Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Power of Water

For millenia Jewish women have been visiting the mikvah, as is evidenced by archaeological digs in Isreal that clearly show ritual baths with sources of free-flowing water. Part of my preparation for the High Holy Days has become a trip to a local mikvah with a small group of trusted friends.

Last Sunday afternoon we made our yearly pilgrimage to the mikvah at Adas Israel. It is in a beautifully tiled pristine room in the lower level of the synagogue. It is partially filled by rainwater, which runs directly into the space from the roof of the building.

I was so happy when my friend Lynn served as the organizer this year, given everything else that is going on in my life. The group was mostly the same, with one new face.

Much of the importance of this ritual is symbolic. However, the idea of cleanliness is pervasive. Preparation for immersion in the mikvah invites you to clean out crevices that you rarely inspect. When was the last time you swabbed out your belly button? As I carefully trimmed my fingernails and toenails, I started to think about why I was doing this and hoped it would be as meaningful as it had been last year.

After we made our nominal contribution to the “mikvah lady,” each of us took a turn. I continued to read my book on The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel as I anticipated my moments of contemplation.

This year’s experience was totally different for me. For one thing, as I entered the room, a High Holy Day niggun came into my heart and head and I found myself humming and even whistling the tune repeatedly when I wasn’t reading prayers. My favorite prayer continues to be the one that associates three points in time with three immersions: what has come before, what lies ahead, and what is now.

My three immersions were much longer and calmer than they had been in the past. I loved the sensation of floating, of freely moving my arms and legs in all directions as I gently held my breath. It was a feeling of complete and unlabored movement that my body seldom knows.

As we ate lunch at an outdoor café on one of the nicest late summer afternoons ever, we compared notes. For each of us there was a feeling of acceptance of our bodies, of our complete selves that was not there last year. One person has come to terms with her body which is permanently scarred by radical breast surgery. Another person noted a recent breakthrough in a long period of psychotherapy. A third talked about slow victories over Lyme disease and chronic fatigue syndrome.

And me? I had experienced a feeling of being in utero, with my back straight and my hips moving easily and fully as my body was supported by the warm water. It was my beginning at understanding my traumatic birthing process that could well have resulted in my current physical problems. Coming to terms with water and with my body are life-long goals of mine.

This year’s High Holy Day trip to the mikvah was just one step closer to realizing my dream.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was strikingly beautiful, Barbara.


10:09 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Kate -- It was actually hard to capture the beauty of this experience.

10:12 PM  
Anonymous DRFS aka Sue said...

when I lived in Brooklyn there were Mikvahs everywhere...even one next to a small hardware store on Avenue P. I've always wanted to go to the Turkish baths but I never had the moxie to try it. Wonderful piece of writing.

8:32 AM  
Blogger Everyman said...

I had never heard of this before. It was very pretty to read.
"May you never thirst"

10:06 AM  
Blogger RennyBA said...

It sounds like a very beautiful tradition. A sort of renewal. A very clencing post - thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Btw: Didn't you ask about the typical Norwegian cottage earlier? My wife had a mini vacation in the Norwegian Mountains last weekend I have convinced her to post about it on my blog:-)

2:39 PM  
Blogger Old Lady said...

Keep this up

3:07 PM  
Blogger Mother of Invention said...

ounds like we could all benefit from a "Dip" like that. Water is good therapy for both body and mind. I can see how it would mean different things to different people.
To me,it would probably mean clearing out my body of anything detrimental to my health and represent my search or quest this year for a simpler lower stress life and regaining health.

9:59 PM  

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