Rosh Hashanah: Begin Again

Rosh Hashanah is today (and tomorrow)–the Jewish New Year.  It’s a religious holiday-a Holy Day-not like December 31.  It is in fact when the new year in the Jewish calendar starts.

So it’s not about champagne and noisemakers and a countdown. It is, however, about marking the passage of time, but also taking stock of where we are in our lives.

One of the other “High Holy Days”–the holiest–is in ten days. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  And although it’s often billed as one whole day of Jewish “confession” for our sins, it’s a much deeper and richer tradition. Yes, it is about apologies, and forgiveness, and looking back, and looking forward. But also so much more. It’s a meditation, if you will. The “Sabbath” of the year-where we stop. turn off our phones, and in whatever way is meaningful to us, we have sort of a sit-down with ourselves.  Let’s take a look at the year, shall we?  The good, the bad, the ugly. The joyous. The frightening. The courageous, the compassionate, the lessons learned.

The days in between are referred to as “The Days of Awe”. I try to take that literally, myself.  Awe is everywhere, all the time. We don’t notice (because we are looking at our phones, mostly).  But before technology, there were other ways we distracted ourselves from the everyday sacred. I love the Days of Awe as a reminder to pay attention.

So, Sharon Salzburg, a renowned American Buddhist teacher, posted this on her Instagram the other day:

begin-again

and I reposted it, and wrote:”and again….and again….and again….”

This is what meditation is, essentially.  A return to the breath. it doesn’t “end”. it is a lifelong practice of noticing when your attention has strayed, and beginning again, with the breath.

and I used the hashtag #unlimitedstartovers.

A startover (I just made that up) is not a do-over.  It’s not even a fresh start.  It’s not trying to erase the moment before, or any moment before this one. It’s simply….well, a return. Return to the breath. Again and again. Begin again.

So today in services, the rabbi gave his sermon, and he addressed this notion. (all below attributed to him is my paraphrasing, my understanding of what he said.)

the bad news, is, we fall off. (the actual definition of “sin” is to “miss the mark”. )

The good news: when we realize it, we can *return*.  The proces of atonement for Yom Kippur is, in Hebrew, Teshuvah. Which translates into: To return.

When he said that, I thought: “Begin again.”

And I thought again that it’s not the same as a do-over, or even a clean slate, because we BRING OURSELVES WITH US.

Teshuvah.

To return.

Begin again.

Not do over.

We cannot erase what our past contains. We cannot erase anything about the past; and quite honestly, I would not really want to. The good, the bad, the ugly….the joyous, the courageous, the confusing. The growth.  The return.

And as I sat there in services, my heart said:
Bring it with you,
Your fear, anger, confusion and shame

Bring also with you…
Your essential goodness
Your courage, compassion, clear-seeing and capacity for love

There is room for all of it
We can honor all of it
And still choose to affirm our life
That does not mean
To get rid of pain
For pain is as valid as joy

The rabbi spoke about the state of the world right now, how overwhelmed so many of us are. How helpless and hopeless we feel sometimes. And that the antidote to that is community. It to come together and connect.

The opposite of joy is not anger/fear/confusion.
It is disconnection.
Numbness.

This past weekend I had the tremendous honor of taking a workshop with Scott Stabile,  and he said that when you open your heart,
You open it to more pain….
But also to more joy.
Often we recoil from the pain
Shut back down
Go back into hiding.

And then we miss the joy.

There is a saying in recovery saying:
“Don’t quit before the miracle”

Since we don’t know when it’s  coming
That is truly an invitation to never quit.

The miracle-which may not be what we anticipate, or wish for; hell, it may simply be the ability to hold the pain-could be just around the bend.

The miracle could be coming in the next moment.

Begin.

Again.

A healthy and happy year filled with joy and presence and discovery to all of you, Jewish or not.  As we say: May You Be Inscribed in the Book of Life. L’Shana Tova.

autumn-woods-sunset

 

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