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  • Writer's pictureMarilyn Saltzman

Wholeness and hibernation

Springtime at 8700 feet. Saturday – short sleeves, sandals and sunscreen. Sunday (aka Mother’s Day) – snow boots, sleds and shovels. And of course, the inevitable posting on “Next Door” about the black bear emerging from hibernation, searching desperately for food and breaking into a ‘bear-proof” empty trash can left out in a driveway overnight.

What’s different this spring is that I too am emerging from hibernation After 14 months of hypervigilance and two shots of Moderna, I am relishing a newfound freedom: my first trip to an indoor restaurant, an unscheduled stop at King Soopers, and most importantly, an in-person gathering with my Mussar leadership group.

Our topic was shleymut, wholeness, and one of our members wrote that meeting in person is a step forward toward wholeness. Yes, there is nothing like being in person with good friends, sharing a meal and a hug. Nothing beats sitting across a table and seeing a smile, hearing a laugh. Nothing can replace the energy and camaraderie when a group gets together to create an event.

And yet there is a shadow side to emerging from my COVID-induced cocoon. I am aware that for me, there is a danger of losing shleymut, wholeness, and peace, shalom. During hibernation, I took the time for self-reflection and for being whole – recognizing who I am and who I want to be.

How can I maintain my equanimity, inner peace and self-awareness as I re-enter my old routines – breakfast and lunch meetings, overlapping commitments, and navigating curvy mountain roads through fog, snow and dark of night? How can I continue to be whole without unhealthy self-judgment as I interact with others who are smarter, skinnier, prettier or more accomplished?

As a reminder of a time when I found wholeness while being in the world, I will wear the red jacket I bought on Calle 10 de Agosto in Cotacachi, Ecuador. The jacket appeared to me in a dream before I went on the trip, and with my friend Sally’s help, I found it on Cotacachi’s “leather street.”

What I also found in that magical Ecuadorian town, nestled between two volcanoes, was the power of the Kichwa culture. A purification and healing bath ceremony with the local Yachak, Mama Juana, opened me to shleymut, oneness with myself and the world around me. The experience started with our guides Apak and Urku leading our family on a short hike through a verdant valley. Towering above was Cotacachi volcano, known as Mama, adorned with a dusting of snow from the previous evening.

After taking off our shoes to cross a shallow, yet fast-moving stream, we arrived at the sacred site where Mama Juana waited in silence. The wizened, kind-faced healer was dressed in traditional Kichwa clothing – embroidered white blouse, belted long skirt and gold beaded necklace.

Mama Juana had set up a sheet covered with seeds, corn and beans in patterns representing the sun, moon and earth. Without a word, she handed each of us a short piece of wood, lit it and signaled for us to place it on the ground, creating a small campfire.

Then it was time for the cleansing. I sat on a rock in the refreshingly cool stream as Mama Juana poured sacred water over me, then gently shook a sheaf of medicinal plants around my head and torso. Intuiting where I carry stress, she lingered over my shoulders. After rubbing myself with healing oil, I approached the fire to inhale health and exhale pain.

After we each had our turn with the cleansing, Mama Juana took the wood from the extinguished fire downstream to dispose of any negative energies we had released. As I walked back up the hill after the ceremony, I felt an opening not only in my shoulders, but also in my mind and heart. I was in shleymut and shalom, surrounded by nature, my family and our guides.

So in this Colorado spring, wrapped in my red jacket, equipped with my Mussar practice of mindfulness and heartened by my memories of Mama Juana, I re-emerge gently into the world. I am ready for my journey toward maintaining personal wholeness while building communal shleymut.

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