Archives for September 2013

A “Days of Awe” Retreat – Putting Our Name on The List – Day 9

If these Days of Awe have revealed anything to me this year so far, it is — above all — that the work has to start with us. Doing the work of forgiveness is far from easy, far from comfortable; yet if we commit ourselves to healing, to living our lives with a more open heart — and manifest this commitment in such tangible ways — then I believe that we will inspire others who — by witnessing our actions — will be moved to do the same. This is where true Tikkun Olam awakens, where the Healing of our World is allowed to truly take place. When enough of us are able to shift the energies in our lives to be more loving, more inclusive, and more forgiving, we can’t help but watch these energies begin to ripple in the life of our communities and in our world. Our individual work is the most important work. It is, therefore, critical that we put our name on our list as well, and begin our journey by forgiving ourselves. This is your final assignment on this Day 9; to take the list from Day 4 and simply add your name there.

Tonight we are meeting again as a community to celebrate the holiest day in the Jewish year. And even though we have been hard at work preparing ourselves to meet this day through our “Days of Awe” retreat, in the moment we step into the sanctuary we unavoidably realize how unprepared we truly are. I hope you do. I hope you come to this moment with some level of trepidations, knowing you are not ready, and with the Avinu Malkeinu prayer in your heart. The Avinu Malkeinu prayer is what we declare on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kipur, standing in the Presence of the One: “Avinu Malkeinu… Ein Banu Ma-asim,” “Holy One of Being…we have too few good deeds,” or, as I like to translate it: “Holy One of Being… we’ve got nothing!” We come to this day with nothing. We come to this day with the precious emptiness of who we are. We are not ready. And because we are not ready, we can step into the day open to receiving whatever it is we came to hear. We surrender into our not-readiness, we let go of our expectations, and make ourselves available to discover what is yearning to be revealed this Yom Kippur.

G’mar Chatimah Tovah, may your name be sealed for Good in the Book of Life.

A “Days of Awe” Retreat – Making Amends – Day 8

Making amends is truly when the rubber meets the road. We have done all this work forgiving others, and now we have to go out there and repair the damage we have done. If we worked on our letter yesterday, and rehearsed our conversation, we might feel ready. Yet pride, fear and procrastination can stand in the way of healing. How will we be received? Is the person going to retaliate? Perhaps we are still pining for a certain outcome, or secretly hoping we can be absolved of our responsibilities? But like Nachman ben Aminadav of the famous midrash, we have to walk through our fears, let go of our expectations, and trust that the seas will part for us. [Read more…]

A “Days of Awe” Retreat – Preparing to Make Amends – Day 7

On Day 5 of our “Days of Awe” Retreat, we made a list of the people we have hurt. We selected one person from that list and went through a little writing exercise about our hurting this person. Today we prepare ourselves to make amends to this person. Before actually and personally making amends, we have to lay the groundwork for an optimal conversation. One of the ways to do this is to write out how we imagine the conversation taking place, including what we will say. I offer that we write the words we will be sharing as a letter. Here are a few guidelines for this exercise:

  1. Only write using the pronoun “I.” This is about sharing what happened from our perspective, what we did, and taking responsibility for what we did. This is not the place to tell the other person what we think they did wrong, or how we believe they contributed to what happened, even though we, too, might have been hurt in the process. This is solely about us and about the part we played; about accepting responsibility for what we have done. Forgiving them for their part was in Day 6 of our retreat.
  2. A good start for our conversation, our letter, would certainly include the words: “I am aware that I have hurt you.” Now, without retelling in your own words the story of what happened–the other person doesn’t need to be reminded of the pain you already caused them and relive it, and certainly not your version of it–write about your own hurtful behavior (i.e. admit the exact nature of what you did) and how you are aware it affected them. Then, write what you believe triggered for you this behavior (i.e. I was judgmental, I was controlling, I was jealous, I was afraid…etc,) which expressed in such hurtful ways.
  3. Conclude with “I am sorry,” and pledge to do your best and work on yourself not to repeat what you did again. Do not ask for their forgiveness. Whether they forgive us or not is their prerogative and none of our business; we are not doing this to achieve any preferred outcome, or with any kind of expectations.
  4. Admitting the harm we caused, being truly sorry, and willing to go to any lengths to change our behavior is as admirable as it is painful. But our rabbis are clear; this is only one part of the process. The other part is that we are to be willing to do anything in our power to repair the damage we have done. This means that, together with our apologies, we are to humbly ask the person we have hurt what they think would be an appropriate & reasonable action for us to take that would repair the damage we caused; and if appropriate & reasonable, to pledge to do so.

Take your time to write this letter and really prepare yourself for this healing conversation. Tomorrow we will talk about the “how to’s,” address the fears and other emotions that arise when we contemplate having such a discussion, and make suggestions about how to overcome them.

A “Days of Awe” Retreat – I Now Forgive – Day 6

On this Day 6 of our personal retreat, we come to a place where we might be ready to forgive. On Day 4 we brought to mind and wrote about a person who has mildly hurt or offended us. I invite you to have what you wrote in front of you for this exercise. As we begin, I would like to remind you that forgiving is not of the mind but of the heart. We cannot think our way to forgiveness, we can only open our heart to being forgiving. [Read more…]

A “Days of Awe” Retreat – Searching the Heart (part 2): A Practical Exercise – Day 5

Like I promised yesterday, we are trading places for this exercise and will now be looking at the people we have hurt. The first few steps of the process are similar to what we already did:

      1. Begin by making a short list of people you know you have hurt. Some in big ways some in more benign ways. Here too, there could be 3, 5 or up to 10 names on this list. See if you can rank them, putting at the top of the list the person you know you have hurt the most and the others in declining order.
      2. Take the person at the bottom of the list (whom you have hurt the least).
        Write out what happened as factually as possible (without layering your own story or your emotions over it). Remember to write this part like an “incident report” or like a reporter would.
      3. What was the reason(s) for your hurting that person? What emotion(s) did they bring up in you (i.e. anger, resentment, jealousy, guilt, etc)? Did you act from a place of fear? If you felt threatened, what felt threatened? Here, too, let yourself be as peevish and self-righteous as you need to be. No one else will ever read this but you.
        What aspect of what they did, or their way of being, brought up such hurtful reaction from you? What was your opinion of them at the time (i.e. arrogant, loud, obnoxious, dishonest, evil…etc)? Please consider that, perhaps, these qualifiers may be parts of yourself that you dislike or have disown, but that you, sometimes, act out as well.
      4. How did you benefit from acting in such hurtful ways? What did you gain by reacting this way? What was it about for you: feeling more powerful, asserting your authority, maintaining control? 

Remember that this is not about beating yourself up. What happened happened. This is about being aware of, and taking responsibility for our behavior as a first step. Later we will work together on taking appropriate action for healing, and to make things whole again in our life.
I see this exercise as the “applied Al Chet,” the vidui, or confession at the center of our High Holy Days liturgy. Click here for a copy of the  Al Chet from our prayer booklet. Feel free to use it as a reading practice for these remaining days, or for inspiration for today’s exercise.
Tomorrow we will talk about “Deciding to Forgive.” I invite you to read again what you wrote yesterday about the person who hurt you. Are you ready to forgive him/her?

A “Days of Awe” Retreat – Searching The Heart: A Practical Exercise – Day 4

This is the time in our retreat when we get to practice. We can hear about forgiving, we can read about forgiving, but all the books and the talks in the world won’t help if, at some point, we don’t roll up our sleeves and get to work.

Now, your mind might come up with a million excuses to delay, postpone or refuse to do this work altogether. It might try to lure you into doing more “fun stuff” instead, or bring up that “to-do” list of all the things you “should” be doing rather than “wasting your time” with forgiveness. That’s normal. That’s what the mind does. Remember that the mind is afraid of change and will bring up a thousand thoughts to maintain the status quo. But here is the thing; you don’t have to believe in these thoughts. They are just thoughts. They come and go. And if you don’t get attached to them, they’ll soon be gone, replaced by other thoughts.

Here is a common meditation practice that might be useful: 1) acknowledge the thoughts as they arise, 2) thank them for their presence and for looking out for you, 3) tell them that you will do the work anyways, and 4) bid them farewell and let them go. All that in a calm and compassionate voice. Ultimately the mind will let go once you are busy doing the work. [Read more…]

“Days of Awe” Retreat – What Does it Mean to Forgive? Why do we Resist it? Day 3

Forgiving does not come easy to us. Let’s be honest, the ego is not one to easily give up the past hurts, affronts, painful incidents, and grudges it holds onto in its memory bank. All of these past experiences have impacted us greatly, taught us a great deal, and helped mold us into the person we are today. And so the ego is afraid, because it equates forgiving with erasing parts of the past that has made it who it is. But we can’t erase what was. Forgiving is not about forgetting or denying; making the past “go away.” Forgiving isn’t either about revising or putting a positive spin on the past. What happened happened. End of story.

But that’s exactly the problem, isn’t it? The story doesn’t end there. It is the stories we have created about our past hurts, the unexamined “truths” we have made up about the people in these stories, the anger, the resentment, and the upset, that we continue to carry around with us today; sometimes years later. Forgiving is about releasing these stories, letting go of our need for the past to have been any different than it was, the people in our past to have been any different than they were then or are now.

[Read more…]

A “Days of Awe” Retreat – Back to Life, Back to Reality – Day 2

The Ten Days of Awe between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, are an opportunity to enter into a time of personal retreat, the theme of which is “forgiveness.” The path of forgiveness is one of the most powerful spiritual paths available to us. Forgiving ourselves and others, and even–for some of us–forgiving God, can be a compelling pathway to moving beyond the narrow confines of our ego and finding greater peace within. Forgiving helps us move from our obsessive concerns with our small self and its compelling, mesmerizing stories; and toward our Higher Self, free from stories and obsessions. [Read more…]

Torah Reflections – Aug. 25 – 31, 2013

Nitzavim – Vayelech

Deuteronomy 29:9 – 31:30

Embracing Our Unpreparedness 

My heart is beating a little bit faster than usual today. No, I didn’t have one cup of coffee too many. But it just so happens that the combined Torah portions for this week are Nitzavim and Vayelech; and Nitzavim holds within it a passage known as the “Teshuvah portion” — read during the High Holy Days — where we are called to return, to turn inward. This means that the High Holy Days are just around the corner, and with that, come both excitement and trepidation; excitement, because this is the time of the year when we get to embark on the most meaningful journey inward; when space is provided for us to dig deeper and face our own shadow, all the while being surrounded by the supportive energies of a community of fellow travelers. Yet trepidation arises, because this is also the time of the year when the title of one of my favorite books (by the late Rabbi Alan Lew, z”l) flashes before me its neon-red letters blinking in my panicked awareness: This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared. My feeling exactly! [Read more…]