Tag Archives: Jubilee Retreat

Jubilee Series Part 7: Coming Together With My Land, Skin and Heart

Story Bones by Helen Redman, 1993Story Bones by Helen Redman, 1993

The air is thick with smoke from the large fire at Happy Camp. I am several valleys away from this fire, but it is still impacting the skies here. It is smoky in the mornings here where I am on retreat for my Jubilee (50th birthday). Nevertheless, it is extraordinarily perfect. It is quiet, except for bird song, squirrel chatter and lizard movements among the dry leaves. The smoke clears by mid to late afternoon, which is when the wind seems to pick up. My days have taken on a dreamy quality of time moving extremely slowly with no sense of urgency. This is absolutely what I wanted and needed. There is a profound restorative quality to this time. I was just about at the very end of my tank, even my reserves had been used up.

Over the course of my life folks have told me to do less, to care less, to take more care of myself. This advice has rarely been useful or heeded. My soul is dedicated to serving and until the suffering stops on the planet, I am on duty. I am always attending to myself AND to others. I am not, nor have I ever martyred myself. I do, and always have felt the needs of others to be as important and real as my own. This has been true for me my whole life. My ability to regenerate is pretty good, in general, I just need some time to pray and to cry and to be held or get into a body of water and move my body. I do need natural water for a deeper kind of healing. There is a beautiful poem that resonates for me, from one of my favorite books of poetry by Nancy Wood, called Many Winters © 1974. It is a collection of prose and poetry of the Taos and Pueblos with drawings and paintings by Frank Howell.

“The skin of the earth
covers its imperfections
Just as my face conceals
my vast uncertainty.
In the dry cracks of the earth
I find that it has bled
from the injuries of man.
The earth has healed itself
through time moving across
its tortured face of skin.
But what shall heal me except
the sun which makes cracks in my face
so that I can come together with my land.”


In the afternoons up here, I walk to the river, moving very slowly, so that I can come together with my land.

When I get to the river, it is cold and has deep pools as well as shallows. I immerse and rejuvenate, alone with the trout, crayfish, birds and water bugs, so that I can come together with my land. Besides immersing myself in quiet and cold water, I came here to do some work. The process of self-examination and hard work of this month of Elul, which is the month that precedes the Jewish New Year called Rosh Hashanah, is always pressing upon me. I’ve written about this before and I wasn’t sure what new things I could say here. My process this year, is of course, WRIT LARGE, because it is not just about a single year, but the last 49 years and my very conscious choice about changing direction and focus. In order to do this, I have to snip the old frayed threads or sew the ragged patches up, so that my body and soul can move into the next part of my brief time on this planet, so that I can come together with my land.

Elul reminds us that life is cyclical. We make mistakes, we grow, we fight, we harm, we love, we fall down and we do these things over and over until we are no longer able to. This cycle is as old as human consciousness. There has always been war, there has always been ugliness. There has always been fear and pain. There has also always been love, and tenderness, hope and reaching for Holiness and Wholeness and more folks working on mending what is broken than folks breaking things.

This cycle, my Mussar teacher gave us a very specific assignment. I’m used to making lists of people in my life I need to ask forgiveness from and I have a practice that is pretty automatic at this point. My teacher asked our class to start the forgiveness work this Elul by forgiving folks who had hurt us for the first ten days. She wanted us to make notations and to do this work internally. There is a daily forgiveness process in the Jewish tradition that is part of the Bedtime Shema, where we grant blanket forgiveness to all who have wronged us and ask that they not suffer on account of any wrong they have done to us. Only religiously observant folks recite this blessing regularly. I attend to it in Elul, but it is kind of automatic and non-specific.

This homework assignment was really different. I had never actually made a list of all the people I needed to forgive. It was not that long, but there were some biggies on the list. I wrote a name down, and then listed the hurt that person had done me. After I completed this part of the process, I started to chant the name of the person and to speak to them and tell them I forgave them for the wrong and the hurt they had done to me, as I did so, tears came and a huge sense of release in my heart. I found myself blessing these folks after I forgave them. I certainly did not expect any of this and it took me by surprise.

For the men who raped me, I forgave them for the harm they did me, but asked that my forgiveness be connected to justice unfolding and for them never harming another person again. I asked the Holy One to please help them to find health and healing and awareness. I’ve done years of work on this territory, in various therapies, and most of the hurt is no longer present for me. There are tiny droplets of pain that re-surface now and then. I can go great swaths of time not thinking on it– “I find that it has bled from the injuries of man. The earth has healed itself through time moving across its tortured face of skin.”

There were two folks on my list that I put aside for later, I am not ready or able to forgive them on some level. I can forgive the men who raped me, but not these folks who betrayed my trust and hurt my family. I will have to get some help from my teachers about these two people and how to not be holding onto this hurt. Elul is not an easy month for me and yet this process is amazingly liberating, even being able to identify that I am not able to release those people, is helpful. It tells me I have work to do. I don’t believe forgiveness is a simple thing or that I have to grant it. In my tradition I do not have to forgive someone until they seek my forgiveness and make amends. My choosing to forgive them ahead of their asking is completely on me and also part of a deeper spiritual practice.

There is enough sticky goo in all of our lives, old hurts and tattered remnants of messy memories and shattered feelings. I would rather be free of these so that I can be of good cheer and good service for this moment unfolding right now. It is late, almost midnight. More musings on how to let go of fear and be more present coming in the next few weeks. For now, though, you don’t have to be Jewish to take advantage of this time, make a list of folks who have hurt you, see if you can forgive them, and see how it makes you feel. Take a chance on letting go of old stuff, so that you can come together with the land, which has no choice but to forgive all the wrongs we do. Did the sun not rise today, did the vegetables forget how to grow? Forgiveness is the nature of earth and we are made of this lovely loamy stardust stuff.

Nicole comes together with her land and your land and any land she can by engaging with it, and then writing about it. This column was written high in the hills as Nicole turned 50 and is now officially “over the hill.” It appeared originally in the Mad River Union on Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Jubilee Part Two: Quaking for The Divine

Nicole, in her red riding hood cape, age seven in Morocco
Nicole, in her red riding hood cape, age seven in Morocco

This is the second of several installments in the Jubilee Retreat Series, the first one is My True Heart Opens and should be read first.:

Seven cycles of seven equals forty-nine. In the Jewish tradition, this is very significant. Since, every seventh day is the sabbath and every seventh year is a Sabbatical called the shmita. The Jubilee (Hebrew yovel יובל) is the year at the end of seven cycles of shmita, So, my forty-ninth birthday was last September. My birthday is always around the Jewish New Year/Rosh Hashanah. I will turn fifty this coming September, so it is my Jubilee. I have been planning to go away for a long retreat for many years. I have told all my family members and most of my friends about this for at least ten years now. Since my youngest is only seventeen (another number with a seven in it), I cannot actually take my Jubilee retreat when I turn fifty. I am determined though to start on my Jubilee year-off before I turn fifty-one.

Both of my parents are Jewish by birth. Neither of them are Jewishly observant or religious. I wanted some connection to the force moving within and around me, to Holy Presence, and since neither my father nor my mother had any relationship to religious practice, nor any connections to Jewish community, my father chose the Quakers also known as The Friends. My father took me to Quaker meetings as a child. He liked them because they were mostly silent, they were educated, there were lots of intellectuals, and they were pacifists. I was in heaven from the first time I sat in Friends Meeting. Here, finally, were a bunch of folks/Friends all communing with and in relationship with Holiness. They were not discussing it or trying to argue against it, they were simply sitting in stillness and waiting for the voice, the still small voice, within them to make itself known.

I am anything but still, small and quiet. I was a slender young girl, but I was never quiet. The Boulder Friends Meeting was my first spiritual home. I would sit in meeting and, of course, The Divine would start talking to me. I would sit on my hands, try and be calm and as patient as a young girl can be, but eventually I would have to stand up and shaking and with tears streaming down my face, share how much The Holy One loved everybody and how beautiful they were. This was the most common theme that seemed to be coming through me. It is still my most common theme and my forever “good news.”

I was a young girl when this was going on and I felt as if I was the only child doing this kind of thing. Usually, the elders would speak or occasionally someone older would share something. I became a favorite of the elders and also made tremendous friendships with the other children at meeting. These friends were different from any other friends because I was encountering them in a spiritual context. They were truly Friends with a capital letter “F.” I spent years with the Boulder Friends Meeting and going to the Inter Mountain Yearly Meetings in New Mexico during the summers was one of the highlights of my early teen years.

The Boulder Friends Meeting was also home to Elise and Kenneth Boulding. These were two maverick human beings. Married for forty-plus years by the time I encountered them. They were white haired, tall, strong and beautiful. Kenneth was originally from England and a world-renowned and respected economist and Elise was originally from Norway and was a professor at Dartmouth prior to being in Boulder and also a world-renowned Sociologist. Both of them were intellectual giants. They had five children, all grown, by the time I met them as a young girl. Kenneth had written many books and several long love poems/sonnets of love for his wife. These were just the best and most wondrous people. Kenneth would sometimes speak after I did at meeting. When he spoke, you knew the voice of Wisdom, and Holiness was coming through. He was gentle and kind and had a slight stutter sometimes, his hair was like pictures of most mad scientists, white and wiry and going in ten directions at once. He was well over six feet tall. He had a strong accent and an extremely distinct voice, which was forceful and strong, even with the stutter.

He would often speak about my sharing as being a gift and he likened my young tears to tears of baptism. He would affirm that all of us need to experience this love and joy of Holiness, that the tears were a place of cleansing and newness and youth. He made me feel at home. I am crying just thinking of these people and this time in my life, when I was honored, even at the young age of eleven or so, as a person of merit and depth with something to share. In school, I was perpetually taunted and teased. At home there was still pain from my parents divorce and so much confusion. At Meeting, I was heard and seen and honored and not for anything I did, but for the voice of love and hope inside of me that couldn’t help but bubble up as soon as I got still and quiet in communion with other folks sitting still and waiting for inspiration and connection.

The first time I learned of the idea of a year retreat was when I was a young girl. Elise Boulding was a mother and an inspired feminist, professor, peace activist, and she wrote many books. My mother is also a feminist and artist and she collaborated with Elise when she was writing a book called The Underside of History: A View of Women through Time, first published in1976. My mother, Helen Redman, did the illustrations for this book. My mother and Elise worked together and I remember sitting at Elise’s table one summer afternoon with them both. Elise was speaking about her retreat, her year long silent retreat. What was this busy mother, grand-mother, author, professor and extraordinarily busy activist talking about? How could she have taken a year long retreat? But she had. Elise and Kenneth were very deep thinking and deeply feeling folks, their relationship to Holiness was not casual. Elise Boulding planted the seed in my young mind that a mother, wife, maverick thinker and activist, could retreat from all of that to seek stillness and connection with Holiness.

This seed, planted so long ago has been growing since then. It is now a veritable oak tree inside of me. I will always love my first spiritual base, my Friends from Boulder and New Mexico. I still love Quakers and the Friends Meeting and feel at home there. I am no Quaker though, I’m just too damn loud and very definitely practicing and in love with my Judaism now.

Imagine my delight when I uncovered that the Jewish tradition, which any well-versed Christian Quaker (like Elise), knew, has retreat practices related to the Jubilee Year and to daily meditation and stillness. There are instructions in the Talmud that suggest one should take time to get still and calm for an hour or so before beginning prayers and then do the prayers. After the prayers one is also instructed to sit in stillness and communion for another hour or so. If you do this the three proscribed times a day, that’s about seven hours of prayer and meditation. Not really something the average person is doing, but it is still there as the model of what should be done; an ancient instruction to engage in daily meditation and retreat.

There are also teachings about how a man should take a retreat when he is fifty to re-assess his life and prayer practices. I’m not sure a whole year is specified, but again the seed is there. There are lots of fascinating and deep practices related to the Jubilee Year. All debts are supposed to be forgiven, all land is supposed to revert to its original owners, and many other amazing and not easy to do things. To my knowledge, these practices were rarely observed, and alterations and amendments were made. Who wants to forgive all their debts? Who wants to give their land back to the original natives? Who are the original, original natives? How far back does one go, etc..?

I know that I need a retreat year to be by myself with the Divine only and I’d love to have all my debts forgiven, or at least take a break from thinking about them! It is also very hard for me to find my own sense of what is MINE to do and be around others. I am looking forward to the time and space, a luxurious amount of both, to go deep into the great mystery and see what I find and how best to serve Holiness, my family and community on the other side of fifty. Please stay tuned here, before I go away, and follow me to know more abut this adventure as it unfolds. To be continued………….


Nicole writes and remembers, with tears and laughter, from her home in Bayside she dedicates this teaching in honor and memory of her greatest teacher Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi, May his Memory be for a Blessing. He came into this world on August 28, 1924 and left it on July 3, 2014. This piece was originally published in The Mad River Union on Wednesday, July 9th, 2014