The Distance

The Distance

My ancestor was named “Gentleman Jim” because not only was he one of the first to wear gloves, he was one of the first to box in a new form that had something called “the distance.”

The distance: a specified number of rounds. A stopping point, even if no one had fallen. To “go the distance” meant you had boxed all the rounds and you were still standing.

It’s my hardest lesson right now. When to stop boxing. I’ve hammered it into my very bones – my guard is up, that glove next to my cheekbone so familiar I don’t think about it now – my body knows what to do – and I love it. My gloves are a part of me. They feel like home. I feel strong; I feel ready.

But the distance is a new, scary, unfamiliar lesson… and it’s a hard one. I was not prepared for my next challenge to be… stopping.

To take the gloves off and leave the fight… go the distance, and then stop – that’s going to be the toughest fight yet.

Put down the gloves. Let down my guard. I’ve forged a soul of steel and now
softness is the scariest thing imaginable.

love – it is the only match I fear – he will still come in past my guard patiently, though my glove has stung him a few times. I don’t know how to do this anymore; I was never going to allow this again- So I slip. Feint. Even pull out the “Ali Shuffle,” then jab with a slip so I can load my uppercut, just outside his view …

but this is not how to win this kind of match.

Pause…and learn something new: perhaps this man is different. There is a good man out there, who doesn’t deserve to stand in the ring, to fight a battle and take the blows meant for a far lesser man. It’s time to stop that fight – that creep is long gone, banished with a hundred thousand hits over the course of a year, when I watched my sweat form pools drop by drop on the floor and knew it was my body’s way of weeping – knew I was washing him away in a tide of salt- I could see his weakness, his lies, his toxicity leaving me with every drop. I forgave myself for allowing him into my life- I learned to trust myself again, to trust that I would never again allow someone to treat me badly.

It’s exciting, really – it’s the one thing we can say “never” about; I will never allow someone else to treat me badly. I will never again experience that particular kind of life-wrecking pain.

As I became stronger, he became…utterly ridiculous.

Eventually, after 20lbs had been sweated away and my boxing gloves had faded, were worn and cracked with use, his face no longer swam in front of my glove as a target on the heavy bag. If he came into my mind at all, it was with surprise, and “what on earth was I thinking?”

Every time I wrapped my hands in preparation for another bout, binding my hands and arms like tefillin, I told myself I was binding my heart to my own power and locking that loser OUT. Then twenty pounds shed turned into thirty pounds; I dropped the weight of him I was carrying like a rancid crucifix across my back – left it behind in drops of sweat on the floor measured over the course of a year. Shed the way he had aged me, found joy again and youth again in new companions and new life — I stopped being a victim.

Every painful fight was a triumphant step forward.

Waiting for a good man to walk into my life, I met a few who made me realize that I had forgotten how to put down the gloves and open my arms. That I can fight may still be a good thing, however – there IS a time to fight – to ensure I will never be treated badly again…

But even so, I believe that not all men are untrustworthy. That not all men seek to control; that not all men will try to chip away at me until I am small enough for them to feel bigger – I still believe there are men out there who deserve all the love a woman can give, though I have yet to meet him, and though it’s scary, so scary, to open this heart –

I’d best accept it. Go the distance. Leave the ring. Learn what true courage is and be vulnerable sometimes, be open again; only this time, with a power that nothing can shake. This time, there is a difference. I bring more of myself when I love that self for the first time in my life – and no one can take that from me.
What I have to give I can give freely now, knowing that there is a solid core of strength in me that no one can diminish.

I don’t need to fight because I am now a warrior. It’s a paradox that comes when you’ve fought your way out the other side – the deepest strength is required for not fighting. The biggest fight any of us will ever face is : no fight at all.

My ancestor did it. He wore gloves in a world of bare-knuckle boxers; he went the distance in a world of “fight until someone is down,” though it was a new thing and I bet he came under much criticism. Perhaps his nickname “Gentleman” began as a mockery, schoolyard bullies giving him a title to wear through the ages – he turned it into fame. His courageous blood lives in my veins. I can do this.

Maggid process- Finding a Story–Letting Go

Maggid process- Finding a Story--Letting Go

With such a magnificent blaze the trees let go – I wish to burn as brightly.
Sometimes when I’m supposed to find a Maggidic story, the story finds me.
Often, it’s something I don’t really want to examine all that closely- so I might push it away for a time, but always it comes back, standing outside my door, wagging its tail,
and I have to say…all right. Come in. I’ll learn you, story, and I’ll tell you to others.
The pain that comes with the kind of clarity this requires is not small…
sometimes it involves facing things I’d rather not face, letting go of things in my life that I’d rather were “Forever,”
but when I finally sit down, let the story come fully, crack my heart open and let it really feel, there’s a cleansing that happens with the burn of loss. There’s the feeling that I am open, clear, and living absolutely fully again without blockages of things that aren’t really in alignment with my chosen expression in this life. There’s an immense feeling of power, as though my life force is no longer diluted…

but it’s hard to remember that, and hard to let go when the heart is aching with loss.

That’s when I look to the trees in the fall and winter as guides. How they celebrate the letting go–and how dignified they are when they are bare; what courage it takes to sit with emptiness for a time, to allow the barren branches to be, rather than trying to cling to the old simply so we won’t have to experience the pain of loss…
when we truly let go, and stand with open heart and bare branches, that’s when there is room for the new, beautiful, pure life to grow.

Let go…let go…let go, and feel with what radiant light you burn – glow, like the trees, with magnificent fire, and trust that something new that is good for your heart will grow where there are now empty branches.

Kol Nidre (All Vows)

Kol Nidre. “The Giving Tree” popped into my head.

I stood there under the canopy of my prayer shawl, thinking “I have not failed to keep my word to anyone;” I sifted back through the year and realized…I gave my word freely and I kept it, for a quick shot of righteousness in the arm, for a little bit of self-esteem boost that I could be a good person–at the expense of my own creative life.

If the world is that growing boy in “The Giving Tree” story, my writing is the tree. I asked that tree to give her leaves, then her branches, then her very body -and when I was left locked in silence with no more words, having drained the life of that tree with my own choices, I chipped away at her even further by berating myself as a writer.

Under the tallit, the white cloth grown luminous in front of my eyes with the light of the candles, surrounded by the achingly beautiful strains of Kol Nidre, I cried until my face was wet with a mikveh of remorse.

Then, I forgave.

Yom Kippur. pressing the reset button. Setting an intention to nurture the tree FIRST. Creative life is not a frivolous thing- it does not come last.

Letting go, now, of that image of tree and boy–letting go of that story and mindset–letting go of the stuck places, letting go of the sensory memory of being locked in silence with no words flowing–forgiving it completely.  It was a journey and a realization I had to go through in order to get here today to this fresh new beautiful blank sheet of paper on which I begin, again and yet completely anew, to set words.

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Into the Heart of Mourner’s Kaddish

In 2001, someone I loved very deeply died really suddenly. I won’t tell you his age, as he was always mortified about it, but he was very young, in his early 30’s.  I wish you had been able to grow older, mortified or not, dear heart…

I crawled into a cave, and I didn’t accept his death. I kept on with my work, and did not accept his death. I tried having other relationships but was oddly disconnected (to this day, I do not remember those relationships very much at all) and I did not accept his death. JeffreyS

Then followed ten years during which I waited for him to come home. Knowing that when he had had an impulse to talk to me, he had driven by and if the light was not on, he didn’t come in, I left the light on for years.
There were shards of broken glass in my chest for ten long years; I could not breathe too deeply without tears.
And I did not accept his death.

I had a ten-years-delayed “rebound” relationship with the man who had begun grief counseling with me, who saw the raw ugliness of my grief that I had allowed no one else in the world to see, who told me he was in love with me and jealous of a man ten years gone from this world – that relationship taught me a lot and began a process toward acceptance, and very painfully woke my heart up from its long disconnected state,

but I still felt as though I was behind sharp glass panes, utterly separate from people, in a cage of frozen grief.

Last November on the anniversary of Jeff’s death, I decided to say Mourner’s Kaddish for a year. To do something for him, when I could do nothing. To spend time with him in the only way I could. To teach myself to accept and let go.

In the beginning, I felt sheepish about breaking the “rules” — I was not saying Kaddish at the traditionally accepted time — but I knew that on a deep level I needed this if I was ever to move on and heal, and perhaps one day have a healthy relationship. At the same time I also felt a bit of resistance, as always happens when I am faced with “structured religion.”  I felt like I was fulfilling an obligation, following a rule, and that chafed somewhat.

Still, I stood up to say Mourner’s Kaddish for my friend.  Painfully, I said his name aloud for the first time into the still air of that synagogue and something inside cracked open, just a little bit.

Then, there was a lot of grief. A LOT. I said Kaddish in a whisper, unable to speak around the enormous lump in my throat; I said Kaddish with tears flowing in a bitter flood down my cheeks, dripping off my chin and spotting the prayerbook. I said Kaddish and sometimes the grief felt like it was tearing its way out of my body, and I would wrap my head in my prayer shawl in mortification to feel so out of control in the synagogue, in “public.”

But, as a wise friend (a wonderful, supportive fellow Maggid student) said to me once: “if you can’t cry in the synagogue, where CAN you cry?”

I said Kaddish with anger that I was saying Kaddish for a man who had died far too young; I said Kaddish wishing I could go back to that week and help, somehow – living through the “bargaining” stage of grief  (“If I had gone with him, he wouldn’t have tried that drug. If I had not distanced from my best friend in all the world, he would not have felt so alone…”)

I said Kaddish remembering him, with a smile on my lips; I said Kaddish thinking of his family and wondering where they were; I said Kaddish remembering the first time I saw him, in a temper, with a scowl on his face, his skin glowing darkly across the room; I said Kaddish with a small giggle inside, remembering calling my Mother to tell her, “I have met a scenic designer. He is going to be trouble for me, somehow.”
I said Kaddish, and I walked through all our too-brief days together, our lifetime together and apart. I said Kaddish with the taste of our first kiss on my lips, and with the bond in my chest that we had formed, two twenty-somethings who played together like kids, and who always assured each other they’d be married, as soon as they figured things out…as soon as he no longer turned to drugs when he was sad…as soon as….as soon as…

I said Kaddish with compassion for us both, remembering our “dates” to Costco when we were both too poor to go out, and how we laughed until we had tears rolling down our faces, hunched over helplessly giggling and making the most delicious lunch out of free samples…the plastic ring he had gotten from a bubble-gum machine and how he had put it on my finger, and how it was more precious than any jewelry I owned…

I am nine months into the process of saying Kaddish for my best friend and love, and now I realize why the tradition is to say Kaddish for a year after someone has died.

Because at some point, time has done its work; you wake up one morning and realize, saying those same words you’ve said week after week, that a changed heart is saying the same words. The words become a steadfast marker against which you can see your own growth and healing, and as you say yet again the words of Kaddish, the meaning seeps into your bones.

AT first, it’s just the rhythm that is soothing: “…Yit-barach v’yish-tabach, v’yit-pa-ar v’yit-romam v’yit-nasay, v’yit-hadar v’yit-aleh v’yit-halal sh’may d’koo-d’shah…”

It is like a mantra – a heartbeat. The sound of it on my tongue reminds me of the time when I was in Greece for the summer, living on about $15 a week, taking the afternoons to simply float in the sea.  I had met a Polish girl there, and was teaching her how to swim. We lay back in the salty water, floating high in the stillness as the salt held us up, just our ears under the water, faces to the sky…and all I could hear was the musical chime of the rocks and pebbles beneath me as the gentle rocking of the tiny waves stirred them, and faintly, underneath, my own slow, steady heartbeat and the whoosh of the flow and ebb of my own breath in my ears. The water was warm; it was the safest I have ever felt, in the womb-waters of mother earth herself.

That is the rhythm of Kaddish.  It wraps you in its timeless serene acceptance of what is – it rocks you gently, and over the months, its assurance that nothing – no one- is ever truly lost seeps into your bones.

Then, the meaning of the words began to be clear.   (A few translations will be at the end of this post.)

Mourner’s Kaddish is a song of joy –a giving of thanks —  an affirmation of life!

IMG_7067The day that new layer of meaning struck me, as I was saying Kaddish for the thirtieth, fortieth time, I gasped. I knew then that this ancient prayer was not only for Jeff’s soul, it was also for mine. I knew then that this beautiful prayer was telling me that I was not alone (how many people have said Kaddish throughout the ages?) and that I was still alive, and that I must learn

how to live again.

During this 12-month journey, I happened to experience an interpretation of Mourner’s Kaddish that is one of the most beautiful gifts I have ever received. I was in the time when I was beginning to feel a beauty and expansion in saying Kaddish; comforted by the rhythm of Kaddish – my grief had worked its splinter-sharp edges to the surface and had been worn into sea-glass by months of tears –

I was serene, aching still, but open; tender new growth had begun to soften the wounded places.  I was at a Rabbi Zalman Shabbaton in Ashland, Oregon, and the Mourner’s Kaddish that weekend was done by Rabbi Andrew Hahn, (“the Kirtan Rabbi”) – it was a kirtan Kaddish.  It was utterly beautiful. (*Is* utterly beautiful, actually: you can find and hear it online, if you don’t have the opportunity to hear it live.)

Also during a Rabbi Zalman shabbaton in the previous year, I randomly met an author, Hyla Shifra Bolsta, who had written a beautiful book: the Illuminated Kaddish.

Through Hyla’s artwork and through Rabbi Andrew Hahn’s kirtan, Kaddish opened before me; I experienced new depths in the magnificent heart of the prayer.

Kaddish is a road through the grieving process: it is a guide. It lets you listen to your own heart and know when it is time to let joy back in; it holds you up like the ocean in Greece held me, telling you, it’s okay, it’s okay, feel your grief, feel it all, you will not shatter.

And then, later: it’s okay, it’s okay, you’re alive and that is wonderful – your beloved is still alive in you.

Throughout the year, I have unravelled every stitch of what he was to me in my life: every bright glance, the funny way he blew his nose, his maddening stubbornness and his sweet, sweet voice; his breathing next to me and the sweet smell of him, that spot behind his ear that always smelled like woodsmoke and sweet meadow; his practical jokes, his quick, stormy temper, and his loyal, gentle heart…his beautiful eyes that noticed everything, and his long, sensitive fingers that sketched the things he noticed with such clarity and whimsy…

All of it has been unravelled, tiny stitch by excruciating stitch, and has been knit back up into myself, over the course of nine months saying Mourner’s Kaddish. All the moments of who we were together knit back into who I am — and suddenly, he was a part of me, not shut out by my grief. The memory of him lived and breathed in me, and I began to feel like he was with me; in my mind I would see his smile when something wonderful happened, and I would feel, suddenly, the warmth of him near. I felt as though I was living with all of my heart, as I never had before.

Surrounded by my community who let me be – who did not judge, who did not need to talk to me about my grief, who just stood with me and once in awhile squeezed my hand or put a comforting arm around me— held in this warm sea of mother earth’s lifeblood, held in the heartbeat of my community, I said Kaddish, and I finally healed.

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I finally let him go.

I finally realized that while I loved him with all my heart, that was a gift that made my heart and soul grow larger- there was infinite room in my heart to love again.

I have three months left to say Mourner’s Kaddish for my best friend and love.

I have three months in which my heart might still sting with grief, but it also – so suddenly! even in the next breath! – might be quick and bright with joy….

because during this journey of saying Kaddish for my dear friend, I learned that it is okay to stand there saying Kaddish for him and also feeling the sun on my face. That it is okay to be laughing inside at a funny thing that someone had said just moments before, or to be still feeling elevated, serene and blissful from the prayer service that had come before.  I learned that it is all okay. That I did not need to die when he died. That grief is the deal we make when we draw our first breath here: we are going to love, and we are going to lose people – and we are all going to die sometime.  We will also learn things along the way — and in a way, saying Mourner’s Kaddish for a year cycle is a distillation, a metaphor of the whole journey of a life.

It is a beautiful gift to have this tradition that allows healing and understanding to come.

One of the messages Mourner’s Kaddish held for me was a vision of my future self, who said, “Don’t use up your life refusing to mourn, refusing to let go of those who are gone. Do not carry the dead—we will all end at some point — let their deaths teach you how to live.  Mourn, so you can fully expand into the length and breadth of your days here.”

At the last comes acceptance.  It cannot come at the beginning: there is a necessary process to go through first, and Mourner’s Kaddish is a beautiful guide through that process.

Mourner’s Kaddish interpretation by Rabbi Avram Davis:

(taken from the Illuminated Kaddish by Hyla Bolsta)

Exalted and Sanctified is the name of Loving Kindness in this world.
Created according to the Intention
And may it be established in your lifetime
and the lifetime of the Community
Speedily. Soon. (Amen)

May this name of the Infinite be blessed Forever;
Blessed and Praised, Glorified and Uplifted, Honored and
Elevated.
The power of Chesed {Loving Kindness} is Greater than all
the Hymns, Prayers or Consolations
we can utter in this life.  (Amen)

May there be abundant Peace and a good life for all the community;
for ourselves and all Creation (Amen)

Mercy and Peace sustain us the far heavens,
so may it Be for us, for all the community, for all of Creation

(Amen.)

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Mourner’s Kaddish (Transliteration)

Yitgadal v’yit-kadash sh’mei rabba (Congregation – Amen)

B’allma dee v’ra chir’utei v’yamlich malchutei,

B’chayeichon, uv’yomeichon, uv’chayei d’chol beit yisrael,

Ba’agala u’vizman kariv, v’imru: Amen

(Congregation – Amen. Y’hei sh’mei rabba m’varach l’allam u’lallmei allmaya)

Y’hei sh’mei rabba m’varach l’allam u’lallmei allmaya.

Yit’barach, v’yishtabach, v’yitpa’ar,

v’yitromam, v’yit’nasei,

v’yit’hadar, v’yitaleh, v’yit’halal,

sh’mei d’kudsha b’rich hu (Congregation – b’rich hu)

L’ayla min kol b’irchata v’shirata,

tush’b’chata v’nechemata,

da’ami’ran b’all’ma, v’imru: Amen (Congregation – Amen)

Y’hei shlama rabba min sh’maya,

v’chayim aleinu v’al kol yisrael v’imru: Amen (Congregation – Amen)

Oseh shalom bim’ro’mav,

hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu,

v’al kol yisrael, v’al kol yoshvei teyvel. v’imru: Amen (Congregation – Amen)

 

Kallah: white spaces

I thought I went to Kallah in order to deepen my practice- or, rather, to connect to Judaism again.

I wanted to find again the joy I used to have in it, before my heart was shocked, frozen, contracted, tight and small in terrible pain. The innocence was gone; I could engage with my mind but simply could not silence the angry-teenager-me who fought and pushed against everything that resembled structure or control in Judaism.

It makes sense now; I did not want to be controlled. I was pushing against Judaism because I wanted to trust myself again.  I had failed to push & stand up for myself against a relationship that controlled me in a way I find horrifying to remember – so Judaism had to stand in for him, and I had to prove to myself that I valued myself enough to fight.

As much as I fought with it, I never thought to leave. I stuck with it. Somewhere under the layers of grief, loss, fear and harm, there was a hard solid core of utter loyalty to Judaism. I’m a little surprised that I did not simply walk away, considering that my first introduction to this religion began with abuse and betrayal- but I couldn’t.

Ultimately, even though my choice to become Jewish has come with some sacrifices, it was a choice that was made from a very deep soul place, a knowing that it was where I belonged.

People often ask me why? Why would I choose this? Why would I do this to myself voluntarily?

I was asked the other night if I would walk away– deny Judaism for a relationship, for a marriage. No, I said – without question, no:  I do not know who I would be if I were not Jewish. Judaism is my heart.  When I became Jewish, it was like I was given an extra piece of my soul.  Though there has been a lot of pain, I live more fully now. I am more awake.

So. I went to Kallah in order to find that again – beyond my first rabbi’s version of Judaism, beyond what he taught me and later betrayed, as though he had held every teaching over the years in one hand and set a match to it with a sly grin –

I wanted to find again the purity, clarity and magnificence of my own heart in Judaism.

And I did find that —

but I found so much more than that.

It wasn’t in the classes, though the classes  were wonderful –

When we read the torah scroll, we focus intensely on the black letters. Especially those of us who are slower in our Hebrew – those curving letters used to bring me to tears – how beautiful they were to me, and how closed! I would focus on them fiercely–Image

but sometimes, we have to remember to pull our focus back, and to see the white spaces around the black letters as well.

In the white spaces – that is where our most unexpected lessons can live.

It was in these “white spaces” at Kallah, outside of the services or classrooms, that the lessons of the heart, not the mind, came to me.

My growth was not from the teachers, though they were incredible and gave much that fascinated me – it was from the other people.

Again I am struck by the thought that one could know Torah even if one never studied it, simply by connecting to, learning from, studying other people with an open heart.

Not just the beautiful moments – the difficult ones, too. That person who frowns, looks you up and down, doesn’t respond to your smile and “good morning,” but rather, looks away with a scowl on their face — very unpleasant feeling, isn’t it ? — the impulse is to flinch away from that, laugh it off or fend off the feelings that come up — but what if, instead, one says “hmm, interesting,” and observes the feelings and thoughts that occur?

That scowling other person has just become a mini-meditation.

Now on to something more pleasant:  the beautiful moments.

The man, Jack- his surname is the name of an angel, and he is an angel to me- walks up to me in the cafeteria.  “I want to say something to you, I don’t know if you can take it in right now?”

he waits while I bring my scattered brain back from cafeteria-crowd-mode, and focus my eyes and attention on him.

“Sitting next to you last night at the concert – was a wonderful experience. You are so beautiful, loving, and kind. It was a gift to me.”

“what a loving thing to say,” I tell him quietly, smiling into his sweet eyes and laying my hand on his arm.

“It is what you are to me.”

The woman in my chanting class who walks up to me before class begins.

“I want to tell you that you are beautiful, and that I love you,” she says, putting her arms around me gently.

My “spirit buddy,” Matthew, who listens to my hurt one morning and then quietly gives me this gift:

“You were not at the cabaret the other day?”

“No.”

“There was a woman who said: ‘Why am I always early?  Is it because maybe on some level I don’t think I am worth waiting for?”

When someone looks into your eyes and gently hands you a piece of your own puzzle, not because they want something from you, but because they have the desire to give –

that is pretty much the deepest healing.

And so, yes, I did connect to Judaism again. It wasn’t what I was looking for: I will never go back to that initial infatuation, that Maxfield Parrish painting of innocence and magic;

It is better than that. I hung by my fingernails through the barren time, and now I am rewarded – this has deepened into a journey of love. Love that I can trust now, absolutely – love that has given me something I never yet possessed – the ability to look into someone’s eyes and take in the kindness that they are giving.  I always feared that, fended it off.

In fact, I believe that was the one lesson that I could not learn from my former rabbi:

“Can you hear me?” he would say , “I love you. Can you really try to hear that?” he must have said this a hundred times – a thousand. “I never said ‘I love you’ so much in my life.” maybe that was what I was for him – he learned to love.

I could not hear him.  I could love, with all that I was; I could love with every scrap of my being – but I could not be loved.

And so, the deepest lessons from Kallah were not taught to me in a classroom — they were taught in a cafeteria, at the lakeside, and in a “spirit buddy” meeting, or talking to someone else during a service. They were given lightly and easily, with no embarrassment or stories around them, with no need for response or measuring up.

I wonder if these people have any idea that they were soul-teachers to me. Sometimes, i guess, we are blessed to give someone a piece of their own puzzle–but maybe we never even get to know what we gave & how we transformed their lives.  And that is okay… because the healing has been seeded, and it’s going to spread like a mint plant…may I one day have the opportunity to give this kind of healing to someone else.

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To Build a Fire

“You attract to yourself what you give your attention and energy to, whether wanted or unwanted.” – Abraham Hicks

Re-evaluating the focus.

Are you focusing more on complaints or negative things that are out of your control, than you are on gratitude for the good things that are present, and the things you want in your life?

It takes a minor shift to re-focus the lenses and give no more energy to people or things that are draining.

Toxicity in my environment (neighbor burning wood smoke night and day) VS. doing what I can to stay healthy by nurturing my body with clean, nutritious, organic, whole foods.

People who are in psychic pain of some kind and choose unkindness VS. the many people in my life, home and community who are loving…my friends who make me laugh…

“Shoulds,” and More Societally Acceptable 9-5 jobs VS. Creating my own unique and incredible livelihood…

I know which I would choose to focus on, every time.  But when you let the toxic or negative things build up, it’s easy to get into reactive mode and let your mind churn away on little mean, petty things that unhealthy people say or do, out of their own pain.  Sometimes we go over and over the harms like we’re sliding prayer beads through our fingers… what if we shifted that, and replaced all those bad things with affirmations? What if we stopped trying to control others (which is part of what hanging on to perceived wrongs is all about) and started practicing radical self-care?

Let it all go, now…that is not your burden to carry.  Do what you can to clear it out. Take a walk, and breathe it out to the trees. Release it.  Do a mikveh… meditate…

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Climb into your dirigible, sail above it all, and let your imagination soar.

Worry is just negative daydreaming.  Sometimes it seems like adults have forgotten how to daydream…

What about practicing that again?  No rules, no limits, no self-editing – your beautiful daydream is waiting for you to open the door, come outside and play.

There will *always* be people who choose to remain safe, and there will always be people who try to tie everyone around them down to their grey vision of plodding, “should”-oriented life.  There will always be critical people – but one does not have to focus on these things. One does not have to try to please.

For heaven’s sake!  Shake them off!

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did so. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”  – Mark Twain

I remember when I began to (naïvely) tell people that Juilliard was my dream school.
“Better have a billion backup choices.” “No one *ever* gets in there.” “Why would you want that? You’d be better off doing something practical.”

I said I was going to get in, and I got in.

Doesn’t matter that my passion and drive shifted. Doesn’t matter that I am not focusing on acting right now– I use the things I learned at that incredible school every single day. (Alexander in boxing, you’d better believe it 😉

If you have a dream, don’t focus on the ones who want to chip away at it (even if – *especially* if- they are coming from a caring place, wanting to protect you from the hurt they’ve experienced. The fears, worries, concerns and attempts to stifle you, encourage you to dream smaller…all that is about them, not you.)

Focus on the dream. Focus on the desire. Focus on working toward it every day. Just a little every single day.

Do one thing every day that will bring you closer to, or hone your skills for, your dream- whatever it is you dream you can do. Begin it…and don’t stop.

That’s the secret… hone your body, mind and spirit; nurture your heart, and keep going.

This is a note to self.  I’m pretty hard on myself in this arena, and I’m learning positive ways to re-frame the self-talk, through my life coaching (life-saving!) program.  I’m learning to temper the inner Boxing Coach voice with much compassion and love…and I’m grateful for that Celtic fire in my heart that doesn’t give up.

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Ha Makom (the Place),OR Gladiator and Lion

The way others treat you is not a reflection of you; it is a reflection of them.

These are tough words to remember sometimes.

In Judaism, we have 72 different names of God.  I like to explain it like this: our human minds are too small to hold, all at once, in tangible form, the concept of God as everything inside and out. So these names are different images we can hold in our minds, to work on one aspect of God at a time, depending on what we need at that moment. Ha Makom is one of these names; it means simply “The Place.” If God is in the place where I am standing, if I am aware of that with every breath, would I treat others differently? If others thought more about “Ha Makom,” would they make a different choice?

It’s been almost a year since he left: the very persuasive, persistent, deceitful, adorable, wonderful-but-awful, manipulative, completely self-absorbed, gentle, sweet, complicated and fascinating must-have-his-way man who was like a tsunami in my heart and life. Almost a year; I have been fighting a really tough battle to heal the post traumatic stress disorder that his abrupt departure caused…

a year in which there have been people who felt they needed to be cruel.  On top of the pain and confusion of his illness and leaving; on top of the deep psychic wounds that left my body shaking every day, shaking like I had an earthquake inside, for over six months.

It’s hard to describe the experience of ptsd.  It is humbling. You think you are fine – you go to pick up your coffee in a staff meeting and your hand is shaking so violently, you immediately snatch it back and hide it in your lap, clench it with the other hand, try to calm your breath.  There is a shaking inside, which (ironically enough) was my love’s burden daily as well from his own illness.

This shaking was a daily reminder of him.

So were the tears that would come without warning. I began to call them “Miriam’s Well,” a well I would carry with me everywhere – I began to see them as a healing mikveh, (ritual bath) so I could step away from the secondary emotions that came along with them: shame, fear, despair of ever healing and being whole again.

Once I distanced from/ simply observed my reactions to the symptoms, that is when the healing began, very gradually. I wasn’t judging myself any more- my Self was grateful for that small mercy.

But I was still under attack both from people I used to think I knew, and people I didn’t know at all, but met with him on occasion after our “engagement.” People who were his friends.

He called me best friend, love of his life, his greatest teacher, his deepest blessing; he called me an angel, his wise raven, his beshert and his reason for living, and yet these friends of his had a hunger to tear me to pieces with their claws and teeth, one angry, vicious bite at a time.  I asked him to tell them our story, so they didn’t have to rely so much on their assumptions or on gossip – but he was a person who liked to hide. He did not like to talk about himself or share anything personal. I think that trait of his, his dishonesty and distrust of others, is what eventually led to the legacy he left me with: the lions in my gladiator’s arena.

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I was a broken thing, and I was under siege.

It’s a hard thing when you are not well, when you are grieving, and when you are asked to bear even more.

I never found out why these people decided they needed to be cruel.  For a long time, I kept asking myself “why?” “Why would a person try to actively harm someone who has so much grief and harm to bear already?”

I asked the questions over and over, until I learned that wasn’t a healthy way to live. There will never be answers to the question “why”.

Hypocrisy seemed to be everywhere I looked.

But then I learned to focus on the kind people; on my angels.  Thank God for them – the good people, the ones with integrity.  Because of them, my spirit did not break; because of them, I did not lose my faith.

I have healed now, and I am beginning to process this into a novel. I feel I have actually become even stronger and more whole than I was before I met him.  And yet these people are still carrying their hatred. It is a year since he’s been gone, and they actively pour their energy into showing me how much they hate.  I do not understand why, and it makes me sad for them.

I took a friend to see 42. It was such a lovely night with this person I have known for over a decade and haven’t seen in a long time; catching up over a small meal, going to the movie screening which felt old-fashioned somehow and really lovely; connecting with him was connecting with my old life, the innocent and happy life of theater… (incidentally, how very odd that the most I have ever experienced dysfunction, cruelty, hypocrisy and pain is inside the synagogue? Are artists just healthier because they express things and explore the shadow side all the time? Are people drawn to the synagogue in deeper need of healing, or are they more apt to hide and shame their shadow-selves? I am writing this here as a side-note to think about later.)

All was really lovely and sweet: The popcorn, the joking of the audience, the speeches beforehand and the haimish feeling that abounded.

And then afterward, there was a nasty little thing that threatened to put a damper on the whole lovely night (if I let my mind dwell on it, which I did not):

the man glaring…actively, malevolently. This person I used to know. This person about whom people have said “he wouldn’t behave that way. You might be reading into it.”

(Really? How many times can someone scowl, glare, and look at you as though they are seeing a murderer, before it’s not “all in your head”?)

his wife in the bathroom, stuttering out “I have to go,” and ending her conversation quickly so she could get out  after I walk in.  These were people I used to know and be very friendly with.

Myself, defiantly, angrily, putting on lipstick and looking into my own eyes in the mirror.

Eyes that had no tears, this time. Eyes that have seen enough unkindness, thank you very much.

There is no one on this earth I would treat the way these people are treating me.

I have done nothing to harm them or theirs…

That night their behavior did not break or harm me; it hurt, which developed into anger.

Anger and defiance.

I have been through enough.

But I refuse to carry the anger.  I am going to try to understand, because I refuse to be like them. I am struggling to find a spiritual way to encounter this kind of cruelty, and all I can think of is that somewhere in myself I have to find compassion. They are behaving this way out of some kind of pain, and that pain leads them to find an object to blame other than themselves. I am convenient; they don’t have to know me as a person, so they don’t have to worry about how their behavior might harm. They don’t have to be understanding or see anything from my point of view or care. If they are able to think of me as a thing, not a person, they can safely put a lot of cruel, nasty behavior on me and not even think twice about it.

What bugs me is this: these people go to the synagogue regularly, for more years than I have been alive. They do all the synagogue functions. HOW can they not have learned by now about compassion and loving kindness?

how?

All these years at the synagogue, and they see a young(ish) woman, 21 years younger than the man who pursued her, and they blame HER? and continue to do so a year later?

how?

Are the clergy not doing their job, or are the people not learning? How can Judaism address this … lack of bridge?

He used to talk about this, my ex-rabbi.  He said “It was my biggest struggle for 20 years.”  that people bring their synagogue-face in on saturday mornings, nod and smile and sigh about lovingkindness, forgiveness and compassion, and then step right outside even into the oneg (I had this happen to me) and turn around and yell at someone “You are not welcome here.” Many simply do not live their lives as though God is where they are standing at any time, all the time.
God, for them, seems to be received passively in a seat in a temple.

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How does one teach people that God is a verb?  That God is a way of walking in the world, and that this is why we have lessons come to us?  Things don’t “happen TO us,”  just to be reacted to and endured and then forgotten – every thing that unfolds in our lives is an invitation to be an active participant in the growth of our own souls. By examining, by learning, by making a different choice next time we have an opportunity to be either unkind or kind, thought-full or thought-less.

That person, incidentally, who yelled at me in the Temple — I would never treat him the way these people are treating me. The person who screamed at me and roughly grabbed my arm – I would stay away from him for safety’s sake, but I would never glare or actively seek to show him unkindness.

I searched my heart and found compassion for mental illness, psychic distress,  and pain.

SO.

The way others treat you is a reflection of them, and only of them.  You did not “earn” either kindness or unkindness.

The way you treat others is a reflection of you. You can improve that reflection at any time! We spend so long trying to improve the reflection we see in the mirror… we spend so much money and time on facial creams, blemish removal… what if we spent even a fraction of that time trying to improve the reflection of our soul in the way we treat others?

I wish I could teach this to the teens who are being bullied, who despair and want to end their precious lives as a way to escape.  I wish I could teach this to every person who ever felt the sting of someone else’s blaming, judging, or cruelty.

I was in Boston once, about to attend a summer session at rabbinical school; I had just arrived from a drive across the country and was exhausted. At that time, I wore my kippah all the time… there was a bus of young school kids pulling out of a parking lot.  This beautiful little African-American girl stuck her head out the window and yelled “Fucking JEW!”  She said “Jew” as though it were a curse.

It was a shock, but my compassion was immediate, because she was so young, her sweet face all twisted up.  I thought: is that face twisted up in pain? in agony, in anger? My immediate thought was, “Where did she learn that hatred?” and “How many names has she been called in school, that little one?”

What if my compassion could be that immediate with these people, even though they are not young?  Part of my anger-response comes, I think, because of their age (in their 70’s.)  I feel they should “know better.”  Well. That is my own judgment coming in.  If I were aware of “Ha Makom,” God being present in me in that moment, perhaps my compassion would come faster.

If I could, this is what I would teach those who bully – and I find as I write it that it is a lesson I need to teach myself, daily:

Ha Makom is a name for God meaning “The place.”  God is in the place where you are standing.  God is not to be found in a synagogue or church : God is where you are standing, sitting, waking, dreaming: all the time. (and yes, in Judaism we even have a blessing for after going to the toilet. That is holy too- the workings of the body are miraculous.)

Bring your shadow-self, bring your light, bring ALL of you to prayer or meditation, because it is only when you bring your entire being, that you will soften and learn compassion for yourself and others. If you hide the part of you that feels it has to glare with hatred at a young(ish) woman whose story you don’t know, you will not be acknowledging that part; it will be shoved down, hidden, and thus will never be softened.  Bring that, too.  Bring it to God – here and now! Ha Makom! – and say “Here it is. This is also me.”  Breathe into those dark places with compassion –and you will find God in those places.  Those dark places will soften with your acceptance, just as my healing began when I stopped shaming and judging my own tears and shaking body.  You will heal, then.

You will no longer need to be cruel any more.

I stand there wondering how to meet these pettinesses, these cruelties, with kindness…and I find that my response is coming out of MY shadow-self.  The self who says “how can you go to temple and behave like this?” the self that is judging. the self that is puritanical and preachy. The self, in fact, that is just like these people in that cruel moment. Just like them.

And I have to laugh.

This year has been my gladiator’s arena. I chose to stay here; I fought hard to stay. I chose to live my life in this place that was toxic, where I was treated like Hester Prynne and I so longed to be given a chance to speak my heart –

but I was never given a chance, because people do not want their scapegoat to have a voice.

They don’t want that tied up goat to have a story. They want it to be an object that can carry all of their darkness, so they don’t have to sit with it.

And living in this perfectly imperfect place, I was given so many lessons, so many tests.

I have learned so much.

Ha Makom – the place where I am standing, here is God. Here is my synagogue. If I take care of my own synagogue and make sure I am behaving in alignment with my core values, make sure I am acting in integrity, it doesn’t matter how other people choose to treat me, or what they choose to believe about me. I know my synagogue is a holy place, a beautiful place.

In my personal “temple” or “ha makom,” the place I am standing, I would never treat someone unkindly or glare at them or snub them; I simply don’t behave that way.  Now I am learning I can go one step further and not judge them for their behavior. I can take out the pain-response and simply breathe to myself “Ha Makom,” when they are cruel.   I am grateful for this arena in which I have learned to fight by not fighting: by simply growing larger in my heart and more compassionate.

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The gladiator can observe the lion, set down her weapon and focus on her own power to choose.

one stone at a time

There was always a first stone – even when they built Stonehenge.  There was a time when that was just a vision, a dream.

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There was a time not too long ago when I was still hampered by my spinal injury, and could not even drive for fifteen minutes without my arm going numb.

There was a time relatively recently when I lived with such confusion and pain, caught up in someone else’s story, that I rarely left my house.

First stone: I laid the first stone of my new, beautiful life when I found my counselor.  I went through the proper channels, filled out the necessary paperwork, went through meetings and screenings, and it was all very very hard because I was shaking with ptsd and crying.

it is harder when you are ill to do the things you need to do in order to get better. it is SO hard.

But one small tiny step at a time. keep moving forward. keep going.

I found a counselor who helped me on the very first day I met her.  Everything I went through was worth that first day, when hope came back ; when the realization came that there was nothing “wrong” with me, that I would heal, and that when I healed, I would be stronger and more compassion-filled; that I would be a force to be reckoned with.

I’m standing here today and affirming: It is true. I am a force. Nearly a year after my world was shattered, I am stronger and more empowered than I have ever been in my life.

*Because* of what I have been through – my self esteem is growing, my joie de vivre is back, and the rioting blossoms of spring have entered my soul.

you can look toward a day when you will be whole.

hold on to that. believe it.

I have a “tribe” of women now with whom I am going through a six month journey of amazing discovery and growth.  I went on a retreat in february to the beautiful mountains, stayed in a sweet little cabin and had classes in a little river yurt, ate wholesome organic meals and stood in the snow around a bonfire that reminded me of my own heart, so beautifully it burned and danced with sparks under the moon…

and from that time, my life just… exploded.

with adventure, with wonderful projects, with friends and romance, too.

I didn’t think I would ever feel *that* again, the excitement of being a young-ish woman meeting someone attractive and kind and getting to know him…

I thought my heart was destroyed.

What a resilient thing a heart is… it was not destroyed ; it was opened.
I can see with compassion now, not anger;  I have so much love for the one who brought me these tough lessons – but healthy love – I am no longer IN that story; it no longer is my life. I have such gratitude to be through that mitzrayim, that narrow, narrow place of the soul…

I am in a time of great expansion, and it is so exciting.

I’m on the other side, and I want to lay out a trail of words to tell others how to cross, if they are in narrow, trapped places in their own lives.

it starts small, but with great courage. Make a small change, and stick to it -even if it is a counseling appointment once a week – begin it. Whatever it is that your health requires – and we ALL have something that could make us healthier – implement it today; start with one small thing.

meditation practice – come on, everyone has five minutes.

the voice that comes up telling you “I don’t have time,” is just trying to keep you in old habits.  When we make change, we are always going to have to fight against that part of us that would rather remain in status quo, even if that is an unhealthy place to be.

I do not believe we are here to be as comfortable as possible until we die…

it will be uncomfortable to challenge your old mindsets or habits or patterns…but if you allow the discomfort and just sit with it, don’t react to it – just acknowledge it – you will grow. Your life will open up.

it’s amazing, when you clear away the things that no longer serve you,

when you sit there with the emptiness for a time (it was painful but I kept breathing through it. I reminded myself …allow the emptiness…get through your times of grief by knowing that is your psyche healing – ride those waves of sorrow out like you have food poisoning, or are giving birth-)

when you have the courage to make peace with discomfort and emptiness,

it makes room for beauty you never even imagined possible to come into your life.

it comes because you called it there. It comes because you are raising yourself and your life higher; you have set your intention and defined what you want; you are no longer just allowing whatever to come in and living your life in *reaction* to what happens to you-

you are now creating.

and WOW, is it fun!

No matter where you are in this process, you can begin creating your life.

one stone at a time – hold in your head the image of the beautiful structure you are building – (do you think people began Notre Dame Cathedral with complete confidence and certainty? No way. but they began it. and they kept going.)

build.

One stone might be: get specific about the kinds of friends you want in your life. if old relationships are no longer in alignment with who you want to be in the world,

define your tribe.

another stone of mine was : boxing classes. begin to do something you love, even if it’s really, really really really tough at first. keep going.

I thought I’d never box again; now I am going several times a week, sometimes several classes in a day. my strength is coming back *really* fast, as though my body was just waiting for me to figure out that I could trust it again, that I could give it a challenge.

another stone: just allow. make room and allow – act like your life is one big theater improv game – when things come in that your insides say YES to, say yes! go to see that play with that friend you haven’t seen in many years. Go to that class; learn that thing you’ve always wanted to try.  Take out all of the things you say “someday” about, and make them TODAY.

And it all begins and continues with gratitude – before you go to sleep, recognize the new and incredible things that came to you that day (even if they are tiny at first, celebrate and recognize them!) … when you are grateful for what comes, you will soon find that there is an abundance of that kind of magic, just waiting to pour into your life.  It was there all along, maybe , waiting for you to ask for it – waiting for you to grow big enough to see it.

What fun this is being…building my own personal stonehenge, one beautiful rock at a time.

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just carry a pebble.

So…on with the theme of “what you focus on grows,”

It takes a tiny – minuscule- shift in thinking for huge changes to occur. HUGE!pushing-boulder

I’m reminded of a story I was once told about an enormous boulder blocking the main road.  There were all kinds of people walking along this road, as everyone had to go this way… Some people saw the boulder blocking their path, and sat down by the side of the road and cried. They gave up.  Others jumped to blame- they cursed the King for not keeping the roads clear, they cursed the other people who crowded behind them as the road grew more and more congested…they cursed everything they could think of to curse, and felt only angrier and more miserable.  Still others fell into co-dependent-ville, and ran around trying to make sure everyone else was okay with the boulder.  Some were artists, and the boulder became their inspiration …they put on plays in which The Boulder featured symbolically, they painted it, they sang about it, they danced in front of it; and the Maggidim, of course, wrote and told stories about it. (wink wink, nudge nudge.)

Finally, the King, who was actually a woman  (she didn’t want to be Queen as that was boring, so she was King)  solved the problem.

“Hey everyone,” she said, in her most royal manner, “here is a chisel for each of you. Take one small pebble from the boulder, and carry it with you to remind you of the choice you made when you found this boulder in your path.”

So, each person took a small pebble.  Soon, there was no boulder left, and the people continued on their way, each carrying a small pebble in their pocket.

What is your quickest reaction when there is a boulder in your path?

If you had a pebble in your pocket to remind you of that reaction, would you pause and make a different choice next time?

Deep stuff, Rivkah…so deep…

So, here’s the thing.  I have been really ill, and, I have to admit it, GROUCHY as hell.

I’ve had interactions that in the past would have led me to jump into reacting with anger or snappiness; but since I’ve been doing all of this coaching work and life work and learning work and Maggid work and counseling work,

I’ve realized that it is possible to pause, breathe, distance, and then respond from a centered place, rather than the usual easy quick reaction.

Your quickest reactions are coming from your five-year-old self who still lives inside you! That is when our conditioned responses are formed – “conditioned response” is just a fancy phrase to describe each of our individual reactions, the ones we don’t think about.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to let a five year old make my decisions.  She isn’t thinking; she’s just in a feeling/reacting place…but those reactions are choices, too.  So with a small pause and a breath, I calm down that five year old, and make a decision from my adult self, who has learned that kindness is always a better choice, no matter how someone else might be behaving.

And guess what?  This small change in the way I walk in the world has made huge changes in my life.  The boulder is cleared from my path (see what I did thar…oh there you are, metaphor!), and I’m striding freely and confidently down the road.

But I am not perfect; I still fall into reaction, especially when I am tired or hungry or not feeling well…but I don’t want to beat myself up. If I tried to change everything all at once, I would get overwhelmed, and I would give up and go back to habit, which is comfortable even if it’s not serving me any more.

That’s what the pebble is for.  Just carry a small pebble with you- don’t try to tackle the whole boulder.  One tiny change in your life can clear the entire road.

Join me next week as I discuss the art of stretching a metaphor until it goes “Eep!” like a small furry animal.  

Be a Lion

Nobody else really knows how brave you are being, how courageous you are.


They’re not going to give you credit, because they may see a confident, serene face, a strong voice…They see your light; they don’t know your shadow.  No one has any idea what a battle you fought just to get out of your door this morning.
So give that to yourself. Look in the mirror when you’re brushing your teeth; tell that person in front of you “You are so brave. You are so amazing.”

Give yourself the things you’ve been looking for everyone else to give you. Give yourself credit. Give yourself love, compassion, honesty, loyalty.

Don’t wait for someone else to give you the things that will feed your brave, bright spirit.