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. 

10 Self Care Strategies

Last week I blogged about being thankful for yourself. You can read that here. One way to be thankful for yourself is to practice self care. I used to think of self care in terms of big sweeping measures such as a bubble bath with flowers or a massage. Those are good things and they are acts of self care. In fact, I had a massage yesterday and it was bliss. Massages are an act of self care that I swear by and make them a regular part of my self love routine.

However, I have found that self care does not need to be fancy. Often, the little things that you do for yourself often make a big difference in how you feel. So, I have come up with the following ten ideas for self care that are simple, every day acts. They don’t cost anything, or don’t have to depending on how you incorporate them into your life.

Pick one of these or all of these. Incorporate some of them into your life and see how they make you feel. If you already do some of these pick some more. The more self care you practice the better you will feel.

Focus on the now. 

Don’t live your life in the past or in the future. Take each moment as it comes to you. Worrying about the past or future only robs you of the pleasure that can be found in the current moment. The past can’t be changed. The future is often not nearly as bad as we worry it will be. Live in the now and face each moment and day as it comes.

Spend time in silence. 

Our brains are over stimulated  most of the time. We have televisions, computers, phones, and a plethora of other devices that are constantly streaming information at us. It’s no wonder that we have a difficult time relaxing. Spend time in silence. Yes, I mean time without talking, but I also mean brain silence. Take time away from the constant stream of information. Quieting your mind will lead to a wide range of positive changes in your body and mood.

Move.

Find some type of physical activity that you enjoy. I am the first person to admit that I hate to exercise. But moving your body does wonders to improve your mood and how you feel physically. I have taken up yoga and it has made me feel so good. I’m not good at it- yet. But I do it. Actually, over the past two months I haven’t been able to go to my weekly class because of my husband’s health issues. I miss it. I miss it more than I thought I would. I knew I would miss the people, but I didn’t know I’d miss the physical activity. I can’t wait to go back.

Meditate. 

This goes hand in hand with spending time in silence. When you quiet your mind it makes it easier to meditate. It doesn’t matter how you meditate. You don’t have to sit with your legs crossed and your fingers touching saying “om” over and over. You can, but you don’t have to. Meditation can be as complex or as simple as you want it to be. The simplest form of meditation is being mindful of your breathing. Take slow deep breaths and focus on the inhale and exhale. Do this for as long as you like.

Do things that bring you joy. 

It doesn’t really matter what you do for self care. If it’s something you enjoy than it is caring for yourself. I’ve been under a tremendous amount of stress lately. On top of all that I’ve started writing a novel this month. It is Work with a capital W. In addition to my full time job, and launching this business I’m writing a freaking novel! But I enjoy it. Yes, it’s difficult. But there is a joy I get from disciplining myself to sit down and write something every day. Sometimes I reach my daily goal and sometimes I don’t. But I write something every day. And that brings me joy. Find something you enjoy doing and then go do it. That is self care.

Eat the “bad” foods. 

There are so many people who cut out foods they love because they are bad for them. Carbs. Fat. Sugar. Cholesterol. Whatever. Constantly trying to change what you eat to fit an ideal- even health- brings misery. I’m not saying not to be mindful of your health. Definitely be mindful of your health. But don’t ban entire food groups. No food is bad. Just eat in moderation. Of course, if you have an allergy you have to not eat it. Or, if you eschew certain foods for religious reasons (I do), then I’m not talking about that either. But if it’s a food you would normally eat but don’t because you think it’s “bad”, go ahead. Eat it. Just be mindful of it.

Forgive. 

We’ve all heard the cliche about not forgiving someone only hurts you, not the one you won’t forgive. Or how harboring un-forgiveness is like drinking poison and waiting on the other person to die. Well, I’m here to tell you that there is some truth in all cliches. I’m not saying it’s easy to forgive. I’m not saying you have to forgive if you’re not ready. I struggle with that one myself. What I am saying is that when you choose to forgive someone it does absolutely nothing for them, but it lightens the burden that you carry. Plus, not forgiving someone is living in the past, clinging to the hurt. So, you can’t live in the now and refuse to forgive.

Do nothing.

Yes, that’s right. Don’t. Do. Anything. Set aside some time, be it a day, a few hours, whatever, and do absolutely nothing. Some religions have an entire day that was designed for this. Some people choose to do it while others don’t. But, if you set aside a regular time to do nothing then it helps you to be more productive when you actually get back to doing something. Besides, doing nothing isn’t actually doing nothing. It’s taking care of yourself. And that’s something.

Be spiritual. 

I don’t care if you practice a religion or not. I don’t care if you believe in a higher power or not. Everyone can, and should, be spiritual. Find something outside of yourself that brings meaning to your life. If you find meaning in helping others then go out of your way to be helpful. That is a spiritual practice. If you’re more traditional and follow a religion, do so in a mindful way. Don’t just blindly follow what your religion dictates. Take time to contemplate the teachings and customs. That is spirituality. Finding meaning outside of yourself and connecting to that meaning will bring you an inner peace beyond measure.

Be yourself. 

Above all else be true to who you are. The worst kind of self loathing is derived from trying to fit your life into someone else’s mold. I spent many years of my life rejecting my true self and I was miserable. I was actually pretty good at living according to other people’s expectations. But deep inside my life was chaos. I have physical and emotional issues that I carry to this day that are the result of trying to fit a mold I wasn’t born for. When I decided to be me no matter what I reached a point where I could heal. It’s not easy, but I’m slowly getting there. And I have found that the absolute best self care is to be who I was meant to be.

Being Thankful for Self

Thanksgiving is a time to acknowledge the things we are grateful for. Whether or not you celebrate an annual day of Thanksgiving, and whether or not you agree with celebrating a day set aside for giving thanks at this time of the year (with all the political ramifications that entails) it is important that we take time in our lives to express gratitude for the things that we have. When we give thanks for the things that we have we are expressing an energy to the Divine that we are ready and able for more blessings and abundance.
The Divine gives us good things and when we verbally express our gratitude for those things we open a channel to receive more of those same things as well as more abundant blessings. When we express thanks for the things that we have we show the Divine that we acknowledge those things and that we are ready for more.
Often during this time we overlook gratitude for ourselves. We express thanks for our health, our life, and other aspects, but not for just being ourselves. It’s so common to compare ourselves to others and to want to change who we are. But do we ever stop to give thanks for who we are?
One of the most radical ways to express gratitude to the Diving for being is to practice self care. When we are thankful for being who we are, just as we are, we need to care for ourselves. This goes beyond taking care of our physical bodies, though that is part of it and should not be overlooked. We need to care for for our emotional and spiritual selves as well. We can do this in many ways.
By taking time for ourselves we are showing thanks and gratitude for who and what we are. Self care rituals do not have to be elaborate. They can be as simple as taking a moment to smell a flower and really inhale and appreciate the aroma. A nice hot bath is an exquisite form of self care and a way to express gratitude for self. Going for a walk, meditating, and reading a book are other simple ways to show appreciation for the abundance of life.
No matter how you celebrate giving thanks, make sure to take time to express thanks for the gift of your self. It doesn’t matter if there are things you want to change. We all need to grow. But take time to be thankful for who you are right now in this moment. Develop a self care ritual or engage in one you already practice. Set the intention of giving thanks for self and enjoy.