The Power of a Ritual Bath and Cancer


“I flow, I change constantly, I am my grief, I am my joy, I am human, I am divine light, I can submerge when I make the time.” — Shosh Madick.

cartoon drawing of cancer survivor and blogger, Linda Cohen

A ritual bath is something that Jewish women have done for thousands of years, and Jewish wisdom has shown them how powerful it can be. Men also can take part in this ritual. I am sure many different religions have ways of spiritual cleansing.

Summer is a great time to try something like this. Maybe some of you will take this concept and create your own spiritual bath that will give you hope and comfort, even if it’s in a swimming pool.

I was privileged to have the opportunity to experience this ritual, even though it was later in life than it’s usually done. For me, it had far-reaching benefits. However, the benefits are not specific to the Jewish faith.

Anyone can do a ritual bath. In Judaism, it needs to be a free-flowing natural body of water like any ocean, river or a mikvah, (a Jewish ritual bath that consists of collected rainwater) where it is typically done naked because it is in a private setting. The word "mikvah" is the same root as the Hebrew word for “hope.” It must be deep enough to cover an average size person when completely submerged.

You can come up with your own personal blessings, perhaps blessings that reflect your religion, or your connection to something greater than yourself, but in Judaism, the following blessing is said before dunking, for a sense of renewal:

“Blessed are You, O Lord, our G-d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with your commandments and commandedus concerning the immersion.”

I was told it is a good time to have an up close and personal conversation with God while under the water. Since it was hard for me to hold my breath for a long time, I gathered my thoughts before dunking. I said the blessing, took a deep breath and completely immersed myself without holding on to anything as I was instructed, for as long as I comfortably could.

A second blessing was then said:

“Blessed is the Eternal, the God of all creation, who has blessed me with life, sustained me, and enabled me to reach this moment.”

I took another deep breath, after collecting my thoughts, and completely submerged. Then, I took a third deep breath and took one more dunk, with no required blessing.

After my third and final dunk, I emerged from the water, and I burst out crying ... a completely unexpected emotion. I felt this release, but I also felt a strength that I had what I needed to handle what was going on in my life at the time. I felt an overwhelming feeling of the water totally embracing me. As the water enveloped me, it was a feeling of transformation. I felt a surreal sense of comfort. I felt something bigger than just a dunk. It was a feeling of rebirth.

After my experience, I read an article, entitled, "The Power of Mikvah,” and totally identified with the author, Jenna Zadaka, when she said: “When you immerse, you create a physical marker of shedding old patterns and emerging anew.”

For me, after going through multiple different cancer treatments and still dealing with it, this transformative, comforting feeling empowered me in a way I didn’t expect. Water has been said to be a holy healing source.

It has been two months since I immersed but the feeling has stuck with me. I can close my eyes and I still feel this powerful embrace. It motivated me to share my experience here.

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