Chapters of the Heart: Torah study with Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell

Today marked a special day of celebration and a bittersweet ending to a Wednesday morning ritual I'll remember fondly: Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell's Torah study at Washington Hebrew Congregation.

If you are wondering how I got to Torah study at temple ... I admit I am too.  But like every kind of heart journey I've taken, one thing led to another and to the temple I traveled.  I am a very lucky soul to travel this way so often.

By way of a brief intro, Rabbi Elwell is Washington Hebrew Congregation's Scholar-in-Residence.  She led a Wednesday Morning Torah study using her wonderful book, Chapters of the Heart: Jewish Women Sharing the Torah of Our Lives.

The book, which Rabbi Elwell co-edited with Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer is fascinating.  I highly recommend it to anyone interested in women's stories.  According to Rabbi Elwell:
For much of history, women’s histories were not recorded, but women’s stories were still being told. They may not have been the conversations of record, but women have always been sharing their stories with each other and with their children. So this is not new. What is new is the number of women with access to the study of classical Jewish texts. We represent the first generation of women who can easily acquire the necessary tools. So our book is composed of stories, but stories inflected with a sophisticated understanding of foundational Jewish texts.  (Read the full post here)
My friend Amy, a member of Washington Hebrew Congregation, was my link to the class.  Although I was a bit nervous entering the group, I had read several chapters of the text prior to my first meeting and was excited to be part of the discussion.  Even as a non-Jewish woman, I quickly resonated with the narratives and questions the text put forth.  How can we overcome grief and loss?  How can we become the mothers we yearn to be?  What are the prayers and ancient stories of healing power that are most helpful during deep challenges?  I admired the creativity and honesty the stories portrayed.

Most women reading Chapters of the Heart will feel at home in the stories, regardless of faith and tradition.  But if you had asked me ten years ago -- make that just one year ago -- whether I would enter a temple to study sacred texts with a Rabbi and a group of Jewish strangers, I would have assured you that it would be highly unlikely.  I hadn't been called or made curious yet.  But being a seeker, I am forever opening up to learning, whenever the season comes.  What I didn't expect is to takeaway a curiosity to keep learning more. ... We shall see.

So, thank you Amy and Rabbi Elwell.  The warmth and intelligence of the group, the stories, the teachings are forever mapped into my heart.   I hope our paths for peace and justice in the world cross again soon, at temple and beyond.


The Arena of Beautiful: Publish, speak and reflect a more loving image of women in 2015

When Elizabeth Lauten criticized President Obama's daughters, my heart broke for women.


As the harsh story played out in November, I buffered, diffused, tried to accept, forgive, and -- most of all -- tried not to add suffering to the situation with gossip and mindless chatter.
By day three of abstaining, what I understood clearly is the extent to which the story was about me (and you), not just Ms. Laurent and the young Obama ladies.  The latter were just the latest casualties in the arena of women bashing women.

Enter the ring

What are your stories from the arena of bashing?

Did you pass through the arena in your youth or are you still playing there?  Were you hurt or were you more the one doing the injuring?
Were there bosses, mentors, mothers, sisters, friends, strangers fighting you in the arena?  How bad did it feel?  Was your skirt short or too long? 

There's a narrow zone for peace and calm inside this arena.

Were you someone who injured or were you hurt by another women in power?  If you did the injuring, be honest and tell us how it worked out?  Did you cause enough pain to get her out of your way? Or did she ultimately recover and move into her power anyway?

And to the spectator in the bleachers of the arena -- too removed from the action to believe that you yourself have any power to stop the blows -- what are you thinking from way up high?  Quite a good show, isn't it?

Heart, soul and consciousness

This is a complex arena and hard to cover in a blog.  My sense is that we are all in the arena, until we consciously remove ourselves from it.  We are all connected to the Laurent event and the suffering it caused.  Take a spin through the rings of suffering she set in motion:
  • The shame triggered in the young ladies, followed closely by the outrage and secondary defense reactions of family and public officials;
  • The shame Ms. Laurent felt for her injuring, followed by the fear and anxiety she experienced in her grand tumble down the backlash;
  • The cold hearted eagerness of the media syndicating the story across channels with dispatch, on deadline, and without a note of tenderness;
  • Then touch the energy of the millions of networked bystanders ingesting and metabolizing the details again and again, adding personal projections, prophecies, and pebbles to the signals hitting we women and our daughters.
On some level, this suffering is so totally socially acceptable it is nearly invisible to us.  We don't see it as our problem. Rather, many of us have a "What's the big deal?" reaction when someone behaves badly.  We gawk and then move on.

But that's the role of the bystander, the most fascinating character in the story.  It's also the seat of power in a social network.


Who are the bystanders? Am I a bystander if I don't say anything about the conflict?  Or am I a bystander because I don't say anything?

And, more importantly, what is the call to bystanders to help heal the nasty dynamic between women?

Are we bystanders awake enough to help? To bother shifting our consciousness?  Or is this right of passage better defaulted to another woman in America? A younger one? An older one? A more powerful, successful woman?  Someone with more time. 

The notion that we are all bystanders hits me hard ...

It is like crashing into an awareness of just how vast and connected the ecosystem of women's consciousness is and that it is time for me to clarify and cleanse my own tolerance for female bashing.

Why are we squandering a wonderful natural resource with infighting and violence against one another?  Celebrities, Politicians, Authority figures; it's everywhere today.

Healing the closed heart

To dismiss another woman's choices mercilessly and without compassion, limits one's own life and closes one's heart another notch.  This is true across the lifestages.  We need young pretty energy and risk taking just as much as we need the power of grandmothers. 

But a closed heart is so tempting, many of us believe it is worth fighting for.  I mean that a closed heart can help us feel safe by giving life more predictability, something many of us desperately desire.

In order to heal, the closed heart has to open.  The open hearted way is guaranteed to bring vulnerability and rawness inside.  It will rock your world with unpredictability and, ultimately, a sense of aliveness too.  But it is a true crossing to get there.  (See Brene Brown's amazing work if you want a deep dive in those lessons.)

A spiritual approach to loving other women

Observed from a spiritual perspective, the Laurent event reveals a call full of hunger and longing: hunger for a bigger role, a wider circle; hunger for community and hunger for more permanent contributions to the world.  These are universal longings that just need a better channel. 

Instead of attempts to shrink the young ladies she could learn how to seek authentic power by using a more mindful approach.   She could start by noticing herself reacting viciously and tune in to inquire.  She could slow down and ask herself spiritual reflections such as:

I am noticing her.  What is it that I see in her?  Why am I drawn to it? Can I name it?  Do I have that trait too? Why? Why not?  How are we alike? How are we different?  How is this inquiry making me feel? What else am I noticing?

Then the inquiry can move into a richer place.  She could learn to consider her reflections then query herself with:

Can I love her?  Is she worthy?  Am I worthy too?

The answer is always and forever, YES.

This is the path to compassion and power, the path to The Arena of the Beautiful.

Flipping the switch, updating the social code

This event gives all of us an invitation to curb our unconscious bystanding of women bashing women.  It is an invitation to  Play Big, as Tara Mohr encourages in her work and her writing. 

My experience is that the most powerful pain and shame triggers are transmitted woman to woman.  Because women hold so much of the social code, updating this out-of-date algorithm makes sense.

We will only do it by updating our consciousness and raising our vibration.

Why continue to watch and wait on ideas that keep women isolated and separated instead of together and collaborating -- or even better, dancing? Flip the switch to Conscious.

Publish, speak and reflect a more loving image of women in 2015

I get dinged for being too sensitive, too contemplative ...  it's part of my wiring and I let it out in my writing.  To push myself to put skin in this game, I commit to hitting the publish button on this post as an active step to publish, speak and reflect a more loving image of women in 2015. (I have been keeping the post in draft mode for more than a week!):
In fact, I have more than 50 draft posts I am too chicken to post so hitting PUBLISH is a big step into THE ARENA of Beautiful for me.
Further, I promise that in 2015 I will seek out -- thoughtfully -- ways to celebrate and acknowledge the variety of great women in my midst.  This is one way I will deepen my practice of acceptance.

When another woman says something that makes me feel disparaged or ashamed about how I look or how I am dressed or how I behaved, I'll do my best to mention it to her.  To keep it real and find out what the trouble was.

AND, I'll notice when she is disparaging herself so that I may step in for the Divine.  I'll stick up for her and invite her into The Arena of Beautiful where there is plenty of room and lots of networking opportunities.  Join us?