The High Holy Days are a time of introspection and repentance. In the months of Elul and Tishrei, we are charged with examining events of the past year and gleaning the lessons they have taught us. Sometimes this is a gentle process. But when dealing with more painful aspects of the past year, placing ourselves under the microscope does not always feel so gentle.
Yet, it is important to be gentle with ourselves isn’t it?
When reflecting on the last year, let us think of the goodness and wisdom to which our stories gave birth too.
The kids were whining, screaming, wrestling in the back seat of the car. You were sweaty and agitated and volcanic. You could have reacted, you could have blown up . . . but remember? You breathed, you said your mantras, you internalized their messages . . . and you didn’t blow up! No one applauded, no one acknowledged this feat of transcendence. But now you can.
How could you forgive her? Your mother wasn’t there for you, and then, after all those years, she wanted a connection? How could you trust a real relationship with her? The fact that you were even willing to try was miraculous. You moved toward forgiveness and letting go, even when it hurt . . . You worked on yourself this year, coming closer toward a new relationship.
Your husband was still in the midst of his mid-life crisis. No matter what you said or how you said it, there was “no one home”. He was dancing to the beat his own drum this year and you couldn’t change his rhythm. After years of marriage you deeply understood that this would be a year of surrendering and acceptance. Eventually, he would have to find his own inner wisdom, but you had already found yours; we are not in control of others, even the one’s we love.
These vignettes demonstrate the power in moments. When we think of our stories, we often think of the big picture. If last year, the “big story” picture didn’t shift, perhaps we feel disappointment, regret, guilt. Fortunately, when we deconstruct those larger stories, we will often find unique outcomes; moments where there was movement, modification, even transformation. Small moments of unique outcomes add up. They lay foundations for new stories. They remind us that we were and continue to be, more flexible, proactive, and powerful than we thought.
If we are engaged in a specific story, it means it serves a purpose in our lives. When positive, it is a “growth” story. It moves us to a more, elevated, affirming, life-giving place. When negative, our stories move us deeper into a flawed, illusory, and life-taking place.
Take the above examples. Perhaps at one time, getting angry at the children, avoiding a relationship with a mother, and trying to control a husband’s behavior may have served a purpose in these people’s lives. Maybe it made them feel safe, in control, loved. Most likely these situations created emotional reactions and maybe this is what they got from it; they felt alive albeit in an unhealthy way. Maybe it felt familiar, an old stand-by reaction. Perhaps it felt comfortable to avoid whatever needed to be confronted.
If you are getting use out of something, it will keep repeating. If it no longer has value for you, it will usually stop.
If we look back at our year, we are bound to see moments of positive growth in our stories. Growth could have been borne of broad sweeping changes or perhaps out of flickers that had to be noticed before they burnt out. In either case our stories transformed in some way. We transformed in some way.
The arrival of the High Holidays signal a time for contemplation and reflection. As such, may we truly harness our divine intelligence and understand how to forgive, accept, change and trust our stories. May we see the good in others, may we see the good in ourselves, and may we always be blessed with stories we can call our own.