A Modern Mikvah

A little over a year ago, a few friends and I hosted a women’s circle to celebrate our bride-to-be friend Carrie. I never blogged about it although I got permission, because I don’t feel like I can capture its meaning and beauty in words. But, I’ll share our introductory words and the format in case it inspires, excites, or otherwise moves you to revisit and update your own rituals to bring more meaning to special times.

In the Jewish tradition, a mikvah is any body of mayim hayim, which literally means “living water,” or running water as opposed to stagnant water. Water like the beautiful ocean behind us in an example of an outdoor mikvah. A mikvah is often visited by Jews as a part of rituals as an act of purification. Brides have historically gone before their wedding day, often with her girlfriends by her side.
The word mikvah literally means a collection. Usually, it refers to the collection of water, but we can also think of this women’s gathering today as a mikvah, a collection of women. Our community is formed by women who have traveled from different places to sit in their circle, literally and metaphorically. Each of us has our own story, but it is Carrie’s role in each of our stories that created this particular collection of women. Together, in our closing mikvah ceremony, Carrie, we all are witnesses and supporters of your new partnership as well as your ever­evolving independence and kinship.

We had several of the women in the circle from different parts of Carrie’s life – family, crafting circle, lifetime friends – offer different blessings (seven total) and pour a small bit of ocean water over Carrie’s hands. We talked about it’s power to cleanse and refresh, and to ready her with a fresh slate to build a life together with her (wonderful) husband. Most importantly, we were able to draw from tradition and community to create a meaningful, structured gathering that marked a significant milestone with resonance to our friend and her mikvah.

In general, I think rituals – religious or otherwise – exist to create known structures to recognize the significance of a moment or place in time. From a courtroom rising when a judge walks in, to political appointees getting sworn in using a bible, to the recitation of the pledge of allegiance in elementary schools in the morning, to singing take me out to the ball game in the 7th inning stretch, to saying grace before a meal, to putting on your right shoe first, rituals aren’t always right or wrong, meaningful or not; they just are. They can help disparate people form connection or also distance, and inform process for those who like knowing how things will happen.

For me, I don’t like blindly doing things just because it’s how they’ve always been done. Carrie, my friend who is now a year happily married and growing her mikvah every day, is the same; bringing meaning to what we do and how and why we do it – the process – is more important than the end itself.

What’s one ritual that you want to rethink, revise, and rebirth?

44 Stock Photos That Hope To Change The Way We Look At Women.

I actually think about stock photography a little bit too much. Who do photographers look to cast, and why? What tone and feel do they ask each subject to strike, in hopes that it creates a stock image so appealing that it will resonate broadly with an unknown audience? 

Stock photos everywhere build on stereotypes, especially those of gender. We see “traditional” roles tied to emotions, stature, clothing, race, and status symbols that don’t strike us as surprising, because it’s how we “normally” picture representations of circumstance. But, these boxes are false, because the false feels safe and comforting in a way. These photos represent certain stock image “risks” that we can only hope become mainstream and equally boring in the future.

Dove conducted an experiment about how women perceive their own beauty. Very interesting to watch.

[Update 4/18/2013: I have heard as much negative about this ad as positive over the last several days. Posting was not an endorsement but rather a spark of conversation. My personal opinion: On one level, this is fascinating to see the difference in how people view themselves from how they’re viewed by strangers. To me, the difference in the second drawing was more a tone, a confidence, that makes someone more ‘beautiful’. On a different level though, I’m bothered by the homogenous subjects (just women in their 30s and 40s of mid-range weight and appearance with no normal blemishes or other noticeable appearance features) even though Dove usually does a better job than most with showing a range of women, and also the idea that beauty means narrower face, less freckles, fuller hair, etc. At the end of the day, I don’t think this ad/experiment is really helpful, and the interesting qualities would be better served outside of the beauty brand context. That’s my take.]

Happy International Women’s Day!

Here’s to all the women who live life to the fullest, those who have paved the way for increased opportunity in the past and present, and those men who have chimed in with their undying support. It is my wish for women worldwide that we continue to raise our voices, proudly work and raise families if we choose, and celebrate our unity and spirit.

Read more about celebrations, history, education and advocacy happening today around the world.

The Super Bowl statistic we aren’t talking about.

via The Enliven Project:

1 out of 6 men on the field next Sunday could be survivors of sexual violence.

That’s right, 1 out of 6.

Just to be clear, we don’t know whether specific players have had specific experiences.  We simply want to you to look at the men in your class, the men in your family, and the men on your favorite sports team with this statistic in mind.

Too much shame and stigma exists for all victims of sexual violence. But the stigma is even greater for men, many of whom believe they should have been able to protect themselves or fear that friends and family members will think less of them if they come forward.

There have been a handful of brave and courageous men – R.A. Dickey, Tyler Perry, Scott Brown, and Keyon Dooling to name a few – who have stepped forward and are generous in sharing their stories and experiences so that others can be less afraid to break silence.  But these men are not the exception.  And their stories are more common than you think.

I respect and support this awareness campaign. Share if you do, too.

HR Tip: Know Your Job Description

This interesting article from New York Magazine highlights how even high-powered women like Valerie Jarrett know they do a lot, but can’t quite put a finger on it. The job description is amorphous, and it’s worth defining.

A job description is never perfect, but it should be written, periodically reviewed with a direct supervisor and other team members as appropriate, and followed to the extent possible. Usually, there is a catch-all line for flexibility (ie: Assist with other office duties as needed), so neither you nor your company will feel pigeonholed. Having an active and recognized job description is really a win-win for you and the company; it gives you a personal guideline and self-advocacy tool, and it gives your employer a way to evaluate your job proficiency and understand what is on your plate. Plus, when you’re looking to that next step career-wise, whether it’s in the same vein or completely unrelated, you can use this tool to evaluate what has worked for you and what hasn’t.

I’m curious to add some personal anecdotes; what has been your experience with job descriptions?

10 Fascinating Meetings in Modern History

I thought it would be fun to include a slide in my upcoming class about the history of meetings, and my research yielded an awesome list of 10 fascinating meetings in modern history. Here’s an excerpt:

Thomas Stafford & Alexei Leonov

Picture 1-64

On July 15th 1975 two men aboard the Soyuz (from the Soviet space program) and three men aboard the last Apollo mission (from the US space program) were launched within seven and a half hours of each other The Astronauts & Cosmonauts were to perform some experiments but the primary purpose of the mission was symbolic and was an attempt to ease the tensions between the two superpowers. On July 17, Stafford and Leonov met and exchanged the first international handshake in space through the open hatch of the Soyuz. The spacecrafts remained linked for 44 hours, long enough for the men to pay visits to each other’s ships,eat together and converse in each other’s languages. The Soviets remained in space for five days, the Americans for nine days.

Interesting Fact: The Americans and Soviets exchanged flags and gifts including tree seeds which were later planted in the two countries.

Something neat about the 10 meetings selected is that the two people are not always natural allies, but the meeting is completely civil and invited. Part of my enjoyment of effective meetings is having two parties come to a table from different perspectives to discuss mutual goals or to share a unique ideology for the dual purposes of informing and learning. This actively engaged communication helps communities and people grow instead of fester in one-track mindsets.

An observation: none of the meetings featured include women, which is a reminder of how recently it’s been since women have been recognized in history. Why not include, for instance, when Harriet Tubman met WIlliam Still in 1849, from which meeting the Underground Railroad could grow significantly? 

10 Fascinating Meetings in Modern History