About Helen

For more than you'd ever want to know, go to www.yourjewishfairygodmother.com (who I was in 2000) and www.kabbalahglass.com (whom I am now). Stay tuned....

Counting the Omer: Malkuth

Malkuth (1)Malkuth (1)Malkuth (1)

Malkuth’s a matrix of the divine, natural, and human worlds, the context for what we experience as life. The word means kingdom. It’s an expressive conduit for all higher energies and the landing zone for your personal form of reality. Malkuth is seen an ongoing expression of creation: How you live your life, interacting with all the energies you’ve been exploring the past six weeks, creates the context for your happiness and evolution, and your progress with your karmic homework.

When your personal kingdom is filled with great gifts or great challenges, it’s partly a message from the universe saying, Wake up and pay good/better attention.

Malkuth is about being present. About living with awareness and intention. Living as though each moment, each choice, each aspect of how you live matters at a soul level as well as at the level of material comfort and aspiration. That’s true whether you’re dealing with yourself or others, if you’re wrestling with your own core issues (especially habituated patterns) or trying to heal the outer world.

Malkuth is about seeing the holy spark in every element of creation. Just as Hindus greet one another with Namaste (I greet the holy within you), we need to live as though we could see that holy spark in ourselves/others in each moment. We need to treat one another, and every aspect of creation, with respect, goodness, and gratitude to make this world a sweeter and more healing place. That will likely mean stretching, especially if your path is filled with bad drivers, big health issues, or relentless temptations.

The other day one of those FaceBook quizzes came around. The kind that tells you your spirit color or totem animal based on what cities, art, or music you prefer. This one offered to identify your top five traits. Words like creative, intuitive, intelligent, spiritual, eccentric, fierce, compassionate, organized, kind, curious, etc. A wealth of desirable ways to be.

My goddaughter Wendy, whom I love from a zillion lifetimes of knowing, wrote: challenging, neurotic, demented-but-in-the-cute-way, insincere, and one short. LOL.

It got me thinking about why our malkuth can feel neurotic/annoying at some times, and all chocolate and kisses at others. We’re pretty much the same us, though clearly stuck in traffic or mud wont bring out the same virtues as a great friend or book.

It’s more than just attitude. If you don’t go slightly ballistic when you’re utterly powerless, even if you can find equanimity or patience a nanosecond later, we’re from a slightly different species.

What I learned these omer weeks, and what I’m hoping to bring back into my daily world: knowing that the more I lighten up, sweeten up, and open up, the more responsive the universe tends to be, and the more great traits I have access to. Sure, some crap is gonna fly, but maybe not as much or often or hard.

Take a moment to think about which parts of your life satisfy you and which do not. Just sit, and let the feelings wash over you as you scan your kingdom. Breathe, sigh, wonder, ponder. Invite all your best traits into this new you that you are continually making, and that will make your kingdom whole.

Counting the Omer: Yesod

Lekh LLekh L

Yesod is about possibility.

A core idea in Kabbalah is tzimtzum, a contraction of oneness into itself and then all universal energy exploding outward. The Big Bang, in physics terms. Yesod is the place on the Tree where that energy has made most of the circuit from big universality to here. The funnel has narrowed, and the only place to go, the next place, is the last place, you’re here and now, the smaller universe of you.

Take a moment to reflect upon the huge distance this energy has traveled to get to you. The universe channeling all that wisdom, love, and creativity into yesod, which is embracing and energizing you with its regenerative power.

It’s like riding a train where the next stop is your home station. You’re gonna disembark, and then do whatever you’re gonna do for the next part of your life. Perhaps for the rest of your life. You’re becoming changed. If you’re more cautious, think from now till autumn. But ask yourself, What am I gonna do with all this energy, this abundance of potential and strength?

Now, while all your deep work is fresh, is the perfect time to do a visioning. To move your sights to a further horizon than next week. To open the invisible channels so the universe begins to align in directions that support your best and highest good.

In the traditions of the names of God, yesod is associated with the word Elohim, which is a plural word, and with El Shaddai, the provider, which relates to abundance, the life force of creation that is self-sustaining and self-generating.

The traditional definition of Yesod is foundation. It’s the basis for all the higher energies to enter malkuth, the kingdom of the earthly realm. On the map of the body, it is associated with the sexual organs. As the procreative imagery suggests, yesod contains and suggests tremendous power.

I believe in using this paradigm as a tool for spiritual growth. It helps one transcend the distractions of daily life. Not the good parts, like love, friendship, home, adventure, and joy. But with actively shedding the stuff the grabs your ankles and holds you back from progress.

Yesod brings you the creative oomph of the four worlds to help. It’s about climbing that ladder to the 10-meter high-dive and walking to the edge.

Feel the necessity, even urgency, building in you. A sort of mini tzimtzum. Ready, ready, ready, almost go. The you who’s gonna jump will have opened a new window in whatever’s covering up your holy spark. You’ll be able to see a little further and more clearly, both into and towards your future.

Whatever makes you feel as though all things new are possible, that change is good, and that you are ready to move in a new direction……Now’s a great time to cozy up to it. Invite it home for dinner and a talk. Go dancing. Have a smooch. Because that’s the part of you who’s gonna help you optimize whatever’s coming next. The good news: it’s gonna be great fun and good for you. Hooray!!

Counting the Omer: Hod

Lekh Lekha 2012Lekh Lekha 2012

Hod turns energy – strong, pulsating with chi energy – into form. It gives it not just a direction but momentum. Think of your favorite river, sparking and fast, swollen with snow melt. That’s Hod. It’s associated with splendor and glory.

Hod’s about the way you feel in spring, when everything feels fecund and alive with possibility. When the blooming has taken hold, and the smells energize you. Where every place your eye falls you see and feel vigorous growth reclaiming the land, the victory of life renewing itself.

It makes you feel incredibly joyous, and ripe with the fertile beauty and splendor of the world. That’s Hod running through you. It’s a wonderful time to give gratitude.

If netzach is the flow of the river, then hod is the river banks. The channels that form and direct it towards a goal. All the energy in the world is useless if it doesn’t get focused towards a destination. Hod’s what helps you row your boat downstream instead of just sitting in a puddle.

It’s not magic. You have to show up and row. Hidden in Hod is the idea of perseverance. Of moving, even work, but with a vitality that is confident of its own success.

It’s also associated with the belief that what’s unfolding is part of a larger picture, more than we can control or perceive on our own, even when we ask to be shown. This sense of trust and knowing can be elusive when things are not going our way, when we’re in the tank of unrelenting crap rather than shining with joy.

Hod’s associated with resonance and echoing. There’s a great image of Hod as a pipe organ: like with each pipe, the dimensions of a situation, or person, or problem, determines the specificity of the sound.

Your body immediately response to something off-key. But on the hopefully more frequent flip side: Hod’s how you feel when beauty fills you. Feeling it permeate and open you. When you lose your you-ness and you’re inside it too. Hod is all that magnificence.

Like hod’s pairing with netzach, or the balance between chesed and gevurah, the Tree of Life demonstrates how applied restraint, the melding of opposites, can create something of great and powerful beauty.

Hod’s when you realize some long struggle could really be over. You may, to paraphrase the Stones, not always get what you want, but you will get what you need. If you can see that gift as victory, no matter its shape or name, you’ll have a solid foundation for whatever you aim for next.

Just remember to celebrate your abundance. Hod b’Hod, is the 33rd day of the omer. It’s festive: bonfires and fireworks, a unique day with special celebrations.

Think about when you have felt truly triumphant. When you accomplished a goal, achieved some victory that you honestly weren’t sure you’d ever reach.

Hod’s about that success and the desire to create more of it. When have you had this in your life? What’ve you been willing to sacrifice to achieve it? What would you do next if you thought you just might pull it off?

Counting the Omer: Netzach

Vetchanan 2014Vetchanan 2014

Netzach, like each of the sephirot, takes all the energy of what has preceded it and channels it. One way to think of the Tree of Life is as a funnel, where energies are concentrated as they flow into our realm of reality.

Netzach is about energy. Words to describe it include triumph, victory, and power. Think of being victorious in a way that has a chicken and egg relationship with confidence and personal energy. The one begets the other. Its negative counterpart might be self-centeredness or narcissism, or laziness and passivity.

Netzach is about focused will. It’s the chi that energizes you when you apply yourself to a goal. It can come through as a determination to overcome obstacles, to triumph in adversity. It manifests as a creative force, inspiring you to make and do. Netzach has been likened to the current of a river, the vital force that moves it rushing downstream.

Netzach is a very personal energy. It’s where the sephirot are becoming more specifically human. About you and how you live more than a theoretical expression of divinity or godliness. It informs your choices and actions.

There’s a lot of emotional charge to netzach. Charisma in the highest sense, the way a person can inspire people, themselves and others, to reach higher and beyond. To exert their best selves to achieve what might have felt out of reach.

Netzach gathers more power in context. The sephirah is like a placeholder, ready for you to fill and energize it. There’re also aspects of endurance and fortitude, of having the patience and the strategic will to follow through on the vision of knowing where you want to go.

Netzach is correlates to the kabbalistic world of emotions. People and situations take on greater meaning, the more we are involved with them. So the greater your emotional engagement, the more likely your efforts and intentions will succeed.

Netzach is what makes manifestation possible. If you don’t show up, the energy for a given situation won’t either. If you sit on the sidelines only to think and watch and worry about failure, you’re unlikely to be victorious.

One of the deep words in kabbalah is kavannah. It means intention or commitment, not just in the I wanna sense but in the I vow, I commit, I will sense. Netzach is when you make kavannah. When you put some oomph behind your words. Instead of just saying you’re going to clean out the garage, you grab the bucket/gloves, clear the drive, and start picking up and moving things. If you want a promotion, or a new job, or a new partner, what will you do to earn it?

Think about what motivates and energizes you. What makes you willing to get out of your routine, to reach higher, further, and with more effort for a goal? Try to remember times when you have been inspired and those when you have been a slacker. What gets you engaged vs. what makes you sit things out? What motivates you vs. what makes you feel/act like a shopping cart with a bad wheel? What would it take to change that?

Are you ready to feel energized again? Remember how much fun it can be.

Counting the Omer: Tipheret

Tipheret

Tipheret is the point of balance between chesed (loving-kindness) and gevurah (restraint). It is about the joy that comes from both working in balance. Tipheret’s about choosing what is best for the whole, not only for yourself or another. Tipheret is about compassion, beauty, and mercy. It energizes creativity. Tipheret feels and creates harmony. It feels like you have been blessed.

Ultimately tipheret is about the beauty and appreciation of ongoing creation. Sometimes this kind of creativity comes in an energized form, other times from peacefulness and contentment. Neither is better or worse. But you’ll understand tipheret best when you feel hardwired into what’s best and right with the world, and when evil or ugliness feel very far away.

Rabbi David Cooper uses the analogy of spooning whipped cream onto your dessert. If chesed had no balancing force you’d drown in it. With too much gevurah you’d get little or none. There’s a perfect equilibrium between sweetness and health that’s good for you. In Goldilocks terms, tipheret feels “just right.”

Think about walking a tightrope or climbing a ladder, to which Tree of Life is similar. Only by maintaining balance can you reach your true destination.

Though Tipheret represents balance, it is dynamic. Think white and red making shades of pink. Any pendulum will find its true center in time. But in your life, there’s not necessarily only one right answer, even dead center, because every situation is unique. Tipheret lets you try them on and see what fits and feels right.

Tipheret is about being kinder and gentler. Not in the unlimited love way of chesed, but in the sense of greater empathy and caring. You don’t have to give away all your worldly goods. But you should become more willing to share, and to forgive the transgressions of others. It’s about creating more calm, generosity, goodness, and well-being.

The dance of dialogue, even about troublesome topics on which people disagree, can be part of tipheret. It’s about learning to see an issue through another’s point of view and to become able to incorporate that perspective into your own worldview.

Tipheret is sometimes associated with the idea of a tzaddik, someone who goes through the world doing good, making wise judgments, creating peace and justice. These qualities are also associated with what are called the thirteen attributes of God or the thirteen attributes of mercy. They include compassion, mercy, graciousness, truth, being slow to anger, and forgiveness/pardon.

Tipheret is also associated with physical beauty. The sun bursting through clouds, or art, music, and poetry. You may be a conduit for beauty’s creation, or an admirer of the harmony and peace that it creates. It’s all tipheret when you feel it soften and open you.

Think about situations that make you feel balanced and in harmony. People or situations that engender your sense of compassion. Is it a process of actively energizing your chesed and your gevurah and then consciously creating balance? Or does it arise spontaneously in you?

What calms your heart and what excites it? Does it more often feel natural or like a goal? Are you satisfied or hungry for more? How can you help bring more tipheret into your life?

Counting the Omer: Gevurah

 Mishpatim- Gevurah

Gevurah embodies contraction and discernment. It is a container. It is about strength, about restraint, discrimination, and choice. About boundaries. About understanding the importance of a difference between self and other. Gevurah is conservative. It’s about choosing, in the sense of rights and wrongs, yeses and no’s, do’s and don’ts.

It’s a lot more about absolutes than relativism, though in its higher sense that’s not a bad thing. Being able to choose and decide is a valuable and necessary trait. It’s only when you always choose yourself first, selfishly, that you are on the “bad inclination” (yetzer hara) side of gevurah.

Gevurah tends towards stasis rather than growth. It’s about keeping things the same and safe rather than risking change and choosing the unknown, which might lead to things becoming unpredictable or uncontrollable.

It’s about giving yourself what you need, but not more than you need. About giving yourself what is good for you, but not what is excessive. About making choices and judgments. Not in the way talk about judgments as in judgmental with the connotation bad. Rather in having a metric. A way of saying this much is the right amount. Sufficient. Nurturing. Beneficial. Giving and getting what’s good. Not locking the gates so tight that nothing and no one can get in but keeping good boundaries about too much of you leaking out.

There’s a clarity and precision of your emotions that allows you to see with a detachment that is independent of your instinctive desire to just love and to want to be loved.

There’s some mother bear in gevurah. The protectress. The one who keeps things safe by creating proper boundaries. Understands there should be a line between what comes in and what stays out. Knows the where when and why of it. More than what’s polite or socially appropriate, gevurah understands the importance of nurturing and keeping safe the energy that is yours.

Gevurah is about knowing when to say No and not always getting entangled in other people’s dramas. Gevurah is about teaching you to savor your life. To make sure you appreciate every piece of it, and make it so that you do.

Sometimes that’s hard stuff. Asking for things you are afraid you won’t get or don’t deserve and other times it is saying No to someone else asking it of you.

How does your willingness and ability to have boundaries reflect on your higher aspirations? What kinds of situations motivate you to be open or closed? Take a moment or two to list them As you do, observe how you feel, and if there’s anywhere in your body that feels a certain way – looser or tighter – when you do so.

Think about people and situations in your life where your gevurah has felt out of balance. These can be in the past or current ones. Look for patterns and similarities.

What would the darker side of gevurah be? Where are you too selfish, too constrained, too ready to close out the world and keep yourself safe from what might challenge you to reconsider your views or to change? Between now and next Saturday evening, think about affirmations that would help you remember and create more openness and balance.

Counting the Omer: Chesed

ChesedUnconditional love is something we all long for but rarely experience. From our pets perhaps, or young children. As adults we get momentary rushes, but they tend to be a little more specialized: gratitude, appreciation, joy, relief, new love. But in our 24/7/365 worlds too often we equivocate, hold back, or keep a quid-pro-quo relationship with our heart via-a-vis the hearts of others, even those we hold close and dear. Best to keep a little something in reserve in case the world surprises you and you need it later. Like carrying around a psychic water bottle.

It’s not for want of caring. But too many of us have been bruised and wounded in ways that leave us cautious about being too (let alone totally) vulnerable. But as we go through the world with veils of emotional protection, we’ve also limited our heart’s ability to feel. Unintended consequence or not, it happens.

We don’t advertise these shortcomings and barriers. In fact we’re pretty creative about our disguises, volunteering, putting on band-aids, and helping out, embracing altruism and compassion in our rhetoric and actions. To other we may seem completely loving and caring. But how close to the core do we let them get?

Chesed is about love with a capital L. Divine love. Unconditional love. Love that comes from the heart not from head or need or expected or hoped-for reciprocity. Love without questions asked or answered. Deep and abiding and open. Love eternal. Loving-kindness and grace. Unlimited benevolence. It’s about generosity, about reaching past the boundaries of ego and self.

Chesed is associated with the principle of expansion. About things growing. Not that unlimited growth is always for their best or highest benefit. That’s why its counterpart is Gevurah, the principle of restraint and boundaries. (Next week, stay tuned).

Chesed is the first of the seven lower sephirot on the Tree of Life. Sephirot represent the qualities that organize how we live as incarnated souls. Higher soul levels breathe through chesed. You can feel them in very special times, birthings and dyings and fallings in love.

Chesed’s about being open, kind, full of goodness and grace. It ties to tzeddakah, generosity–a right action in Judaism–sharing that benefits both receiver and giver.

Chesed’s about saying Yes. It is about optimism, willingness, receptivity, even curiosity. It’s about the absence of limits.

What prompts this in you and what makes you run from the idea? (Ask sincerely, and don’t grip your pen too tightly.)

It’s hard to imagine being heavy and dark when you’re filled with chesed. But pay good attention if anywhere in you feels looser or tighter when you think about people/situations in your life where your chesed feels either extra strong, strained, or out of balance, past or current. Are there patterns and similarities? What brings out the best in you? And what tips it past the balance where the giving remains good for both you and others.

As much as you can this week, meditate on that kind of openness and caring. It’s the beginning of this process, and the more open you can become, the more you will receive.

Ticket to Ride: Pre-Passover 2015

Tree

When I was younger, playing at Disneyland, we went on all the classic rides, and also bought “E-tickets.” They cost triple and guaranteed more screams and thrills. I carry in my pocket more computing power than first took men to the moon, so I’m sure that 1970’s special effects would seem as hokey now as 1950’s effects did then.

But E-rides challenged you. They took away your sense of time and space. Hard to hold onto small-ego You while hurtling though darkness at strange angles, lasers shooting all about, heavy metal blasting. One either retreats into denial or the boundaries between self/other get much thinner very quickly.

We’re at the gate on one of Judaism’s E-rides. In the rhythm of the sacred year we move between slow times and deeper, more intense, periods. We do have the seventh day metronome of Shabbat, tick-tocking like a heartbeat, to keep us grounded. But now we’re entering a bigger set of sevens. Seven weeks of meditations on aspects of the divine as reflected in self. Time to take a hard look, to see where you’re getting things right, and where you’re not.

All your New Year’s vows and promises, sacred and secular, are past. Most of us had just settled in to appreciating nature’s budding and blooming. Daffodils and birdsong. Feeling renewed without much stress or effort. Life was gonna coast happily.

Now comes Passover. The retelling of the exodus from slavery. We’ll land at the foot of Sinai once again. But this time, instead of brisk walk, we get fifty days to walk the path, one step in front of the other, one day at a time.

This process is called The Counting of the Omer. It’s the kind of thing that introspective people long for. A mandated and validated form of navel gazing. We meditate on the lower seven positions (sephirot) on the Tree of Life. Each an attribute of the divine, and an attribute of self as we mirror the divine. We meditate on them in succession:

Week 1   Chesed: unconditional loving-kindness
Week 2   Gevurah: restraint, justice
Week 3   Tipheret: beauty, harmony compassion
Week 4   Netzach: energy, zeal, endurance
Week 5   Hod: glory, splendor, creativity
Week 6   Yesod: foundation, possibility
Week 7   Malkuth: living in the earthly kingdom with our inner spark aglow.

You can do it alone or you can pair up, with someone you know very well, or someone you want to. You can study, share, articulate, open, and generally clean yourself out, one to the other. This kinda study- buddy system is chevruta. It can be two people or more. But think intimacy.

Can you find ten minutes a day for seven weeks starting Saturday evening/Sunday? If yes, I promise you’ll be different on the other side. Can’t say how. Pretty sure for the better. Definitely softer and more peaceful. You don’t have to do anything more than breathe and open your heart, thinking about the attribute. No giving up gluten or sugar or checking your email when you get twitchy. You just have to show up and listen.

Got your E-ticket? Get on board.

Getting Clean: TorahCycle Tzav

VayechiIn the psychological thriller Descent, author Tim Johnston sets up several interlocking pairs of troubled relationships, mostly father /son, but there’s just enough pervasive misanthropy and sense of imminent threat, that you’re just never quite sure when everything’s gonna erupt. And then, hope against hope, with not a shed of evidence to even hint you should imagine, you find yourself rooting for one of the meanest ones to become a hero, to be moved by sense of humanity you’ve had no reason to believe is there.

That’s the holy spark. The essence of being that on a soul level each of us recognizes in the other. No matter how unlikely it may seem on any given day.

That’s what this getting holy is all about. Seeing and being those people.

All the rest, in the words of the great sages, all the rest is commentary.

Torah Study With Albert and Ernst, Auschwitz, 1944

Very excited. One of my favorite pieces of glass just got accepted into a show at my alma mater (U Penn).

Torah Study framed copy

Here’s what I said in the artist’s statement about me and the art:

I am an artist and writer who creates meditative art for individuals and public spaces. The inspiration for my art comes primarily from Jewish mysticism, which has at its core the idea that everything in the universe is animated by a holy spark. Our job as humans is to do what in Hebrew is called tikkun olam, the healing of the world: creating wholeness from those separated sparks by how we live and treat all living things.

When viewers engage with art, it is important to be fully present. The Hebrew word hineini is how Moses answers God at the burning bush. It means I am here. I am present. Amidst the chaos, mystery, and beauty of this world, I accept what you are asking of me. I am ready to do tikkun olam.

Among my inspirations is the Holocaust, in which both my parents lost many relatives. Though the piece may seem whimsical, it was created as part of a Jewish Day of the Dead series. The skeletons looked so much like Muppets, I started to call them Bert and Ernie, and they became alive. But beneath the ironic title is a depth of mourning, and an echo of the eternal questions of life, death, faith, and meaning.

Also, I’m back in my studio, so if you want to commission a meditation piece for yourself or as a gift, to beautify either your home or garden, send me a text and we can talk about art, healing, and the mysteries of life.