During the Jewish month of Elul, the month preceding the Jewish New Year, we’re asked to welcome introspection. We’re invited to identify what unfinished business, what distractions, are keeping us from living in the moment. This practice compels us to have conversations with our self, grappling with feelings which are unsettled, uncomfortable, unfocused, and uncertain. So, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and reflecting!
This reflective practice, prepares us for teshuvah. The practice of teshuvah, literally translated to mean “return”, and conventionally translated as “repentance”, helps shape how we experience the challenging truths of ourselves and our lives. After Elul, after identifying our missteps, and realizing where there is room for improvement, the practice of teshuvah compels us to turn outward. We look toward our community, our friends, and our family for their forgiveness and insight about how they experience us. Only then can we come full circle, return to ourselves, and identify how to put our best selves forward in the next year. By doing teshuvah, we make a choice to focus on our flaws, and find the strength, direction, energy, and support from those who are most important to us so we can grow and improve – so we can reunite out body, mind, and soul.
Rabbi Alan Lew, in his book “This is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared”, reminds us that “everything we do is an expression of the entire truth of our lives.” He goes on to say that, “The present moment is the only place we experience ourselves as being alive, the only place we experience our lives at all”. In a very literal interpretation, I take this to mean that we must be present without any competing distractions to fully experience ourselves – our constantly, continuously becoming selves. Glennon Doyle Melton describes it this way; she says, “to be human is to be incomplete and constantly yearning for reunion.” I understand this concept to imply that we’re always yearning for reunification with ourselves, and that very often the representation of ourselves that we share with others is not our true, flawed, and imperfect selves.
And so this return, this reunification of body, mind, and soul, is incredibly difficult to achieve especially when I find myself battling so many unsettled, unfinished thoughts. The type of thoughts that creep up on me when I least expect it, and that push into my consciousness no matter what I do to avoid them. It’s much more comfortable to maintain some distance from myself. In fact, Rabbi Lew explains that, “we spend a great deal of time and energy… living at some distance from ourselves” typically because of fear of what we may learn, or perhaps because then the hard work of improvement and self-realization will be looming right in front of us – and that’s daunting. We maintain stories that are no longer relevant because we are terrified of acknowledging the truth of our lives – of our existence. Brene Brown also explains this idea in her work. She says, “There is a narrative that all of us hold on to that we have to retire at some point because it no longer serves our lives or our stories.” This choice, the challenge to either move forward and grow, or remain trapped in the fears and narratives that have limited us in the past, is the cornerstone of the Jewish High Holidays.
And so, I’ve spent the month of Elul, a Jewish month of introspection considering, yet again, the importance of stories. I’ve asked myself “which stories are holding me back?”, “which stories, which truths, have impacted me in ways that, maybe, haven’t even fully revealed themselves yet?” I’ve considered, “what unfinished business is tearing [my] focus away from the present tense reality of our experience? From the present moment, the only place where we can really live our lives?” And, I’ve participated in Do You 10Q to help me discover more about myself, and make this gigantic task a bit more manageable.
Here are my answers to all 10 questions, in 3 sentences or less:
- Describe a significant experience that has happened in the past year. How did it affect you?
A year ago, I would have told you that I had to exclusively find and sustain strength inside myself, and be strong for my friends – even if it meant pretending (also see this). Then, I experienced the incredible power of friendship when I was struggling and needed help. Now, I’d tell you I can’t be my best without the support my friends and family; they’re the ones who give me strength and energy – especially in the areas where I still have room to grow.
- Is there something that you wish you had done differently this past year?
I wish I didn’t think I needed to go through all of life’s challenges on my own. I wish I understood the power in admitting I needed help earlier. I wish I didn’t waste so much energy pretending things were fine, and instead I put energy into doing everything I could to find strength, safety, and calm.
- Think about a major milestone that happened with your family this past year. How has this affected you?
This year, I earned my Master’s degree in Urban Education Policy. My education, passion, and experiences prepared me to step into my role as a Research Coordinator at the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. I learned an incredible amount this year, and now I have a job that I absolutely love!
- Describe an event in the world that has impacted you this year. How? Why?
One world: Orlando. Earlier this year I started writing about asexuality (among other things) on Ravishly. However, it wasn’t until Orlando that my identity within the queer community felt both salient and threatened; this event made me simultaneously want to be out, and reject any and all queer identities at the same time. [Side note: interestingly this year Yom Kippur coincides with National Coming Out Day!]
- Have you had any particularly spiritual experiences this past year?
Read here. And here. I’m constantly craving spaces where the energy is contagious, and where I can be so present, confident, and welcomed that everything else fades away – for me this is often Shabbat.
- Describe one thing you’d like to achieve by this time next year. Why is this important to you?
I want to be less fixated on food, and weight by this time next year. I realized this is really just a way to feign control when other things feel too hectic. It’s easy to let this line of thinking become an obsession, and get out of control.
- How would you like to improve yourself, your life, next year? Any advice you received that could help?
I want to work on being more emotionally intelligent, and giving more attention to how things make me feel. I’ve discovered that if I can identify how I’m feeling in a situation, and allow myself to authentically feel the entirety of my emotions in their context, right when they’re happening, I can be in charge of deciding how to react, and what steps I should take to alleviate the feeling or perpetuate it. My friends have reminded me that my feelings don’t have to feel out of control, and that other things will fall into place when I allow myself to feel whatever emotions are associated with anything I’m experiencing.
- Is there something (a person, a cause, an idea) that you want to investigate more fully next year?
Since I’m a huge research nerd, I want to learn more about research methods, and what approaches resonate with me so I can make an informed choice when I pursue a PhD in a few years. I also want to learn multilevel modeling and longitudinal analysis techniques!
- What is a fear that you have & how has it limited you? How do you plan on overcoming it this year?
I am inexplicably afraid of stopping because I’m afraid of what I’ll learn about myself, and I’m afraid that the flooding will be too intense. This “go, go, go”, do all the things mentality has been both an adaptive coping strategy, and has stifled my personal growth. As overwhelming as it may seem, I’m working to create space to learn more about myself, and let myself know it’s okay to stop.
- When you get your answers to your 10Q questions next year, what do you hope will be different about you?
I hope I am able to be more honest with myself both about my strengths, and the areas where I can improve. I hope I’m still relentlessly passionate and aggressive in my pursuit of my goals, but that I’m able to supplement my professional life with a healthy balance of socializing and other activities that bring me joy.
Those are my answers! What are yours?
גמר חתימה טובה – May you be sealed (in the book of life) for good.