Tag Archives: olam ha ba

Hooray, Heaven-Driven and Heading Home to my Honey and my Hearth

May Rose from Theresa May
My Merrily Blooms in May rose from my Rosey friend Theresa J. May

My father has agreed to move to our home in California!!!! I can be at my own hearth and help him and have all the support I need. It’s taken a year of my life and my brother’s life and our families’ lives. It has been extremely trying and deeply painful, but more triumphant and terrific than I could ever have imagined. Caring for all the parties in this story, including myself, has taken all of my being. Really, like the rose pictured above, which by the way is the size of a pecan pie, and smells like heaven, there are layers and layers to something this beautiful and there are thorns as well!

If it’s in the cards and written in the stars and with the will of the Divine we will move my father to our home in California. Since last March I have been here most of the time and home very little. It’s been very hard for me to be away from my husband and my home. It’s also been what needed to happen to help my father recover from his heart-attacks and subsequent heart issues and the death of his beloved wife Judy.

“A person, her days are like grass, She blossoms like a flower of a field. Then a wind passes, V’EINENU, and it is all gone, nothing! Her place on earth no longer knows her. But Havaya’s love stretches from world to world, the Holy One’s sovereignty embraces all life.” ~Psalm 103: 15-19  Rabbi Tirzah Firestone’s translation

It appears that my father is not in danger of dying anytime soon, in terms of how he seems to my brother and me. The  Denver Hospice folks are not so sure. My father is better than he has been in months. We have found the right cocktail of different medications given throughout the day along with an oxygen machine. He still uses his walker some part of every day. He sleeps a great deal of the time but is also awake and telling stories and getting his affairs in order. He has been given three choices.

  1. Move in with Kevin and me in Bayside.
  2. Stay in his apartment with care-givers 6 days a week and Paul one day a week.
  3. Go into a nursing home in Boulder with Paul and Kathryn visiting many times a week.

He is choosing to move in with Kevin and I. He is talking with Kevin regularly and there is a growing sense of him having something to look forward to. Ethan will be home for the summer and will help spell me when I need a break and I’ll hire a care-giver as well. The tricky part will be getting him to our home. Paul and I and the hospice team are working out the details so as to minimize the trauma to my father on his body. He has a medical death sentence, he is not getting better, but he may defy the odds and the statistics which do not account for the kind of care my father has been getting. The food, the massages, the love, the time spent in silence and also the stubborn strong Barchilon/Cohen genetic make-up are just not what most folks at this stage in their lives have.

My grandfather Jaimé, lived to almost a hundred and two. My great-grandfather, the Rabbi of Tangiers, Aaron Cohen lived to be a hundred and four. My father has longevity in his bones.

Aaron Cohen, Rabbi of Tangiers, my Great Grandfather

There is no way to predict when my father will cross the river Jordan and leave this earth. I can no longer stay in his home caring for him indefinitely, the toll on my body and heart is just too great.

The current plan is that I will head home to California the first week in May. My friend and sister, by choice and love, Terret will fly from Boston to Denver to help me pack up the Xterra and drive it back to Arcata. Terret and my father have a sweet relationship, when I moved away, before he found Judy, he would take her out to dinner regularly. She was my proxy, while she lived in Boulder spending time with him.

Terret will spend two days here in Denver with us and then we will drive to Boulder and I will say goodbye to my mother and Kenny, who are now in Boulder to take up residence at their new condo at the Peloton. They will spend a few months of every year here and perhaps move back to Boulder. My brother Paul and I have been getting the space ready for them, with furniture and stereo systems and they arrived to a mostly furnished home. We will fête Kenny (my other beloved father/beau-père) who will be turning 70 on April 30th.

Mom and Ken by Ellen
My mother Helen Redman and Kenny Weissberg, picture taken by his sister Ellen.

It will take Terret and me three to four days to drive back. My friend and another one of my Holy sisters by love, Tara has already been in touch with the Humboldt Hospice.  When I get home, I’ll start getting the back bedroom and our house ready for Dad and making our home accessible and safe for him. My brother will fly with Dad in early June with a portable oxygen machine from Denver to Sacramento. I will drive down to meet them and we will go to a hotel overnight and let Dad rest there. The next day, we will get on the road and drive two or three hours more and stay at a hotel again, unless Dad is up for another three hours of driving and then we will be HOME!

On a spiritual/emotional/liminal note, I have a sense of how hard it is to leave a body. I’ve spent a great deal of time with folks leaving their bodies in my time as the chair of our Hevra Kadisha/Sacred/Burial society. Please see my piece Encountering Death Consciously if you haven’t already. I’ve attended many bedsides and witnessed folks crossing. It is rarely easy for a person to disengage from the shell/vessel of their bodies.

It takes time and some interesting uniquely personal set of circumstances for each person to be finished with their bodies.

Since my father has no religious beliefs, of any kind, it’s pretty much the end for him, like stepping off a cliff and knowing that’s final. I think moving to our home is sort of a gentle step towards death, a letting go of Judy, of their home, of his life as a professor of French for over 35 years at CU, of all his Free French Forces resistance books and posters and all the stuff of his 95 years of life.

This is where he met and married my mother, this is where my sister died, this is where my brother was born, this is where he was divorced, this is where he worked and lived and where he got together with Judy and married her and enjoyed almost 20 years of love with her. This is where she died and where he is mourning her actively.

Our home is none of those things. It’s full of music, books and great art and the best part is Kevin (who my father, like me, adores). He will be able to sit on my deck and enjoy the flowers and the sunshine and the beauty of the outdoors. He will be closer to the sky and the earth and to a place of expansiveness and grace. So, his coming to us, is like a step away from his life, but not the final one, it’s the next one, bringing him closer to the step out of his body.

Please hold him, my brother and me in your thoughts and prayers as we navigate the next two months of work to make this happen. My father will have been six months with Denver Hospice by May. The statistics for his condition, age and situation say he should be dead very soon. As Mark Twain said though: “There’s lies, damn lies and then there’s statistics.”

We just have no idea what will unfold, but we’re making plans for a shift and hope it will be a gentle bridge to a time of sunshine, Ethan playing Chopin and Bach on the piano for him, Kevin having intellectual conversations with him and telling him jokes, flowers blooming, time on our deck with the birds and my beloved Redwood Tree standing sentinel over Papa and reminding him of all that is beautiful and good and of course, lots of artichokes!

Chez Papa with my brother Paul Barchilon and his partner Kathryn Taylor. Photo by my cousin Dan Levy.

While my father and I spend a great deal of time in silence, his preference, there are times when he wants to wax philosophical.  I’m sharing teachings with him from the Buddhist tradition, the Jewish tradition and many others. Lovely and meaningful conversations are ensuing and unfolding around all of this.

Here’s one of the teachings from a Buddhist perspective that we read together.

37 Practices: Verse 4

“You will separate from long-time friends and relatives. You will leave behind the wealth you worked to build up. The Guest, your consciousness, will move from the inn, your body. Give up your life—this is the practice of a bodhisattva” ~Tokme Zongpo

“Tokme Zongpo was a 14th century Tibetan monk. After serving as abbot of his monastery, he retreated for 20 years and wrote these 37 practices of a Bodhisattva, seen by many as the core of Mahayana Buddhism.” ~Rabbi Tirzah Firestone

This teaching comes from the materials that were part of a Shabbaton/Weekend intensive I attended, called: (Lighting the Way in a Dark World The Tzaddik and the Bodhisattva). This workshop was given by one of my dear friends, and teachers Rabbi Tirzah Firestone.  My father remarked that the teachings were very interesting and beautiful. No more comment has been made about them, but I know he is processing slowly all of these moments we share. One of the teachings from the weekend really moved me profoundly and my favorite line is at the end.

“He (Rabbi Akiva, born 20 CE) used to say: Everything is given on loan. And a net is spread out over all that is alive. The store is open and the storekeeper extends credit; the ledger is open and the hand writes, and whoever wishes to borrow may come and borrow. And the collectors go round every day and exact payment, with or without our knowledge. And they do not act capriciously; their judgments are correct. And everything is prepared for the banquet.” ~Mishneh Avot/Pirkei Avot:

“Commentary: Life is on loan. Receive all that is given, and do not pretend to choice or ownership. You are a knot of God’s infinitely knotted net, never apart from and always a part of the One Who Is All. Reality allows you to do as you will, for good and for bad, and every deed has its consequence.”

~Rabbi Rami Shapiro

Many folks no longer have any relationship to Holiness or any beliefs or spiritual practices, and my father is in that category. This makes me very sad for all the suffering and fear he and others endure around so many things. This teaching by Rabbi Akiva, is one that speaks to my core. I know that everything is being prepared for the banquet. One of my ways of serving the Divine is to try to prepare a banquet for folks now, to offer them beauty, delicious food, kindness, compassion and spaciousness. I do this because I want to help create a pathway, in all those I encounter, to remind them that Olam Ha Ba/ the World to Come is real. Our time here on this earth is an opportunity to practice our table manners for the glorious banquet on the other side of this life.


Blue Shabbat Flowers
The Banquet I prepared for the Shechinah, every Shabbat,  in Ireland when I was on my silent, solitary retreat.


Open Hearted Elections or How To Get into the Nicole Zen Zone

Queen of Open Hearts and a Rosey Witch of Good Repute who found herself travelling on Halloween, so she gave out organic candy to all travellers she encountered on the path between San Francisco and Denver and she also offered Blessings to anyone who wanted one.

On my perpetually long and expanding “to do list” is….write a piece about my feelings and perspective on the upcoming elections. So, here goes. Welcome to my world:

The Nicole Zen Zone

I do not consume or participate much in the mainstream media realm. I do not own a television. I do not watch any kind of news. I do not listen to any kind of news. I no longer listen to NPR, the BBC, or any other program when news is on. It is not really news. It is the information streamed and filtered through the extremely flawed and fractured lenses of whomever is in charge of that particular stream of information. I am not a conspiracy theorist who believes everyone is evil and has a plan to take over the government or brainwash all of us. Nevertheless, I do think that what we listen to, watch and consume visually and auditorily impacts us as much as what we eat.

Folks who would NEVER eat a Twinkie or a huge plate of really deep-fried weird ugly food that looks stale and smells bad, somehow have no problem consuming huge amounts of vile information and imagery. You cannot watch, listen to, or engage with ugliness and fear without it impacting you. It has the same effect on our systems as if we ate poison. But somehow folks feel that they have to “be informed,” “be educated,” “be aware” and be “on top of it.” It’s unlikely we can ever fully be any of these things.

There’s also the intense addiction and thrill that violent television, gaming and movies engender. The thrill seeking, fear-inducing, sexually stimulating survival based urges which drive much of the hunger for this kind of entertainment is part of the tainted stream that makes folks numb to violence. It gets to children early and hooks them on violent, angry stimuli. It encourages a complete lack of consequences related to aggression and violence. Poison, Poison, Poison.

Dragon I found in a bag of garbage along Cherry Creek in Denver. I took a small walk near my parent’s place along the creek bed. I put my feet in the cool water and then picked up garbage under the foot bridge and on the banks. I took this small walk in between writing this blog post and publishing it. When I was emptying out the bag of garbage and sorting out the recycling I had collected, at the bottom of a pile of stuff was this dragon. I couldn’t throw him out, figured he was a gift for me. I turned him over and it said Nintendo. This, is how the Holy One plays with me. I have just been writing about violent games and media and went for a walk. I can’t stand garbage in nature so I chose to pick up what was on hand near where I was. I found this dragon. I had no idea this image was related to a Nintendo computer game. It’s a really quirky and immediate sense of humor the Universe has!

The idea that we are informed by soundbites is strange to me. Anyone educated knows that all information we receive online, on television, on the airwaves is coming through massive filters. We don’t see the streams and rivers of those filters, but we know many folks with massive educations and degrees and money have made very clear decisions about colors, sounds, visual displays, timing, the color of skin of the folks presenting, which particular story gets to go first, second, third, etc…. The amount of stuff going on behind the scenes of all news or film is truly massive. Yet, folks forget this and are just drawn in, which is exactly what the folks in charge of all these streams of information want. If you are drawn in, you are hooked. If you are hooked you are stimulated. If you are stimulated, you are committed to whatever energetic activity or action the information you just swallowed has created inside of your mind and heart.

When we listen to music we love, or see folks we love, or participate in some activity that gives us joy, we feel good. I do not understand why folks think consuming or watching ugliness is any different. It is like eating poison. If we choose to watch repetitively and deceptive polls and statistics, that are touted as the most important critical piece of information, while they incrementally shift second by second by second, we are ingesting fear. The  information being collected by huge systems and organizations that are behind the curtains have very strong agendas and desires that are not about informing us, but are about generating more of our engagement and stimulating us. The collective media engines and the powers behind them need us to be hooked in order to ensure their ongoing existence. It’s not news, it’s statistics.

 “There’s lies, damn lies and statistics.” -Mark Twain

I have no issue with reading the news in a visual format or in watching an in-depth program addressing something relevant cogently and with accuracy. Indeed, as long as the story is not a sound-bite, I do actually consume news this way. I have written for The Arcata Eye and the Mad River Union. I love the newspaper. It is vitally necessary to be informed. I am not advocating a blithe naive attitude or that we shouldn’t care or know what is going on. We absolutely must engage with the information that is relevant to our lives. How we do that though is up to us and we can be more choiceful than we are.

I endeavor to have a boundary around my consumption of all that is flawed, broken, unfolding in crisis or ugly. I don’t automatically have those streams of information coming in. I choose when and where I am going to engage based on my energy level, how many folks I am taking care of on any particular day, and what is actually happening for me. If there is an emergency, of course, I would listen to the radio to know where to go and what to do.

Barring an emergency though, I avoid ugliness in the media and stories about murders and violations of any kind. I am extremely sensitive and if I read about or see an image of something gruesome or someone raped or murdered, it enters me physically. I literally feel it in my body. So, I cannot just blithely consume what others do without hesitation. The thing is, just because other folks don’t have my hyper-sensitivity doesn’t mean they aren’t being impacted.

There are no actions in the universe that we can take or do that do not have consequences. Every action has a ripple. Every choice we make has an outcome. Everything we eat, see, hear, touch, breathe, and experience imprints on us and continues to impact us sometimes invisibly.

So, instead of consuming poison and anger and fear and stupidity visually and auditorily, I choose to use the same time to pray for a good outcome for our country. I choose to surround all the players with light and love. I choose to hope and trust that the right outcome will unfold. AND if the person I don’t want to be President becomes president, I will have to trust that this is because the Holy One has a plan I cannot comprehend. This is actually always the situation.

I am not advocating just doing nothing. I am a firm believer in always voting and always contributing to the campaigns and organizations that we believe in and support. But the OUTCOME of huge and even tiny things has very little to do with my participating in this flawed cycle of massive information guzzling and grinding through all of our lives. There are forces at work, that are so much greater than my ability to comprehend them. I have to cede all finally large and strange outcomes, to The Holy Maker of this amazingly perplexing universe, this Olam Ha Ze/This World Here.

Once I do this, I move from scared to, sacred.

I recognize that I am not in charge or in control. This is huge for me. I have agency and power to make a difference, but I am not responsible for the end result. I also refuse to let the negative energy and fear that others live in or experience take up residence in my mind. The only way I can prevent the fears and flaws from influencing me in corrupted and insidious ways is if I fill my heart and mind with something loving, kind, mindful, good or prayerful.

Post my Big Lagoon Swim, where I pray while I swim for, all those in need of healing, our country, the Lagoon, the Native Ancestors whose presence I am in when I am here, and for all the waters of the world to be clean enough to safely swim in.

I don’t want subtle and subversive streams of junk in my heart and mind. I will be fearful when I am standing before the abyss, when my family members or friends are in danger, when someone I love is crossing the street and a truck is heading for them. I will be afraid when I think about how fracking is destroying the blood-streams of our mother earth and how our rivers and streams are still full of toxins. I will be angry every time a person is violated, tortured, beaten, disrespected and treated as less than a Holy Vessel by anyone anywhere on this planet, but I will not spend all of my time thinking about all this horror. I will swim in the stream of pain when it is required of me. When I can make a difference in an outcome and my physical and emotional presence is required, then I will be right in the middle of the ugliest, scariest and worst stuff, no hesitation whatsoever.

The rest of the time, I will be making salves to heal broken skin, or syrups to soothe angry throats. I will be making soups for my friends with cancer or who are feeling unwell. I will sew heart-shaped pillows and fill them with lavender and rose petals from my garden. I will offer prayers of healing to all those who are unwell on my prayer-list. I will pray for our country and the world. Instead of listening to the angry voices and hating the players, I will imagine them, yes even the one I don’t want to be President, and surround them with love and light and ask the Angels and the Holy One to keep them safe and help their hearts to soften or be strong. I will pray for whomever is in a position of power to listen to their hearts and to the voice of Holiness that speaks for kindness and correction of flawed behavior. I will pray for Tikkun Olam/Mending the World, for folks to heal and mend what they have broken or what is torn asunder.

Jars of Henry’s Olive Oil stuffed with French Lavender or Calendula petals from my garden. These jars sit in the sun and absorb the moon’s changes for one to two months in the summer. They are infused with bird-song, moon-glow, sunshine and bee blessings. This is the base with which I make the lavender-infused oil or the calendula-infused oil that I use in the salves I make.

On Tuesday, November 8th, 2016 instead of being glued to a TV screen in fear, anticipation or giddiness, I will sit in meditation for several hours, with one of my teachers and friends. I will be with others, who like me, choose to use our prayers. our mindfulness and our connection to Holiness be the way we navigate our fears and our desires. We will chant and pray and sit in stillness. I will ask for Loving-Kindness to be a permanent president in residence in the heart of whomever gets elected.

Then, when I emerge, if things go the way I wish for them to go, I will be relieved, but not done caring or praying for all the people in this crazy story. If, when I emerge, things don’t go the way I wish, then I will know that my understanding of the universe and the Divine is once again inadequate.

And on the note of disastrous outcomes, let’s be honest. Most of us do not change our behaviors or habits until the last-minute, when it’s so bad that we have to make a shift. How many folks actively seek out personal growth and correction before there is a problem? How many folks have time for this when they are working full-time jobs for miserable wages and cannot feed their families?

So, if things get horrible here, which is my fear, it will be the catalyst for a greater change than we can imagine. Change is never easy. It is always dangerous and fraught. So, there will be a lot of turmoil and difficulty, kind of like a hard labor, one with complications. I’ve had two of those. I have two beautiful sons as a result of that kind of labor. We don’t know what more labor pains our country and the world have to go through before EVERYONE on this planet and all the BEINGS on this planet are honored and loved. I believe in that Olam Ha Bah/World to Come . The distance between here and there is the thinnest of veils. This world here, where we live, walk, eat and dream can be Heaven, a Heaven here on Earth. It’s a place we create and make real. It isn’t just a destination post our deaths. It’s a garden we have to cultivate and tend to now and everyday.

Holy One, please help us remove the veils from our eyes, get rid of the film over our vision. Help us to create the world we want and to work for justice and goodness all the days of our lives.

Rainbows in Ireland, off the Western Coast in County Sligo

May your fears be allayed, may your hearts be open, may your mind be calm.



Spiritual Feminism and Family

Three generations of women taking care of each other and their families. I’m the baby in this photo on my grandmother Isabelle Redman’s lap, next to my mother Helen Redman.

Recently my mother Helen Redman and daughter were interviewed in the Washington Post. My comment to that article was too long for their comment section, so I’m posting what I want to say here and I encourage you to read the article: Unfinished Business; A feminist calls out her feminist grandmother. It’s part of their New Wave Feminism section. The piece was written by Dave Sheinin. You can read my comments first, but really they refer to the article a fair amount. Or if you read my thoughts first it will give you a unique perspective on the piece that was in the Post. It has great pictures as well! You have to click on Dave Sheinin’s name to get to the article he wrote. Or you can read all of them.

My Full Response:

Weighing in from my nine-month Sabbatical retreat in Ireland. I am the daughter of a feminist and the mother of a feminist. I’m the generation between, in the middle, a FEMINIST always, and proud to call myself one. My mother’s dedication to feminism, to her own artistic calling and to goodness made it possible for me to be who I am. I honor and am grateful to her, and all her sisters, in the work of making the world a better place for all. She and all the women and men who came before her are forever in my prayers of gratitude.

My perspective is different than both my mother’s and my daughter’s as stated in the Washington Post article. Since my personal take wasn’t mentioned in the piece and I rarely hear it talked about in the mainstream, I’m entering this discussion. I do so from my place of solitude and stillness which, I have taken as a Sabbath from my life of caring for my family and community. This is my Jubillee (50th year) and it is an extra special year of rest. I have been planning it for over twenty years. I am alone, completely, for the first time in my life in a small cabin in a remote area of Ireland. I am here as a woman in need of a “room of her own.” You can read all about that under the Jubilee category here.

My relationship to all things is based on and in my spiritual practice. I would even go so far as to call myself a Spiritual Feminist. I’m a writer and a Jewish Lay Leader, not yet a rabbi. My choice to parent, instead of having abortions when I was young (19 and 21) and single, resulted in my two oldest children, my daughter (31) and my son (29). Neither of the men in this story were present for me or my children. I chose being present for my children, welfare as a single mother, and living in the woods with some crazy people (for work-exchange) so that I could be with my kids. The other choice would have been me working some menial job and putting my babies in day-care and still not being able to get by. A large percentage of the women I know have had abortions at one time in their lives and my choice not to have them was within the context of a world where I had that choice.

I made my Feminist decision to be with my kids, even though it meant not finishing college in a timely manner, not having a career and living in very challenging circumstances. My choice to not have abortions, when that was suggested and seemed feminist, was a radical departure from what most other young women in 1983 would have chosen. I have supported and will always support a woman’s right to choose about this issue.

Nicole & Ethan, 1997 At Boulder Creek
Mama Nicole and baby Ethan 1997

I was in relationship with my body, the earth, the Holy One, and my children from the moment their souls entered my body. I have three children by birth and many others by love, who I have either raised or helped raise, and who consider me one of their mothers. I chose mothering, and being physically present for my children and children in need. I made sacrifices or choices or willing offerings that meant my “career” never happened. If I now go to school to become a rabbi, I will be 60 by the time I’m done. No one will most likely be interested in hiring me. I have been happily married for 26 years to a phenomenal man, who adopted my first two children and with whom I have a third child, Ethan. All of my children have a father who loves, supports and honors them in all their diversity of choices. He also does this for me. He is the more significant wage earner in our family, because his skills are valued by our culture and society financially over mine by several degrees of magnitude. He is a database designer.

Nicole Kevin framed
My Man and I, May 2015

My skills are extensive, but because I finished college at the age of 32 (attending here and there when my children were in school and I was able to), I was way behind in the career zone. Then, I was pregnant with my third child, Ethan (19). Consequently, I still do not have more than a BA. I have worked since I was fourteen years old as either a child-care provider, waitress, bus-person, cook, legal assistant, office administrator, therapeutic behavioral aide and many other small jobs, that have never paid more than a little over minimum wage.

My jobs have always been part-time so I could be available for my children, so I could cook dinner and we could sit around the table together as a family and talk and pray and share. I have poured myself into the lives of my children as they grew and created an environment for them that has allowed each of them to become the beautiful beings they are. I’ve made huge mistakes and choices that were not good for my children, but I’ve also always loved them and been present for them, I’m human.

Ethan Issac Shoulders 4
Issac and Ethan at Ethan’s graduation from Northcoast Preparatory Academy in May of 2015

I have a large circle of friends and many folks who consider my opinion to be of tremendous value, but no one is paying me for my wisdom yet in this world, other than my husband, who considers my input and efforts for our family to be of tremendous value. I also am in relationship with the Divine, who I trust for my sustenance in all things and down to the core. If I don’t earn much money this lifetime, I hope that my Chesed/Loving Kindness and my Avodah/Service will do me just fine in Olam Ha-Ba (the World to Come)

Feminism, for me, is about relationships, it is personal, political, and spiritual.

When I pray I use Hebrew, which is a gendered language. In Hebrew the Divine is referenced in the feminine when She is the Shechinah (In Dwelling Presence of Holiness), in the masculine when He is the Melech (King). But you won’t find that nuance, which isn’t even a nuance in the Hebrew, when you read the bible in English. So, in my prayers I call out to the vast energy of Holiness and there are an infinite variety of forms and qualities to Holiness.

The Divine is Ineffable. Gender is just a context we use that is familiar when trying to relate to our universe. We are all souls in bodies, on a very fluid spectrum in terms of our relationships to our genders and to our planet. Some folks feeling they are ONLY Male or Masculine, others ONLY Female or Feminine.

I truly believe most folks are in a much more flexible place on that particular scale, we are all Transitional Beings as far as I’m concerned. We are all moving through this world in one form now, but that is only one of our forms. We are not singularities or individuals as much as we think we are. We are all ONE. All of this is part of my Feminism and my Judaism. Without the Feminist movement the discussions about gender, and Holiness and choices being fuller than either or, or one size fits all, wouldn’t exist. The problem is that we are still NOT in relationships of value and meaning with the Earth, with our souls, with our beautiful and different bodies, and with each other in loving and kind ways.

My Feminism is about embracing a world where things are radically different than they are now. It’s a world where we are engaged with loving our bodies, our choices, our differences, our minds, our hearts and this amazing gift of a planet we are spinning on. It’s about having conversations with trees, birds, flowers and with those walking around in human form. It’s about not making more reasons to separate ourselves one from the other, but looking for where we are RELATED and similar and how we can build those connections so that we NEVER maim, harm, rape, kill or violate each other. That world isn’t here yet, but I am praying every day for it. I call out to the Shechinah and to HaMelech all the time in hopes that this dreamed and hoped-for world, Olam Ha-Ba will arrive in my lifetime, or if not mine, perhaps my children’s.

2016-01-22 16.20.11
The window-seat in my hermitage, where I pray for the world where we are all honored and treasured and loved.

Jubilee Part Five: Encountering Death Consciously

Singing the Bones by Helen Redman, 1993
Singing the Bones by Helen Redman, 1993

When it is my time, the Holy One will take me. I’d like the folks left behind here to know that I am not gone when that happens. In my tradition there is a teaching that the only thing you can take with you to the other side are your mitzvot. I use the translation of this word here as deeds of loving kindness or rightness. So, if my deeds of goodness follow me and come with me, I should do a lot of them! It’s not a reason to engage with mitzvot, but rather a consequence of living my life as if I was already in Heaven, a place where kindness and beauty reign. There is plenty of Hell here on this planet. I have never been afraid of going to such a realm, I just want the suffering on this planet to be done. So, I orient towards Heaven on earth, bringing beauty, goodness, love, warmth, comfort and delight into this time and place. My need to walk this particular path is coded in my core. I feel pulled and guided by that force constantly.

Taking a retreat from engagement with the folks I love and who I just know and encounter on a daily basis is a radical step. I am interested in a specific kind of departure from the norm. I want to explore leaving this world consciously. If I dip into the absence/death-well, while I am still living, I get to practice to navigate territory that is very uncomfortable for all of us. This choice, on my part, about why I need to do this is so complex. I am not talking about taking my life. I have never felt inclined to do so and I doubt I ever will. Looking at death in depth and consciously, is different from venerating it or reaching towards it.

If I were Hindu, I would just say I was going to spend some time with the Goddess Kali and that would make sense to folks who were steeped in that tradition. Buddhist practitioners engage in years of contemplation and “practice” around death. There are complex meditations that involve envisioning your death, the death of those you love and death in general. In the modern secular world, we have a fascination with vampires, zombies and ghosts. But engaging with those ideas as entertainment or story-line is very different than looking at the reality of death head on.

I’ve been looking at it literally with my head on (using my mind and body to be present around death) all of my life. Over fifteen years ago, when a dear friend became ill with cancer, her final wish was that our community endeavor to bury her according to Jewish tradition. This meant engaging in study around traditional Jewish practices and creating a Hevra Kadisha locally. Hevra Kadisha translates literally as Sacred or Holy Community/Society, most folks think of it as the Jewish Burial Society.

The service of a Hevra Kadisha is done anonymously and involves preparing a person for burial according to ancient beautiful Jewish practices from Torah. In my 49 years on this planet I’ve gone from fishing for gravestones in a stream (see Jubilee Part Four) to gently preparing those who have died to enter the earth.

We enter a river of blessings in this process as well as doing the heavy lifting, purifying and cleaning. I do this work with four or five other people mostly in silence with only specific prayers recited as we engage in the various tasks. We bathe and cleanse and lovingly robe folks in simple linen garments modeled along the lines of the High Priest from the Torah. We wrap them tight in a shroud, like a cocoon and place them in plain wooden boxes. We place broken shards of pottery over their eyes and mouth to signify that their soul has broken free of its physical vessel. We lovingly praise and honor their physical bodies as the homes of their souls and we ask forgiveness if anything we do while preparing them wasn’t done properly. This service is considered a mitzvah/commandment/obligation that is of the highest order. In my community, we do this for free. In all Jewish communities, if you do this work, you are actually doing it for the person who has died, and they cannot thank you or pay you, which is why it is considered to be a very special mitzvah.

My service with the Hevra Kadisha has brought me in contact with death in real time and with real humans whose bodies I have engaged with. I have also had the privilege of being present with folks as they were dying and on their journey across the “River Jordan.”

The Other Side of Birth by Helen Redman, 1994
The Other Side of Birth by Helen Redman, 1994

Intrinsic to my need to go on retreat is a concept called L’Shem Shamayim: for the sake/name of Heaven. Underneath my desire for stillness is a strong and always flowing current of connection with the Divine. I need to see what it is that the next phase of my life is supposed to be oriented around and towards. I need to find out what I can do for or in the name of L’Shem Shamayim and for the world to come/Olam Ha-Ba. This idea of a world to come can be interpreted to mean tomorrow or the world we create, not just the world on the other side of life, but that is also part of its meaning. So, taking time away to explore through prayer, through meditation, through engagement with solitude and nature and through active study are all ways for me to connect to Olam Ha-Ba.

In this world, which we call, Olam Ha-Zeh, I am also taking time away to get still and see what unfolds in a place that is less stimulating and full of others and their needs. I am often seen as the “spiritual” one in my family, in a group or gathering. I do not like this, when it separates me from others and makes me seem or look different. While I am happy to be seen as a woman engaged with Torah, with Holiness, I do not want to be the placeholder for Holiness in other peoples’ lives. I want everyone to engage and have relationship with what is Kadosh/Sacred/Holy to them.

I also don’t want connection to a spiritual reality to be seen as something that can only be done in a big way. Folks who are quieter or less obvious and vocal are just as capable of connection with the Divine as I am. There is no singular or right way to connect or be engaged with spiritual practice. Although there are tried and true and well-researched and practiced spiritual technologies and teachers that can improve our ability to connect and experience Holiness or Deep Mystery.

“The root k-d-sh occurs nineteen times in Parashat BeHukotai, the last reading from the book of Leviticus, in which there are altogether 152 occurrences of this root. The Torah nowhere defines the concept of kedushah, what we might call in English “holiness” or “sanctity.” Nevertheless, the use of this root has developed extensively, so that today we speak of making kiddush on the wine, or of reciting the kaddish and the kedushah in the synagogue service, or of marrying a woman through kiddushin (the ring ceremony), and we behave as if we understand the concept of being kadosh (holy) which is present in each of these actions. We tend to forget that holy is a divine (transcendental) concept, and therefore, like the concept of G-d, is above human comprehension.”-Dov Landau

As a Jewish woman, as a mother, as a wife, as a sister, as a grandmother, as a friend, and as a daughter, taking a year off from my family and friends is a very intense thing to do. It will be a death of sorts. This is time of absence and death-like being away from those I love is a risk I am willing and need to take. I do so knowing that while it will be hard for those who love me and who I love, it can also be a blessing and an opportunity. Getting up close to and intimate with absence and death or separation is a very hard thing for most of us to do. Taking this path consciously, for me, and hopefully for those who will miss me, is a way to flow into and explore THE RIVER of space and time, beyond our physical bodies and all their coverings and ways and means. I’m looking intently towards and across that mysterious “River Jordon.” I have no desire to cross over yet—but I am very curious about the territory.

to be continued…..

~byline from the original piece published in the Mad River Union on August 13, 2014:

Nicole peeks across and around all kinds of corners, rivers and edges wherever she abides and she endeavors to speak of this as she walks along the way. Sometimes, she can be found in her home in Bayside, but you are just as likely to encounter her swimming at Big Lagoon or meandering along the aisles of your local health-food store.