As the High Holy Days Approach

The Jewish High Holy Days arrive this month (Rosh Hashanah October 3-4 and Yom Kippur October 12). Each year, these holidays call Jews to consider where they have fallen short and to release those shortcomings to start again with a fresh slate. In the ritual of Tashlich, Jews cast breadcrumbs in a lake or stream, a symbol of releasing the sins they have committed over the past year.

The practice inspires me. A year, though, seems to me a long time for remembering and reflecting on shortcomings. My own list would be much too long! But the practice of regular self-evaluation seems tremendously valuable and fits with this month’s theme of healing. Such self-examination helps heal the wounds that exist and keeps us from inflicting additional injuries on ourselves and others.

I try to do a daily examen, where I reflect on the events of the day to see where I feel the presence of the holy, how I respond, and where I have turned away. Even though I don’t make it every day, the several times a week check-in is helpful in reminding me where I want to focus my attention and how I want to live in the world.

For me, it’s easy to get sidetracked. I can get drawn into wherever excitement pops up today. I can lose track of my own priorities and get sucked into stuff that has nothing to do with me. I can forget how much I have to be grateful for and instead, become resentful of the ways that my life disappoints me. I can overreact to my emotions, or stifle them, and find myself whittling away time at screens instead of savoring reality. Especially when I’m tired, stressed, or hungry, I can forget my best self and act in ways I later regret. I can hurt people I have no intention of harming.

None of this is worth beating myself up over, and I certainly don’t dwell on any of it. It’s more about living with awareness. The more I can become aware of what I am up to, the more I can be deliberate and mindful about it. And, one of the uses of having a regular check-in is to know that if I think about my failings at other times, I can let go, knowing that I have a designated time to reflect and now is not it. That daily examen reminds me of what I’m thankful for, and releases the negative stuff, like dropping the breadcrumbs into the water.

The world presents us with much uncertainty, from inside our own homes and workplaces to the places we know only on maps, like Syria. Most of it is entirely beyond our control, no matter what we tell ourselves. Yet, we get caught up in struggles with it. Why not devote just a little while to being more aware and in touch with our lives and what we do have control over, to try to improve the quality of what we have and what we are? That might well bring healing.

In faith and freedom,

Jonalu

 

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