Tag Archives: sabbatical

Wild, Wondering, Wandering, Wacky, Witchy Me!

Singing to the Ocean, the Cliffs and the Wind in County Donegal, Ireland
Singing to the North Atlantic Ocean, the Cliffs and the Wind in County Donegal, Ireland. Photo courtesy of Steve Smith

Not doing, not buying, not writing, not eating, not consuming, not pushing for things to happen, not having seconds, not watching a movie, not getting up, not being quiet, not praying, not being still, not, not, naught.

I’m struggling with the nots or the knots of what my “time off” is supposed to be or look like. In the beginning I found myself responding to questions about what I am doing here with hyperbolic statements about all the books I plan to write and all the study of Torah I need to do or am doing, and the hours of prayer I am engaging in.

The reality of this time right now is actually very complex and nothing like what I anticipated. My new friend Paddy Rolleston (a local potter who comes monthly to help folks learn to work with clay) very wisely said to me, when I shared my current difficulties and self-doubts:

“What we anticipate is never what ends up happening.”

This is proving to be true. While much of my time is unfolding as I’d imagined it to or anticipated, most of it is not. The layers and strands of who I am and what is happening here is very much like the unwinding of a large spool of yarn, except I’m not some neatly woven non-sticky polyester blend on a spool. I’m this massively complex and wooly skein that has gotten all twisted and worn over the 51 years of my moving about on this planet. I am here trying to unravel myself and find the center again.

It is NOT easy. It is easy to fall back into patterns and just give up on the untying of any particular knot in this massive mess of me. So, the old, comfortable ways of being and doing is something I fall into. Then I have to unwind or climb back out  again.

I do not want to behave as I have. This is not because there is anything intrinsically wrong with who I am or how I am or have been. It is because I am trying to experience something luminous, liminal and clean.

Perhaps that is hubris and ridiculous. But, there are so many hours and moments of just that kind of time here, that I know I can actually, if I unravel some more of me, get to walk in the Divine Mist and Mystery and let the Holy One help me re-make myself.

Perhaps it is just a refinement that will be asked of me, but perhaps it is a complete transformation. The problem with going into this territory is that it is not something I can control or know. It is, by its very nature, like going into a deep pool or a misty valley that I have never had the time to just be in. It is a maze and I have a hunger, in the core of my being, that is like a fierce magnet pulling from my heart begging me to keep going.

But, it’s easier to drive into town once a week and buy the groceries I want, than it is to continue moving through the maze or unraveling this ball of yarn. I find myself not sleeping, this is not new territory. So, I move between getting up and doing some kind of project, craft or cleaning, or I play solitaire for an hour on my iPad or I read or I watch a movie on my computer. In the middle of the night I also go out for walks in the rain and wind. I sing to the stars and give thanks to the Divine for the glory of night. I write in my journal or on my blog. I eat.

I do not meditate or get still as much as I think I should, another not/ knot. Here, the biggest knot is the self-judgement. This knot is fueled by all the little comments of friends and family, like a hyper sensitive piece of microfiber cloth every tiny thing clings to me, all the little completely not harmful or intended to be harmful things that people have said or say enters me like a piercing needle.

I’m sensitive again, way beyond what I anticipated. What is scary about this is that I actually expected to be completely raw and vulnerable and cried rivers about my fear around this before leaving for retreat. I’m already way tooooooooo sensitive.

When I say I’m an Empath, it doesn’t really make sense to people, I see the fear and confusion on their faces. “That’s just Nicole beings whimsical and romantic and exaggerating again.” Some folks understand, but feeling all that I feel has always been overwhelming and something both fearful and extraordinary for me.

From a very early age I realized that how I was experiencing the world was not how others were and this made me so lonely, but also afraid. I read a lot. I always have. I resembled, as a child, and now as a woman, I still do, all the stories of the fey and the witches. I could feel and see and do things that others didn’t seem to be feeling. Besides all the literature about witch trials and all the women put away in mental institutions for the crime of being  wild and female, I am Jewish to boot. The fear of revealing who I am has been with me my entire life. Will I be put away, labeled as crazy, disregarded because I am so clearly other or seen as delusional?

Once I became a mother, these fears grew. I knew that I had to really tamp down, and hard on who I was. I needed to endeavor to look somewhat normal. It was okay to be a loud, vivacious woman. It wasn’t okay to talk about my dreams or how I feel the pain in people. It is and was okay for me to feed folks and cook for them and make soup, but it wasn’t okay to say I was weaving a spell of love and healing into every cut of my knife or stirring of my spoon. It was okay to be an environmentalist, but it wasn’t okay to lie naked on the ground and talk to the earth and cry with her and feel her heart-beat.

I talk to the stars and the blades of grass. I sing with the birds and I talk to the cows in the field. I not only hug trees but I commune with them. I feel the pain in those around me like a constant throbbing that I am dancing with at all times and searching, searching constantly for ways to ease.

No wonder I can’t sleep. So, all of this is going on and more, much, much more. In Rabbi Gershon Winkler’s book The Magic of the Ordinary, he talks about Jewish Shamanism. I am not sure I am comfortable with that term for myself. I’m searching for the right word to describe who I am, when that is, of course, an impossibility.

“Jewish Shamanism involves engaging various spirit beings, either through meditative trances or through the invocation of any variety of Sacred Names that serve to call into being specific changes in the external environment. Jewish shamanism is also about a way of thinking, a way of being in the world, a way of consciousness that perceives magic in the ordinary, miracle in the ‘natural course of events.’ Where most people will be awestruck at the sight of a passing comet, the Jewish shaman will be awestruck at the sight of a fallen leaf.” Rabbi Gershon Winkler , Magic of the Ordinary, Recovering the Shamanic in Judaism

I read this piece the other day and cried and laughed. The falling leaves have been making me cry and revel and move me beyond belief. So, when Gershon says a “Jewish Shaman will be awestruck at the sight of a fallen leaf.” I crack up, because this is EXACTLY the territory I am in right now. I don’t need to pray for five hours, every second here is a kind of prayer. As I clean my space, I am cleaning the detritus of my internal space. My body is my home, my home is my body, my body is my home, my home is my body and if you are in my home, your are in my body. This is just how it is for me.

I sometimes call myself a Wild Woman or a Jewish Witch. I’m not afraid anymore of being burned at the stake, although my memory, my soul memory, recalls those flames.  Wild Woman comes closest because it expresses my relationship to nature, my engagement with it and there is the quality of the untamed and uncontrollable or manageable to the word and world of Wildness. So, Hiney Ni/Here I am, in this rural and somewhat tame, while at the at the same time, Wildish Magic Island of Ireland.

You only have to leave a plot of earth alone for a few weeks or months for it to start to return to its wild nature. If we don’t cut the grass or plow the field or fix the cracks in the concrete or maintain the road, nature will invariably re-claim her space. Grass will grow and bugs will come and the movement of wind, water, creatures and growth will shape the landscape according to the whim or desire of the Creator. We have to constantly hew out our place here, when we are trying to control our environment.

I have no desire to control the earth. I much prefer to walk on wobbly earth, to navigate the brambles and weeds, to garden gently with the earth. And yet, I like going to the store and buying the avocados that were grown in Mexico. Did I mention,  I’m in Ireland, so to get that avocado to my cabin here, if I trace the path back, I’ve used up thousands of hours of resources, time, energy, fuel, and participated in a cycle of destruction of our planet, just because that avocado appealed to me and I wanted to make beans and rice and guacamole. That’s another one of my messy knots. I can buy the local beans and Irish rice, but I want my avocado flavor. Simple and I, moderation and I, doing less and I, just are NOT related.

Nevertheless  I am continuing to unravel and unwind here. The leaves on this tree, being whipped by the winds and the rains and the cold frost, are whittling away who I am. As the new moon of Kislev appears in my window, I call out to her cold sliver. I am moving inward, hibernating and lessening the activities, curling inward and slowing, slowing.

And, this is my Shabbat year, my Jubilee Year, my Shabbat of Shabbats and if I just roll around on the floor or want to read 300 books and ignore whatever agenda I think I need to adhere to, or someone else thinks I do, then that is what this Wild, Wacky, Witchy Woman will do or NOT do!

At a Holy Well, meditating in Awe of the wind, the water, the wide, wide Atlantic Ocean I am facing. Photo by Eddie Vega
At a Holy Well, meditating in Awe of the wind, the water, and the wide, wide fierce and cold magnificent North Atlantic Ocean that is my home water now. Photo courtesy of  Eddie Vega


Shalom Aleichem, So Long, and Fare Ye Well

My soon to be new home
My soon to be new home

I’m off to play with the wild things!

In less than two months I will leave Arcata for my great big adventure. my solo sabbatical. I’m headed to the green hills of ancient Tara, to Ireland. I’ll be staying in a hermitage cabin by myself that is part of a community dedicated to solitude, silence and communion with nature and the Divine in contemplation. They allow folks of all faiths or no specific faith to spend time in their hermitage cabins, after determining if the person applying is someone who will work for them and their process, and this wild and wacky crazy Jewish woman, somehow made the grade. The fey folk and I go way back.

So, now I am moving through the hundreds of things that have to get done before I depart for this time away. There will be no phone and no internet in my small stone cottage. I will have a bed, a desk, a wood stove, a small cooking space, a bathroom and electricity to work my computer. I’ll be cooking my own meals with food provided for me from the gardens of the land I’ll be on. I’ll be sitting quietly on moss, swimming in cold rivers or lochs, walking to the beach and exploring the green, misted and very mellow and unpopulated countryside. I’ll be praying and writing and sleeping, resting, studying Torah, meditating, playing with watercolors and sleeping more!

My soon to be view from the desk, where I will be writing, writing, writing!
My soon to be view from the desk, where I will be writing, writing, writing!

The last many years of my life, over thirty actively parenting children and years before that taking care of other people’s children and all the community work I’ve done, wherever I’ve lived, has taken a toll. I need a lonnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnng break. My tradition encourages us to attend to the Sabbath, every week, every year and every seven cycles of seven. Those of you who have followed my meanderings on these pages and perhaps also on my website/blog www.ohohands.com, know that I am in my Jubilee year. It’s time for me to get away and survive on the fruits of the last fifty years of my living and serving on this planet.

All leave-takings have an aura, a whisper of forever in them…

I am lingering in my hugs with folks. I’m weeping often. Here, at my desk, thinking about being away from my most beloved husband it is hard. As I prepare to go away from my lovely home, incredible and magnificent husband (yes, I’m repeating myself, because I am over the moon about this man, still, after 26 years) my children, community, and family, I am feeling the pain of loss. One never knows what will transpire when one goes on a sojourn away from family, community and friends. Who I am is always unfolding and changing, as it should be for all of us. I am not running away from all those I love with glee, I am clearly and consciously taking my leave of them for a time. It’s not easy or simple.

In March, in the pouring rain off of Lanphere road, as we all shivered and cried along with the sky, I led a memorial service for a local man who died suddenly in the arms of his beloved. He was in good health, had just started a new business and gotten a clean bill of health from his doctors. His children, friends, former partners and wives all were in a state of devastation and shock. There is no way to prepare for someone’s leaving in this kind of way.

As a friend of mine, who is a cardiologist, said to me upon hearing this story: “Sometimes the first sign of a problem is called sudden death.” Sudden death, is not something we get to come back from. I’m not planning on a “sudden death,” none of us are, but it can and does happen at the drop of a hat, at any moment.

In Pirkei Avot (Sayings/Teachings of the Elders) a book that compiles the wisdom of the elders of the Great Assembly, which contains sayings attributed to sages from (200 BCE) to shortly after (200 CE), it says: “Repent one day before you die.” This is a flawed English translation of very complex Hebrew. Teshuvah, which I’ve written about extensively in the past, doesn’t translate exactly as repent or repentance. Returning or reconnecting, or mending are more accurate and enriched meanings

Repentance, in and of itself, is a word with very strong connotations. I’m not opposed to the idea of repentance because it has much more meaning in Hebrew and it is an amalgam of the ideas mentioned already. Most folks in the groovy-new-age-be-mellow universe of non-adherence to responsibility or to strong ethical guidelines take issue with this idea. I’m not in that category. I believe in making amends and wrestling with wrong-doing and working hard to fix what I’ve broken or trying to get clear with someone I’ve hurt. So, I don’t mind the word repentance, but it triggers lots of people who are not religiously inclined and makes them reject, out of hand, a very important teaching.

How do any of us know which day is the day before we die?

We don’t.

Therefore, every day is the day to return to the path of goodness, wholeness, engagement with the Divine. Every day is the day to mend what we’ve broken, what we have destroyed or harmed. Every day is the day to reconnect with those we are fighting with or are distanced from. Every day is the day to say “I love you, you are precious to me.” There is no guarantee of tomorrow, there is only this moment and these hours and this opportunity for healing, connection, engagement and growth.

When we live our lives this way, we find grace and more importantly we create it.

As I say my farewells, I am endeavoring to be gracious and careful. But unfortunately I’ve messed up and been less than kind with friends, or not been as present or clear as I should have. Part of me is already gone. The Pirkei Avot teachings are the pillars in my life that make all the difference. They encourage me every day to be kind, clear and honest. So, even if I am erring, I am also continuously self-evaluating and working diligently to make things better.

Some troubles and issues are way too big or complex to fix or mend in one day.

I’ve been working on hard territory with people I love very much for long years. Teshuvah is a process, and even this longer-term kind of Teshuvah process will now have to move to another level, one that lives in my heart. All my work will be taking place beyond the mists, in a liminal, shrouded internal other place.

Part of my going away is about actively being free to engage with a completely different way of being, one that isn’t always tangible. I engage in prayer and practice every day for all those I love. It is my always practice to surround folks with light or see them laughing in joy or cuddling with a wished for companion, or resting in the wings of the healing angel Raphael. This will still be going on when I am away, but in a wholly deeper way.

Will those I love and who love me hear my prayers or know that they are being loved and cared for, even when they do not HEAR from me via email, letter, phone, or in person? If I’m not sending a care package, making soup for you or calling you to check in on you, does it mean I am no longer loving you? Of course not!

Being off the grid is something that I long for at this point. I’m crossing the ocean, and communication in physical form, will be on hold. Interactions that are coming from other realms will be ongoing and continuous for and from me. Will you hear me, when I say “I love you?” Will you feel the light, the healing and the hope curling around you? I hope so with all of my heart.

No longer engaged in giving birth or caring for children, no longer having the physical stamina to offer continuously as I have, what and how should I give to this planet, to those I love, to those in need. What is my offering as I go “over the hill?” Am I going to teach, pursue a Master’s degree in Religious Studies, or Judaism? Should I pursue becoming a rabbi? Should I open my own office of healing arts and “how to” lessons about connecting with the Divine within or “how to love” lessons? Am I supposed to write multiple books or continue to just do things as I have in the past with some modifications based on my physical reality? What really is the best way for me to serve going into the future?

I am dedicated, bound, completely and for all eternity to serving.

This is cellular for me and soul-deep. There is no reality I can imagine or want to be in where I won’t be endeavoring to find a way to serve. The question, as I age, is how to do that best? This is something I don’t have an answer for yet—and it is the ultimate reason I am venturing away from my life as it has been.

I am committed to having NO AGENDA or PLAN for my time away. I’m so done with both of those things, no “to do” lists and no forcing of myself into a space or time based on someone else’s needs. I am actively taking this brief moment of time between child-rearing and caring for elders in the coming years.

This time away is not just for me, even though it is a solitary time. This is hard for some folks to understand. My time away is about rest, yes and time away from doing, but it is also about finding out how the Holy One wants me to serve for the rest of my time on this earth.

I hope to find some of these answers in the moss, from the cool breezes, from my dreams in the ancient stone built cottage where I will be alone with just myself and the Divine. The body of my prayers in Hebrew and English and my tears, all my tears, these will be the Mishkan (sacred dwelling place created in the wilderness while the Jewish people ventured from Mitzrayim to the Holy Land). I will be creating and dwelling in this Mishkan built of my prayers, my years of working to make this happen, my kavannah (intention) and my desire. This Mishkan will also inform my process, being alone with just the Creator and the beauty of the creation around me will water the orchard in my soul. The hearth flames, the birds singing, the rolling green hills, the sound of the sea not too far off, these will be my companions and guides. I will wrap myself in my blue prayer shawl and call out to Ha-Shem and beg with all of my being for healing for this planet, for all those I love and know and for all those suffering on this spinning orb. May you feel the love for you that is in every dew drop, ray of sun, mossy knoll, and all of creation offering itself to you in every moment.

Byline is below from where this piece was originally published in the local paper where Nicole currently lives; The Mad River Union in two parts, on April 29, 2015 and May 6, 2015

~~~~~~~~~~~~~Nicole writes her last column, for a time, from her Bayside desk. She will continue to write and may post updates on her blog www.ohohands.com.  No matter where she is physically located, she sends Love, Prayers for a Refuah Shelemah (a complete healing) and lots of wishes for Shalom/Salaam/Peace your way.