing to another person or restitution here, but the first part, the preliminary part. After you’ve broken down and found your shattered parts, name them and ask for forgiveness out loud from whatever you believe in. If you do this exercise, I promise, profound changes in you will unfold. And, even if you don’t have any specific belief, call out anyway. Practice believing in a force of loving kindness and BIG LOVE that has your back and knows you intimately and has compassion for you. Practice trusting that you can change and that the world will have less suffering. Practice really makes perfect, and the more practicing we do, the more perfected the world will become.

 

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Nicole shares with you from two worlds, her home, and also from her quiet “most secret” cabin in the mountains outside of Boulder Creek, California, in the haven of quiet and Big Love that the Vajrapani Institute created. She sends you strength of purpose and great gobs of love to do your part of the work.

 

This piece has been adapted but it was originally published in the Arcata Eye, September 26, 2012 ©Nicole Barchilon Frank