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Yom Kippur: The Way of Returning

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We are nearing Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the culmination of a season of a heightened focus towards repentance, Teshuvah (literally meaning "Returning"). It's a process that takes on many meanings for many different people. Traditionally, it is an arduous analysis of our prior year of wrongdoings and faulty behaviors, and through extra prayers, added stringencies of religious practices, and general acts of kindness and charity we realign to our highest values. We pray for forgiveness and hope to begin a new year on a clean slate.

It's a frightening endeavor for many and even a joyous day for some. However, I find that most people that I know, myself included, participate rather passively.

I have spent many years feeling conflicted at this time of year, and especially on this day. Teshuvah (repentance, returning), the concept in and of itself, has been a jagged pill to swallow. Could it be, that I am supposed to stand before my Creator and the Created and sincerely undo all the immoral ways, dishonest and harmful speech, flaws in my character and behavior, and mend all my relationships in a single day, or even 10 days, or a month? OK, so even if I can't undo them all, I have to be remorseful and hope or expect to be forgiven? And then just move on?!

I have the utmost respect to our rabbis for the formation of a practice that has preserved the sanctity of our heritage and that allows me to participate today. In all honesty, I have had difficulty connecting to this service from my heart. Superficially, the whole process can seem contrived and repetitive. It's almost like a parent telling a kid to apologize to his friend that he just hit. An act of principle, but nearly empty of meaning and true heartfelt intent. As if, on-point, all together now, saying the words, singing the songs, and listening to a high-pitched, and all too often, screechy sound is supposed to transform me. And even when there is a real moment, a sincere desire to be better, a remorse, I find myself getting sucked back into old patterns only moments later. Am I doing something wrong? Do people really change from this? Am I capable of utilizing this practice today for my betterment?

On the Call of the Shofar transformational retreats, developed by my friend and mentor, Simcha Frischling, I have come to understand some of the deep and potent aspects of self-transformation through our ancient tradition. Call of the Shofar is an organization that awakens within Jewish men and women an experience of self-transformation and principles toward living a life of innate wellbeing and healthy relationships. These experiences have powerfully shifted the way I relate to Torah, mitzvot and most of all the Jewish holidays. For me, the shift came down to moving from relating to this practice only as some kind of unequivocally mandatory and ethereal concept requiring years of toil and intellectual and spiritual comprehension to become relevant, to an alive and evolving law of nature, as that of my own physical health or aging.

Over the last nine years of working on my own wellbeing and empowering others to do the same, I began to understand, see and feel that my wellbeing is as integral to my life as anything else; that I want to be experiencing a connection to all of life, and therefore living from my moral and ethical ideals.

Through my experience at Call of the Shofar, I have come to see negative behavior, flaws in character and Teshuvah in a whole new way. And it is very simple. Every single person, deep down, wants to live life to the fullest, to be in touch with their purpose, to be happy, to love and be loved. Every person is born with a soul, a spark of Godliness, an innate potential for wellbeing, meaning capable of manifesting all expressions of our truest essence: loving, powerful, confident, expressive, in-touch, grateful and so on.

When we lose touch with who we really are, when we define ourselves and our realities by beliefs like, "I don't deserve to be cared for," "I can't trust people," "I'm weak," "I'm unimportant," "I'm bad," "I'm not Godly," we feel constricted, down and reactive. We are swayed by seemingly uncontrollable emotions. For all intents and purposes, we lose our freedom and become enslaved by our reactivity, habitual numbing and discontent. Negative character traits and behaviors come from this place.

Teshuvah and wellbeing go hand in hand. The whole concept of Teshuvah as a "nu nu nu," "not good enough until..." or "if you don't, then here are the consequences," only seems to reinforce fear and shame toward forcing a "better" me. Rather, Teshuvah is the principle that says, "Hey, when you are not completely alive and powerful and connected and proactive in your life, then you are not being your Self. Period."

Imagine if we dug deep, we searched and we found what is really at the root of all our dishonest acts, harmful behaviors and persistent limitations. What if this process was not about serving some externally imposed demand, but of coming into the purest truth about ourselves?

The Teshuvah here is not about working on changing our actions, "being better," a forward motion that filled with rectifying actions and new habbits. It is not just the actions or the flaws in our character that need fixing. Yes, that too. Obviously we want to treat each other better and act with integrity. Who were we before we took on these beliefs? Who are we still, beyond all these limited narratives? The calling of the shofar itself is an act of breathing (deeply experiencing) into a narrow hole (the places of constriction) and sounding a simple vibration, a simple desire or yearning from the essence of our being. This Teshuvah is about returning. Returning to our selves, returning to our Godly spark.

From this place it is not so scary to self reflect, to make amends, to face the "judgment." From this place we can heal and let go of conscious and unconscious messages that we are projecting on ourselves, others and the world. From this place we are less judgmental of others and we understand that everyone, no matter how skewed and intolerable their character or behaviors are, at their essence is a Godly spark that that has been forgotten, the common denominator that connects us all.

This is the call of the shofar. This is the way of returning.

"And you shall seek Me, and find Me, when you shall search for Me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:13).

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