Earth Etude for Elul 9: On the Mountain
by Rabbi Robin Damsky
Here I sit on top of the Mountain, watching the sunset. It is spectacular. Sunsets here always are. This one is that much more extraordinary as it tops off a powerful thunderstorm, a storm in which a vague sun was visible throughout, just trying to set and get ready for tomorrow.
My partner and I moved to the Mountain in December. It’s a bit off the beaten path, but we wanted enough land to start a food forest, raise hens and design a meditation labyrinth of natives and pollinators, so we can teach Body-Spirit-Gaia: mindfulness, physical well being, regenerative agriculture, composting, permaculture… the work of Limitless Judaism.
Being a Shmitah year , and simultaneously following a tenet of permaculture to watch the land for a year before you plant, we have been doing just that: watching. Shema teaches us to hear; there is also listening in our observance.
We’re on a couple of acres. Blessed with no landscaping we have a blank canvas. In our watching we’ve decided to put in two cisterns since the well here doesn’t have heavy output. We’re considering a pond. And thinking where to put a high tunnel for the winter garden.
All this beauty and possibility rests on the anxiety we’ve been living in these last few years: Covid, politics, the ever-shrinking sense of our democracy – which now includes less power in the EPA to regulate pollution – shootings, shootings, shootings with more and more loss of precious lives, racial issues, religious hatred… was it always like this? I don’t think so. Yet we have a sense of community here on the Mountain, a constant reminder of what is good and right, and the commitment to treat our earth with kindness and respect: feeding her, learning from her and with her, and bringing that discovery and wisdom to those we touch. The generosity of the earth is a model for our relationships with ourselves and one another.
I suppose this year has been a kind of teshuvah. It has been a return to the land, watching her and letting her soak up her rest, and through her, learning more about resting ourselves. Certainly this is part of what the Shmitah year is all about, and now that she comes to a close, we ask: what lessons have we learned? What gifts can we take forward? What work is still in front of us to heal us within, in our bodies, souls and psyches? Our inner work fuels our connection with Havayah – the Divine Presence of All, and therefore extends our healing and growth to the beautiful Creation that is our very lifebreath. This is the work and the play of Elul. May we engage our process with compassion and diligence, and may we see our work of heshbon hanefesh – taking account – grow vital shoots from us that connect with the shoots of others, weaving a planet of goodness, kindness, well being and caring for all of Creation.
Identified by Kenissa https://kenissa.org an innovator redefining Jewish life, Rabbi Robin Damsky recently launched Limitless Judaism™ – a project of learning, movement, meditation, melody, art, tilling and tending that draws the lines of connection between our physical bodies, our spiritual expression and Gaia, our earth cosmos. She is also the Rabbi-In-Residence at Judea Reform Congregation in Durham. She lives in on Thunder Mountain in Efland, NC.