Tag Archives: retreat

Jubilee Part Six: Turning Fifty and Flowing Freely through the Tight Center of My Own Personal Hour-Glass

Me, a few years ago!
Me, a few years ago!

Jewish folks have two birthdays; our Hebrew one, linked to the sun and moon cycles as well as in alignment with our Holy Days and then the Gregorian calendar one. I was born in Paris, France fifty years ago on September 4, 1964, this is my Gregorian birthday. My Hebrew Birthday is always the 27th of Elul, two days, before the Jewish New Year. My birthday is always connected to Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year). The piece of Torah being read the week of my birth, which is MY piece of Torah is Parshat Nitzavim (Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20)

This September 4th, as I turned fifty, I was alone in a cabin that belongs to some friends. I cannot take off yet for my extended solitary Jubilee retreat. I still have one more bird to launch out of this nest of mine. I do still want and need to set the tone though for space and time by myself. On August 31st, I am getting away and spending several days by myself with the river, the solitude, the creatures and whatever prayers, practices and angels are present with me.

The front view of my Retreat Space
The front view of my Retreat Space

Several folks have asked about what I am doing or if there will be some big bash. Many folks want to celebrate my fiftieth. I appreciate all of the love and care, and the only thing I really want is time alone.  This makes it very hard for others to gift wrap. I am not trying to be difficult on purpose. What I want and need right now is just not the “usual.”

In order to navigate the territory of others wanting a celebration and my own desire to gift others, I will provide a luncheon for those who attend Rosh Hashanah/Jewish New Year services at Temple Beth El, this year. It will be the only “party” I intend to have. My friend Lauren Sarabia from Comfort of Home catering will make my birthday luncheon. The menu is Salade Nicoise, chocolate mousse and Key-Lime mousse. I will make the dressing and provide the champagne. This luncheon is sort of my final big hurrah for others. A very obvious and clear offering when and where I can announce my intentions for time off, time-out and time away while gifting folks with great food and bubbly.

The metaphor that I am using that works the best for me right now is of the shape of an hour-glass. My hands, body, being and energy have all been extending outwards and up, like the top half with all the sand in it, but as I draw near to this birthday, my energy, willingness and direction are all getting narrower and smaller and moving into the thin corridor at the exact middle point of the hour-glass. This is a hundred year “hour” glass. I hope I live to be one hundred, and there is good precedent for this in my family. Several ancestors have lived to be a hundred or older on both sides of my family.

I don’t know if I will be extending out or doing something completely different from what I have done on the other side of this narrow passage and time away. The next fifty years, on the other side of my Jubilee retreat, are mysterious unknowns. I have to go into this contracted physical space away from people and things first. As a woman who has given birth, and you don’t need to give birth to get this, contraction is a prerequisite for expansion.

Breathing in allows you to breathe out. My process of self-reflection, self-enclosure and self-return is an in-breath. Implicit in all these “selfies,” and underlying them is the need and desire to figure out how I am best supposed to serve the Divine and all of creation for the second half of my life.

I will no longer be actively parenting, I am no longer interested in working jobs that are not a reflection of my soul. If I can find a way to join my heart, skills, mind and ability to earn an income, that is the ideal. The terrain I will be navigating is going to be radically different. I want to consciously choose where and how I sail these sands. I do not believe that if I choose correctly or figure things out perfectly all money and goodness will flow my way. This is an overly simplistic and flawed view of how the universe works. Horrible stuff happens to great people, who are not doing anything wrong in any way and good stuff happens to jerks and cruel greedy folks. I do believe that my attitude and how I direct myself have impact on my present and future experiences and certainly they color how I experience what is happening in my life.

So, I am setting sail in a new direction. I am endeavoring to make this as easy as I can for those around me, those dependent on me and those who are used to having me around. I created a website for this purpose that really is an electronic version of me. The colors, the feel, the content are all me, it is a true Nicole zone and reflects my Open Heart, Open Hands policy. Even my sister, who was sure that this was impossible and resisted visiting my website initially, has agreed that it feels like me. So, while I am away, starting next summer, folks who really need a hit of me can go to www.ohohands.com or www.open-heart-open-hands.com and find me. You can go there now if you want as well. If you are reading this, online, instead of in the paper, you have already found me.

I’ve uploaded most of my cookbook with more recipes going up every week, a great deal of my past writings, from The Arcata Eye and the Mad River Union, older works, newer works and ongoing works. It’s been very exciting and truly feels like a wonderful new adventure. I have no idea where any of this will lead. I really am going “over the hill” and I have no idea what the other side looks like. I’ll still be sharing about that here. The next thing on my writing agenda will be a break in this series about my Jubilee Retreat and an exploration of the Jewish New Year and its attendant qualities that can help us during this very fraught time.

© by Nicole Barchilon Frank. This piece was originally published in the Mad River Union on September 3, 2014. It has been slightly altered and adjusted here.

Most Secret

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


So, before I disappear, my heart desires compassion.

Compassion writ large!

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


I can definitely get behind that!!!!


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



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


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