Mystics taught that, with the advent of Rosh Hashanah, the energies of the old year whoosh upward and out through the tops of our heads, leaving our bodies feeling empty and vulnerable. When the shofar sounds on Rosh Hashanah day, the new year's energies begin to flow in through that same opening and down into our bodies. This process takes time—ten days, to be exact!—during which we remain in a vulnerable state, as shaky on our spiritual feet as a newborn calf. On Yom Kippur, the day of At-one-ment, if we’ve done the spiritual work of the season, we are able to rejoice in the purification of our beings and a sense of renewed connection with Life. And the inflow will continue through Sukkot and, some say, all the way until Hanukah!
In preparation for the days ahead, I invite you to consider the impetus for your own teshuvah—literally, your “turning” or “ returning”—this year. Is there something or someone valuable that you've left behind or forgotten? What or whom are you returning to?
Rabbi Naomi Levy, in her inspiring book Einstein and the Rabbi, Searching for the Soul, writes about the yearnings and questions that people often bring to her: What should I do with my life? Is this the right person for me? How do I find my true calling? She sees these as “soul questions.”
“We have a gnawing sense,” she writes, “that the life we are living is not the life we are meant to be living…. We experience these longings because at some point we became separated from our own souls, from a voice within that is here to guide us to the very purpose of our existence…. We fall into predictable patterns, we get through our days without reaching and stretching and listening. And then you wake up one day and you realize you have drifted far afield from your own essence. You lost yourself while trying to please others. Your work no longer resonates with you. Your relationships feel superficial. With all your obligations and pressures you’ve stopped doing the things you love. We wander in exile hoping for a way to return to our essence.”
Perhaps you resonate with some of what Rabbi Levy is speaking about. Perhaps you have some longing, some vague inner tugging, that alerts you to a space, a gap that’s opened up between your soul essence and the daily unfolding of your life. Or perhaps you recognizes subtle spaces, ruptures in relationships, that you would love to heal, or to simply release. These spaces, these gaps, these vague yearnings that draw your attention, may be points of initiation for your own teshuvah work this year.
During these next two weeks, you might want to spend some time feeling into these spaces, touching them gently, with compassion and curiosity, so that when you join in community for the chanting of Kol Nidre on the eve of Yom Kippur, in whatever sacred space you gather, you’ll be able to give voice to the nature of the longing that draws you forward this year, a sense of what you hope to release (forgive!), along with a vision of what might be birthing or strengthening for you in the months ahead.
A poem to inspire your practice:
Teach Me to Forgive
Master of Pardonings,
teach me to forgive--
to forgive myself,
to forgive You,
to forgive those who have hurt me
in the name of ignorance, mindlessness,
even righteousness and justice,
to forgive the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
to forgive nature, human and otherwise,
personal and impersonal,
majestic and petty;
to forgive death,
to forgive You,
to forgive myself--
to forgive it all,
so that I may open to life,
living-and-dying as it is,
flowing through me
carrying it all along,
a great river of living-and-dying,
a mighty stream of birthing-and-dying,
a towering wave of living-and-dying.
Holy Merciful one
teach me to forgive.
–R. Diane Elliot, 2015 / 5776