Tag Archives: mikveh

Gevurah, Grounding and Getting To It

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The Tree Bark, Beautiful and Boundaried

This is the week of Gevurah/Din, which I cannot easily translate. Here are some ways to think about Gevurah: Judgement, Severity, Boundaries, Strength, Discipline, and the Angel Gavriel/Gabriel, whose name shares the same root. Gavriel is the angel on the left side of our bodies, who girds us with strength and protects us.

When I say this is the week of Gevurah, that needs explaining as well. Starting on the second day of Pesach/Passover, observant Jewish folks count the Omer. We count seven cycles of seven, which = 49 and then in the evening of that last day, it’s another day, the 50th day and this is the holiday of Shavuot. Shavuot is about the first grain (Wheat) offering, it’s a pilgrimage festival, like Pesach and Sukkot. It’s also considered to be the anniversary of when the Torah was given on Mt. Sinai and so we stay up all night studying Torah, specifically the Book of Ruth, but all of this is weeks away.

Right now, we are in the second week of the seven and each week is linked to the lower seven Sephirot/Energies/Attributes of the Divine, on the Tree of Life. Last week was Hesed/Loving-Kindness, this week is Gevurah. Gevurah and I have been connecting only in the last few years of my life. Prior to a conscious choice on my part to get into balance and make serious changes in my life and the way I engage with the world, most folks who knew me in the past would laugh and say: “Boundaries and Nicole, in the same sentence or space, that’s an Oxymoron”

Tree of Life

The Panoply of Symbols for the Sefirot

The Kabbalah assigns every symbol to one or more of the Sefirot. Here is a list of some of the many symbols and correspondences one can find. It comes from Dr. Eliezer Siegel in Calgary. Each of the following lists for each Sefirah is found on Jewish Virtual Library under the name of the Sefirah. Nava Shoham (1-800-ketubah.com) collated all of these entries onto one page, which I’ve reproduced here (using some of her font colors) with some corrections. This image of the Sefirot here is found all over the web. I’ve added directions and some alternate names in yellow to the image. If anyone knows the source or artist please let me know….Rabbi David Seidenberg

 

Please visit Neohasid.org for a fuller description of all of these teachings. I cannot do the Sefirot justice here. I do want to talk about the work of Gevurah and my engagement with it. Fundamentally, we have all these energies in us, available to us and truly we can find and move into balance. It is not beyond us. This task, this work of counting the Omer is always complex, but it allows me daily engagement with specific energies. By paying attention and counting, literally and also figuratively, I attune myself to the Divine, to the world and to my deeper and truest self.

So, onto the Gevurah, Grounding and Getting to it! As an Empath (see Isn’t It Always Love) I feel it all and I have struggled to have any kind of boundary. I’m extremely grateful for this Omer practice and for the teachings of the Tree of Life, because they have enabled me to seek out and gain some semblance of relationship to the boundaries I needed to cultivate. For me, implicit, in the idea of a boundary, is that I am not creating a hard wall to keep anyone or anything out. I am engaged in creating a porous, but still strong web or fluid that surrounds me, or whatever needs surrounding. It is not a hard boundary.

I have very few hard boundaries, I’m not a hard person.

Nicole Clare Red dress pre.final mikveh
Me, in Ireland, surrounded by my companions, the trees and the river and the fire. This is right before my last Irish Mikveh/Immersion in Living Waters in the very cold water just behind me.

My Gevurah practice is about getting grounded in the earth, recognizing that all of creation has structure of some sort and that this structure is necessary and good. The tree is surrounded by bark, the stem of the flower is a tube carrying nutrients from ground to flower, the seed has a hard shell around it until conditions are right for it to break open. All of these are examples of Gevurah in the world. A boundary that allows life and bounty to unfold.

My own boundaries are like these, I have had to create a boundary circle around certain areas of my life in order to live my life. For my Jubilee year, I took a nine month retreat, this was a boundary circle around interaction with other people, with caring for others and with feeling and doing for others. (You can read all about this is the Jubilee section of this blog)

The majority of people in my life, my children, my family, my friends, my colleagues were outside of my circle, I was inside of it with the Holy One and Creation. I was isolated, in a cabin in Western Ireland, at a Carmelite Hermitage called Holy Hill. I was not alone. The birds, the Angels, the Divine and I were in communion. The ivy on the trees, the flowing river outside my window, the stars and the wind, these were my companions. They were great companions.

I was also blessed with fellow hermits and retreatants who were on similar journeys of contemplation, stillness and engagement with what emerges when you aren’t on the treadmill of the world. We prayed in silence together and shared a common meal once a week, when and if we wanted to be with others. Sometimes, I felt called to being with others, sometimes not. My boundaries are always flexible, this is how I do Gevurah.

My friend Arieh David Scharnberg asked this question on FB:

Looking for advice:

This is the week of Gevurah in the Omer Counting, usually associated with ‘discipline.’

How do you practice self-discipline in ways you can commit to and in ways that don’t induce stress?

What I mean is, every time I think about ‘ok, I need to get more organized’ or ‘I need to be more focused at work’ or ‘I need to do x or y once a day,’ even if it is taking things one step at a time and breaking things into smaller increments, any time I think of a change in my behavior that requires a commitment to that change, I either feel incredible anxiety in trying to commence (a fear of failure) or at best resigned if not despair when I find I have an inability to maintain that change.

Thank you in advance for your wisdom and insights!

This post is my answer to him. Gevurah requires grounding, earth-based practice that is rooted and  attended to, in order for it to be lasting. This doesn’t mean all my boundaries now stay in a permanent fixed place or that my discipline is perfect. It means that I get better all the time at walking this walk and engaging with this energy. It’s a practice, not a goal that I will reach and cross the finish line where a throng of folks will be cheering. It’s subtle and continuous and small sometimes, even just one small action will create a shift in my direction that allows the boundary to get stronger.

And, here’s the thing about all of this, right now we have to pair each of these energies/sefirot with others. We take the week we are in, this week it is Gevurah and align it with each of the other seven, so today, as I write this, I am in the week of Gevurah paired with the Sefira of Tiferet (glory, beauty, harmony). So, how do I relate to these two qualities? Here, in Jamestown at the home of my sister by Love, I am secluded, boundaried. I have taken myself away from the hustle and bustle of my family’s current crisis. I am not needed in this moment, my brother and others are doing the work that needs doing. I am preparing for Shabbat, which is a boundary I observe EVERY week, a time of stillness and honoring of Tiferet in my life, when I actively court the Divine and rest in many, many ways. But, I couldn’t do this if I didn’t create the boundary. Many folks now understand this about me. People no longer expect anything from me on Saturdays or Friday night. I don’t get phone calls or even many emails and I don’t respond to them either as I mostly turn off my technologies that are external and focus on my spiritual relationships.

My Shabbat practice is a Gevurah practice linked with Tiferet and all the other elements on the tree, but it starts with creating the boundary circle around this day, every week and I get better and better at it. I can go outside the boundary, when I need to, or choose to, again, the boundaries are never going to be hard and brittle for me, that’s not who I am. This Gevurah gate in my life has allowed me to create others because there has been and continues to be so much value generated and present for me as a result.

So, whether you practice this very intense and complicated counting or you are just looking at ways to feel protected, boundaried, held in by a structure that is healthy and supportive, I encourage you to go outside, meditate on the bark of a tree or the stem of a flower. Take the time you need to create spaciousness for yourself in any area that you need to by creating a boundary that is real and healing and healthy between yourself and the forces that love to pull you and all of us off our center.

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Heart at the bottom of a tree. Photo taken by my husband while we were on a walk together in Humboldt County, where we live, love, find and hopefully create harmony and balance, for ourselves and for all those we encounter.

 

 

 

Emerging, Energizing, & Engaging

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This is me post my mikveh at Big Lagoon on the morning of February 13th.

I’m no longer lost in bed. I’ve emerged and am full on. The last two months of grieving and mourning have been very important. I truly believe we have to grieve and mourn our losses fully in order to emerge into life again. I just can’t up, up and go, go, go, all the time in response to hard things. I no longer have the energy for that, nor do I believe it is what is called for, from me.

I completely respect and honor all those who are called to the streets, the letter writing, the protests, and the full engagement with protests and responses to the overwhelming waves of legislation, legislators, and folks in power who are transforming, or attempting to, the landscape of our country and world. I’ve been one of those people, but I no longer am.

I’m an Unruly Mystic, like Hildegard of Bingen and many, many others. I do my work deep inside and in prayer. I actually sing to the earth and the water. I don’t just want them to be safe, I enter into conversation with them and I mourn or delight with them as I would with you. I also do my work by cooking for folks who are sick, or visiting folks in jail or at the hospital. I escort friends to surgeries or support them in their times of need. I participate fully in my community and show up there.

I respond to anger and bigotry with love and kindness, as best I can.

I am very sensitive to other people, to all people, and to the earth. I’ve written extensively about my empathic nature. It is very hard for me to be around large groups of folks, unless I am in a prayer space or context. Anyone who knows me, knows if they sit next to me, I will start touching them, massaging a hand or a foot, or I will offer nourishment of some sort. I can’t help myself. This is part of my engagement with Tikkun Olam/Mending the World.

I can and do receive from folks as well, it’s not a one way street. The flow between people gives me tremendous energy. While I no longer feel able to be in huge crowds, even one or two people will make me feel energized.

So, for those of you, deeply in the news flow and riding the wave of information that is streaming in every media form, I offer an alternative. Be in that place as long and as often as you wish to be or feel you must. But don’t be there 24/7. It’s not the only place you can have agency and power. It’s also important not to constantly be stimulated or fearful. It’s just not good for our brains, bodies or hearts. Fear and constant stimulation are not healing, helpful or useful for long periods of time.

We should be fearful when we are threatened, or those we love, or the causes we are aligned with are threatened, but we can’t live in fear. Information is more complex. There is no clear stream of it. All of the media we are receiving is clouded and murky, colored by someone’s need to get the spike in our heart-rates up first and faster than the next guy. Unless you are actually reading a newspaper, journal, or a long, well-researched article or book about a subject, you are not getting the full picture. Even then, there is bias.

So, how do we proceed? I have no idea, but it doesn’t matter. I don’t need to know how to move forward or to have the whole thing figured out before I engage. I just have to put one foot in front of the other on my walk, or make sure I freeze 1/3 of every batch of soup I make so that there is always some in my freezer if someone sick needs any. We don’t have to watch every second of what is happening to be informed about what is happening.

I am moving forward into full engagement as myself, into the next few years. I know there will be more grieving to do, but there will also be more honoring and celebrating to do. Some of us are writing postcards on the Ides of March and sending them to the White House. This is something I can and am doing.

Here’s my post card, front and back.

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trump-card-back

So, I invite you to take a risk, jump in a body of cold water with a friend as a witness, immerse yourself in warm waters or cold ones, but immerse yourself and purify yourself of the violent and hateful speeches and rhetoric and ugliness. It will still be there when you emerge, but you won’t be as tainted by it.

Water is Life, use the living waters, wherever you are, and give thanks to the Creator and the river, stream, ocean, or lake. Living water is different from bath water, it needs to be flowing, so that you are in relationship and movement. Stagnant water will not do the trick, nor will an indoor swimming pool. If you are unable to immerse in a living body of water, immerse in your bathtub or hot-tub anyway. Do so consciously and don’t just sigh when you get in the water, think about what you are doing. Think about what you want to let go of and state it out loud. Get your face and hair and whole body under the water, be immersed. Do this three times. Then say a prayer of thanksgiving for the water.

The traditional prayer after we do a Mikveh is one of offering thanks to the Holy One, creater of the waters, for the gift of immersion and purification. Whatever body of water you are using, it’s all coming from the same place.

Mayim Chayim, Waters of Life. Water is life-giving in all of its known and clearly sustaining forms as well as in its hidden, wondrous, under the surface offerings. We can find hope and healing in water. Sing to the water, let the water know you are grateful and you care, this helps the water and it helps you. Then when you emerge, you truly will be born anew.

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Big Lagoon in Northern California, where the waters and I blend into One.

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.

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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

Bone Time

 

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Dunmoran Strand at sunset between storms in Skreen, County Sligo Fall of 2015

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.

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Detail of Nicole from Branches of the Trees, mixed media on board, 2014 by Helen Redman

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.

Nicole Edit in Stream Ireland
Last ** mikveh in the small cold stream outside my cabin, in prayer, communion and bone- chilling cold April of 2016 at Holy Hill

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.

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Trinidad Beach, in California, 5:30 a.m-ish, looking for quiet bone time back home in May of 2016

 

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.

What Kind of Jew are You?

Open Poppy From Nicole's Deck and Heart, Flower made by The Holy One
Open Poppy From Nicole’s Deck Heart, Flower by The Holy One

I’m a heart opening,
Big Loving,
Always Seeking,
Torah Studying
Kinda Jew

not just a kinda Jew but
a full fledged
big practicing
kind Jew

I’m a never ending
pot o’ soup on the stove
kind of Jew

I’m a complex and
wild woman
mikveh loving and
Mussar loving
kinda Jew

I will
cook for you
pray for you
engage with you
sing for and with you
study with you
discourse with you
kind of Jew

I’m a sit with you
while you are dying
and sing the Shema
over you as you take your last
breaths kind of Jew

I will gently bathe your cold
body and recite love lines from
the Song of Songs
over your limbs and your whole body
I will work with others together and
wrap, gently wrap
you in a shroud
kind of Jew

I’m a start to finish
kind of Jew
I’m a long-winded
and lots to say kind of Jew

I say a blessing
over everything
that goes into my mouth
I say a blessing
when I arise
when I learn of a death
when I immerse
when I study
whenever I have or make time
when I do something for the first time
when I see an old friend

or a rainbow

I pray every day
pretty much all day
in some way

I light candles on Shabbat
I light candles for those
who’ve left this world
or for those
in need of healing

I honor my mother and my father
I strive to honor and be present
for my children, all the children
in my life, not just those I’ve
raised or birthed

I love my husband, my man
who is not a Jew
I love him completely
imperfectly and with all my heart

I’m an observe a lot of commandments
kinda Jew….but not all of them

I’m a wrestle with and dance
with the Divine kinda Jew
and I think
whatever Kind of Jew

I am

I’m some kinda Jew
looking for and
always loving You!

©Nicole Barchilon Frank, February 28, 2014 ~ 28th of Adar I, 5774