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Thursday, September 18, 2014

My Elul Intention

Though armies should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; 
though war should rise up against me, even then will I be confident.

The words above come from Psalm 27 - the traditional psalm that we read during the days of Elul.  The author of the psalm tells us that despite the multitude of challenges we face in life, we should feel strong and unafraid because of God's presence in our lives.  The psalm is a source of comfort for many, especially as we prepare to face God's judgment on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur to account for our actions in the year that has passed.

It's been a long time since I believed in a God who judges, or a God who doles out punishments and rewards based on our deeds.  Instead, I have internalized that sense of judgment, and I sit in judgment (sometimes harsh judgment) of myself.

During Elul when I recount the year that has passed I remember:  all the actions I didn't take, all the kindnesses I refused to enact, all the cruelty I held onto and all the cruelty I released.  These are “the armies that encamp against me,” and “the war that rises up against me.”  I tremble in their presence. I am neither confident nor strong.  How will I overcome them?

By taking my seat and closing my eyes. 
By finding my breath.  
By setting an intention to not be angry or disappointed or impatient with myself when my mind wanders … when I lose my way. 
By setting an intention to simply notice that I am lost.  Notice without judgment.  Notice … and then return.

This returning is an embodied teshuva, an act of return that I can practice and feel and refine … again and again … so many times in just one sit. 
And the more I practice, the easier it becomes to be gentle and forgiving with myself. 
And the more I practice being gentle with myself, the more I can be gentle and forgiving of others. 

And the more I practice, the more I am able to see with clarity “the level path” that God has laid before me … that has always been before me … that is always available to me.

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