Trauma fractures us internally and externally, splitting our sense of our bodies and sundering our connections with the rest of the world. Spiritual tools like Jewish Kabbalah and the process of counting the omer can help us weave ourselves back together, looking at qualities of kindness, boundaries, compassion, endurance, Nature, connection, and sovereignty.
Any tool can harm as well as heal. Kabbalah in particular has been co-opted to gather and steal power over others, instead of supporting personal power within as it was intended. Jewish Kabbalah can be religious, mystical, intellectual, esoteric. My focus here is body awareness to restore internal and external connections.
Tree of Life
The Kabbalistic Tree of Life has 10 energy centers, called sefirot (singular, sefira, “seh-fee-rah”). Like the chakras, the one at the head is most universal and spiritual, and they become more specific and material as they go down the body. Unlike the chakras, they are not all on the body’s centerline.
The top three sefirot, Keter at the crown of the head and Hochma and Binah on either side of it, are considered too subtle for us to sense. The process of counting the omer focuses on the lower seven, as pictured.
Weave each sefira to the others
Counting the omer is traditionally done over 49 days starting in early spring from the second day of Pesach (Passover) to Shavuot.
Each week focuses on a different sefira in turn, starting with Chesed/kindness and ending with Malchut/sovereignty. Within each week, each day pairs the chosen sefira with each of the others, again starting with Chesed on the first day and ending with Malchut on the seventh.
For example, the first day of the first week focuses on Chesed/kindness, paired with itself. The second day focuses on Gevurah/boundaries, in the context of Chesed. Can you allow kindness to bathe your boundaries? The first day of the second week focuses on Chesed in the context of Gevurah, kindness channeled and contained by boundaries. Each person finds their own images and meanings for the pairings.
This slow weaving of each sefira to all the others shows us which are comfortable and familiar, which we wrestle with, and which are unexplored enigmas. Matching our perceptions and the events of our lives with the day’s theme can lead to surprising insights.
Choose your own adventure
You can start this process whenever feels right to you, or wait for the official starting point the second day of Pesach, which is April 23 in 2016. If 49 days sounds overwhelming, you can choose a single sefira, perhaps the one you are most comfortable with, and pair it with each sefira over 7 days.
Sefira of the week and day
Each evening after sundown, read a little bit about the following day’s pairing. I used Susan Windle’s intimate memoir of counting the omer, Through the Gates, as a primary source, and read other sources as well.
Sense into your body for the location of this week’s sefira, and then into the location for this day’s sefira. Can you connect them to each other? Do they feel vividly alive, or remote, or numb, or something else? Do you have chronic pain or remembered trauma there? What strength and capability do you find there?
How do you relate to the meaning of the day’s sefira, in the context of the week’s sefira? What interpretations resonate in your life? What emotions arise in response? Accept whatever happens in that day as part of the process.
Chesed: love, kindness, grace, benevolence
Chesed, in the right shoulder, is where the energy of Spirit becomes tangible to us as a flood of loving, accepting energy.
While this sounds warm and fuzzy, what I experienced in my right shoulder was chronic pain and restriction. When I tried to connect with the energy of this sefira, I felt anger and grief. At first I assumed the process was not working for me. When I accepted what I was sensing, it felt healing that Spirit could respond with sympathetic anger and grief to injustice and pain. I felt a shift around having protection, and being worthy of protection.
Trauma often damages our relationship to Spirit. Part of being embodied is sensing that we are securely part of the world, wanted and important. Notice how it feels to bring that energy to each of the other sefirot over the first week. Resistance, conflict, and contradictory messages are all part of this process.
Gevurah: strength, justice, limits, boundaries
Gevurah, in the left shoulder, represents limits of tangible form, where the previous sefirot are all about the potential of limitless energy. While this sefira is often seen in a negative light, I think judgments, tangible limits, and boundaries are tremendously positive. While it might be fun to be a boundless energy being, we cannot be embodied without edges.
Notice how it feels to offer each sefira strength and boundaries, like the banks of a river.
Tiferet: beauty, harmony, balance, compassion
At the heart, and balance-point of the Tree, Tiferet represents inner beauty, balance, and compassion. While Chesed represents our connection with an endless flow of loving energy, Tiferet is our own capacity for acceptance and compassion. I noticed that while I have a lot of practice extending this energy to others, I find it harder to offer to myself.
Notice how it feels to bring compassion and look for the beauty in each sefira in turn. When Tiferet met Yesod, I understood at a deeper level that my body is allowed to want. Acceptance of wanting is an essential part of accepting being alive.
Netzach: endurance, victory, physical energy, persistence
At the right side of the solar plexus, Netzach represents endurance, a familiar force in my life. I’ve been known as “stubborn” since I was small. Surviving trauma, and the aftermath of trauma, requires a lot of endurance.
How does endurance and persistence manifest in your life? What are you enduring, physically and emotionally? What are you persistent about in relation to each sefira?
Hod: splendor, humility, glory of Nature
At the left side of the solar plexus, Hod represents the humble splendor of the physical world. One source related this sefira to perception, which resonated for me. As each sefira supported my perceptions, it felt like a whole week of anti-gaslighting.
What do you notice around being embodied in the natural world, in relation to each of the sefirot? Can you spend some time outside this week?
Yesod: intimacy, foundation, connections
At the level of the sacrum, or womb for those who have one, Yesod represents intimacy, relationships, wanting, the foundation of being alive and embodied.
Many trauma survivors are disconnected from the whole pelvic area, and this is an opportunity to reconnect. It can bring a flood of emotions: longing for intimacy and connection, grief for lost connections, fear of the primal desires of the body, and anger about the assaults this area may have endured. It can also bring up pain around community and abuse, including “Why didn’t anyone help?”
For me, this was the hardest week, and at the same time it brought the biggest changes in how I relate to my body. Instead of feeling my pelvic area as “that, over there,” I feel it as “right here, part of me.” How does your pelvic area relate to each of the other sefirot?
Malchut: leadership, sovereignty, integrity
Below the pelvis, or at the feet, or the whole of you, Malchut represents your sovereignty over yourself, and grounded leadership. For me, the week of Malchut was about integrating the prior week’s changes around Yesod. I also noticed a quiet pride and confidence in my style of collaborative leadership.
How does it feel to integrate each sefira into the whole of you? How do you see yourself as a leader in each area?
However much we might hope that healing will turn us into someone else, we find wholeness in becoming more ourselves. As we weave the bits of ourselves back together, we leave behind the isolation of trauma for a more secure and connected place in the world.
Susan Windle’s intimate memoir of counting the omer, Through the Gates, is a great feminist resource for learning about Kabbalah.
Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, blogging as Velveteen Rabbi, wrote a poem for every day of counting the omer in 2015.