How to hold each other up in this world

January 31, 2024

by Hagar Harpak

In a world that divides, separates, and turns us against one another, true resistance is not to fight, but to learn how to hold each other up.

In the Jewish tradition, we celebrate the trees on the full moon of the month of Shevat. TuBishvat is the trees’ birthday, their New Year’s, their moment of shifting toward Spring. 

Growing up in Israel, a common tradition was to go and plant trees on this day, honoring the soil, the seed, and the great power to sprout, to grow branches, to bloom, and to become the fruit that holds the seed of a future tree. 

What kind of seeds are we?

I am tired of the war and the horrors. And who am I to even dare to be tired? I am not a mother in Gaza. I am not a hostage. I am not under the rubble. I am not starved and raped in a tunnel. I am here in LA, my kids are at school, and my family of origin is in Tel-Aviv, relatively safe. We’re ok. I’m ok. But I am so tired.

Many of the trees that were planted when Israel was founded were not local trees. They didn’t think about it then. There was a lot that wasn’t thought through. And I am sure that there’s a lot that we don’t think through today, even with everything that we know. I’m not only speaking about Israel/Palestine. We didn’t know back then, we certainly didn’t think about the wisdom that breathes within the ecosystem of a place. 

What kind of tree have we become?

It’s more common now to plant local trees. Maybe other wiser ways are also to follow. 

It’s so loaded. I wasn’t planning on getting into it, but I can’t help it. I think about the olive tree groves that the settlers in the West Bank are violently destroying, and have been for years, with the Israeli current government backing them up. I think of the displacement of the Palestinian people. Back then. Since then. Now. I think about what it is like to live under occupation. I know what it’s like to live with terrorism. It is devastating. Horrifying. Heartbreaking. Terrifying. And if you don’t know better, you end up hateful. 

My ancestors arrived in the land of their ancestors, where they were torn away from by the Roman Empire. It’s been a while. Roots grown for centuries not in land, but in memory, in tradition, in stories. Our connection was to one another, not to place. But place was held in hearts. And then the dream of a return home grew flesh on bones. 

What kind of home did we build?

Sometimes I question this anthropocentric lens through which we view everything. We think that we’re the ones who brought the trees with us from place to place. We speak about invasive plants in such limited ways. Sometimes I wonder if it wasn’t the plant that wanted to move and grow in another land. Just as the plants might have a big role in the process of domesticating humans. 

Plants have been here for way longer than we have. They will be here for much longer than we will. 

Why is it that us humans tend to think that we are more important than others? 

I understand the value of putting ourselves first, the survival thing, you know… If we don’t help ourselves we won’t be able to help others. Oxygen mask goes on your face first. And I roll my eyes when I think of the Buddhist story about the hungry tiger and the Bodhisattva… You know that one? 

There once was a Bodhisattva (an enlightened being who is so compassionate that they postpone their own liberation in order to help and lead others on the path to freedom) who met a tiger mama in the forest. She had three little baby tigers and she was starving, so thin, so frail. Surely she was going to die, and her little babies were gonna die too. The Bodhisattva was so worried about their survival that he sacrificed himself and let the mama tiger eat him. 

I would die for my children, that’s for sure. But let’s be perfectly clear, I wouldn’t feed myself to a hungry tiger. And I probably wouldn’t sacrifice my own safety for the sake of a stranger, let’s be honest. I’m not that altruistic. 

But I also have a really hard time with the us and them thing. I struggle with the notion that my people are more important than the people on the other side of the fence. 

When we look at the big picture, we can clearly see that no one is safe until we’re all safe, that no one is free until we’re all free. When it comes to Israelis and Palestineans, our safety is intertwined. Failure to see that will only perpetuate more war. 

The dehumanization of Palestinans is as horrific as the dehumanization of Israelis. And there’s a lot of that going around right now. Putting blame on one side wholly, and making the other side holy. Antisemitism and Islamophobia. Fear. Hatred. And an inability to see the human, to see the life force, to see the seed. Spreading hate online, blinded by algorithms, and ignoring the facts of history. You can’t separate the roots of these issues.

What are we doing? 

TuBishvat happened last week, when the moon was full, and the sign of Leo roared and illuminated the night sky. I wrote a little last week about the relationship between the individual and the collective through the lens of the Leo and Aquarius axis. The trees were trying to communicate, to remind us that the self and society, that the personal and the planetary, that the individual and universe are never separate.

After all, the trees know. Their roots grow into larger territories beneath the soil because they themselves are the territory of other organisms. Fungi and bacteria share, give, and receive nourishment with the roots of trees. 

Beneath the surface of the earth, trees connect to other trees, they speak through mycelia, they communicate with and through the more than tree world. Under the surface, tree roots are intertwined. Beneath the ground, Israelis and Palestinens share the same roots. Deep in the soil we are all meant to hold each other up. 

Under the surface right now, as ancient, pre-Christian European traditions tell us, there’s a stirring. The belly of the earth is swelling with life, and there’s a quickening. 

This is Imbolc’s eve. Imbolc – Irish for “In The Belly” – is the Celtic holiday that marks the transition of Winter toward Spring. The wheel turns and the milk begins to flow. The seed sprouts. Roots grow down as we reach toward the growing light above. Things are moving in us, even if we’re not quite ready to show. There’s a stirring, a churning, a disruption that propels transformation. 

Something is waking up. The energy is preparing to rise. What is rising in you these days? As we make our way into the second month of the year, as we pass the threshold of mid-Winter, as we welcome the energy of awakening, as we open our eyes to see more than what the lens of our biases is willing to show us, what kind of seeds are you watering and waiting to welcome into sprout? 

The goddess that’s associated with Imbolc is Brigid; Irish triple goddess who is the maiden, holding in her the power of mother and crone. Brigid is the goddess of word, of language, of poetry, of the bards. She reminds us that the songs that we sing, the stories that we tell, are the seeds that become the trees that hold the fruit that will nourish our children. She roots us in the responsibility of becoming thoughtful ancestors. 

Our ancestors have made mistakes. They fucked up big time. And many are paying the price. We are also messing this up, because we’re messy animals, and our shadows must not only be seen, but also fed, and held, otherwise they will haunt and hunt us. We don’t need to do this perfectly. We can’t anyway. We just need to open our eyes and see a bit more than what is convenient to us, than what we’re comfortable with, and what serves the narrative we’re trying to convey and push forward. We need to do this together. 

Brigid is the goddess of smithcraft. She’s a firecracker. She activates. She wants us to see more, that’s why she ignites the fire. And fire comes with heat. We need to learn the dangers of heat, the intensity that permeates the process of transformation. We need to know that playing with fire can burn us all. She wants us to use the fire to forge tools. Are we gonna use those tools to destroy one another? Or are we gonna use these tools to support each other, to stand together, to hold each other up? 

I am Jewish, not Irish. I have no Celtic roots. And yet this goddess speaks to me. She takes me to the goddess Asherah, who was a nature mama tree goddess in the Pre-Jewish, pre-Christian, Pre-Islam Middle-East. She reminds me of Sarasvati from the Hindu tradition, goddess of art and language and poetry, who rides the swan and hangs out with peacocks. The goddess who is a river, no longer flowing above the ground, but carrying our creativity under the surface, beneath our awareness, within the earth. 

Our traditions speak to each other under the ground. Our roots are intertwined. We are meant to hold each other up. 

May this Imbolc bring you inspiration. May its light show you what you need to see in order to rise in strength and wisdom, and bring your gifts to the world, to be like a tree. 

If you want to ritualize this moment in the season, and bring the rhythm of the earth into your body, join us for the Imbolc Somatic Ceremony. It is a journey of mythopoetic exploration, ritual, practices, and deep contemplation. You’ll meet Brigid and Sarasvati and other mythical creatures. 

If you want to go deep, this is probably gonna be your gem. It’s not a collection of yoga classes, but you’ll get a lot of yoga here – mantra, mudra, pranayama, meditation, as well as asana. It’s not a pagan ritual, but you’ll make a magic circle and call in the forces that support you. It’s not in person, but you’ll feel the embrace of the earth, the sun, and other participants. We’re in this together, holding each other up. 

All the details for the Imbolc Somatic Ceremony are here. If you have any questions, please reach out. 

If you want to support a Jewish-Arab organization that understands that if there is ever going to be safety, it will have to be through peace, and we have to do it together – Palestinians and Israelis both – check out Standing Together. We need the world’s support.

Have a meaningful Imbolc.

Much love,

Hagar

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