The Truth About Grief

There is a common misconception about grief- time heals all wounds. This is not true at all. Time does not heal grief. What time does is lessen the pain. Time makes grief less intense or less frequent, but it doesn’t heal. If time healed all wounds, then after the passage of a certain amount of time we wouldn’t have to worry about the pain of grief. But the plain truth is that grief never goes away. It is a wound that never fully heals.

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This photo showed up in my Facebook memories this week and I shared it to my timeline. It’s my previous husband, Jeremy, and myself at Christmas 2010. That was his last Christmas. He died in May 2011. It has been 8 1/2 years since he died and the wound is still there. It’s not a fresh wound. I don’t feel it most days anymore. But, whenever there is a reminder or any reason that I think of him, I feel the familiar twinge of pain- loss, loss for what I had, loss for what I’ll never have. Loss. Raw. Intense. Pain. And sometimes I cry.

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This photo is of my grandmother (standing with dark hair) and her sisters when they were little girls. Grandmother raised me and was my best friend. She passed away in February 1999 when I was 19 years old. I will never forget the last time I spoke to her. I was a Freshman in college and it was Saturday night. I called her while I was getting ready for a party. We talked awhile, but I was eager to get off the phone and go out with my friends. She died on Monday morning. It’s been nearly 21 years since she entered her silent sleep, but the grief still gets to me. I no longer live near where I grew up- where she is buried. My promise to myself is that the next time I go down there I will visit the cemetery, lay on her grave, and pour my heart out about the last however many years it has been.

This photo is of my current husband’s mother (on right with white shoes) and her mother and niece. Grief is not something that can be shrugged off after 30 days or a year or even a decade. When he lost his mother in 1983 he didn’t find out when it happened in May. He found out in December when the Christmas gift he sent her was returned. Since then all holidays have had something missing. He has a constant yearning to speak to her and ask her advice on everything important in his life. He truly wishes he could have a do over on so many things with her. 

We all have experienced some level of grief in life. If you’ve not lost a close family member or friend, you’ve probably lost an extended family member. Or, you’ve experienced the loss of a relationship or life dream. It doesn’t really matter. The grief is the same. It doesn’t matter how long ago it was. The loss could have happened 30 years ago, or it could have happened this year. There will be moments of pain from the grief. Let it happen. Don’t fight it. Go with it. Feel it. It hurts. It’s painful. But when it passes you will feel better- lighter- cleaner. Make sure you take time during this holiday season to honor the grief in your life.

If you found value in this post please feel free to share your thoughts below or share this post with others.

~Chaya Levana (Michele Lefler)

Solstice Lights

My favorite part of the winter holiday season is the importance placed on lights. It doesn’t matter what holiday it is, or what the religious connections are, each celebration this time of year revolves around light and, ultimately, the winter solstice. 

The Winter Solstice marks the shortest day of the year. For several days the sun rises to the same point and appears to stop. After the solstice, the sun begins to gradually creep higher in the sky each day, and the amount of light grows during the winter season. For someone who thrives in light, the short, dark days are hard for me. 

My two favorite ways to celebrate the return of light at this time is to kindle the Chanukah lights and to have a Yule Log. During Chanukah I am able to see the light grow each day as we light one light on the first night and add one more each day to culminate with eight on the final night. When I create a Yule Log I end up burning it after my Yule meal. I will write my wishes for the new year on paper and then add them to the log. Then, burn the entire log. I really enjoy watching my hopes being consumed by the light. 

40 Things I’m Thankful for Right Now

Thanksgiving is coming, but instead of sharing yet another piece of content about counting your blessings (seriously, you’re already seeing that everywhere) I thought I’d share my own personal gratitude list. Thanksgiving 2019 is my 40th Thanksgiving, so it’s only appropriate that I share forty things I am thankful for. Some of these are the traditional things that make just about every gratitude list, and some are a little less traditional. They are, however, all things I am thankful for right this moment. The list is, by no means, exhaustive, and it’s in no particular order. I also decided not to include a reason for each. I am simply listing 40 things I’m thankful for. So, without further ado, here is my list.

  1. Books
  2. Family
  3. Friends
  4. Health
  5. Food
  6. A home
  7. My dog, Lucy
  8. My turtles, Natchez and Roxy
  9. Belief in myself
  10. Ability to make my own decisions
  11. Personal autonomy
  12. Respect
  13. Art
  14. My car
  15. My life path
  16. Past mistakes
  17. My faith
  18. My personal spiritual practice
  19. Living Moon Meditation
  20. My clients
  21. My husband
  22. My struggles
  23. The ability to overcome my struggles
  24. Growth
  25. Self discipline
  26. My feet
  27. My hands
  28. Four seasons
  29. Scents that bring me pleasure
  30. Intelligence
  31. Reiki
  32. Meditation
  33. Warm beverages
  34. Self care
  35. Online shopping
  36. Streaming movies & television
  37. Indoor plumbing
  38. Air conditioning
  39. Central heat
  40. The ability to change my mind

Meditation. A Poem

Pay attention to prayer.

Just like meditation is prayer.

Aum.

Why is it so?

Why would you think meditation is small?

Prayer is the most sacred thinking of all.

Does prayer make you shiver?

Does meditation make you shiver?

Does it?

I cannot help but stop and look at the big meditative prayer.

Prayer is meditation.

Meditation is prayer.

Aum. Aum. Aum. 

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. 

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 din 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.  

Is America Ready for A Female President?

I know it’s kind of early to be making predictions about the 2020 presidential election, but I thought I would go ahead and share my thoughts on the topic of a woman president. 

 

First off, I am sorely vexed in 2019 to have to ask if we are ready for a female president. It just rubs me the wrong way that we are still questioning whether or not a person’s gender has anything to do with their ability to get a job done. Women have come so far outside of their previously designated separate sphere of the home, yet, we still have not had a woman hold the highest office in the land. I find it ironic that women have been deemed unfit for the presidency due to lack of military experience (prior to women being in the military), yet, we now have our fourteenth president who entered office with no military experience. 

 

I personally do not think a person’s gender should have any bearing on their ability to serve as President of the United States. It does not matter to me. What does matter is the person’s ability to lead this nation. With that being said, I would love to see a female President. But, I would not vote for a woman simply for the sake of having her in office. 

 

In the end, I don’t think America is ready for a female President. Sadly, if we are still discussing the “readiness” or if a “woman can handle it” we aren’t there yet. America has a lot of growing up left to do. I do see a day when we will have a female President. I just don’t think it will be 2020.    

 

The Gift of Mercury Retrograde

Mercury is in retrograde from July 7 – July 31, 2019. What does this mean? In simple terms, it means that Mercury is travelling backwards from it’s normal path. In reality, this isn’t possible. So why do we say Mercury is in retrograde? Because Mercury is closer to the sun than Earth it has a shorter orbit time (88 days compared to Earth’s 365). In other words, Mercury wizzes by Earth several times in our year, But, like the story of the tortoise and the hare, at some point, Earth, in her steady circle, will catch up to and then pass Mercury. When Earth passes Mercury it appears that Mercury is moving backwards. This is Mercury retrograde and it happens three times each year. 

In astrology, Mercury rules communication, coordination, travel, commerce, and finances. So, when Mercury is in retrograde we tend to experience communication snafus and things just tend to not go well in these areas. Oftentimes, we tend to expect awful things to start happening as soon as Mercury goes retrograde or when we start experiencing these things we wonder if Mercury has gone retrograde. 

Instead, we should look at this period as a gift. In modern society we tend to go full steam ahead with plans and projects. That’s not a bad thing, per se, but sometimes we forget to sit back and take stock of what we have going on and what we need to accomplish. Mercury retrograde is the perfect time for this. We can’t really stop everything for several weeks three times per year, but we can take these weeks to slow down and think about what we are doing. When we do so we are being mindful in all that we do. Instead of expecting bad things to happen and accepting that you will have a bad attitude about it, plan to use this time to look inward and take stock of what’s going on with you and how you interact with the universe. Make plans, but don’t make final decisions until Mercury is direct again. If you plan to travel, double, and even triple check, your travel plans prior to heading out. Be sure to have a back up plan. When things go wrong (because let’s face it, it happens during Mercury retrograde) take a deep breath and ask what you need to learn from the experience. 

Like everything else in life, Mercury retrograde is what you make of it. If you expect all bad things and a bad attitude, that’s exactly what you will get. Instead, expect to learn some lessons about yourself and you most certainly will.  

~Chaya Levana

Ritualized Self Care for Jewish Women

Self care. It’s something that you hear witchy and holistic types talking about a lot. Self care is critical because if we don’t care for our own needs we soon run out of steam when caring for others. What exactly is self care? It’s anything you do for yourself in order to recharge your physical, mental, and/or emotional health. Self care is something that you actually enjoy doing, not something you feel like you have to do. 

Judaism has self care built right into it in the form of the mikveh. If you don’t know what the mikveh is you can read about it here. 

I can hear many of you right now wanting to argue about how I can refer to the mikveh as self care. The mikveh? The ritual bath for women to make themselves clean after the impurity of menstruation and childbirth? Feminists have long argued about the archaic idea of the patriarchy seeing women as unclean due to biological functions. 

I argue here, however, that the mikveh has nothing to do with physical cleanliness and everything to do with spiritual ascension. Does a woman’s blood make her spiritually unclean? No. It does, however, result in a groundedness that makes it more difficult to tune in to our inherent intuition. 

When looking at the chakra system we notice that there are seven centers within each of us. Within our center we find the heart chakra. Below this we have the three lower chakras – root, sacral, and solar plexus. Above the heart are the three higher chakras – throat, third eye, and crown. Each one of our chakras are important for proper balance within our physical, emotional, and mental self. The lower chakras, however, are tuned into our physical needs – groundedness, physical pleasure, and sense of self worth. The upper chakras are concerned with our ability to speak our truth, intuition, and our relationship with or merging with our higher Spirit. These upper chakras are what are viewed as the spiritual self. The heart chakra is the bridge between the lower and upper chakras. It focuses on love for self and others as well as love for humanity and all things. 

Women are generally more intuitive and spiritually minded than men. When women bleed, however, they come out of the higher realm and into a more grounded state. There is nothing wrong with being grounded, and bleeding is the way in which women bring life into the world. Both are necessary. We must be grounded at times to ensure that we can function in this life. But just as we don’t bleed continuously, we are not meant to be grounded continuously. Ascension is the process of reaching for the divine and being grounded is a state of not being there. Bringing life into the world and bleeding are sacred acts, but when we are not doing this we are supposed to be seeking higher states of ascension. 

The mikveh provides an opportunity for women to delineate between the bleeding time and the time they return to higher states of intuition. It provides women a time to be alone and contemplate our spiritual selves. Preparing for the mikveh allows women to care for their bodies in a deeper and more ritualized way than normal. Immersing in the mikveh is a ritual that allows women to focus on their own needs and serves as built in time for meditation. 

Going to the mikveh after menstruation and before resuming sexual activity with a spouse provides women the opportunity to prepare for the ascended sacred act of sexual intercourse. When we see the Divine as both masculine and feminine then we see the marriage of male and female as the coming together of the two divine halves. Sexual intercourse is the physical act of the divine halves merging. Women need the mikveh after menstruation and childbirth in order to bring them back into the higher realm prior to engaging in this sacred union. The mikveh isn’t needed prior to all sexual acts because women are already in the higher realm. It is only after the grounding nature that results from bleeding that we need to bring ourselves back to our naturally intuitive state. 

I truly believe that the mikveh is a gift to women from the Divine. Sadly, men have not traditionally understood this and saw a woman’s natural time of bleeding as something dirty and worthy of being ashamed of. As women, it is up to us not to allow a man’s lack of understanding to rob us of the sacred self care that is inherent in going to the mikveh. 

Sometimes you can’t go to the local mikveh. What if you are travelling and there is no mikveh available? What if you’re not Jewish but you are really drawn to the idea of the mikveh? What if you are Jewish and have never been but aren’t thrilled by the idea of going to the local mikveh? No matter what the situation is you can usually find a way to indulge in the self care ritual of the mikveh. A man made mikveh isn’t necessary. All that is required is a natural body of water. If you don’t have access to one or it’s too cold to go outside and immerse in the river (or other natural body), you can collect rainwater and add it to your bath. Ideally, your tub is large enough to allow you to completely immerse yourself in the water. Of course, depending on your level of observance (or if you aren’t Jewish) complete immersion of every hair may not matter to you. If you are Jewish and feel comfortable with reciting blessings, you can recite the mikveh blessings after each immersion. If you are intrigued by the idea of immersing in a natural body of water you can read the kosher aspects regarding just this. Whether you already immerse or are intrigued by the idea, I hope you have at least come to see that the mikveh is not degrading to women.