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The Ouroboros Year

The autumn Jewish holidays will end this week with the days of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. The soul searching that began during the month of Elul will culminate in the joyous abandon of Simchat Torah. 

The seven day festival of Sukkot ends today (Sunday October 20). As the sun sets this evening we mark the beginning of Shemini Atzeret. Literally, the name means stopping on the 8th day. While Shemini Atzeret has no customs of it’s own, it is, nevertheless a holy day. It is a day for dwelling with G-d. You know how when someone you love comes to visit? Sometimes when it’s time for them to leave you are having such a wonderful time and you don’t want them to go. So, you ask them to stay for another day. That’s Shemini Atzeret. We have had this month almost two month time of introspection and deepening our relationship with G-d. Now it’s time to leave. But G-d wants to spend one more day with us before sending us back to our ordinary lives. So, we spend this day with G-d. Just dwelling. In relationship. Deepening. 

Immediately as the sun begins to set on Shemini Atzeret we begin the final of the autumn holidays- Simchat Torah. This is a day of joy and rejoicing in the Torah. The Jewish scriptures, the five books of Moses, are central to our daily lives. We read the complete Torah each year- a new portion each week. We  study the weekly portion, read it aloud in synagogue services, and apply what we learn to our lives. Simchat Torah marks the end of the cycle. We read the end of Deuteronomy 34 and immediately begin again with Genesis 1. By looping from the end to the beginning we remember that the Torah is a cycle- it has no beginning or ending. The festival is also marked with dancing and parading with Torah scrolls. 

From the 1st of Elul until the sun sets on Simchat Torah, we have spent 52 days with G-d. For the past 52 days we have looked inside ourselves, questioned our motives, renewed our relationships, and embarked on a new year of Torah study. May the new year of 5780 be a reflection of the work from the past 52 days.

 

Sukkot and Ancestor Veneration

Now that we have passed the High Holidays and the Days of Awe, we are embarking upon another 7 day Jewish festival- the harvest festival Sukkot. Sukkot begins on the 15th day of the month of Tishrei- at the time of the full moon. Sukkot is a time to build huts and decorate them with fruits. It’s the time we dwell in these huts to remind ourselves of our agrarian roots and the temporary nature of the dwellings we lived in in the desert after the Exodus. 

Sukkot is so much more than this, however. It is also the time to venerate our ancestors. Just like the Celtic Samhain and the Mexican Day of the Dead, Sukkot is a time to honor and remember our ancestors. Building a sukkah and engaging in everyday activities within it is not enough. We also welcome ushpizin or guests, into our sukkah. Those guests are friends and relatives, but also, our ancestors.

Traditionally speaking we invite one of the seven patriarchs and matriarchs to dine with us each night of the festival. It is often common to also welcome our own ancestors to dwell with us as well. In order to welcome the ancestors it is customary to decorate the walls of the sukkah with photographs and other objects. We also place empty chairs for the spiritual ushpizin to sit in. Special prayers and blessings are recited for welcoming the souls of our departed ushpizin. When we decorate the sukkah and welcome our spiritual guests, we are basically building an ancestor altar (although modern Judaism would not even be aware of this). 

The custom of welcoming guests into our sukkah goes all the way back to our patriarch Abraham. It is well known that he would sit in his tent and welcome guests. His tent is said to have been open on all sides so that he could see travelers from whatever direction they came. When Abraham saw a traveler, that person would become his guest for a welcoming meal and respite from the road. 

Let us be like Abraham and make this Sukkot a lovely time of welcoming our ancestors as guests. They have been travelling a long and hard road after their passing. Let us welcome them into the cool shade of our sukkah for rest and a meal.  

Yom Kippur- A Day of Perfect Balance

Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement. It is the holiest day of the year in the Jewish calendar. It is the crown jewel of the High Holy Days. Yom Kippur is a day of personal and communal reflection. This year (2019), Yom Kippur begins at sundown on Tuesday October 8 and ends at sundown on Wednesday October 9. 

Like Rosh HaShanah 10 days earlier, the central themes of Yom Kippur are teshuva (turning from wrong) and repentance. Both holy days along with the time in between is a magical time of restoring order and balance to our lives. It is no wonder that Yom Kippur falls during the month ruled by Libra. Traditionally speaking, this is the day when G-d weighs our souls in the balance and determines our fate for the year. It is a solemn time, yes, but it is also a joyous time. If we properly prepare ourselves and observe the day,we will merit favor for another year. 

If done correctly, Yom Kippur is the conclusion of 40 days of soulful reflection. The month of Elul (the month preceding Tishrei when the High Holy Days occur) is a month of introspection and reflection. This is intensified on Rosh HaShanah when we come together as a community and publicly for prayer and introspection. Ten days later on Yom Kippur we come together once more for a final day of admitting our wrongdoings and seeking forgiveness. On this day, after 40 days of reflection, we again find balance in our lives. Our wrongs from the previous year break us, but on Yom Kippur we are able to be merged together again in wholeness. 

 

The Symbolism of Rosh Hashanah

Tonight marks the beginning of Rosh HaShanah. Known as the Jewish new year, the words literally translate to “head of the year.” Tonight we will flip our Hebrew calendars from 5779 to 5780. As we celebrate this holiday we undertake a number of symbolic rituals, prayers, and foods. 

Head of the Year

New moon. New month. New year. Rosh HaShanah is all this and more. The significance of the name “head of the year” is not without meaning. Like the head of our body, the head of the year directs everything else. Our year is determined by Rosh HaShanah. If we have a healthy and symbolic head of the year, the remainder of the year will fall into place. If, on the other hand, we don’t then we risk the remainder of the year not being up to where we want it to be. 

Crowning G-d King

During the Rosh HaShanah liturgy we hear about and pray for the coming messianic age. It doesn’t matter whether you view this as a time of a literal messiah or an age of perfection. We all yearn for the time when creation and humanity will be in harmony. We view Rosh HaShanah as a time to crown G-d as king. It is a time when our hope in the goodness of humanity is restored. 

Creation of Adam & Eve

Rosh HaShanah has been said to be the birthday of the world- the day of creation. In reality, the earth was created six days ago, and humans were created on this day. Why the distinction? The creation of earth is wonderful and nice, but it doesn’t mean much if there are no people here to enjoy it. The Divine- in all glory- created man and woman in it’s image. With the creation of humanity we find meaning in the creation of the earth. 

Apples & Honey

One of the traditions related to Rosh HaShanah is to eat apples dipped in honey. The reason behind this is to set the intention for a good sweet new year. This is also the reason our challah is raisin studded for the holiday. Lots of sweet fruits are eaten to bring in a sweet new year. 

Tashlich

On the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah tashlich is observed. This ritual is performed by going to a body of water and throwing our “sins” away as we toss bread crumbs into the water. This is a symbolic ritual only. We are not literally throwing our sins away, and atonement does not come from the ritual. The symbolic act takes place through reading passages from Psalms and the prophet Micah (remembering that G-d will cast our sins into the depths of the sea) and tossing the bread as a symbol of our sins. This is one of my favorite Rosh HaShanah rituals. You can read more about it here

Shofar

The central commandment of Rosh HaShanah is to hear the Shofar blowing. If you can’t make it to services or don’t want to participate in any other rituals, this is the one to do. Hearing the blast of the ram’s horn is rather haunting. It is a shout of jubilation, a cry out to G-d, and a war cry. Despite all it’s usages, the sound is haunting. It stirs something deep within the soul. You feel it in your kishkes. The reasoning behind the command for a shofar is unclear (you can read about it here), but to be sure, this is the one thing you don’t want to miss. Want to hear it yourself? Take a listen below. 

 

Easy Mabon Feast

The wheel is turning again. Mabon has arrived. The days are getting shorter and the weather is cooler. It’s the perfect time for a harvest feast. Here are a few of my favorite easy Mabon recipes. Enjoy!

Butternut Squash Soup

  • 1 large squash, cubed
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 7 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • Fresh thyme (optional) for garnish

Combine all ingredients except cream in large soup pot. Bring to boil. Cover and simmer for 35 minutes. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until silky smooth. Add the heavy cream and bring to a simmer. Ladle into soup bowls and garnish with thyme if desired. 

Harvest Pot Roast

  • 6 slices beef bacon
  • 3 pounds cubed root vegetables of choice
  • Salt and pepper
  • Dried rosemary to taste
  • 3 pound venison roast
  • 1 ½ cups beef broth
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste

Place bacon slices in bottom of slow cooker. Mix root vegetables over bacon. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and rosemary. Place venison on top of vegetables. Add remaining rosemary. Combine beef broth and tomato paste and pour over roast. Cover and cook on low for 9 hours. 

Apple Crisp

  • 10 cups apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon and 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 cup quick-cook oats
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ cup butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the apples in a 9×13 baking dish. Mix the sugar, 1 tablespoon flour, and cinnamon. Sprinkle over apples. Pour water over apples. Combine remaining ingredients. Crumble evenly over apple mixture. Bake for 45 minutes. 

 

Physical Benefits of Meditation

Most people who are even slightly familiar with meditation are aware of the many mental benefits with the practice. From increased focus to decreased anxiety, the list of mental benefits is quite long. Did you know, that there are physical benefits to meditation as well? Science is proving that a mindfulness practice is quite beneficial to our physical health.

The Search for World Peace

Once there was a teacher who had two students. The teacher instructed his students to go home and draw a picture of peace. The next day both students came back with their pictures. The first student had drawn a pastoral mountain scene. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, and the stream was meandering undisturbed. The teacher thanked the student for his picture. The second student handed her picture to the teacher. This student had drawn a completely different scene than the first student. Her picture was dark and stormy. There were dark clouds and lightning bolts, and the wind was whipping through the trees. However, on one branch of a tree was a bird calmly sitting in her nest. The teacher smiled and told the second student that she had mastered the lesson of peace. 

Peace is not the absence of conflict. It is the ability to exist in a state of calm despite the storm raging all around. This truth is one that I have come to embrace whole-heartedly. It has transformed the way I view world peace. I truly believe that all people envision a time when the world can completely be in peace and harmony. I believe the difference is in how we see the ability to get there. I think that we can never truly gain world peace until each individual is able to experience calm in the storm. Life is chaotic. It is difficult. We face many trials in life. If we can get to a point where it doesn’t matter what life throws at us, then we can experience peace. I believe that when one person achieves peace in her life then others will see it and work towards peace in their own lives. As each of us achieves peace, more and more people will as well. I believe when we reach a point in history when every individual has reached the capacity to live calmly in the storm of life, then we will have achieved the ability to have world peace. When we all have tasted the beauty that is peace, we will naturally live in harmony with each other. 

September 21 is the International Day of Peace. It is a UN designated holiday in dedication of the absence of war and violence. It is the perfect time to dedicate yourself to cultivating calm in a modern world. 

10 Things To Do After Loss

Each one of us faces loss in our lives at some time. The type of loss varies, and how we respond to it does, as well. Each of us are individuals and our life paths will throw loss our way. My response to a loss may not be the same as someone else experiencing that same loss. But, no matter what loss we face, there are ten things we can do that will help improve our situation. This list is not in any type of rank order- it’s just ten things that we all must do when we experience a major loss. 

Get clear about what you want. 

This is not the time to make a major change without being clear on why you want to do it. Change may be good, but it may also hinder our healing process. Before making any decisions about how to proceed after experiencing loss, take the time to sit down and evaluate what you want out of life and why you want it. You’re less likely to make a decision that will lead to regret. 

Spend time understanding your thoughts. 

It’s common to have negative thoughts after losing something that we held dear in our lives. What isn’t normal is having all of our thoughts overrun with the negative. Take time to think about the things you say to yourself and others. Are they negative? It’s likely that some of them (any perhaps all of them) are. Think about these thoughts and where they come from. Even positive thoughts can be inappropriate at times. Nothing is all light and good. Evaluate where your thoughts are coming from and why. Doing so will help you get your thoughts and self talk on the right track. Remember, we all need a balance of light and dark in our thoughts. 

Find someone to talk to. 

It’s important not to keep those thoughts (good or bad) all to ourselves. When we have experienced loss it’s easy to want to be alone and grieve. There’s nothing wrong with that. But, we need to also have someone to talk to in order to help process our thoughts and emotions. 

Set a goal and work towards it. 

It’s likely that your self esteem has taken a pretty rough hit with the loss. It doesn’t matter what the loss is. Suddenly losing something transforms our idea of ourselves. Set a small goal and work towards achieving it. When you do you will start gaining confidence. Then, make another goal and work towards achieving it, too. Each goal we reach, no matter how small, helps to build our confidence to where it was before the loss. 

Honor the Loss

It’s important to honor the memory of what we lost. This is quite common when we have lost a friend, relative, or pet through death. But all loss needs to be honored. Did you lose your job? Have you recently (or even not so recently divorced)? Have you lost the idea of realizing a dream you had for yourself? Take time to honor that loss. When we experience a major change/loss in our lives, we lose the idea of who we are. By taking the time to honor and remember what we lost we can begin the process of healing and becoming our new self. 

Engage with others. 

This one is similar to finding someone to talk to. But talking to someone isn’t enough by itself. You can talk to someone and still be locked up inside without getting outside. It’s important to engage with others. You may not want to do this immediately, and that’s ok. But it’s important to get out and be around other people sooner rather than later. 

Practice Self Care. 

What is it that you like to do for you? That thing that you find indulgent and luxurious just for you? It doesn’t matter what it is. Do it. Even little routine moments of self care are critical. Take a shower. Brush your teeth. Get dressed. Go outside. Sit in the park. Spend some time alone in meditation. Depending on what loss you have experienced and whether or not others are dependent on you, it can be difficult to remember to take care of yourself. But you must do it. Self care is critical. Honestly, if this list was in any particular order, self care would be the number one thing to do after loss. 

Know that your feelings are valid. 

No matter what you are feeling after loss, it’s key to remember that your feelings are valid. If you are sad, that’s valid. If you aren’t, that’s valid too. Each one of us is different and we experience and process things in different ways. Whatever your loss is and whatever you’re feeling now, it’s ok and it’s normal. That doesn’t mean you should stay in those feelings forever. It just means that there is no wrong way to feel after loss. 

Ask for help.

You’re likely to have lots of well meaning friends and family tell you to let them know what they can do for you. You’re just as likely not to tell them anything. Don’t. It’s ok to need help after a loss. If you’ve lost your job you may need help with finances. If you’ve gotten divorced, you may need help with adjusting to living alone again. It doesn’t matter what your change is. It’s ok to need help and asking for that help is not something to be avoided. Remember how I said self care is the number one thing to do? Asking for help is a form of self care. 

Practice gratitude. 

Find something to be thankful for. There is always something. Spending time in gratitude is another form of self care. It helps you focus on what you still have, and that can be very reassuring when your identity and confidence may have just taken a huge hit. It doesn’t matter what it is, find something to be thankful for and express gratitude for it. 

Why We Need Credentials

Within the holistic community there are no governing oversight bodies that provide licensure for practitioners. This can be good and bad. The good thing with this is that there are very few barriers to entry. If you are interested in becoming a holistic practitioner, it is very easy to do so. The bad news is, without licensure, anyone can call themselves a practitioner with no real understanding of the holistic arts. This can end up in causing great harm to clients. 

 

I don’t think there should be a governing body that provides licensure. I also don’t think the government should be involved in requiring licensure for holistic practitioners. However, I think it is critical for practitioners to have education in their chosen field. 

 

As a practitioner, I have spent quite a lot of time in classes and courses that have provided certification. As there is no governing body, these certifications have no real accreditation behind them. Despite that, there is a great value in having them. Credentials show that I am dedicated to my practice and that I put my clients first. I want you to have confidence in me. By investing time and money in achieving certifications that are not required, I am showing you that I have taken the time to study and learn what I am doing. 

 

No matter whom you choose for your holistic practitioner, please make sure that they have some sort of certification. Someone who does not have any type of holistic education will not have your wellness in mind. 

 

My Spiritual Journey

I was born into a Christian family. I was raised as what I term “Bapticostal”. My parents divorced when I was four and I spent one weekend with my father in the Church of God, and the other weekend with my mom’s family in the Baptist church. If you know anything at all about different Christian denominations, you will know what an oxymoron it is to but baptist and pentecostal together. If you are not familiar, rest assured when I say that the two are about as diametrically opposed as you can be between two protetstant Christian denominations. 

 

I grew up with what is known as the protestant work ethic. Work, labor of any kind, was praised, and it was drilled in that if I wanted anything out of life that I would have to work for it. I grew up not expecting handouts and believing that accepting charity was a show of laziness 

 

Above all else, I was raised to believe that Christianity meant believing in the tenets of the church without question. If I had questions I learned not to ask them. It was more important to have faith and believe than it was to understand. Knowing- understanding- was not necessary. All that was necessary was to believe what was taught. 

 

If you know me, then you know that I have always struggled with being a people pleaser. I think part of that stems from my parents’ divorce. It doesn’t really matter what caused it. I have always struggled to live an authentic life because the authentic me doesn’t always lead to approval. I have hid myself and tried to live based on what makes other people happy for so long, and that included blind allegiance to my religion of birth. I had questions, but I never asked them. Asking questions meant that I was “bad” or “didn’t have faith” or “didn’t believe”. For a long time I was fine with this. I pushed aside my doubts and questions. I refused to think for myself and insisted that I believed what I was taught. 

 

In May 2011 my life changed. I came home from work and found that my husband had passed away. I was 31. He was 24. That day changed my life forever. After the initial phases of grief I started to look at my life. I began to have little doubts about my faith. I began to ask myself questions. It wasn’t long after that until I decided that I really wanted to ask these questions. The faith I grew up with was not welcoming of these questions. So I began to look elsewhere. 

 

I had always felt a special connection to Judaism and so that is where I turned to. I began reading everything I could about Judaism and gravitating more and more toward it as a culture and religion. It wasn’t a linear path, but in 2016 I completed my conversion to Judaism when I sat before the beit dein and entered the mikveh. 

 

Part of the process was choosing my Jewish name. A lot of convert women choose names like Devorah or Ruth, but they did not speak to me. I chose my name by looking to my life. One thing that resonated with me was my focus on life. I finally felt that I was living an authentic version of my life. Also, looking at my life after the death of my husband, I was, quite literally, still living. So I chose the name Chaya. But I was torn between life and the moon. I have always loved the moon. It’s feminine energy speaks to me, and the moon has special significance for Jewish women. So I chose to take a second name, Levana. My Jewish name- Chaya Levana- quite literally means Living Moon. 

 

It’s now three years after my conversion. Judaism has been a fitting addition and change to my life. It speaks to me and is where I find the most meaning in my life. I haven’t been static in my spiritual journey, however. Judaism encourages questions, and I still have plenty of those. I love that my faith encourages me to ask questions. While Judaism is my religion, I don’t always practice it in stereotypical Jewish ways. I blend many different religions into my personal practice. I have added many aspects of Buddhism into my walk as well as Celtic spirituality to honor my Scottish heritage. I also infuse a lot of earth based, hoodoo and conjure into my walk as well. I am becoming more and more vocal in my political beliefs, and those are fully fused with my spiritual beliefs as well. Feminism has been a huge recent influence on my spirituality.  

 

Now that I’ve written all of this out I’m pretty amazed. I mean, it’s my life and I know it, but seeing it written out I just feel it all at once. It’s definitely not been a linear path. I haven’t even reached the end of it. That’s what amazes me the most. I have walked an amazing path, and I’m only part way along. I still have more to come. I fully expect that the rest of my spiritual path will be just as amazing as the first part.