The mikveh is a ritual bath designed to purify and spiritually cleanse. In fact, prior to immersion we must cleanse ourselves thoroughly. And then the focus is on the spiritual aspect of this ritual. Let’s look at the preparation and physical aspect, as it might lend insight into enhancement of the spiritual experience.
The mitzvah of dipping in the mikveh is one of the very few mitzvot in which our whole body participates. It is a physical immersion that requires careful attention and preparation by cleaning the entire body, with attention to the smallest of details such as behind the ears and finger/toenails. We shower and clean our skin.
Skin, our largest organ, covers, protects, and serves as a barrier. Because it is porous, it also has the power to absorb. It reflects the overall state of our health and wellbeing, which is why it is vital to treat our skin with proper care.
My heightened attention to proper skin care began a short while back with a quest to find a natural face cleanser to help my teen daughter’s acne-prone skin before resorting to prescription medication. Discouraged with the products I found on the market, I decided to create my own, and tweaked a face soap recipe until I created a bar that worked. It really worked! So much so that my daughter gave samples to her friends, and lo and behold, it also worked for them. Being a firm believer in sharing something good, I decided to take it to the next level, creating and selling all-natural, handcrafted soaps. This ties well into my commitment to health and wellness, to which I have devoted my professional life as a psychologist and yoga teacher.
Soapmaking is a chemical process that combines oil and water, two substances that generally don’t mix. To me, soapmaking is beyond chemistry, it is alchemy, the changing of a basic substance into another substance. It is simply magical. Soapmaking has become another means for me to connect to nature, purity and essence. It has evolved into a meditative practice. It requires intention, preparation, mindfulness and patience/anticipation.
I firmly believe that the purity of the soap, as well as my kavana (intention) during the process of making it, is transmitted into the soap. I want others to enjoy this luxurious, fragrant, moisturizing, and nourishing treat. Before I do the physical preparation, I “check-in” with myself, my mood, state of mind, and make sure I am centered and in a place of creating and giving to others. The intention is crucial to creating the end product.
The physical preparation requires careful attention and concentration and includes preparing a sterile, safe environment, carefully measuring out each ingredient, and choosing which fragrant essential oils to combine, depending on the effect I would like to create (i.e. soothing, uplifting, relaxing, or sensuous).
Once ready, I carefully add the water mixture to the oils, and magic starts to occur. There is a coming together, a uniting of two distinct compounds. The mixture starts to saponify. Transformation occurs. Watching the process I am filled with joy each and every time I create soap.
And then… there is the waiting phase, which requires patience, patience and more patience. Once mixed, the soap must be set aside, covered and allowed to sit for 24 hours to let it “do its thing”, all the while wondering, anticipating, what will the results be? Once uncovered, I must again wait, patiently, for the soap to “cure” and be ready to use, a process which takes 4-6 weeks.
Perhaps what I learn from soap-making can be applied to preparing for the mikvah experience: It requires intention, preparation, mindfulness and patience/ anticipation.
Let’s start with the intention, how can we slow down or stop and create an intention for being receptive and open?
Rituals contain us. We usually take for granted our daily shower ritual. It is an opportunity for time alone, with ourselves, and with our bodies. Jewish law enables us to pay more careful attention to cleaning our body when preparing to immerse in the mikveh.
The physical preparation- let’s do it with mindfulness. When cleaning our body, what is it absorbing? What do we want it to absorb? Can we connect to the awakening of our tactile sense? This awareness can take us to a different place spiritually as well. It can allow for a transformation to take place during the mikveh ritual. This preparation is an opportunity to connect with ourselves, on the most intimate level, as a preparation to connect intimately with our partner.
And lastly, patience and anticipation. The Jewish laws of niddah have a built-in component of anticipation. With the proper intention, preparation, and mindfulness this anticipation can help elevate us to a higher spiritual level. Attending to and enjoying the physical cleanse with mindfulness and intention, can undoubtedly enhance the spiritual experience.