What I learned from rediscovering a long-forgotten bottle of essential oil.
The Cycles of Birthing Sacred Work
Something interesting happens when you set out to offer your sacred work to the world. Even if you’ve been a student of personal development and self-improvement for years, even if you coach people through releasing their fears and limiting beliefs, you discover that you are not immune to the cycles of self-doubt.
In small steps, I’ve worked through layers of fears and limiting beliefs. Finding your voice is hard. Breaking free of the expectations of others is harder. Breaking free of your own expectations—the ones you’ve internalized since forever—is the hardest of all.
Some shit is buried so deep it feels like it may always be a part of you. You begin to wonder if maybe it is you.
I’ve been in this place for several weeks: feeling a strong pull to share my work on a bigger level, on the precipice of stepping forward into a bigger version of myself, and yet something keeps pulling me back. I’ve sat in meditation. I’ve worked with coaches. I’ve done the inquiries. All in search of that magical quality I need to cultivate to release myself from the last chain binding me to the smaller version of myself.
Summer Solstice Sacred Pause
In that context, yesterday I gathered in circle with my mentor Christine Arylo and other women to take a power pause as we approach this week’s Summer Solstice. This is part of Christine’s year-long program on living and leading in the Feminine way. We pause at the major turns of the earth throughout the year to reflect, examine the landscape and get focused on what we desire to co-create in the months ahead.
As part of the process, Christine encouraged us to connect with our senses by using an essential oil. I don’t have many oils around, but I went to see what I had. In the back of a drawer, I found some old oils. I pulled one out and looked at the name:
Chills. Nothing is coincidence.
Valor is a prominent theme of one of my newest rituals.
Eishet Chayil: A Woman of Valor
Eishet Chayil — often translated as “a woman of valor” — is the name of the last 22 verses of the Book of Proverbs, 31:10–31. The poem is allegorical; it is considered to be a reference to the Divine, soul, and the Sabbath (which is also personified as a bride in the Friday night prayers). Because the vehicle for this personification is a woman, in many Jewish homes, including the one in which I was raised, it is sung by a man to his wife on Friday night, as the household welcomes the Sabbath.
It’s a beautiful tradition. And one that, as a single woman, I don’t have in my own home.
My New Weekly Ritual
My work is all about creating rituals: daily fitness, meditation, journaling, and so on. Earlier this year I decided to create a new weekly ritual to mark the Sabbath. On Friday evenings, no matter what else I do, I sing Eishet Chayil to myself. Part of my intention in starting this ritual was the hope that perhaps it would help me manifest a partner who would see these qualities in me. By singing it to myself, I could get used to hearing it. Perhaps it would prime me to be open to the relationship that has eluded me.
So, valor has been percolating in my consciousness.
That brings me to the bottle of essential oil. Keep in mind that in the history of the Jewish people, small bottles of oil have been known to produce great miracles.
I had a lightbulb moment: valor is the quality I must cultivate to break free of the last chains holding me back. This must be the missing link.
The first thing I did was to look it up. I like to be intentional about word choice, and I’m a bit of a word geek. If I’m going to adopt a word, I want to know the precise meaning and etymology.
Dictionary Definition and Etymology
Here’s what I learned. The dictionary defines Valor as:
strength of mind or spirit that enables a person to encounter danger with firmness : personal bravery
The etymology of the word comes from Middle English:
Valour: worth, worthiness, bravery
In Latin, the root val
- Stem of validus: in good health, robust, having legal authority
- valëre = to be well, to have strength
Some other notes I picked up:
- Valor is often used in the military context, as in the Medal of Valor.
- The Air Force Medal of Honor is inscribed with the word valor.
- The old-fashioned adjective valorous describes warriors of the past.
- Valiant is more commonly used today; moreso for other forms of bravery and effort than in military context.
Word geek heaven 🙂
In the Context of Eishet Chayil
I also did a bit of research into the meaning of Eishet Chayil.
Eishet Chayil is referred to as the ideal wise woman, or the woman of substance. The woman described is the personification of wisdom.
Other translations of chayil include virtuous and noble. Throughout scriptures, the word is used almost exclusively in the military context. As such, many scholars say that it conveys a meaning of forceful, mighty or valiant.
Interesting, the ArtScroll prayer book from which I read the poem translates Eishet Chayil as “an accomplished woman.” The commentary expands on chayil, noting that throughout the scriptures it has various connotations:
- Organized military force
- General competence
The commentary notes that in the context of this piece,
the woman described is energetic, righteous and capable, and therefore an accomplished woman.
(emphasis is mine).
The commentary says that the word implies the
presence of whatever skills or attributes are needed to carry out the task at hand.
Why this is so resonant for me
Valor sounds like just what I need to break through the last chains holding me back. And then I realized that it also fits perfectly with the theme of my work itself.
An Attribute of My Work
For years, people have asked me to teach them how I create and sustain my stack of daily practices. While most people simply want some strategies for creating “habits” that stick (they are not habits, but that’s for another time), my vision for this work is far bigger than the specifics of daily habits or practices.
The rituals themselves are merely vehicles through which we create space for our best work, whether that work is engaging in self-care, taking inventory of our ideas, slowing the mind, or nurturing relationships.
In a culture that increasingly tries to demand that we be accessible 24/7 and worships at the altar of always on, hustle and filling every space with something to do, making space for self care and deep work is an act of rebellion. While our culture continues to promote the belief that productivity involves doing more, filling the spaces and being the energizer bunny, I know from experience that this approach results in one outcome: burnout and depletion.
In that vein, for me, bringing my sacred work more visibly into the world is about starting a revolution: The Ritual Revolution.
Valor, and chayil, with their military connotations, fit this theme perfectly.
Cultivating the Quality of Valor
The fit with my work is great, but it’s in the context of my personal attributes and the timing of my work that this word really struck me.
Even as I’ve been feeling the call to offer my sacred work in a bigger and more vocal way, I’ve found myself caught in a web of fears and doubts. Of course, I know that this is a sign that this is indeed my path. Doubts and fears arise in proportion to the significance of the work we are called to offer.
Is anything more disconcerting than seeing yourself play small when you know, at the deepest levels of your being, that this is your time to rise up and play big?
The past several weeks have been an excruciating ride through a roller coaster of imposter syndrome, fear of being seen, moments of brilliance and incredible confidence.
Ah, the creative life.
When I saw that bottle of essential oil in the drawer, it suddenly struck me:
Valor represents the qualities I need to move through the sticking points. I must cultivate courage and bravery. I must build good health and strength: physical, spiritual, emotional and mental. Most of all, I must root myself in my own worth and worthiness.
Then I realized that this fit with my weekly Eishet Chayil ritual, my practice that began with a desire to become a “woman of valor” — a woman with a partner who would see these qualities in me.
And then I suddenly realized that I was mistaken about the purpose of my latest ritual. (This is often the case with rituals).
Singing Eishet Chayil to myself has not been about calling in someone who will see these qualities in me.
The truth is that nobody else can see them unless I first see them within myself. Only when we can see our own qualities can others see them.
Starting this ritual was a sign that, at least on some level, I already see these qualities in myself.
My ritual of singing Eishet Chayil to myself has really been about recognizing what’s already there.
The act of singing this song to myself allows me to hear the words out loud. Words sung out loud create a resonance that embeds within us. By giving voice to these qualities, I come know and embody what I already see within myself.
Rather than calling these qualities in, my ritual has been about calling these attributes out of me. When I bring them to the surface, others can see them and I can use them in service of my work.
A woman of valor is not who I am becoming. A woman of valor is who I already am.
Courageous. Brave. Worthy. Energetic. Righteous. Capable. Skilled. Strong. Forceful. Mighty. Valiant. Wise. Substantive.
And ready to lead a revolution.
Do you want to learn more about how to create sustainable daily practices? Register at TheRitualRevolution.com and I’ll be in touch with more information.