Tag Archives: Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi

Praying in my Pink Pajamas

One of my favorite books, by Ellen Frankel, to study when I’m wanting to engage in Torah. This book is essential if you want to have an engaged relationship with the stories in the Torah.

So, yesterday was Shabbat. It was also January 21, 2017 and almost everyone I know and members of my family were at protest marches all over the country. Friends in France, England, Ireland and all over the world were protesting. I stayed home and put on my pink fuzzy pajamas (in solidarity with all the pink pussy hats) and said some prayers and studied Torah.

I watched the protests unfolding on my phone and on Facebook. I felt the energy and the hope and exuberance and the anger as well. I am in a counter-current to almost everyone I know. My internal river is moving very slowly in a circular mellow eddy, where I am gathering leaves, moss, rocks, and sticks. I’m crafting something entirely other and different from what has been. I’m not at all in the main stream right now. I’m in the inbetween, in limnal, milky and birthing something different waters.

When I started reading the Torah portion, I was not surprised to see that the story for this day of protest and this week of intense complexity was the story of a wicked ruler/Pharoah who ordered the killing of all Jewish boys upon birth. It’s the story of resistance, of Miriam (the Prophetess sister of Moses) and Yochaved (mother of Moses) and Zipporah (wife of Moses) and Batya (daughter of Pharoah) and Shifrah and Puah (midwives). All Biblically powerful women who did not follow orders, who resisted the violent, crazy powers. They did so with cunning, with solidarity, with creativity and with courage. I encourage you to read this piece of Torah, it’s pretty powerful stuff.

Pink on Pink with Torah portion open to Shemot which corresponds to Exodus 1:1-6:1

So, the story of today, for me feels like the story of thousands of years ago. And while there were signs saying “It’s not 2017 B.C.E” all over the protests going on. Part of me is thinking, yes, actually it is. We are still navigating very similar territory and history is cyclical, circular, complex and has an intensely long arc. I believe there has been and is movement towards goodness and caring and kindness that is huge, but I don’t think we are ever free from certain dynamics.

This is why the Torah is still as alive for me today as it was thousands of years ago for my ancestors. It’s still telling the story of how to navigate life and all the challenges we will certainly encounter while we spin on this planet. It’s still advocating resistance to injustice, solidarity with those who are innocent, vulnerable, different or endangered. It’s still asking us to lead with kindness and goodness and to believe in goodness not just in our minds but in our actions. This is a radical thing to do.

What does active goodness look like? It involves a deep engagement with hope, with trust, with caring, with service, with soup-making and helping others in whatever ways one can. It involves extending our circles of love beyond ourselves and holding the suffering of those near and far in our hearts. It’s not a mental activity, it’s a full-bodied, full hearted, whole self involvement.

I try not to watch the news or participate in the cycle of crazy information that will pull me out of this internal eddy I’m currently in. If you want to understand this practice and my reasons for this read: Open Hearted Elections..

There is something here in the non-news zone to explore that is not angry or fast or stimulating. It’s the slow steady turning of life and love and the knowledge in my bones that I am here to serve and that this is a life-journey, not a sometimes-when-I-feel-like-it-journey. My children are adults now, my youngest just turned 20 on January 20th. I’m shifting my current and looking for how to best honor the Holy One in the coming years. I’m exploring how to flow into my best aware service in consistently trying, even more complex, and intensely challenging times.

Climate change is real, anger, sexism, racism, bigotry of all kinds, belligerence and violence are real forces on this planet. They are not the only forces though. I cannot battle these forces, I have no battle energy currently moving through me. I have tenderness, I have vulnerability, I have clean the kitchen and make soup energy, I have love my friends and family and community energy. I have pray in pink fuzzy pajama and study energy. I have dreaming energy and hoping energy and writing energy.

I have a strong desire to listen to the elders of all wisdom traditions and try to do what is wise to do. I’m very grateful to cede the territory of battle, protest and shifting, on a larger scale, to those who are called to do that kind of work. I don’t think we all serve in the same ways and I don’t think we need to. I’ve been on the front lines and this is not my time for that. I also trust and have Bitahon (absolute trust) in the Holy One, whose plans are not knowable or known to me. This teaching below is an hour long, and crucial because it informs how I understand this period of time we are living in. My teacher, Reb Zalman, May his memory continue to be a blessing, talks about this time as being a time of Axial turning, not a paradigm or quick shifting. A turning towards goodness and change that is several hundred years long, not one or two generations. This resonates for me right now.


The closest I can come to understanding what is impossible to understand is to fall back on what I know is true. What is true for me is that I feel more bound to the effort, than the outcome and to the means and not the ends. So, I will continue to pray in pink, swirl slowly, make medicine, listen to folks in need, help when and where I can, honor the Sabbath, and send out messages when something surfaces that may be of value to others.


The Unruly Mystic and Unruly Me

Illumination above by Hildegard of Bingen: Cultivating the Cosmic Tree
Illumination above by Hildegard of Bingen: Cultivating the Cosmic Tree

A few days ago I watched my friend Michael Conti’s film, The Unruly Mystic. The film is about his spiritual journey and his exploration of the life of Saint Hildegard of Bingen. I first learned about Hildegard from my botanist friend Jolie Egert Elan of Go Wild Consulting. Jolie is definitely an unruly herbal mystic. I guess I am one also, unruly in all kinds of directions.

It turns out Micheal, Jolie and I, we’re in good company.

The film was beautiful, well-done and lyrical, full of Saint Hildegard’s music and works. She was an extraordinary woman who composed music, wrote books, liturgy and healed people. She was a doctor of the church, like Thomas of Aquinas. She confronted emperors and popes and battled illness and injustices. She confronted and challenged the flawed ideas of her time about self-abuse and harm as paths to the Divine. She rejected the ideas of the body as evil and hatred of the body. She challenged people to engage with the Divine within and around us. She preached to armies, begging them to lay down their swords. She was in a relationship with Holiness, calling to her, moving through her, engaging and directing her and she heeded that call. Michael’s film shows us all of this through the people alive today who study her and engage with her and also through the vehicle of his own searching. It’s very moving.

Unruly Mystic
Michael Conti, the director and Producer of the Unruly Mystic, and I meeting up to exchange hugs and his lovely film.

Saint Hildegard left a legacy of herbal remedies and writings about how stones, herbs, meditation and minerals can heal us. In Michael’s film we visit an institute in Germany which uses her techniques to heal people. We go around the world connecting with mystics, spiritual directors and seekers of all faiths, healers, curanderos, priests, professors, philosophers, nuns, monks, musicians and artists. Hildegard is often thought of today as the patron Saint of Creativity. She created many vibrant mandalas that are full of her visions. They are vivid, real, stunning and powerful.

In today’s era, heeding the call of the Divine, is still thought of as crazy or radical. It’s never really a safe thing to pay attention to the other side, to the call of the wild, the earth, the angels, the Holy (however you conceive of that or connect to it). Once you listen, really listen, there are oceans full of energy, voices, and information. It can actually make you a little “nuts.”  Not paying attention though, is truly dangerous. With our world full of mess, suffering, climate change and violence, the only way through into what Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche calls Enlightened Society, is to wake up and listen and start making a connection with the basic essential goodness of who we are. Once we do that we can move towards repair and mending and healing of the world around us. We can embody Tikkun Olam.

So, being called unruly, makes sense, once you are able to hear the call of the Wild and Powerful Divine within, then you have to figure out how to translate that. If your message is true, it will survive naysayers, wars, eons, folks who cannot relate and it will come into the greater world. Hildegard of Bingen was hearing voices, healing, and channeling what she experienced in the Middle Ages.

Lerman, K. (02-15-95). The Life and Works of Hildegard von Bingen . Retrieved from http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/med/hildegarde.asp

The films and books about her to date are numerous and she continues to emerge all the time. Michael’s film brings her into our time and connects us with her works, her songs and music and a whole world of people following her teachings, and most importantly, keeping her alive here and now. The film, the Unruly Mystic, is a great homage to her, but also a call to all of us, to listen, to still ourselves and to heed the call of our souls and whatever unruly messages exist therein.

Michael lovingly called me an “original unruly mystic,” which I think is high praise. When I graduated from Boulder High in 1982, I was voted “most original individual” and “most radical.” I had to choose one of those and I think I chose to keep “most original.” I’m certainly also a radical.

My radicalism today, if you don’t scratch deep, is harder to see. I’ve been happily married for 26 years, have children and a grand-child, drive a Prius and attend religious services. Doesn’t sound too radical. Scratch a little deeper and you find a lot more going on.

My call, like Hildegard’s, is very personal and private at this time. I need to sequester myself, much like a nun, and indeed I am venturing into the Carmelite Monastic world, to find the quiet I crave to hear the Voice of Holiness within and without (in the stones, hills, rivers, mists, green growing beings and in the connection between my feet and the earth without pavement or roadway or power-lines to interrupt the feeling between myself and the planet). That’s a little more unruly! Especially since I’m a very Jewish extrovert.

One of my radical actions is the engagement with multiple faith traditions. I’m very married and in covenant with the Jewishly Divine Presence in this world. I live and practice actively as a Jewish woman. Connecting with Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Carmelites, Quakers, Native Tribal Peoples and all the various iterations of Holiness, is the only way that makes sense to me. I have no desire to be right or make someone follow a tradition that doesn’t resonate for them.

When we all reject the out-dated and dangerous model of separation and recognize that we are all one GIANT family of folks who connect to Holiness in our own personal ways everything gets luminous and wondrous. One should never assert that there is only ONE way to connect. The idea that anyone has to follow a tradition that doesn’t resonate for them is a little like preferring cucumbers over carrots and asserting that one is better than the other. Both are great vegetables, neither one is the ONLY TRUE VEGETABLE. Put them together with some other lovely greens and voila, we have a wonderful salad, Yippee, my favorite thing; a great salad.

My current unruly act is to go off the grid, to reject the noise, volume of information, media and violence in the world and to take some space and time to rejuvenate, reinvent and reconsider my path on this earth. I am doing this alone without my husband, my friends, my teachers or my family. I am not alone though. I journey with Hildegard, with Rabbi Zalman of Blessed memory, with Reb Nachman of Breslov, with all the angels and other beings who inhabit my life. As I cross the ocean and move into the territory I will be traversing for my coming adventure, I cannot say what will be unfolding and that is tremendous for me and those who love me.

My next actual landings will be in England, France and Ireland. Who knows what opportunities, voices, mystics, saints, and traditions will be calling me from there. It’s for sure they won’t be calling me on my cell-phone.

May you find your own path towards your inner unruly soul and may it infuse your life with great meaning, value and depth and lead you into connection with all beings and into awakened love and life.

“Holy Spirit, giving life to all life, moving all creatures, root of all things, washing them clean, wiping out their mistakes, healing their wounds, you are our true life: luminous, wonderful, awakening the heart from its ancient sleep.”

– Hildegard of Bingen

Illumination above by Hildegard of Bingen: Cultivating the Cosmic Tree
Illumination above by Hildegard of Bingen: Cultivating the Cosmic Tree